Packing List

The following packing list is a combination of the PC/Malawi Welcome Guide list and others that I found on the internet from PC/Malawi blogs and travel sites generally.

Use this list as an informal guide in making your own list, bearing in mind that each experience is individual. There is no perfect list (though I’ve found my list to be nearly perfect for me)! You obviously cannot bring everything on the list, so consider those items that make the most sense to you personally and professionally. You can always have things sent to you later (though it is cost prohibitive and takes a lot of time to reach you in-country). As you decide what to bring, keep in mind that you have an 100-pound weight limit on baggage. And remember, you can get many items you need in Malawi.

Items I packed but after homestay have decided are must have for a decent experience. Items I’ve owned/bought/packed will be red. Items in black I did not pack but are merely suggestions that may benefit you.

PRE-FLIGHT GEAR WEIGHT/LENGTH: 114 POUNDS, 227 linear inches

Luggage and Bags

  • (1) Day pack (19 lbs, 40″)
    • 20L Dakine day pack w/ 2 liter hydration system 
    • Airline baggage: “personal item”, free
  • (1) REI Flash 65L Pack (54 lbs, 69″)
    • Tips: Luggage should be tough, lightweight, lockable, and easy to carry. I went with a bag instead of a suitcase because the bag weighs less than the suitcase. For me, it was easier to put my luggage on my back than use up the weight limit PC gives you on a suitcase with wheels (2 pounds vs. 15 pounds).  I reasoned that a 

      durable bag was a much better option in the short and long run. I considered a pack with an a

      ttachable day pack but price was a major selling point for me. Make sure the pack fits you appropriately and is a size your body can handle. 

    • Airline baggage: “checked bag”, additional fees on domestic flights
  • (1) Under Armour Medium Profile Duffel Bag 40L (23 lbs, 48″)
    • Airline baggage: “checked bag”, free
  • (1) Dreadnought Guitar Case (18 lbs, 70″)
    • One has to live a little, am I right? Case will not only have the guitar but as much “stuff” as I can pack into it (guitar strings, socks, etc.). 
    • Airline baggage: “carry on”, free
      • Musical instruments (guitars specifically) can be “gate checked” and are considered by Delta and United to be “carry on”

General Clothing

The three key qualities for clothing in Malawi are dark colors, many pockets, and easy to wash and maintain. Overall, dress conservatively. Remember that it does get cold so bring warm clothes. Rainy season means just that—you will get wet and splattered with mud. We recommend quick-drying, breathable clothes. Overall advice: do not bring a lot. Just three to four outfits for staging and the beginning of training. You can find just about everything in the markets.

  • (1) Lightweight, all-weather jacket (rain proof)
  • Hooded polar fleece (no more than one)
  • Knit hat and gloves
  • Swim trunks; very sturdy
  • (6) Bandannas and handkerchiefs
  • (3) Hat (baseball cap, straw hat, safari hat, pub hat)
  • Good-quality raincoat (breathable, light, Frogg Troggs and a hiking raincoat are essential)
  • Durable, easy-to-wash pants (2 pairs jeans, zip-off convertibles (I wished I had packed these with me. I had them sent after I was in country and this is one of two items I wish I would have packed for sure), pajama pants.
  • (2) Dress pants
  • (3) Shorts
  • (2) Basketball shorts
  • (5) Dress shirts (nice clothes, sleeveless for dancing, restaurants, business casual)
  • (2) Ties
  • (4) Polos
  • (6) Tee-shirts
  • (10) Underwear (one new package, unopened)
  • (3) Pair dress socks 
  • (10) Pairs breathable socks
  • (4) Pairs tube socks (not white)
  • (3) Belts (dress, leather, adjustable)
  • Sturdy work gloves 
  • (2) Sunglasses/Case/Cleaning Cloths 
  • Long-underwear (moisture wicking)

Overall advice: Depending on your sector, it is best to bring very durable, practical clothes and a few nicer outfits for in town (dancing, restaurants, meetings). Men do not need full suits, just a tie and a button-down shirt for special occasions. Do not bring a lot – just three to four outfits for staging and beginning of training. You can find just about everything in the markets. 

Shoes
Durable shoes are an essential investment

  • Chaco sandals
  • Saucony running shoes
  • Merrell hiking boots
  • Casual shoes (showcase your personal style)
  • Dress shoes

Personal Hygiene and Toiletry Items
Go light as much of this can be found in country.

  • Face lotion with SPF*
  • (2) Deodorant
  • Bodywash*
  • Luffa
  • (2) Toothbrushes
  • Toothpaste*
  • Hand sanitizer*
  • Bottle multivitamins, fiber, Vitamin C (low-concentration vitamins available in-country)
  • Razor
  • (10) razor blades
  • Shaving cream*
  • Sunscreen (30 SPF, Peace Corps will supply you adequately)
  • Nail clippers
  • Tweezers
  • Hair-cutting scissors
  • Mirror
  • Quick dry towel (Sea to Summit, light microfiber, one of those items I’m so happy I purchased.)
  • (3) Lip balm with SPF (Peace Corps will supply you with generic brand with SPF).
  • Floss (Peace Corps will supply you generic non-waxed floss so splurge on a good kind).
  • Wash cloth (Bought four in country. Good purchase).
  • Shears/Beard trimmers (battery)

*Travel size, less than 3.1 fluid ounces for airport security reasons.

Kitchen 

  • Vegetable peeler
  • French press (if you appreciate good coffee — I’m so happy I brought this).
  • Ground coffee (coffee is manufactured in country and is tasty but a bag of your favorite bean will give you a morale boost when you need it most).
  • Ziploc bags (surplus, pack contents in them for added measure)
  • Set of silverware (get camping universal “hobo” tool)
  • (3) Sturdy water bottles (1 Nalgene, 2 Klean Kanteen)
  • Set kitchen knives chef (splurge on a nice chef’s knife — so glad I did), paring, filet, bread, bone, steak)
  • Stainless steel spatula, tongs, large spoon
  • Mess kit cooking set (not necessary)
  • Magnesium fire starter (I brought one but it is useless and culturally too weird).

  • Travel coffee mug
  • Thermos (I would skip on this and buy one in-country if needed. I do use it a few days a week).
  • Measuring cups/spoons (not essential for me).

Electronics

  • Durable watch
    • Casio SGW400H-1B had all the features I was looking for at a decent price. Unfortunately it got stolen in South Africa when I went there with a medical emergency.

  • Computer/Netbook
    • This was an important decision for me. I went with the Asus Tranformer T100, which I got off eBay new for a reasonable price. Not only is it a fully functional Windows 8.1 platform, it is both a powerful netbook and tablet. It has high ratings by all the well-known technology reviewers.   
  • 3TB Toshiba Canvio external hard drive (Buy a durable USB-only harddrive. Mine broke three months in, losing all my media. I was upset.)
    • Fully loaded: Peace Corps documents (related to sector), pictures (family, friends, etc.), music (ripped from personal collection), movies (Digital Copies), Wikipedia, Project Gutenberg, anything that I would want to read that was free and downloadable, program executable files to add to tablet and erase to free up space if needed.
  • Headlamp with LED (Must needed, life would be miserable without it.)
  • Rechargeable batteries (AAA, AA, various others as needed, “D” easier to find than “C” in-country)
  • Joos Orange portable solar charger (One of two items that I wish I would have packed. Had this paid for and shipped to me once I was in country).
  • Camera/case/tripod
  • (2) SD Cards (MiniSD and regular; I wish I had packed more).
  • (3) thumb drive flash disks (high capacity; Peace Corps gives you one with sector-specific documents pre-loaded).
  • Hand-cranked short-wave radio/alarm clock/flash light (I bought combo unit)
  • MP3 or similar player with your favorite tunes
  • (2) pairs of headphones/ear buds
  • Pair of speakers (battery powered is essential as is making it small and portable to take to small parties and such).
  • Kindle/case
    • My laptop/tablet doubles as a eBook reader. 
  • Quality surge protector/power converter (burned up my hair trimmers because of 220w plug in; surprisingly hard to find in country)
  • (3) Plug in adapters/converters (you only need the three-pronged British-style plug in Malawi; can be bought in country).
  • 10′ extension cord (don’t bring, wasted space in bag).

Miscellaneous

  • Lightweight, travel, waterproof tent w/ground cloth (tarp)
    • 2-3 seasons, bag liner, 2 person (so glad I brought). 
  • Lightweight sleeping mat or camping mattress (Bought a Big Agnes in country from a COSing Volunteer, great find/purchase).
  • Hammock (Incredibly happy I brought this. Make sure to bring one with mosquito net constructed to it.)
  • Travel pillow
  • Travel umbrella (I brought one but absolutely not necessary if you pack a decent rain jacket.)
  • Leatherman (multitool)/Swiss Army knife/pocket knife
  • Compact sleeping bag (Though I’m happy with my bag once I got to site, its size makes it prohibitive to travel with. A much more compact bag would have been preferred.)
  • (4) Stuff sack, various sizes (good quality)
  • Bungee cords or backpack straps
  • (1) MiniMag LED
  • (2) Heavy locks with keys (I brought them but shouldn’t have though I do use them.)
  • Duct tape
  • (10) Ear plugs (from minibus rides to barking marathons from the wild dogs, these are gold for the price)
  • Lighter (should have packed five of these)/matches
  • Tylenol (extra strength)
  • (24) U.S. “Forever” stamps (so you can send letters home with travelers, don’t buy as many as I did)
  • (1) Lonely Planet Guide to Malawi (Bradt); Found digital copy.
  • Field guide for flora and fauna of sub-Saharan Africa (digital copy of flora)
  • Full-size, flat sheets set (PC gives you them at homestay but their quality leaves more to be desired and does not come with a fitted sheet. Splurge on a set.)
  • Sewing kit (So happy I brought this. I’ve mended many things since I arrived.)/safety pins/tacks/small nails
  • Plastic containers (e.g., Tupperware)
  • Personal money for vacation travel, personal items, etc. (Up to $700 can be stored at PC HQ in Lilongwe; new top-condition $100 bills are required for VISAs into other countries)
  • Debit Card (VISA)
  • Guitar (loosen strings before flight, surround with excess clothes, gate check if possible, ask to put in on plane closit)
    • Tuners
    • Tabs
    • Picks
    • (5) Packs Strings (I wish I brought more strings and bridge pegs).
  • Harmonicas/Holder
  • A few novels (to swap after reading) — PC/Malawi has a great library
  • (20-30) Pictures of home in album (bring a wide variety from different experiences you have had)
  • Zip ties
  • Bag of Star Burst/Wintergreen mints
  • Money belt
  • Hacky sack
  • 100 foot roll of 550 paracord (So many uses!! I sent for more to be shipped to me.)
  • Set of GRE study materials (I downloaded digital versions)
  • Pegless clothes line
  • Passport holder
  • Laundry clothes bag
  • Africa/US/World Map posters
  • Mio water enhancers (Filtered/treated water isn’t the best tasting! I sent home for much more Propel and Mio water enhancers.)
  • Heavy-duty scissors (spring assisted shears)
  • Calender/Planner
  • Bible

Office Supplies

  • Pens (bring twice what you think you will need of good quality pens. I like G2 pens but most were gone by the end of training).
  • Sharpies (various sizes)
  • Rubber bands
  • Good envelopes
  • Scissors
  • Memo book (so on-point for language acquisition and jotting down people’s names as you meet them).
  • Journal notebook

Send Before Departure

After weighing the decision carefully, I decided not to ship the following items to myself prior to staging.

  • Kool-Aid packets, cheese powder packets, power bars, granola bars, soup mixes, gravy mixes, chocolate, taco mix, etc.
  • Spices (Cumin, crushed red pepper, salt, pepper, seasoned salt, Italian herb mix, garlic powder, onion powder) — many can be bought in-country.
  • Hot sauce (If you have a preference otherwise there is a great hot sauce made in Malawi called Nali.)
  • (10) packs seeds for herbs and vegetables (not particularly necessary.)
  • Tea (not necessary)
  • Crushed coffee
  • Games (Scrabble, cards, chess, Frisbee, dominoes, Yahtzee, etc.)
  • Heavy-duty Cast Iron Frying pan (Not necessary.)
  • Good dictionary/thesaurus (electronic versions)
  • (2)Packs guitar strings
  • Sketching pads and pencils
  • Colored Pencils
  • Crayons
  • Colored Markers
  • Elmer’s Glue
  • Pencils
  • Soccer ball (A deflated ball is desired as Malawians love football.)
  • Kitchen towels
  • Money
  • Tin foil
  • String
  • Ketchup/Nutella/Tabasco/Tuna/Ranch Dressing/Parmesan Cheese/Protein bars/Beef Jerky/Trail Mix/Peanut Butter Cups/Gatorade mix
  • Shoe Goo
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