Change Yourself…Change The World.

So You Want to Join the Peace Corps? Here’s What to Bring
April 5, 2012, 6:08 pm
Filed under: Paraguay, Travel Tip

It’s that wonderful time of the year when future trainees leaving for Peace Corps Paraguay in May start packing and getting ready for the adventure of a lifetime! Concurrently, I can’t believe that I have been in the Peace Corps for almost a year now. My very own Sister G, G-39, will be arriving soon!

This post is dedicated to my incoming Sister G in the Community Economic Development Sector (though this can also apply to any other Volunteer in Paraguay, or wold-wide).

To my incoming Sister G- I’d like to welcome you to Peace Corps Paraguay! I’m biased, but I really believe that we have the best sector in Paraguay. Our Associate Peace Corps Director (one of our bosses) Elisa, and our Program Specialist (our other boss) Giancarlo are both incredible. They are wonderful, funny, give great site placements, and I know you will all love them. Additionally, my own G, G-36, is already very excited to have you here working with us. We’re a tight-knit sector, and we can’t wait to meet you.

Based on my own experiences in Peace Corps Paraguay, I decided to write a post on packing tips- things I wish Volunteers told me about before coming here. These packing tips are not exhaustive (for example, I’m not going to tell you to bring ‘x amount of pants’)- they are mostly tips that I wish I had known about before joining the Peace Corps in Paraguay. Some of this advice is tailored to CED Volunteers, though it can be applicable to any Volunteer. I hope it is helpful and informative. Here we go!

The most important things:
– Bring a computer. Bring a computer, bring a computer, bring a computer. In my training, only two people didn’t bring a computer, and someone ended up buying one a few months in. Computers are really important for the work we do in our sector- through email correspondence, writing up reports, keeping in touch with friends and family, and as a source of entertainment (watching movies)- I’m not sure if PCPY (Peace Corps Paraguay) has updated their packing list to say it is important to all Volunteers, many of us have pushed for it down here- but if they still have not- bring a computer!

– The best thing I brought with me to PCPY was a hot water bottle. True story. I cannot recommend enough how key a hot water bottle was to surviving the winter. It gets cold in Paraguay, especially in training when you can’t just go out and buy a blanket. My homestay family would boil water for me before bed-time, I would pour it into my hot water bottle, and was able to survive the night! You can find one on Amazon. Bring it, I promise you will not regret it! Also, on the flipside- bring an ice bag! You know, one of those reusable ice bags (like this). Those work great for the summer, when it’s so hot that you can’t fall asleep at night because you’re sweating so much.

A common misconception of PCPY: you can only bring 80 pounds? FALSE. Airlines regulations from Miami to Paraguay allows you to check in 100 pounds internationally. Take advantage of it– no Peace Corps official will be standing over you while your bags are being weighed. I know that you guys want to be that hardcore Volunteer- but as a CED Volunteer, we have more urban placements, and we’re generally placed at nice institutions such as cooperatives or municipalities. We are expected to dress nice at these institutions- nice clothes, nice shoes. I was reprimanded during training and ended up having to buy a pair of shoes for 50 dollars in Asuncion- a nice pair of shoes here is expensive. Also, clothing here is also VERY expensive! Swallow your pride and put 20 extra pounds in your suitcase of clothes and shoes. You will be happy you did! Additionally, a few Volunteers in my sector brought MORE than two bags- you’ll need to pay an extra fee to bring them down to Paraguay (last year it was 60 dollars). It totally depends on you and your needs and preferences, but it is possible to bring down more bags if you so need- one of our older Volunteers brought five!

– Bring a pair of sweatpants, and a warm comfy sweatshirt. Sometimes at the end of a long day of training (or in your site) you’ll want nothing more than to curl up into your bed in something comfy and warm. There are no sweatpants in Paraguay, and sweatshirts are expensive. Doesn’t matter if it’s ratty, no one will see it anyway! Bring them down here for the added comfort- you’ll need it.

– Bring items for a few day’s travel. I suggest bringing a small toiletry kit that has one of those travel-shampoo, conditioner, and soap bottles, a quick-dry towel (or sarong), and DEFINITELY an extra bag that you can fit in a few days of clothes, your computer, and a book (make sure it has comfy straps, like a duffle bag). As a Volunteer, you will travel a lot around Paraguay! Whether visiting friends, going into the capital, going to our sector’s leadership and business camps, or even traveling outside Paraguay- I’ve found all of these items KEY! Also, as a bonus, bring a blow-up travel pillow (like this one); there will be many times you’ll be traveling on buses at midnight or 4 AM, and these are a lifesaver to help you sleep. Bonus points: sleep mask!

Sleeping bag: required! This is for sure a required thing to bring! When it gets super cold during training and that threadbare blanket your homestay family gave you doesn’t cut it, having a sleeping bag will save you. When you’re visiting your friends at their sites and they have nothing for you to sleep on, a sleeping bag will save you. When you don’t have the money to buy covers for your own house when you move in, a sleeping bag will save you! Some people also like to bring self-inflating sleeping pads, or a yoga mat- also recommended, but not necessary.

– Speakers. There will come many a time when you would like to use music for a presentation in your classes, or you’d like to play music at a party with your friends, or you’d like to watch a movie on your computer but the sound isn’t high enough. Speakers are super important! They don’t need to be fancy, expensive, or large, just loud. And make sure you bring the kind that can plug into your computer!

– A few luxuries to get you through the toughest days. Pick your poison. For me, I brought a few lotions, creams, and essential oils- those always make me feel relaxed. Depending on you, it could be a comfy pair of slippers, or a bathrobe, or your favorite book. Bring something that will help you feel more relaxed and de-stressed.

– Something you can work on and learn in the Peace Corps. What have you always wanted to learn? Take this opportunity to bring something with you to learn something new, whether it be yoga, martial arts, knitting, drawing and painting, etc. You’ll have a lot of free time when you first get to your site, and to help balance a lot of the initial frustrations of being new and not having a lot of projects yet, being able to learn something new will help keep you satisfied!

A warm hat, scarf, and gloves. You’ll be surprised how cold you will feel in Paraguay when it’s only 45 degrees outside- perhaps it’s because the houses are so poorly insulated that you will NEVER be warm no matter where you go- absolutely bring a few extra warm clothing.

– A camera. Self-explanatory. Also just to let you guys know, I brought an SLR camera down with me to the Peace Corps and have had no problem whatsoever.

Other Important Items!
– Head lamp. Electricity DOES go out, and these are lifesavers.
Medications you can’t live without. This is subjective- Peace Corps will supply you with all the medication you need, but there are also some American brand medication that are really important to me, such as Excedrin migraine, or Tylenol Cold (the cold medication here leaves much to the imagination).
A sarong. These are incredible for multi-functional purposes- you can use them as a scarf, a towel, wrap-around, etc. I usually just bring this as a travel towel.
– Speaking of towels, bring a fluffy towel. A luxury item for sure, but worth it- the towels in Paraguay kind of suck. Plus, a comfy towel can make a surprisingly big difference in your level of happiness on those rough days!
Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Liquid Soap. This soap is GREAT- it lasts FOREVER and is multi-functional. Plus in the summer when you’re super hot, the soap is minty-fresh!
– Extra pairs of nice shoes and clothing. Oh, did I mention this already? I’ll mention it again. As a CED Volunteer, you will need a few (FEW being the figurative word here, not ALL) nice clothes and nice shoes. You don’t need a suit, but a nice button-down shirt and skirt with practical shoes will definitely go a long way to fitting in at a cooperative or other local institution. Bring a few days worth of these types of clothing, for winter and summer (think layering).
Rain gear. When it rains in Paraguay, it’s like the apocalypse. Definitely bring a rain jacket and a pair of waterproof shoes that goes at least up to your ankle. While we’re on the subject, don’t bother bringing new pairs of shoes. My new pairs of Tom’s Shoes I brought are so muddy now they are unrecognizable (that’s what happens in Paraguay when it’s raining, training makes you come to class, and the roads are mud).
– Havaiana Flip Flops. Paraguay sells them down here actually (for about a tenth of the price), but they break within days. Bring a sturdy pair of water-proof flip flops for showering. Believe me, you don’t want to know what goes on around that drain (in my house, sometimes sewage comes up through my drain!)
– Duct Tape. The most amazing thing for  Peace Corps Volunteer- BRING IT, no excuses! So many random ways that duct tape has saved my life!
– Posters. This is a weird one, but I really recommend it- bring a few posters of bands you love, or of a calm and happy sky, or of the beach- something that you can put up in your room that will make you feel more relaxed and comfortable. I brought with me to the Peace Corps five posters- they’re lightweight, and folded up easily into the bottom of my suitcase.
– Scotch tape. The tape here is laughable. You’ll never know when scotch tape comes in handy.
– External hard drive. I can’t recommend this enough. Peace Corps Volunteers have all kinds of things they can share with you to keep you entertained. I suggest at least a 500 GB external hard drive. Also, bring a small pen drive.
A pillow. This is subjective, but I really recommend bringing one. The pillows here are generally hard as rocks (especially the ones you get in training), and it goes a long way in a good night’s sleep. I brought mine with me as a carry-on in addition to my backpack.
– Long underwear- This is not a must-have, but it definitely made those cold days in the winter a lot easier for me during training!
Regular water bottle. These are hard to find in Paraguay, and they’re definitely worth having instead of sitting on a bus, dying of thirst in the summer and paying a ridiculous 5 mil for water.
– Lots of pictures of your family and friends! Bring a few keepsakes and memories that you can look at during the tough days, and also can share with your Paraguayan friends! I brought a ton of pictures and they are all hung up in my house. Bringing a picture of your family is a great gift for homestay families as well!
– If you’re a female, bring tampons. Enough for at least two months (and longer, since they’re a lot more expensive in Paraguay than the US). I suggest OB tampons since they’re small and lightweight.
– If you’re a female, bring your own make-up and perfume, if you’re into that sort of thing. Make-up and perfume is WAY more expensive here than in the United States (for example, a bottle of perfume in the US that’s 20 dollars is 100 dollars here). Paraguayans can be clean freaks and love it when you smell nice, so perfume is recommended!

Things you do NOT need to bring:
Here is a list of a few things that I brought with me to Paraguay that I ended up not needing at all. Hopefully you guys can heed my advice so you don’t make the same mistake!
– A Spanish-to English and/or Spanish-to Guaraní dictionary. Peace Corps will give these to you in training.
– A three-month supply of shampoo, conditioner, and soap. You can find these in any town in Paraguay (and good brands as well!) Don’t weigh down your luggage with them.
– Books. We have a HUGE Peace Corps library with enough reading material for two years- don’t weigh down your luggage unless it’s a must-bring.
– Notebooks- Peace Corps will give this to you in training, and you can also buy plenty here.
– Sunblock or mosquito repellant- Peace Corps will supply you with both of these during your two years of service.
– Any sorts of general medication, like rehydration salts or bandaids- the day you get to Paraguay you will get a huge medical kit full of medication (some of these include cold medication, cough drops, chap stick, eye drops, immodium, antacids, rehydration salts, bandaids, benadryl, etc.)

Finally, I have one more suggestion. There are some recommendations I have for when you move into your own house in your site, but obviously you won’t need those for the first few months in the Peace Corps. I suggest you put these following things in a box and ship it to the Peace Corps Paraguay address right before you leave. The boxes generally take a few months to get to Paraguay anyway, so by the time you swear-in you’ll get these right on time!

Ship these to yourself in a box:
– Kitchen utensils- if you like cooking, you’ll want these (one or two sharp kitchen knives, measuring cup, measuring spoons, spatula, whisk, metal spatula, and finally a good frying pan- they’re really expensive here!)
– Spices, especially spicy spices! Paraguayans love their bland food. Don’t worry, within a year you’ll love them too- but as Americans we also love spices, so make sure to send these to yourself for some variety. Recommendations include basil, cilantro, ginger, rosemary, thyme, chipotle rub, cayenne pepper, a small pepper grinder, paprika, and any other type of spice you love to cook with. Also recommended are speciality spices, such as a steak or chicken rub.
– Sauce packets– cannot recommend these enough! Go to your nearest Whole Foods and stock up on really cheap but awesome sauce packets, like Frontera Mexican Seasoning Sauces, or Simply Asia Packets, or Passage Foods Simmer Sauces, or Fusion Flavors Dips. They are AMAZING and makes your food SO easy and flavorful here!
Your own sheets. The sheets down here are pretty bad, mostly polyester, and the nice ones are really expensive. You’ll be saving money by sending these down, and you’ll definitely be a lot more comfortable.
– A few months supply of deodorant. They are super expensive down here- save yourself the money and ship them instead!
Aloe vera lotion. the peace corps doesn’t provide this to you, and believe me- there will come a time when you’re BURNED here! The sun is super strong. I recommend shipping this rather than bringing it down with you, because you’ll be in training during the winter and won’t need it.
Summer clothes. You won’t need them until you get to your site anyway. Pack a breezy dress, shorts (contrary to popular opinion via the Peace Corps packing document, you can ABSOLUTELY wear shorts as a Volunteer- just not during training), and some cool things for the summer.
Candy. Just do yourself a favor and ship down some of your favorite, non-melting candy as a nice surprise when you open your box. You’ll be shocked at how much you’ll miss American candy, even if you never really ate that much of it before (like me). It’s surprisingly comforting!

So there you have it- my ultimate list of recommendations for Volunteers coming to Paraguay. I hope this was educational and informative, and please feel free to ask questions in the comments. Welcome to Paraguay, we’re excited to have you!

37 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Thank you so much for this! This will really help me figure out what I need to pack 🙂 I’m so excited to come down and meet everyone!

Comment by Stefanie Parker

We’re excited to meet you as well!

Comment by brittanygoesglobal

Thanks Brittany! This was probably the most helpful packing guide I have read yet. See you soon in PY!

Comment by Devo

See you soon Devin!

Comment by brittanygoesglobal

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Thank you sooo much for all the helpful and informative tips!!! Can’t wait to start shopping for all the things you suggested and start packing soon!!! Looking forward to meeting everyone in a few weeks!! 🙂

Comment by Aleks Hulisz

Hi Brittany, your blog is amazing! It’s inspired me to make one too. Thanks for all of the packing tips and see you soon! -Julie from G-39

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I only disagree with the suggestion to bring a “fluffy” towel. There are many insects in Paraguay that love to lay their eggs in these kinds of towels.

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Hi Kelly! The medical paperwork took FOREVER- I waited five months without one word from them. You just have to play the waiting game and be patient! And believe me when I tell you this, as I am a few days away from finishing two years of service in the Peace Corps- it is ALL worth it.

Comment by brittanygoesglobal

wow, this was so helpful! My son, Thomas, leaves September 25th and now I know what to put in the box to ship for him. Sounds like much of the winter garb can be shipped. Have you had trouble with packages getting “lost”?

Comment by Jill Hunter

Hi Jill! So sorry it took me so long to reply, I did not see your comment until now. I never had trouble with packages getting lost, but I did have one package that was broken into, things stolen out of, and weird Paraguayan stuff replaced (like an old shoe). However, out of about 50 packages that were shipped to me by friends and family this was only one time. Make sure to mark on your packages things like ‘old clothes’ and ‘books’ or something that doesn’t look attractive. One other issue is that mail does take longer to get to Paraguay than the post office in the US says- it can take anywhere from 1-3 months, so send in advance!

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