Packing list for Bulgaria
The following recommendations are based on the experiences of Volunteers who have served in Bulgaria. Use them as an informal guide, bearing in mind that experience is individual. There is no perfect list! You obviously cannot bring everything that is mentioned, so consider those items that make the most sense to you personally and professionally. Many past and current Volunteers wish they had not brought so many clothes and toiletries and had instead focused on specialty items. You should not hesitate to bring items of sentimental value that will help you feel content at your site, but you can always have things sent to you later. As you decide what to bring, keep in mind that you have a 100-pound weight limit on checked luggage; you will be responsible for any fees for overweight baggage. Except where otherwise indicated, all the following items are available in Bulgaria; they are listed here as items to bring because the quality of the items may be inferior, their price may be significantly higher, or they may not be regularly available in Bulgaria.
Volunteers need an assortment of clothing for work, play, and socializing. Since there is a variety of jobs, each with different clothing requirements, you should consider your particular job. Bulgarian teachers and other professionals have a fairly sophisticated fashion sense, which has been described by some as “elegantly casual,” and your Bulgarian colleagues are the best models for what to wear in the workplace.
Attire for male teachers usually consists of slacks with a nice shirt and optional tie. COD Volunteers may find a jacket and tie de rigueur for the office or that slacks or a skirt, and a shirt or sweater, are more appropriate. Youth Development Volunteers generally work in more casual situations, but still need appropriate business attire for occasional use. Suits, dresses, and skirts or nice slacks with blouses are all suitable work attire for women; however, avoid clothing that requires dry cleaning because this service is usually only available in larger cities. For both men and women, nice jeans dressed up with a nice shirt and jacket are acceptable in many situations. Three or four outfits should be sufficient for work. You will also need casual clothes for relaxing around the house, socializing, hiking, skiing, and travel. Good-quality jeans are available in Bulgaria, but they are expensive by Bulgarian standards, so you may want to bring one or two pairs of your favorite brand from the United States (dark or black ones are better than light ones). Clothes that are comfortable and that can be layered as needed to accommodate the season are best. Dark clothes are easier to keep clean and hand-wash, and cotton knits are best avoided because they don’t keep their shape since you most likely won’t have access to a dryer.
In general, most day-to-day clothing you will need can be purchased for reasonable prices in Bulgaria, so you may want to use your limited packing space to focus on specialty clothing, such as hiking apparel or sporting attire and other unique and specific items.
Some other suggestions follow:
- Bathing suit (Bulgarian women tend to wear two-piece suits, so either two-piece or one-piece is fine)
- Two or three pairs of fleece or silk long underwear (what is available locally is not of great quality), in colors other than white (which is harder to clean)
- Several sweaters (good wool sweaters can be purchased locally at reasonable prices) 102
- Scarves, hats, and gloves (think fleece, Thinsulate, and waterproof; it gets very cold in the mountains in winter)
- Warm socks (you can buy normal day-to-day ones locally)
- Lightweight coat or warm jacket, windproof and waterproof (mid-thigh or knee-length winter coats will keep you warmer than waist-length jackets). A wool coat is easy to buy locally, but it is not easy to find a truly waterproof jacket.
- Shoes: high-quality, lightweight, waterproof hiking boots are an absolute must, and it is best to break them in before you arrive. You can, buy good-quality hiking boots from internationally known companies at a few stores in Sofia. Wool slippers and flip flops are helpful, and readily available here. Good-quality shoes in large sizes are hard to find; women’s shoes and boots are especially difficult to find in larger sizes (over size 9). The quality of footwear in Bulgaria is poor, although there are some high-end stores in larger cities (with high-end prices to match). If you wear a larger size, you may want to consider bringing all of the shoes you will need for your stay including work shoes, waterproof boots, and casual shoes. Whatever your size, you will likely want to bring running shoes if you are a runner and other specialty shoes. High-end athletic apparel is available in larger cities, but often Bulgarians see them much more as a fashion statement rather than a practical purchase. The prices reflect that.
Personal Hygiene and Toiletry Items
Bring only enough to get through training. A wide variety of both locally produced and imported items (particularly in the cities) are available in Bulgaria, so do not pack extra toothpaste, toilet paper, dental floss, and shampoo, unless you are very particular about what brands you like. This goes for cosmetics, too.
There are kitchen stores in larger cities in Bulgaria with practically everything you will need to equip even a gourmet kitchen; however, it might be easier and less expensive to pack some of the following:
- Favorite local spices, such as chipotle sauce or items generally purchased at specialty or ethnic food stores
- Favorite recipes using basic ingredients (you will also receive an excellent cookbook during training that was prepared by previous Volunteers)
- Oven thermometer (oven temperatures and indicators aren’t very accurate or standard in Bulgaria)
- Garlic press
- Plastic measuring cups and spoons (it can be tricky using recipes with U.S. measurements and metric measuring tools)
- Stainless steel vegetable peeler
- Compact sleeping bag, for weekend travel and winter warmth (consider a lightweight pad too)
- Contact lenses and cleaning solutions (the Peace Corps does not provide contact lens supplies and they are expensive locally)
- Sunglasses (can be bought locally, but cheap ones can be poor quality, and expensive ones are really expensive)
- Sturdy, water-resistant watch with an alarm (or bring a travel alarm clock) and an extra watchband
- Small backpack—durable, lightweight, and of good quality for overnight trips (suitcases are a nuisance and large packs may be cumbersome for short trips)
- Money pouch or belt (to hide your passport and other valuables when traveling)
- Swiss Army knife, with a corkscrew
- 35 mm camera (compact ones are best, since they are inconspicuous and easier to travel with); Kodak and Fuji films can be bought and developed locally, but there are few places, even in large cities, that can process Advantix and Advanced Photo System film
- A digital camera is a great idea if you are bringing a computer so you can download your photos — it’s a great way to send photos home via e-mail and a great way to share photos with your community. Processing film is expensive and not available in most small towns.
- A debit card or ATM card to withdraw cash that you know should work in Bulgaria and this region (for vacation travel)
- Personal checks from a U.S. checking account (handy if you plan to apply to graduate school while you’re here and as a service to Bulgarian students, who need personal checks, in exchange for cash, to pay for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and SAT tests)
- Credit cards (a few banks in Sofia offer cash advances and ATMs are becoming more common; also good for travel in other countries)
- Laptop—if you decide that you want one here with you (remember to bring an plug adapter with surge protector)
- A few novels to swap and any resources related to your program that you feel you must have
- Durable flashlight
- Compact sewing and tool kits
- Games (Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit, Pictionary, playing cards, Frisbee, etc.)
- Plastic storage bags of various sizes (generally not available in Bulgaria)
- Postcards, maps, and pictures from home to share with your community
- An American football
Note: If you bring valuable items such as a laptop, CD player, or musical instrument, bring a sales receipt or other documentation of ownership. In the event that we have to send your belongings home as unaccompanied baggage, proof of ownership prior to your arrival in Bulgaria must be presented to Bulgarian customs officials to avoid excessive customs fees and/or export restrictions. Also remember to insure any items of value.
Note: Don't worry if you forget something, you can find pretty much everything, especially if you go to any of the bigger cities. The communist years are over and since the late 90's availability of western products is vast and prices are still lower than in the US for most things.