Packing list for South Africa
This list has been compiled by Volunteers serving in South Africa and is based on their experience. Use it as an informal guide in making your own list, bearing in mind that experience is individual. There is no perfect list! You obviously cannot bring everything we mention, so consider those items that make the most sense to you personally and professionally. You can always have things sent to you later. As you decide what to bring, keep in mind that you have an 80pound weight restriction on baggage. And remember, you can get almost everything you need in South Africa.
Luggage should be durable, lightweight, lockable, and easy to carry. Wheels are a plus, especially those suitable for wheeling luggage over nonpaved surfaces. Backpacks without frames are very practical. A midsize backpack for weekend and weeklong trips is essential. Also, a regular-size book bag is a good thing to bring. When choosing luggage, remember that you will be hauling it in and out of taxis and buses, and often lugging it around on foot.
The three key qualities for clothing in rural South Africa are that it have dark colors, have many pockets, and be washable. You will wash clothes by hand in cold water, in a basin or bucket, and hang them out to dry on a line or the nearest fence. You will iron your clothes using a standard electric iron or one that you heat up on your stove. You will need to dress conservatively. It does get cold here, so bring warm some clothes. Note that you will have limited storage space in your house, so try to bring clothing that can serve several purposes and still look presentable after several wearings.
- Warm coat/jacket (not necessarily down; fleece works well and can be layered)
- Waterproof rain jacket/poncho
- Durable jeans (for weekends and travel)
- Two or three sweaters (lightweight cotton and wool)
- Two or three pairs of walking-length shorts
- Long thermal underwear
- Good socks, including thick ones
- Baseball cap or sun hat
- Swimsuit and sportswear
Men dress neatly and professionally in all workplaces, which means dress slacks or nice khakis, dress shirts, and dress shoes/loafers. Schoolteachers in particular are expected to wear ties while on duty. Jeans are not allowed to be worn at work.
- Two or three dress slacks/khakis
- Plenty of cotton underwear
- Three or four cotton dress shirts (button-down, both long and short sleeve)
- Two or three polo shirts
- One sport coat or suit
- Two or three ties
- T-shirts (neutral colors)
Women dress in a stylish and professional manner in workplaces, which means dresses, skirts and blouses, and dress shoes (flat or low-heeled, with good support and rubber soles) or sandals. Short shorts, miniskirts, and tops that show a lot of skin (e.g., halter tops with spaghetti straps) are inappropriate for women in village settings.
- Three to five dresses or skirts (knee length or longer)
- Two to four lightweight polyester/cotton blouses (short or long sleeve)
- T-shirts (neutral colors)
- Tights to wear with skirts in winter
- Plenty of cotton underwear and bras
- Heavy-duty sports bra
- Cotton half slips (knee and ankle length)
- Comfortable dress shoes or loafers for men
- Dress shoes with flat or low heels for women
- Athletic shoes
- Waterproof hiking boots
- Flip-flops/shower shoes
People who wear large sizes (12-plus for men, 10-plus for women), wide sizes, or corrective shoes should consider bringing an extra pair or two of shoes, as such shoes are difficult to find here.
Personal Hygiene and Toiletry Items
All the little things you need to keep your life running smoothly are available locally at prices comparable to those in the United States, so do not burden yourself with them. But bring enough toiletries to get you through training, as you will be in a rural setting where supplies may be limited.
- Two pairs of contact lenses or prescription eyeglasses (sunglasses are a must, so bring an extra pair; the Peace Corps will not replace prescription sunglasses)
- Prescription drugs (bring a three-month supply to last until the Peace Corps can reorder them)
- Kitchen: You can easily purchase any needed supplies (dishes, pots, glasses, utensils), so do not use your 80 pounds on these items. However, you might want to bring your favorite cookbook.
- Two towels (to have during training)
- Stationery and envelopes to last during the 8 to 10 weeks of pre-service training
- Watch—durable, water-resistant, inexpensive
- Reliable alarm clock
- Money belt that fits under your clothes
- Small sewing kit
- Radio/cassette/CD player
- Camera (35 mm point-and-shoot; film can be bought and developed here)
- Small binoculars—handy for spotting birds/animals in the parks
- Swiss army knife or Leatherman
- Camping equipment if you like camping (e.g., sleeping bag, backpack, and small tent; also available locally)
- Solar-powered, rechargeable batteries with charger
- Water bottle (e.g., Nalgene)
- Pictures of hometown, historical sites, family, and friends
- U.S. stamps (letters can often be mailed by people traveling back home)
- Maps of the United States and the world—good as teaching aids and wall hangings
- Small flashlight and extra bulbs
- Guidebooks on the region
- Novels—to swap after reading
- Hobby materials like sketching pads and pencils
- Musical instruments
- Games (Scrabble, cards, chess, Frisbee, etc.)
- Work gloves (for gardeners)