Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Peace Corps Morocco Packing List (or, why I love spreadsheets)

Updated January 24: Thought of a few new things to add!

In a little less than 2 months, a whole new group of Peace Corps volunteers will be descending upon Morocco, to go through a similar experience to the one in which you have followed along with me over the past 4 months - learning a new culture, a language, host families, new cities, new food, new friends... I could go on and on. 

Two months before leaving for the Peace Corps (in early July, we left in September), I remember feeling crazed - Justin and I somehow thought it would be a great idea to plan a 6-week long international and cross-country trip right before we would leave, so almost all of our packing needed to be complete by mid-July. I spent a LOT of time reading blogs of then volunteers in Morocco and one of the most helpful things for me were packing lists that volunteers posted. So, to add back to the interweb karma that helped me in July, this blog post is all about my packing list. Peace Corps Morocco provides some guidelines in their welcome packet, but this is my take.

Getting Started
To start, my best advice is to start early and make lots of lists. For me, that meant a massive spreadsheet. Being the child of an engineer, there are few problems that a good spreadsheet can't solve (thanks Dad!). So, my PC Prep spreadsheet included a checklist of things to get done before we left, a packing list divided by type of item (you'll see more on that below), and a list of items that we needed to buy. The spreadsheet helped to keep me sane as the days ticked by quicker and quicker. Another piece of advice is not to stress and go as crazy as I did... truly, anything you might need is available in Morocco, so bring what you think you need and for everything else, it will be fine. I promise :)

Let's start off with the basics. Two pieces of luggage. I think you can pay to check a third piece of luggage if you want, but you will need to be able to carry everything from town to town, so I would recommend against it. While I was a bit nervous, it's really not that tough if you plan out your packing (the hardest part is keeping the bags under the weight limit). Because you are staying with host families and often are in smaller quarters, Peace Corps will have you leave 1 bag at the training site which you will only be able to access every few weeks. Just something to keep in mind. I suggest the following:
- Large suitcase with wheels: I got mine from Eagle Creek (they give a Peace Corps discount) and it has been great - very durable so far. I would recommend that you pack this suitcase with things that you don't anticipate needing for a while, as this would likely be the suitcase that you leave at your training site (for those coming in March, pack the winter clothing here as it should hopefully be warm by then!).
- Hiking backpack: Again, I got mine from Eagle Creek and it has been great. Pack the things that you need for training (basic clothing, toiletries, etc) in this bag.
- Duffel bag: You can use this as a carry-on, but it will also be helpful once you get lots and lots and lots of books from the Peace Corps - so don't pack it full. For me, I brought an empty duffel bag for the additional items picked up during training and it was helpful.
- Shoulder bag: Either a purse or a man-bag that is big enough to carry books and notebooks (and a laptop, if you are bringing one).
- Backpack: Recommended to bring for day trips - a bit easier to carry around than a duffel, and also helpful carting teaching materials to and from our Youth Center.
- TSA luggage locks: Definitely recommended, just to be safe.

Linens, etc
- Sleeping bag: It wasn't needed during training, but was really helpful once I moved into an apartment and didn't have a bed or blankets for a few days. Also helpful if you want to visit other Peace Corps friends who don't have extra places for sleeping. I read that people recommended a sleeping bag liner to keep it away from dust, but I haven't needed one.
- Lightweight towels: Definitely bring. I would recommend two. Also, the towels I have found in Morocco don't really pick up water so much as move them around, so you could bring 1-2 kitchen towels for your future apartment as well (or, just have those sent to you in a care package).
- Don't bring: sheets and pillowcases - you don't know what size bed you'll have, and you can find these here (not as great as in the U.S. but I didn't care too much about it). 

- Business Casual Outfits: You will need 1 outfit for staging (the event held before you leave the country) and 1 outfit for arrival in Morocco. Bring something that you can wear on the plane and something that is country-appropriate (skirt mid calf to full length, nothing too tight). I brought a skirt along with 2 shirts to alternate.
- Jackets: Shockingly before I came to Morocco I thought it was warm all the time. And while it is bright and sunny in mid-January (something that makes me not miss New York!) it gets really cold at night. I would recommend bringing 1 fleece jacket, and 1 lightweight waterproof jacket. If you wanted, you could also bring a cuter lightweight coat - I didn't and would love to have had something with me.
- Sweaters/Sweatshirt: Bring more than you think! I have 2 somewhat-heavy sweaters and right now I wear them all the time. I would recommend 3-4. I also brought a hooded sweatshirt that I wear a lot around the house when it's cold.
- Long and Short-Sleeved Shirts: Great for layering. I got some thin ones at Target that are loose and long.
- Cardigans: These have been great to throw on as an extra layer. I brought 3 lightweight, long-sleeved cardigans. 
- Tank tops: Bring as needed for wearing around the house. So far I have just layered them under shirts when it was a bit on the warmer side.
- Pants: I brought 2 pairs of jeans (not too tight) and a pair of black pants. I wore the black pants once but wear the jeans almost all the time now.
- Skirts: I brought a bunch of long skirts to wear, and they were great when it was really warm when we first arrived in Morocco. I bought a skirt online from Maccabi Skirts and it is fantastic - super durable and lots of pockets. Remember that it should be long or mostly long.
- Leggings: Great to wear under skirts when you need a bit more warmth - I brought 2 pairs.
- Underwear and socks: Great advice that I read on another blog is to keep in mind that your underwear will be hanging on the roof, drying in the sun for all Moroccans to see - so edit your bringings as appropriate :) Also, bring a pair or two of thick socks for the really cold days/nights.
- Other great warm stuff to have: Gloves, hats (a warm one and a more casual one), scarves (for wrapping your hair after getting out of a shower - Moroccans are very concerned that wet hair will make you get a cold!), and thermal underwear. Just a note though, if you don't own a heavy coat or lots of warm clothes, you don't need to buy them if you are arriving in Morocco in March. It is all available here for cheaper than in America, and you'll stick out a little less if you wear what the locals wear!
- Things I brought but haven't used yet: Athletic shorts (maybe will wear around the house when it's warmer), bandannas (I have heard that they have uses but none yet), belt, sweatpants. 

- Dress Shoes: Just one pair needed to go with the nicer outfits. I brought a pair that is both somewhat dressy but also easy to wear every day if I wanted here (i.e. no heels).
- Everyday shoes: For me, I recommend Tom's - I have 2 pairs and I swear by them.
- Sneakers: For running/hiking/etc.
- Sturdy sandals: Throw out those bad flip-flops! At least get Crocs which have more support. I have learned my lesson.
- Slippers: I didn't bring them and they are on their way via USPS now! We have tile floors and they get SO. COLD.
- Don't bring: Snow boots. So far I have not seen a drop of snow, and if you need them, you can buy them here. 

- Jewelry: I didn't bring anything super valuable, but I did bring a bunch of pairs of earrings that I really like and I alternate them almost every day.
- Cheap watch: I got one at Target and highly recommend bringing one. Helpful when you need a timer too. 
- Hair clips/bands/ties: If you are a lady... or a man with longer hair. I brought a bunch of bands to hold back my hair which has been helpful when I'm not styling my hair (which is, to be honest, every day).
- Sunglasses: Haven't worn mine but only because I keep forgetting to bring them with me. There seems to be sun almost year round! 

- The Basics: Brush/comb, deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, floss shampoo, conditioner, body wash, shaving cream, razors - I brought one extra of each which was helpful to get through the full 3 months of training without having to think about it. I very much recommend bringing floss to combat the massive amount of sugar that you take in here!
- Makeup: I brought a small supply and have only used it twice. But nice to have as an option.
- Lotion: I'm finding that my hands are super dry, both from the weather and from harsher soap (keep in mind that you do laundry by hand). It seems like lotion is kind of expensive here, so I would recommend bringing at least a bottle to last you for a bit.
- Hand wipes and hand sanitizer: These are KEY as you adjust to squat toilets and lack of toilet paper around. I made myself a small little bag that I carried with me that had hand sanitizer, hand wipes, and toilet paper.
- Lady supplies: If you take birth control, bring a 3 month supply. And I recommend either the Diva Cup or reusable pads that can be easily washed.
- Other helpful items: Hair scissors, nail file and scissors, extra pairs of glasses if you wear them. No need to bring medical items or sunscreen/bug spray as they are provided by PC.

- Camera and supplies: Important to document your experiences! I recommend getting rechargeable batteries and a charger to use.
- Flash drive: Helpful for sharing files with the Peace Corps and your fellow PCV's, and for using at cyber cafes.
- Computer: Be sure to insure it and get a good virus-protection program on it. If you use flash drives at cyber cafes (as I noted above) always scan them for viruses afterwards! Also, bring a case for the laptop to protect it.
- Flashlight: I brought a big Maglite and also a small little flashlight that attaches to my keychain; both have been super helpful.
- Headphones/iPod: I brought the iPhone that I was using before leaving and it's nice to have the music when I need to zone out or just want a taste of home (in December, my Christmas holiday mix was in full swing!). 
- External hard drive: If you have one, it's great for storing photos and files on your computer. Also, PCV's like to (illegally) share TV shows, movies, music, ebooks, etc. 
- Memory card reader: We have a cheap one that reads almost every kind of memory card, and it has been really great to have to share our photos with friends and also to get photos from people with all sorts of memory cards.
- Outlet adapters: I only brought 1 but it might be helpful to have 2.
- Don't bring: surge protectors (not necessary), a shortwave radio (we have internet in our apartment so we can listen through the interwebs). 

Job-Related Supplies
- Books: I got a Kindle as a gift shortly before leaving, and while I was opposed to it in theory originally, it makes a lot of sense when living in another country.
- Notebooks: Super helpful for having during training and for using when planning activities/classes in the community. I brought 3 and still need more.
- Markers: A last minute decision to bring and glad I did - it has been helpful when making posters for class. I also brought dry erase board materials - a mini dry erase board along with markers and erasers - they don't have the materials in our Youth Center so I'm glad I brought them.
- Scissors: Very helpful to have.
- Language-Related Materials: Index cards, an English dictionary, a French-English dictionary, all are helpful to have (you will get a Moroccan Arabic-English dictionary once you get here).
- Writing Utensils: Pens, pencils, etc.
- Mailing envelopes: Good to have!
- Folder or Binder: You get lots and lots of paperwork from the Peace Corps. I brought an expandable file which I can label which has been really helpful. 

Kitchen Things
- Plastic bags: I brought assorted sizes and they have had lots of uses.
- Vegetable peeler: Haven't seen one here and glad to have it!
- Nalgene water bottle: Nice to have in the apartment and when on the run.
- Things I wish I brought: An oven mitt, measuring cups, and measuring spoons - haven't found any of them here.

Other Misc Items
- Umbrella: Good to have!
- Duct tape: So many uses.
- Sticky tacky: Great for getting things onto the fully-tiled walls. 
- Games (Uno, cards, etc): Bring 2 extra sets as a gift for each host family - they love Uno here! 
- Exercise equipment: I brought jump rope. Wish I brought a yoga mat.
- Pictures/Postcards from home: Things to remember home by! Justin and I asked friends and family to send us photos and messages and we printed a photo book online, which is so nice to flip through from time to time. 
- Tote bags: Great to have when going to the markets to buy food.
- Small sewing kit: Great for the inevitable mishaps!
- Swiss Army knife: A bazillion uses. Just a heads up that according to the Peace Corps, these are technically illegal in Morocco (didn't find that out until after we got here with ours).
- Travel alarm clock: Or just use your watch.
- Maps: U.S. (great when telling people where you are fun), and Morocco of course!
- Hair dryer: It's up to you. I have used mine once so far, so if you bring one I would recommend a small one that doesn't take up much room.
- Peanut butter: My husband insisted that I add this one. They have PB here but in small containers and only available at supermarkets in the big cities (and also a bit on the expensive side). We have a big jar coming en route from Mom :) And while we are on the food subject - you will really miss having CHEESE here! But fortunately you can have hard cheeses shipped that don't need to stay refrigerated (i.e. parmesan).
- Don't bring: Bicycle gloves, Coleman camp shower, money belt (I just use a safe, well-zippered purse)

I hope that this is helpful! Please feel free to post comments or contact me if you have any questions. And for those coming in March, I look forward to meeting you :)


  1. My husband and I are two of those coming in March! Thank you very much for posting this. Though there are many packing lists out there, I find that each I read sparks new ideas and plans for my packing. I will post this on our Facebook page. :)

    1. Can't wait to meet you both!! If you (or anyone in your FB group) have any questions between now and March, please feel free to reach out - and enjoy your last few months!

  2. My friend Ellis tried to post this comment but it wasn't going through on her end, so I'm trying! Here's part 1 of 2:

    Hey Lauren!
    I loved reading your post and as I have been traveling over the past year as well, I have a few helpful travel tips to add in case you want to add them to your list:
    As far as luggage- one large camping backpack. I have Lowe Alpine that I swear by. You'd be amazed what fits in there and it's practically indestructible. I even have enough room to tote along my climbing rope and harness on top of a full array of clothing, a sleeping bag, a tent, and combat boots for hiking. If you're interested in a sleeping bag that is super small, but plush and comfy but only takes up 1/2 the space and weight of a normal sleeping bag, I say go ahead and spend the money. What you make up for in space and weight will make you one happy camper (sorry for the cheese) so I recommend North Face's compact series bags. REI, EMS , and Sierra Trading Post all have them. I also have a shoulder bag that has a zipper (I call it my What-if bag) that is canvas and can roll up to the size of a toilet paper cardboard tube. For shopping, gathering groceries, or toting materials, it should be sturdy, but compact. Those nifty recyclable shopping bags you can find at Trader Joes, Whole Foods, or in the airport are perfect.
    For clothing, I say less is more. I like to bring dresses more than anything because it's all one piece and generally packs smaller. 1 or 2 shirts that match up with 2 skirts and 1 or MAYBE 2 pairs of pants is perfect. That way you have about 10 outfits already done and it's as small as a basketball. Leggings are definitely key when you travel because they're great not only for warmth but also for modesty. You never know when what you're wearing could be construed as hussy-ville. I also like 1 black and/or 1 brown cardigan for this reason as well. As for the cold, I like long underwear (which can be worn underneath the leggings and you don't look like an eskimo (sneaky!) and a poofer jacket that zips up small into its pocket. Patagonia has a great down filled "sweater" with a zip front that you can generally find on sale and packs down to be a little bigger than your foot (or smaller on our case, right? ;-)
    Wherever I go, I like to bring a pashmina scarf that's a lightish color like khaki or silver. It can serve as a towel, a head scarf, a sarong, and an actual scarf for warmth (and goes with everything). They dry super fast too FYI. Keep in mind it can also be worn as a top under a sweater with a more top. You're welcome. I also carry around a camping towel that balls up to the size of my fist- again, REI and EMS have them. But if you're pressed for time, the Sham-WOW is the exact same thing. It' not luxurious, but you can always buy the nice stuff later. Better to carry less up front and have access to all the basics instead of applying an ice pack to your back.
    Lastly, forget base, concealer, blush, etc. All you really need is mascara and eyeshadow, and some lipgloss with SPF. Your new base should be sunblock or sunscreen and MAYBE a little powder. You're not working in a 9-5 anymore and thank goodness. A few dangly earrings to make you feel sexy will do the trick as you generally forget to wear jewelry at all on the road except for that small, basic silver or gold pair of earrings you never take off and that ring you bought at the local artist market when you first arrived.

  3. Part 2 of 2 from Ellis:

    Here here to the Tom's shoes as well as converse sneakers (low-top) and a nice pair of cheapo old navy sandals that look nice. They're all light weight, can pack up small, and give you tons of options for exercise, lounging, and working. All footwear is replaceable. People have feet everywhere.
    And also- cheers to the watch! I suggest going to a chinatown of sorts and buying 2 fake rolex-like watches- mostly for bribes just in case. Be sure they aren't too fancy looking- that they just have the symbol of the crown on them... It's always nice to hand over an "heirloom" watch were something to happen to you than lose everything. It actually works- no joke. Just make a pained expression when you hand it over. Tears also help, so conjure up that high school drama queen! The Peace Corps might be different, but I'm just sayin'.
    Best of luck with everything- just had to chime in as a fashionista on the road with limited wardrobe abilities and a background in border crossing bribery. :-)
    Also- as an addendum, I just took a shower (TMI, I know) and I realized, ya know- I wish I had brought a pummace stone with me. Your feet take a beating on the road!

  4. This was really interesting to read through. Thanks for sharing this list. I had no idea that some of these items were included on the list.

  5. Thank you for this great list! I'm in the group leaving for Morocco in January and have an extensive spreadsheet going (I'm also the daughter of an engineer), and seeing current/returned PCVs packing lists has been so helpful!!

    1. Hi Alina, I'm so glad to hear that it was helpful for you!! Please feel free to reach out if you have questions and I wish you all the best in the coming months before the big move :)