Packing Revisited

When I left for Kenya, I wrote a blog including a semi-final packing list I constructed based on other blogs, Peace Corps requirements/suggestions, etc. Now, that I’ve been here for 20 months my ideas are a little bit different and I’ve been thinking it would be useful for people who are preparing to leave to have a new slightly wiser post!

This is definitely for a female volunteer in Kenya…I can’t speak for other countries and in reality its hard to know until you get here/to your village and everyone has personal preferences.


  • Headlamp – More and more volunteers end up having access to electricity in their homes but I haven’t my whole service and its useful even if you do. Night time trips to the choo, power outages, visiting friends without power, camping, etc. Mine is marmot brand from REI.
  • Rainjacket – Parts of Kenya are very dry but most volunteers are clustered in the western part of the country where it rains March-June and August-December sometimes everyday. Mine is Patagonia.
  • Sturdy shoes – I brought a pair of Teva mush flip flops I wore around the house and used for bucket bathing, busted after 8 months. I also brought a pair of Teva Neota’s that I wore everyday around my village and they busted after 19 months…for that reason I would recommend Chacos! You can buy flip flops in country and tons of cheap pretty beaded sandals for something dressier. A few other suggestions…something closed toe like chucks or Toms works well for village wear and keeps your feet cleaner than sandals. I never bought gum/rain boots but I brought waterproof hiking shoes which worked just as well for rainy season mud, they also got use hiking Mt. Elgon, going to Hell’s Gate National Park, hiking Kakamega Rainforest, and climbing Mt. Kenya-I would definitely recommend bringing some. Running shoes, I am a runner so this was a priority for me if you plan on working out during your service or doing any road races bring a good pair of shoes. Heels, if you like wearing heels in America bring a good sturdy pair (wedges) that go with everything. Your social life won’t be nil, there are plenty of opportunities to go dancing or dress more Western when you’re not in your community. However, stilletos won’t work well for the poorly maintained roads/sidewalks in Kenya.
  • Sleeping bag – I used this throughout my homestay (Loitokitok is cold in July and they didn’t provide bedding for me), also great for crashing on other volunteers floors, camping, etc. I brought an REI travelsack which was great for portability but not good for cold weather. If you’re planning on climbing Mt. Kenya or Kilimanjaro you might want to bring a bag with atleast a 30 degree rating and a liner.
  • Electronics – Even if you don’t have electricity at your house, you should have access somewhere in your village or organizations office. Bring a laptop/netbook you’ll need it for work and entertainment. I would also suggest bringing an external harddrive, volunteers trade movies, music and tv shows like its our job, mp3 player, basic kindle/e-reader, flash drive, speakers (preferably rechargeable ones) for parties, etc., digital camera.
  • Misc hygiene – You can basically get any medication you need from Peace Corps for free and other stuff you can easily buy. However there are a few things to bring…Aloe Vera, if you can find it at all its really expensive and if you’re fair skinned you will get some crazy burns! If you wear contacts, bring the supply you need and plenty of solution. Tampons, these are taboo and most Kenyans use pads. Personally, I use a Divacup.
  • Household – Peeler, good set of knives, potholders, leatherman, quick dry towel, duct tape, ziploc bags, sewing kit.
  • Bags – I brought an internal fame backpack and daypack both from Eagle Creek which were awesome and I use constantly. It’s also useful to have a messenger bag to take to work. And a simple purse (you can also buy them in Kenya) I brought a leather cross body purse for its durability and less stealable qualities.
  • Clothes – You’ll have to satisfy Peace Corps by dressing professionally during training but don’t base your whole warddrobe on buttons downs and khakis. Bring a few essential items like skirts below the knee, cotton t-shirts, plenty of bras and underwear, sports  bras,  yoga pants,and leggings. If you wouldn’t wear it in America, don’t wear it here. Kenya has second hand clothes markets in just about every village where you can get things like H&M for 50bob, your warddrobe will expand! Also, you can get clothing made at tailors here. I bought expensive cotton slips unnecessarily! If your skirt has a liner, you don’t need a slip and its just as acceptable and more comfortable to wear spandex shorts/biker shorts under skirts to be culturally appropriate. Its also typically ok to wear pants and tank tops. Avoid, short skirts, spaghetti straps, low cut/cleavage, and white gets dirty and stained easily. However, when you’re in bigger cities going out you can wear a dress or cute top to go to a club or nice dinner doesn’t hurt to bring one or two! To work out, I wear running shorts over leggings or capris and I have wicking shirts that are great. Bring a swimsuit! In addtion to beaches in Kenya there are pools everywhere that you can go to for around 200 bob and bikinis are acceptable.
  • Water bottle – I have a Nalgene but any brand works.


There’s plenty of stuff I brought and didn’t need, or never used. That includes books…you can trade them get them at the PC Office and a kindle is a better option. Swahili guides…your training is enough and you might end up somewhere where you use English or a dialect more. Money belt…never used! Hammock…never used! You can also buy tents in country. Solar shower…I found I preferred bucket bathing because of the lack of water pressure with the shower. Shortwave radio, also rarely used and didn’t work well.

A few other notes…Kenya has a large chain store called Nakumatt that is in every reasonably sized town and is basically just like Walmart. You can buy everything from Oreos to dish soap to Pantene Pro-V. So…don’t pack that stuff but I would suggest bringing a shampoo supply for training. You can get all kinds of things sent in care packages…so packing less is more! Parts of Kenya are hot and parts are cold…you won’t know what your climate will be like until you get your village assignment during training so, bring things you can layer.


Personal Preferences: Pillows…in Kenya suck. If you have to have an awesome pillow, bring one. Make-up if you wear it bring a good supply. I’m glad I brought things like face powder, eyeliner, and mascara although I typically don’t wear them in my village. Hair Products – you can get hairspray in Kenya but other hair products are either hard to find or poor quality so if you want them bring them. Also bring elastics and bobby pins.

That about sums it up, hope this helps and feel free to ask questions!

About elizabethmatthew

Peace Corps Volunteer serving in Kenya
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3 Responses to Packing Revisited

  1. Lin McIntosh says:

    What did you do for everyday “business” shoes? I’ve noticed in previous visits that closed shoes are the norm with local folks … I felt a little uncomfortable in my Birks … I don’t know where I’ll be in country (I leave for training June 1, 2013) and wonder if the boots are OK walking to and from wherever I have to go and donning more professional shoes upon arrival. What did you wear for “professional” meetings? The suggested packing list includes a couple of “business” outfits, but I’ve lived in pants suits for my entire professional life. Long skirt with jacket OK?

    • Hi Lin, In my opinion Peace Corps over stresses professional dress to volunteers. I wore my Tevas every single day throughout training and in my village (until they recently broke) and never had a problem. I would say birkenstocks are definitely a good option. I’ve also traveled in sketchers flats before, they’re a lot sturdier than a ballet flat but still look nice and would be a good closed toe option in Kenya. I brought a few button down shirts and a pair of khaki pants which I rarely used after training. I typically wear a skirt and cotton top everywhere I go and this is adequate. I should add that I wear skirts because my village is hot and they’re cooler. Its perfectly acceptable to wear pants here and most female volunteers do, however, they’ll want you to wear skirts during training. A skirt and jacket or pants suit sounds fine. People dress professionally in big cities but much less so in villages where you will be working. Men wear closed toe dress shoes in settings like schools, however many women wear some type of dress sandal. Most other villagers wear flip flops or go barefoot. Wear what you will feel comfortable in.

      • Lin McIntosh says:

        Very interesting! The info from Peace Corps makes skirts sound mandatory for the duration of service, and I don’t often see a female in pants anywhere in Africa except occasionally in the capitol cities, on youngsters, & foreigners. I will probably feel more comfortable in skirts (even if I have tights on under), but I felt a little “exposed” in Birks. There are some “bities” around, especially out in the bush. I wish we could get just a little info on where we might wind up so I could prepare a little better. I really appreciate your packing list … I learned that the summer weight sleeping bag I bought won’t do it – I need something heavier – and that it’s cold in Loitokitok in July. My major debate now is about the backpack I bought to walk the Camino de Santiago versus the carry-on wheelie I could just about live out of for a year if not for the personal hygiene items I prefer. Nakamatt’s doesn’t have a lot of choice in my experience. However, I’ve never used a backpack … but I also have a vision of traveling on local transportation with my wheelie. Any other advice you might have for this 70-year-old explorer will be greatly appreciated. I’m in the business/community development sector ,……

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