Packing, Packing, Packing

My big duffel bag, filled with all of my clothes and shoes
My big duffel bag, filled with all of my clothes and shoes

Anyone who has ever had to pack for 2 years in just a couple of suitcases knows this is no easy feat.  I’ve been planning for packing for almost two months: making lists, getting things that were missing, figuring out what to use for luggage, and thinking about what I’ll miss and want to bring.  It’s hard stuff.  In some ways, I think it’s a bit harder to pack for the Peace Corps in Eastern European countries such as Moldova than it would be if I were going to, say, a country in Africa that is hot all year.  In Moldova, we need to bring clothes and necessities for three distinct seasons (hot summers, cold winters, and milder but rainy springs and falls).

One of the current volunteers recommended thinking of what we would need by thinking of packing for three weeks, instead of three seasons.  It’s common in  Moldova to wear the same outfit more than once in a week, so we don’t need a ton of variety day-to-day.  So basically, we need to pack as though we’re going somewhere hot for a week or so, somewhere cold for a week or so, and somewhere in-between for a week or so.  I found this tip quite helpful.  We were also advised to think of clothes in terms of layering- a shirt you were in the summer will work in the winter if you wear a warm sweater over it.  And, although the quality and style is not what you might be able to find in the United States, you can get most things here if you forget something or need to replace something (and several more modern countries are nearby, so you can also pick up things you need if you visit a country such as Germany).  One thing we were told not to skimp on is footwear, as the quality, price, variety, and sizes are very different in Moldova than in the United States.  If you have even somewhat larger feet, it’s very difficult to find shoes at all that will fit (luckily, I have quite small feet, so I shouldn’t have that issue).  In addition, road conditions make is so that shoes wear out much more quickly there.

Even with all this information (and more!), the prospect of packing is quite overwhelming.  I focused largely on winter necessities (like a very warm winter coat) and shoes, as well as professional clothes to wear to work.  Female teachers in Moldova generally wear skirts and dresses, which is a bit different from what I’ve typically worn teaching in the United States, so I also made sure I had plenty of dresses and skirts.  I’m feeling pretty comfortable with the clothes I’m bringing, although I wish I had a few more casual tanks and tees.

All my clothes and shoes- see the extra room?
All my clothes and shoes- see the extra room?

So what am I bringing? I’m bringing 2 pairs of jeans, 2 pairs of longer jean shorts, one pair of black skinny jeans, and one pair of dressier pants.  I’m bringing four skirts (black, green, navy, and a striped white, black, and grey maxi skirt), and five dresses (3 knit, super comfy dresses, 1 that’s slightly more dressy, and a dressy floral one for weddings and the like).  I’m bringing 3 long-sleeved shirts, 4 short-sleeved shirts, and 6 tank-tops (no spaghetti straps).  I’m bringing 2 sweater/cardigans, and 4 or 5 pull-over dressier sweaters.  I’m also bringing plenty of stockings, leggings, and long-underwear, sweatpants, a couple of lounge/exercise shirts, and 1 cami.

For shoes, I’m bringing a pair of sneakers, nicer tall black boots (that I got on clearance from JCPenny’s for $17- score!), my sturdy hiking boots, a pair of black dressy sandals, sturdy flip-flops, shower flip-flops (mine are from Old Navy when they had $5 flip-flops- I’ve had them for years!), and two pairs of black flats (one pair has a slight lift and aren’t quite as comfortable, the other are very comfortable, but not very good quality).

All the "other" stuff I'll need to fit- toiletries, odds and ends, and other necessities (and wants)
All the “other” stuff I’ll need to fit- toiletries, odds and ends, and other necessities (and wants)

I did a practice pack today, just with all of the clothes and shoes (I didn’t include toiletries or other things I need/want to bring), just to see how things would fit.  We are allowed to bring (Peace Corps pays for the extra baggage fee) 2 checked bags, a carry-on, and a personal item for luggage.  After reading lots of advice from current and past volunteers, I knew I really wanted to bring a large hiking-style pack as one of my checked bags.  However, a backpack, even a large one, doesn’t fit as much as a large suitcase or duffel bag, so I was a little nervous about fitting everything.  I figured if all of my clothes and shoes fit (and didn’t go over the weight limit) in my large rolling duffel bag, then I should be okay fitting everything else in my big pack, carry-on, and personal item.  I was able to fit it all (including large winter coat), with a bit of room to spare, and it was *just* under 50 pounds!  I’m planning to pack all of my shoes in the other two bags (as they are smaller and therefore won’t fit as much, therefore weighing less) in order to make the weight a little less.  There are a couple of items (like a blanket that I’m hoping to fit for comfort reasons, but can go without) that I’m hoping to fit.  Basically, I plan on putting all of my heavy items in my smaller checked bag, which is my Osprey Aura 65 pack.  I’m still trying to figure out my personal item- the pack I was hoping to use is a little too big, so I’ll have to pack it in one of my other bags, since I want it with me there.

We’ll see how my actual packing goes later in the week, but I think this is a good sign that I should be able to fit everything I need (and maybe some extras that I just want).  Yay!  Have you ever packed for a long-term trip or adventure?  Any tips?

Once Upon a Time…


Once upon a time, my parents saved up for the trip that would inspire my love of travelling and kick-start my goal of travelling the world.

In 2008, my family flew across the Atlantic Ocean for the first time in order to visit the beautiful country of Switzerland.  I fell in love with the country, with the food, with the mountains.  It was the first time we had traveled as a family to another country (other than Canada).  It was two blissful weeks, spent hiking the Alps, visiting small, idyllic cities, and spending time with my family.

Many people have asked me (and my parents) about how my parents feel about my decision to become a Peace Corps Volunteer.  In addition, my sister will be leaving in February to study abroad in South Africa.  She won’t return until July, so for a short amount of time, my parents will have their two daughters in opposite corners of the world, very far from the United States.  Many parents have expressed that they’re not sure they would be very excited for their daughters to travel to opposite corners of the world at the same time.  My parents, however, have been nothing but supportive.  Yes, they will miss both of us, but they are very excited for us as we embark on these journeys.  In fact, they are very proud of us for taking this chance.

Both of my parents love to travel.  It’s a love that started early, and it’s a love that they have shared with us our entire lives.  They both grew up in the same small town that they raised us in.  My mom understands the need to get away, even if only temporarily, as does my dad.  My mom went to Montana for college.  My dad lived in Japan for six months shortly after his college graduation, a trip he took on a whim without a ton of planning.  They have encouraged all of us to travel, to get out and see the world while we’re young and able.

My mother recently sent me a picture that had the words “You may feel all grown up and ready to face the world…but this is how your parents see you…and we always will” accompanied by a photo of a little girl.  My mom said this about the picture: “I’m okay with you going around the world – just wish I could follow and still be a part of all of it. Love to you!”  This is the kind of support that has encouraged me to enter the Peace Corps, that has encouraged me to follow my dreams.  So thank you, Mom and Dad, for your unwavering support, encouragement, and belief in my dreams!  I love you both!