What we did and didn’t bring, What we wish we brought, and Why (For 2 people)
FLEXIBILITY – The #1 thing you need in Jamaica is flexibility! Climates, site placements, and job requirements will vary greatly across the island and so will your clothing/packing needs. You will inevitably add to what you bring in your suitcase- whether it is purchasing things on island or having them sent/brought to you by family and friends. Here’s what we did:
- Checked: 3 rolling duffle bags, 1 soft duffle bag
- Carry on: a messenger/shoulder bag each and one canvas bag
- Note: We chose not to bring our backpacking backpacks because we were advised that these are not used by Jamaicans, would make us stand out even more, and are unnecessary as Peace Corps is not really a travel experience anyway (there are many who did bring them though and like it. It’s whatever you feel comfortable with). The key with luggage is being able to manage it on your own during potentially long walks through the airport or to your home-stay houses in the first few weeks. Rolling duffles worked well because of their versatility and maneuverability. We especially like this one from REI.
- Musical instrument: We opted not to bring a guitar or ukulele because we weren’t sure how much we’d actually use it. Also, other volunteers said the airplane fees for transporting them to Jamaica were pretty steep. If you do bring an instrument, you can call PCJ to help coordinate things and to have it temporarily stored during training. If you want a portable guitar, check out the amazing folding guitar from http://www.voyageairguitar.com/
Highly Recommended Items (at least for the first 3 months):
- A good, compact umbrella (you never know when it will rain here and its way more effective than a jacket)
- Exofficio quick-dry underwear (worth the extra expense, plus you get a Peace Corps discount)
- A good bag for lugging your training binder and/or laptop and other materials. Should have a strong shoulder strap and close/fasten at the top.
- Good laptop and external hard drive
- E-reader or iPad if you have one (great for entertainment)
- Small Flash/USB drive at least over 8gb – (for sharing of entertainment)
- Earplugs (unless you’re a super heavy sleeper)
- Your own self-care products for the two homestays during training:
- Toiletries (although your host family can take you by bus to MegaMart and get almost anything if you forget)
- A small thing of laundry soap (we used concentrated backpackers type), especially if you exercise and will need to do more frequent washing in the sink/shower.
Clothes: FEMALE Education Volunteer
- 3+ dresses nice enough for church (light-weight; covered shoulders, chest, and back; at or below knee cap) Jamaicans like to dress formal so err on the dressier side.
- 2+ lightweight boleros (shoulder cover) in neutral colors
- These are very popular and handy, especially during training, church, and work settings when women’s shoulders should be covered. I brought one black and one white and I probably should have also brought a grey or brown.
- 2 pairs of running shoes
- These got dirty quickly because of dirt roads and dusty/muddy fields where we worked out. Two pairs are good because they can take a while to dry out.
- Work/walk shoes: Black or brown sandals that are sturdy but still dressy
- I found a good pair by Abeo at the Walking Company store, and another by Columbia
- Another option is to carry a change of dressy/work shoes in your bag and walk in more comfortable shoes. You just have to be prepared to carry the extra bulk.
- Flip-flops are not acceptable and sometimes even dressy sandals that take the shape of a flip-flop (one strap between the first two toes) are considered too casual
- Many schools require teachers’ shoes to have either a closed toe or a closed heel, depending on the principal
- Church/formal shoes
- Water/walking shoes (something sturdy that you can hike up a river or walk through town in the rain in, like Tevas)
- flip flops for in the house
- Several work shirts/blouses
- Wrinkle-free, quick dry are best. If they’re sleeveless, must be able to pair with a bolero, sweater, or scarf. No low neck-line.
- Work skirts/pants
- I brought mostly skirts (they seem more comfortable in hot climates to me). Go to the knee cap and not straight-lined so you have room to move and “air out.”
- I brought one pair of dark grey Capri pants that could almost pass as slacks. Capris are not necessarily appropriate for school setting. I also brought one light-weight pair of dark grey paints that won’t show sweat.
- Some people brought jeans and we were allowed to wear these on Fridays during training and some work places allow jeans from time to time, but jeans just seemed too hot to me.
- I did end up getting one pair of loose, stretchy pants while here and I wear them when it cools down in the evening and I want more mosquito protection around the ankles
- Running/work-out clothes
- These should definitely be of quick-drying micro-fibers because they will smell and you’ll need to wash them frequently (in the sink sometimes). Nothing tight or revealing that would attract unwanted attention.
- Light jacket
- I wore a light-weight hoodie on the airplane and during some of our sessions in Kingston where there was air-conditioning. If you’re placed in the mountains you’ll also need more long-sleeved things.
- Exofficio quick-dry underwear
- I brought about 10 pairs along with a few cotton pairs and then had more sent to me. The Exofficio are so comfortable in the heat and they dry way more quickly. Remember that usually the number of underwear you have will determine the max number of days you can go without doing laundry.
- The only socks I’ve really used have been for running and the lighter-weight they are, the faster they’ll dry on the line.
- Hat (for sun)
- 2 pairs of glasses, sunglasses
- Hair bands, bobby pins, clips, butterfly clip
- Non-leather belt (so it doesn’t mold)
Clothes: MALE Youth Development Volunteer
- Church/formal outfit: long-sleeve white dress shirt with tie (many men here will wear suit jackets to events but you can get by without if you want)
- 4+ short-sleeve dress shirts (wrinkle-free, quick dry, plaid is always good)
- 2 polos (these are sometimes not considered dressy enough for certain work situations but they’re fine for youth programs, some Jamaicans wear “cuban” shirts)
- Black and khaki work slacks
- jeans (many Youth programs allow casual dress but not always shorts)
- work/walk shoes (Clarks)
- Formal/church shiny black dress shoes
- water sandals
- 2 running shoes
- house flip-flops
- non-leather belt
- running clothes
- quick-dry underwear
- hat (for sun)
- 2 glasses
- sweat rags/handkerchiefs
- A water bottle each
- Should have flip cover or some kind of protection for the mouthpiece. During training, water jugs are always provided for refilling. Tap water is safe in JA.
- Messenger bag
- Women’s bag for work
- A large purse with sturdy shoulder straps fits well here. It helps if you can fit your training binder and even your laptop. You’ll be lugging a lot of stuff during training, sometimes walking a mile or so each way. You may also want to use it for overnight trips.
- Drawstring bag
- Despite being warned that back-packs stand out here, people do use the regular school backpacks, so sometimes a drawstring backpack is better than a side bag for long walks to training. I ended up using it at Hub when we walked about a mile to class each day.
- Bandannas/handkerchiefs (for wiping sweat)
- Sweat bands (for exercising)
- Sturdy, compact umbrellas
- You never know when it’s going to absolutely pour on your walk home, and rain jackets can get too stuffy in the humidity.
- Toiletries: brush, comb, nail clippers, mini scissors, tweezers, razors, floss, etc.
- contacts and solution for 3 months (discouraged by Peace Corps)
- Large quick-dry towels for the beach, weekend travel, or just as back-up
- Shower towels and washcloths
- We usually share shampoo so we got a Costco size bottle, but since we were in different sectors and separated for 5 weeks during Hub, we also brought a smaller bottle to fill up so we’d each have one.
- Note: Toiletries are available to purchase during training if you really need. You just can’t be sure exactly when you’ll have the free time to be able to restock. Many of the same brands are available or if not, something similar.
- We ended up buying beach towels on island
- Laptop and charger, laptop lock
- Almost every volunteer brought a laptop because they are very useful here- plus you’re expected to type and e-mail PC reports. Bring one you’re not afraid to get damaged, insure it, but also make sure it’s in decent working condition or it will drive you nuts!
- Must have new version of Java to run the PC reporting program every trimester
- iPad (and/or Kindle/E-Readers)
- When we split during Hub training, one of us took the laptop and the other took the iPad. Size and weight should be considered since some home-stay families do not have internet and you’ll want to carry the laptop to the training site to get wireless.
- Note: One volunteer who only brought a tablet was frustrated with its limited functionality, especially when it came to opening the Peace Corps report program, so she ended up having a laptop sent to her.
- A number of people kept their iPhones, purely to use for mobile wireless so they wouldn’t have to cart their laptops to certain places. Not a bad idea if you already have one and would be getting rid of it otherwise.
- External hard drive loaded with movies, back-up files, work-out videos (this is pretty big among most volunteers)
- Color markers, glue stick, scissors
- only because I knew I’d want them for my own use right away. Any of these can be easily purchased in country
- surge protectors
- should always be used when plugging in your computer, in case of power surge
- A two-prong adapter could possibly be helpful too but most homes have regular three-prong somewhere
- social security cards and passport photos (however many Peace Corps asks you to bring)
- actual passports, copies of passports, copy of marriage certificate
- PC will issue you a no-fee passport but if you might do significant traveling afterward, you may want your original passport as well
- loan deferment papers and pre-stamped envelope for the insurance company
- Kitchen Knife – Wustof Santoku and paring knife (If you like to cook, you’ll want to bring you own knives. Hard to fine a good, sharp pair)
- can opener (rumored to be difficult to find a good one)
- vegetable peeler (difficult to find a good one)
- travel-size toiletries for trips
- hand wash laundry soap for the first few weeks
- feminine products (bring in bulk if you prefer a certain brand but you can easily find regular stuff in JA too)
- mini hair dryer (and straightener if you want to attempt to control the humidity friz)
- razors and extra cartridges
- quick-dry travel towels
- Orange Off spray (PC also supplies insect repellant but we think the orange canister has a better smell. This is also available at very select stores but can be expensive.)
- Sunscreen (PC also supplies SPF30)
- favorite recipes
- list of addresses of friends and family
- yoga mats
- Sleeping mats can also be helpful if you’re not a yoga person. If you have one, you can use it for the 2 night “shadowing” of another volunteer during training, as well as to go visit or host friends during your service. We decided we didn’t want to use up the space in our luggage for sleeping pads since we could use the yoga mats if absolutely necessary.
- small duct tape (which has limited effect in humidity), small super glue
- digital camera, charger, USB adapter
- video camera and cords, charger (doesn’t apply to everyone but we love making videos)
- iPod shuffles
- travel Scrabble, bananagrams, other games
- some games are worth double because they can be for personal use but also for educational tools with children
- swim goggles
- We like to snorkel as well as swim for exercise, but don’t want to carry the bulky snorkel gear so goggles are the cheap, efficient way to go
- stationary and U.S. “Forever” stamps (can be used to send mail through the U.S. Embassy)
- G2 gel pens .05 (pens are easy to lose and you’ll be taking notes during training so bring a pack)
- swiss army knife
- thumb drives
- advil (ibuprofren is provided in med kits but I prefer Advil for my frequent headaches)
- gifts for host families
- Calendars or picture books of your home state are easy to pack and always a good bet
- We also gave a Hawaii-print hot/cold bag for groceries to our host mother and she loved it
- One debit card/credit card from home
- You will get a Jamaican bank account and ATM card upon arrival, with opportunity to deposit US cash into the account. Bringing one card from home can be helpful not only to maintain your credit but to make purchases through Amazon.com or airlines for vacation
- Hamper for clothes
- You can always use a plastic bag or purchase a plastic bin when you move to site, but we brought a cheap mesh bag so dirty clothes could air out and not mold
- Roach or ant traps (optional and only to be used at site, can be purchased on island too)
- reusable canvas bags (to help transport all the additional materials you’ll receive at training to your site)
- a couple batteries (you can easily buy in JA, too, but may be more expensive)
- sewing kit (we have used this frequently)
- map, family photos, posters for your walls
- haircut kit
- Johnny’s (our favorite seasoning that we put on almost everything)
- Queen size sheets
- You won’t use these during home-stays but at site, you may prefer your own to the more stiff and scratchy kind available in JA
- One or two books each
- Just bring enough to get you started. There are tons available at the PC office and other volunteers will trade books around. Plus, I found that I didn’t have much time for reading during training (especially the first 2 ½ weeks). There’s much more free time on weekends and during your first four months at site.
What we didn’t bring but we bought/sent for later:
- hand-crank radio
- PC Safety and Security highly recommends having these for emergency/disaster situations. Some come with cell phone chargers and solar panels as well.
- more clothes, especially work shirts, underwear and socks
- The rest of our house-hold items for site we were able to buy in the cities in JA
Things you can get and might want to get in Jamaica:
- Most toiletries (just not your favorite specialty deodorant ie. Tom’s)
- Most kitchen supplies – invest in a good blender. Trust us.
- Clothes – but nothing with high-tech sweat wicking fabric.
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