I spent a lot of time pre-departure agonizing over what to bring. How do you pack for two years abroad? What do I really need, what are my parents willing to store in their garage for me for an indefinite amount of time, and what am I willing to just throw away? Peace Corps provides a packing list, but I edited it quite a bit when fitting everything into my single 50 lb. suitcase, medium-sized duffle bag and 75 liter backpacking backpack. I’ve attached the Peace Corps’ provided list with my own recommendations added in below.
Caveat: Ecuador has three primary climate zones – coastal, where it is very hot and humid, mountainous, where it is temperate but can get very cold and varies widely throughout the day, and jungle, where it is usually hot, humid, and rainy – with two different seasons: rainy and dry. Coming to Ecuador, I had no idea where I would be placed, and had to pack for any of the three possibilities. I wound up in small-town temperate, rainy Amazonia, so my opinion on my things is skewed towards my use for the items in this climate. But even so, I’ll be visiting all the climates at one point or another during my service here.
Looking down at this list, it seems long, but I managed to fit it all in just one suitcase, backpack and duffle bag! There were other volunteers who brought two suitcases, but they definitely struggled with transportation every time they had to get to the airport, host families, or their site. You’ll likely be heading to site alone, and navigating several user-unfriendly buses to get there.
The Peace Corps Medical Officers (PCMOs) will provide each trainee with an extensive First Aid kit and any other over-the-counter medication they need.
- One or two pairs of nice pants (black/gray/navy pants are more common than khakis)
- I brought navy and black slacks and wore them regularly during training, where business-casual attire was strictly enforced, but haven’t touched them since my first week at site. In small towns, the dress code is fairly casual.
- One to four pairs of jeans (long women’s jeans are impossible to find, also larger sizes for women are very difficult to find; skinny jeans are popular for young women)
- True! Ecuadorian women tend to be very petite, and at 5’10” it’s nearly impossible for me to find clothes that fit here. Definitely glad I brought three pairs of dark wash (more professional) jeans with me, and I rotate through them regularly.
One or two3-4 dress outfits for occasional formal meetings.
- Ecuadorians love to celebrate, so I brought 3 different formal dresses with me, which I have worn for weddings, madrina competitions, meetings in hot-weather climate, and I wouldn’t mind having a few more dresses with me.
Three ormore (I brought 6-7) short-sleeved shirts.
- I almost exclusively wear sleeveless or short sleeved shirts layered with light sweaters and jackets as the weather changes throughout the day.
to fourpairs of shorts (not too short, think mid-thigh or lower) and/or capris.
- It’s not culturally appropriate for women to wear shorts, except on the coast or in the Amazon outside of work, so I rarely wear mine. In the Andes during training, I couldn’t work out in shorts, only leggings.
or morelong-sleeved shirts.
- Instead, pack lots of cardigans! It’ll provide more variety to your outfits and you can take them off if it’s hot in your office or during the middle of the day. I brought 2 turtlenecks and 1 sweater and haven’t worn any of them. I also brought 4 long sleeve shirts that I wore on rainy days in Quito.
One or two pairs of long underwear or other clothes to layer.Only one volunteer from my group is in a site sufficiently cold enough to merit long underwear, and she’s doing fine without a pair. Women can wear leggings under jeans if they’re cold as well.
- 12 pairs of good-quality socks and underwear, including two or more pairs of heavy wool socks
- Undergarments are very low quality here, so I’d recommend bringing more. My socks seem to be disappearing since I have had to hang them outside to dry.
Twoor more sweatshirts, sweaters, or fleeces. Quito, where training and many Peace Corps meetings are, is chilly. I brought 3 cardigans, 1 fleece pullover (worn once), 1 crewneck sweatshirt, 1 jean jacket, 1 down vest (worn only a handful of times), and was much more likely to wear a tank top paired with a jacket for chilly mornings and warm lunchtimes than a long sleeved shirt for the day.
- Quito can be chilly and is filled with pickpockets and petty theft, so while I was living there for training and when I go back for various meetings, I almost exclusively wear my jackets with inside pockets. I highly recommend this type of jacket to avoid getting your phone stolen on public transportation – an unfortunate experience many in my cohort had.
- One warm jacket.
- I brought a soft shell jacket, which I wore all the time in Quito and down jacket, which I’ve only worn once. I would have been fine with just the soft shell and a long sleeve or cardigan underneath.
- I brought two, since my family lives in Seattle and I had them both. It’s a nice luxury in the rainy season so I can switch off and have to not put on a damp jacket.
- Athletic clothing for working out/playing sports.
- Leggings are very popular here, and it’s culturally appropriate to wear them as pants. I brought three pairs and wear them all regularly as pants, workout clothes and pajamas. I also brought 3 pairs of workout shorts, which I can only wear as pajamas as it isn’t appropriate to wear them outside, and 4 workout tank tops, and two long sleeve workout shirts, all of which I wear regularly.
- If you have ever played soccer, bring your cleats and shinguards! It’s a great way to integrate. I joined my office’s team and needed to buy these to play – it cost me $60 for both, which is more than my monthly $50 rent and dinner.
- One or two bathing suits
- One or two sun hats, visors, or caps with a bill
- A modest watch
- I forgot mine, and bought a cheap $10 gold watch during a trip to Salinas. I wish I had a leather band or other less conspicuous watch, though, because people keep asking me if it’s real.
- I only remembered to bring one statement necklace, a bracelet and large hoop earrings. I wish I had remembered my everyday earrings and other favorite jewelry that I used to wear in the US. On the bright side, it is cheap and easy to buy them here, so I’ve been collecting.
- I forgot to bring any real pajamas, and wind up wearing my athletic clothing as pjs each night. I recently splurged on a pair of sweatpants to wear in the house, but wish I had just brought a favorite pair from home.
GENERAL CLOTHING WOMEN
- Four or more bras
- I brought two regular bras, two strapless, three sports bras,
One or twonice dresses or modest sundresses
- I only brought one sundress, and have only worn it once. I might have more if I was placed on the coast. But I did bring 4 formal dresses with me and have worn all of them regularly. There’s a lot of fiestas here in Ecuador.
- Six or more tank tops
- I brought 4 workout tank tops and primarily sleeveless shirts (probably 6-8 compared to only 1-2 short sleeved shirts) because they don’t show your sweat as much. It’s important to only bring the type with thick straps (2-3 finger lengths, just like high school) because it isn’t culturally appropriate to wear the “spaghetti” strap style.
Skirts can be a great alternative to shorts, keep in mind that longer skirts are more acceptable.
- I brought a maxi skirt and 2 knee length skirts and have only worn each one once. Again, maybe I would wear them on the coast, but I don’t like wearing skirts and have no need for them now.
- Blazer or 3-4 cardigans
- Again, cardigans and a short sleeve shirt are a much better option than long sleeved shirts. The weather is variable in all parts of Ecuador. I also brought one light-weight blazer that I’ve worn several times.
Most electronics can be found in country, but the prices are usually about double what they cost in the United States.
- Laptop (Highly recommended!) Internet cafés are usually available, but most resources are available digitally within PC Ecuador and official paperwork is usually filled out electronically. TEFL volunteers often give PowerPoint presentations and should definitely have a personal laptop.
- Definitely bring a laptop if you have the means to. It will be difficult to get by without one, and you’ll likely be expected to do work on a personal computer if your office doesn’t have an extra one for you to use. Much of your work will be done on the computer, as well as the quarterly reports you need to turn into Peace Corps. Peace Corps will expect you to access their Sharepoint and emails regularly. I sold my MacBook Pro for a cheaper, used MacBook Air and am very happy with it here, although I wish I had brought a converter so I could use things like the projector at work.
Cheap unlocked non-smartphone (that takes SIM card) these can be found online in the States for $7 as opposed to in country for minimum $30.
- Peace Corps will give you the opportunity to buy a Nokia brick phone for $25 on your first day in Ecuador, but if you have an unlocked phone sitting around (old smartphone or simple phone), I would recommend bringing that instead.
- Smart phone is useful to connect to Wi-Fi while traveling and to avoid taking laptops. If it is unlocked and uses a sim card, then it can also be uses as a personal phone (these are more likely to get stolen).
- T-Mobil offers unlimited texting and 3G connection internet abroad with it’s T-Mobile 1 plan, and I have continued my plan here in Ecuador. It’s cheaper (albeit slower) than buying data here, and allows me to text my friends and family from home on both my MacBook and iPhone daily with my old number. It’s even fast enough to call people over my data on Facebook Messenger or Facetime, which is perfect for the weeks when my host family forgets to pay the wifi bill or I’m out of the house.
External Hard drive highly recommended for sharing movies, music and resources with other volunteers
- They’re expensive, so I didn’t buy one. Instead we just use Google Drive and download things onto our computers. Every one of the volunteers in my group has access to internet either at work or at home.
- I brought an iPhone 6, and have exclusively used that for photos since I’ve been here, not touching my small silver camera once. Some other volunteers brought DSLRs, but almost never use them for fear of them getting stolen and not wanting to be perceived as wealthy.
MP3/4 player and good quality headphones
- Personal preference – right now, I just use my phone for music when I’m running as I can stream Spotify premium (thanks to a family plan with the other volunteers, I pay just $2.50/month). But I’m going to ask for a used, basic clip-on iPod shuffle for Christmas because it rains 75% of the days here in the rainforest, and I don’t want to run with my phone in the rain.
Extra chargers for electronics (this mostly applies to any chargers that are not common/expensive and would be difficult to replace.)
- I would say this only applies to MacBook chargers. I had a minor freakout when the prongs on my MacBook charger bent due to a kitten incident, but realized that I could swap out the prongs with those of my Apple USB block charger. It would have been very expensive to replace the entire charger in-country (and I didn’t bring an extra, because they’re expensive in the US too). When my iPhone charger broke, I was able to easily buy a new one for $8, and there is very cheap Android chargers here.
Small portable USB drive can be found in country but is convenient to bring one or two to training
- Peace Corps gave us one on the first day, so I’ve never used mine.
- Portable speaker can be found here but more expensive, recommended for TEFL volunteers to do listening activities.
- I brought one because I had it, but don’t recommend buying one special unless you’re a huge music fan. You can just play it from your laptop speakers.
It is difficult to find men’s shoe sizes over 10 and women’s shoe sizes over 8. Large cities have stores which might carry up to size 12 women’s and larger men’s sizes but prices can range from $30+.
- Two pairs of tennis or running shoes.
- I made the last minute choice to bring two pairs of shoes, and wear them both frequently. One is fashionable enough for everyday wear, and the other is worn exclusively for running and sports.
One ortwo pairs of comfortable dress shoes (flats recommended along with socks made for them. Can buy high heels or dressy sandals of all styles very easily in country).
- I brought two pairs of flats and one pair of heels, all of which I wear regularly. The flats (Nordstrom Rack) are already starting to fall apart due to lots of walking on the dirt roads and poor quality sidewalks.
One or Two pairs of flip-flops (easy to find in country)
- Buy these in Ecuador
- One pair of sturdy sandals (Chacos, Teva, etc.). Don’t buy the cheap foam-style Tevas like I did, as I’ve already had to superglue mine together.
- Hiking boots if you enjoy hiking (very expensive here)
- Casual boots for day wear
- Ones that you can wear as business casual-ish (think boots, dark jeans, and a blouse. That’s my typical workday outfit)
- Preferably ones that will be fine in the rain, as most parts of Ecuador have a rainy season
- Rain boots
- Again, most parts of Ecuador have a rainy season, and you’ll be sad if your socks are puddles at work all day long.
- Backpack or day pack (very important for daily use or short trips)
- I didn’t bring a normal sized backpack and I wish I did! It would have been better to bring that folded up small instead of the second duffle bag I packed instead (although that is also nice to have because the strap on my large duffle bag broke during the flight here). I use the mini backpack that came with my backpacking backpack, but it’s tough for 1 night weekends away and doesn’t fit my laptop or a full sized notebook well.
- Hiking Backpack Medium/Large for weekend travel/vacations/hiking
- I bought this one for half off with the Peace Corps discount and was able to sneak it through security as a carry on (while also having a huge side purse and carrying a full sized pillow) and check it for free at the gate on both my trip to staging and to country by not making eye contact with anyone as I was checking into my flight. I love that it has the mini backpack attached and that the rain cover can also be used as a duffle bag, so it’s like three bags in one.
Pocket knife or multi-tool (highly recommended and very useful)
- I brought one but it turns out it’s illegal to carry a pocket knife in Ecuador so I rarely use it.
- One shower towel
(note: camping towels fold up small and dry quickly)
- Towels are very low quality and scratchy here. I brought a cheap 4 year old towel from Target and that’s still nicer than the ones you can buy here
- Sunglasses with UV protection (cheap sunglasses can be found in country but they are cheap and also very low quality)
- You can buy them in country, but I’ve had a hard time finding a pair I like because they’re all too small for my head or with weird patterns.
School supplies, i.e. white board markers, regular markers, cardstock,index cards , pens (especially for TEFL volunteers)
- You can buy this all cheaply in-country, although the quality might be low. I haven’t been able to buy index cards here, though.
- Any purse you bring should be easy to secure well (zipper) to prevent theft. I brought a large shopper-bag style purse that was perfect for squeezing in last minute items at the airport and I use frequently for carrying my things to work. I also brought a tiny cross-body purse that just fits my phone, money and keys that I used to use for going out in the United States, and use it for day trips and going out when I’m not wearing a jacket with inside pockets. I wish I had a normal-sized purse (my go-to in the US would fit my wallet, phone, keys, and a book or light jacket) for day trips, but I’ll probably buy a handmade leather one here.
- Foldable, reusable shopping bag
- I brought a canvas tote bag for shopping at the market and other groceries, but I wish I had brought one of those little plastic ones that folds up into a small ball. It’s appalling how many plastic bags they give you at the tiendas here without concern for sustainability.
Games for classroom/English club activities i.e. Koosh ball, Bananagrams, travel versions of Scattergories, Pictionary
- My host siblings love Bananagrams and Uno! But you can also buy these at Juegaton in Quito, close to the training center, so I’d classify all this as optional
- Decks of cards are easy and cheap to buy here.
RECOMMENDED IF YOU HAVE EXTRA SPACE/PERSONAL PREFERENCE:
PERSONAL HYGIENE AND TOILETRY ITEMS
Quality toiletries can be found easily in country. If you have any particular brand preferences, it’s recommended to bring a 12-month supply.
- Contact lens solutions and extra cases and travel bottles (available in larger cities, but much more expensive than in the United States)
Tampons (expensive for a volunteer budget and difficult to find, except in main cities).An alternate option is a menstrual cup, and menstrual pads are available.
- The OB-brand applicator-less tampons are accessible in every pharmacy (which almost every town has) at a reasonable price. They’re better for the environment, so you should use them anyways!
- I have a menstrual cup, but it can be difficult to use in Ecuador’s public bathrooms with spotty access to toilet paper, soap, and even running water.
- Makeup (U.S. brands are expensive here) Specific brand of perfume (Perfume is available here but name brands are expensive.)
- If you have a different skin tone than the typical Ecuadorian, you’re unlikely to find your color of foundation or powder. The classic Maybelline Great Lash mascara, for example, is $19.95 here compared to $2.99 in the States.
Compact sleeping bag (recommended if you have space. Good quality is very expensive in country, cheap/decent sleeping bags can be found at some local sports stores in country)
- I’ve never needed a sleeping bag and don’t foresee myself needing one. I just brought blankets from my bed when I went camping, and shared a bed with female volunteers when I’ve visited them, or crashed on the couch when visiting male volunteers.
- Sheets (full size is recommended) and pillowcases (Available locally, but are low quality)
- I thought that this was overrated, but brought a bottom sheet and two pillowcases anyways. I would love to also have a duvet cover or regular sheet, because the sheets here are so scratchy and low quality – even compared to the cheapest things they sell at Target, which is the quality of sheets that I’m used to at home
- Pillow, especially if you have a favorite one! (Most provided pillows are not very comfortable.)
- I’m not at Princess-and-the-pea-level, but whenever I’ve had to sleep on the Ecuadorian pillows, I find myself with serious neck problems in the morning. They’re made out of flat, pillow-shaped rocks. I brought a pillow with me last minute and am definitely glad I did. It was pretty easy to just carry in my hands on the plane and buses for transportation, and they didn’t count it as an extra carry-on.
- Good quality water bottle (can be found in large cities but more expensive)
- I brought a 1 liter Nalgene and 750ml Hydro Flask and almost exclusively use the Nalgene, the Hydro Flask is too heavy to take anywhere.
- Unique spices ( e.g., Indian, pumpkin spice, chili powder) and hot sauces from the States if you plan to cook a lot (you can find most of the common spices in bigger cities)
- Generic spices here are very cheap – I bought a bag of oregano, for example, for 35 cents last week – but hot sauces and ethnic spices are difficult to find. Ecuadorian food tends to be pretty bland.
- Hair dryer (if used frequently in the States)
- Hair straightener (if used frequently in the States)
Headlamp (very useful instead of a regular flashlight especially for reading at night or when power goes out for hands-free movement)
- I brought this and only used it once when I went camping.
- Decorations for room or apartment (e.g., posters, maps, and postcards of your hometown)
- Equipment for hobbies, such as sewing patterns and musical instruments, and baking supplies. I wish I brought a sharp knife and measuring cups and spoons.
- I brought lots of art supplies (acrylic and watercolors) and am glad I did, it was fairly expensive to buy more watercolor paper here when I needed it. I’m using cardboard for acrylic canvases because fabric ones are prohibitively expensive.
- I also love using the French press I brought, although most volunteers won’t be lucky like me and have a host family who grows, roasts and grinds their own coffee. The vast majority of Ecuadorians drink instant coffee.
- Favorite games,
Frisbee,foam footballs, word games, card games etc.
- You can buy a Frisbee for about $3 in Quito and decks of cards are cheap as well
- Photos of family and friends (important to show host family and to decorate with)
- I brought these, but I wish I had more! It’s nice to have on your wall, and it costs about $1 per 4×6 print here.
Small pocket calendar or daily planner (easy to find and not too expensive to buy here but may be convenient to have for planning)
- You can just use your phone or print/buy a planner here.
Powdered drink packets such as: coffee, lemonade etc. (a nice treat and easy to pack if)
- I brought these and haven’t touched them.
Small snacks such as: protein bars, trail mix, favorite candy, etc. (a nice treat but not necessary)
- Only if you have extra space – you’ll eat these quickly.
- Small gifts for host families (i.e. souvenir magnets,
small toys for kids,or ingredients to make a traditional dish from home)
- I brought a bunch of gummy candies from Costco, but they were heavy and many of them are available in Ecuador, so I wish I hadn’t.
- Travel-size multi-outlet surge protector (helpful for keeping multiple electronics charged when there are limited outlets)
- I wish I had brought this but I didn’t. Both host families I’ve lived with I’ve only had one outlet in my room. I did bring a extension cord, which comes in handy.
That’s it! With this I’ve been able to tackle all the weather situations Ecuador threw at me.