Kayla McCabe, 129 YinD
A year ago, this was probably the word that invoked the most stress for me. The idea of condensing all my belongings for two years into two suitcases seemed impossible and I was so nervous I would forget something essential or bring something totally unnecessary (spoiler alert: I packed three pairs of fleece-lined leggings for a country whose lowest temperature is usually in the 80s. Don’t do that.) Peace Corps should have given you a packing list (I believe it’s in the original welcome packet) but in a recent conversation with current volunteers, we discovered all of us felt that this list was not sufficient on its own. So, in an effort to change that I, and various other volunteers, have compiled our best packing tips!
When you are packing remember that you will be able to check 2 bags and each must be 50 pounds or less. When you get to Thailand, Peace Corps will reimburse you for the checking fees (but not overweight costs!) so hold onto your receipts! It is also a good idea to organize your bags so that the outfits/items you will need during staging are easily accessible. Those 2 days are a whirlwind and you will not want to be unpacking and repacking your suitcases in the middle of it all!
When packing clothes for training and at site, “riap roi” is the phrase to keep in mind. “Riap roi means “appropriate and correct,” and refers to both behavior and appearance. It is a standard by which you and everyone else in Thailand will be judged on an on-going basis. Behaving and dressing in a manner that is riap roi is one of the easiest ways to gain credibility and build a positive image throughout your 27 months of service. Clothing that is riap roi is always clean and modest. Pants, shorts or skirts will always cover the knees and shirts will cover the shoulders and cleavage. Shirts with a collar are considered riap roi. This applies to both work and play clothes.
PST or Pre-Service Training refers to your first 10 weeks in Thailand when you will all be living fairly close to each other and seeing each other every day at training. Because of the large concentration of farangs (the Thai word for foreigners, you’ll hear it all the time) and Peace Corps’ intentionality in creating good habits and respecting cultural norms, this is when dress regulations will be the strictest. Everyone is expected to wear business casual to training sessions and to dress modestly when biking and at your host family’s home. Both YinD and TCCS will be working in a classroom for part of PST. At school, women are discouraged from wearing pants and polos; dresses, blouses, and skirts are preferred. You will also have two extra formal events during PST: meeting the governor of your training province and swearing in. For these events, business formal is required.
At site clothing regulations may be a little less strict. It is important to continue to be aware of the norms and dress in an appropriate way but after a few weeks you will notice what other people are wearing and feel comfortable following their lead. Many volunteers will also choose to live in their own house and then it is definitely okay to wear tank tops and running shorts while you are inside! Some volunteers have also found that tank tops outside the house do not bother their community members. Additionally, many women have found that they are able to wear polos and pants to work (even in schools!)
Out of site is where clothing regulations are the most relaxed. You will definitely have the opportunity to take trips to Bangkok, the beaches, or other cities around Thailand that are populated with tourists. Here, it is more than okay to dress the way you would back home! Don’t feel silly packing two-piece swimsuits, cute shirts and shorts, and fun going out outfits, you will get plenty of use out of them!
So what do I bring?
- Dress clothes – Blouses, dress shirts, long pants and skirts. Remember it is hot here! A blazer is helpful for formal events. Lots of volunteers recommend quick dry polos—Columbia has a good style that I personally wear all the time. Both TCCS and YinD volunteers have found that they are able to wear polos to work at site, pack extra! You’ll be glad you did.
- Biking clothes – basketball shorts or loose athletic pants. Leggings will be okay if you wear long shirts or shorts over them. Lots of comfy t-shirts! You will always be able to bike in one outfit and then change into work clothes when you get to where you’re going!
- Shoes – you will want at least two pairs of shoes (though more is not necessarily a bad thing), one for work and one for walking around site. Croc flats are a lifesaver but bring one pair of nicer heels or flats for formal events. Running shoes and some type of sturdy sandal are also essential! Chaco gives Peace Corps Volunteers a discount so take advantage of that!
- Swimsuits – You may end up swimming with Thai people! If that is the case: men, you will always be fine wearing swim trunks and a shirt. For women, shorts and a one piece or t-shirt will be required. However, you will have ample opportunity to take trips with other volunteers and in that case, a normal two-piece is totally acceptable!
- Casual/comfy clothes – some of these may stay unpacked for your first three months but if you have a favorite pair of jean shorts or an outfit/ dress you really love, bring it! Familiar items are always nice to have!
- Jeans are a tricky subject. Some volunteers haven’t worn them since they got here, some had them sent over! Thai people wear jeans so you won’t feel strange if that’s what makes you comfortable but you also won’t stand out if you don’t have them! This is totally up to you!
- Rain jackets are also really nice to have because Thailand has a six- month rainy season. Make sure it is light and breathable because it is incredibly humid here.
What shouldn’t I bring?
- Clothes that require sweaters or layers to be riap roi—you will get hot quickly and find yourself choosing other outfits.
- Maxi skirts (advice from another volunteer): The teachers at my school dress business appropriate, so the maxi skirts I intended to wear in the classroom are actually too casual. If you wouldn’t wear it in an office, it’s not going to be work appropriate. If you want to bring maxi skirts just to wear around, however, go for it.
Toiletries and Beauty Products
One of the most notable Thai beauty standards is the desire to be as white as possible. Because of this, many stores sell only products with whitening agents in the ingredients (even the deodorant). Your site may have a 7/11 that sells non-whitening products or it might require a trip to the nearest big city to find your brand (or something similar). Pack toiletries for at least your first four months at site, this means deodorant, hair products, makeup, face wash, lotion, toothpaste, etc. If you can fit more, bring more. While your brand might be available, it will be expensive (especially on a volunteer budget) and it could take you a little while to figure out travel in your community and where to go to buy products. For ideas of what is available in Thailand, look at the list of stores in Siam, Bangkok (but keep in mind most of these stores are ONLY available in Bangkok and that trip could take over 12 hours for some volunteers.) If you want to know about a specific brand, ask any current volunteer! We can let you know if and where your brand is available!
Feminine Hygiene products, especially tampons, are expensive in Thailand. For this reason, many volunteers use a DivaCup or MoonCup or they have an IUD. Choose what you think is best for you!
Glasses are recommended by Peace Corps medical staff because of the increased risk of eye infection and volunteers will typically agree and tell you that’s what they wear at site. However, many volunteers have also taken a few pairs of contacts along to wear when traveling or going out in the cities.
Hygiene products such as soap, hand sanitizer, and toilet paper are not available in every bathroom. They can easily be purchased at any 7/11 but volunteers suggest bringing a small tissue packet and travel size hand sanitizer for the initial journey to training.
Quick dry towels are used by many volunteers. Because of the humidity, many other types of towels tend to mold and you will be replacing them often. These also take up way less room!
Though your first few months will be spent only in your training community, your two years of service will involve a lot of travel! It is really easy and not too expensive to travel to different provinces and you will end up doing this with your schools or on your own for Peace Corps trainings or personal vacations.
To make travel easier and more comfortable:
- Power bank – these can be purchased pretty cheaply over here!
- Neck pillow
- Traveling backpack- I brought a 50L pack when I traveled from the states and though that was perfect for the big trip, I eventually had my 33L pack sent for week long trips. For weekend trips, my school backpack is the perfect size.
- Spotify Premium or lots of music downloaded to your phone.
- Good combo lock for hostels.
Training will be a very busy couple of months but once you get to site you will find you have a lot of downtime. Lots of volunteers have used this opportunity to pick up a new hobby or sport or catch up on their reading and Netflix shows. These things can bring you a lot of comfort and also be great ways to connect with people in your village and teach them about where you came from.
Suggestions from current volunteers:
- Kindle or e-reader – even if you have never liked these before, this will become an important belonging. I, personally, am a person who loves to turn a physical page and be able to look back on previous chapters but the fact is English books are not widely available here and an e-reader is much more portable.
- Playing cards – these are actually very hard to find in Thailand and tend to be expensive.
- Simple card games – UNO and Spot It are big favorites
- Yoga mat or exercise equipment – these can easily be purchased in Thailand but if you want yours and can fit it, go for it!
- Musical instruments – volunteers who brought guitars and ukuleles are very happy they did.
- Portable speaker – great for use in classrooms!
- Hard drive – this is another important belonging. I loaded mine with movies and a bunch of volunteers did a media swap during our first week of training.
- HDMI cord (and adapter if you have a Mac)
- Camera – not a necessity but, if you love taking pictures, Thailand is a beautiful place to do it!
It is hard to be away from home for so long, I don’t know a single volunteer who will tell you differently. But another unanimous agreement is how helpful familiar items can be when adapting to your new environment. Stuffed animals, your comfy bed sheets, favorite t-shirts, your favorite snack, a hammock, and pictures of home are all good ideas. I brought a Costco size bag of coffee and my French press and did not regret it one bit. Many things (clothes, shoes, toiletries, etc) can eventually be purchased here but obviously, these cannot and you will definitely find yourself wanting them.
You will be living with a host family during your first three months in Thailand. Many volunteers choose to give these families little, inexpensive gifts at the beginning or end of their homestay. Look for postcards or trinkets from your home state or city. It doesn’t have to be big (I gave my family a magnet from Chicago), a small thing to remember you by will be very meaningful! Many volunteers recommend checking Amazon for possible gifts.
One last thing…
The last piece of advice I have for you is you don’t need to spend tons of money! Bring clothes you already have or go to less expensive stores (TJ Maxx and Old Navy is where I did all my shopping)! Keep an eye out for Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals and don’t be afraid to ask around! Maybe a family member has a Kindle they’re not using or luggage that’s been collecting dust for years! I don’t know how many times I’ve said this to you all but use your support systems and please reach out to us with any questions!