Originally, I wanted to write a post about what I was packing before I left for Armenia. Once everything was finally stowed away I realized I still wasn’t sure what I would be glad to have, what I wouldn’t need and what I wished I had brought. Therefore, I put off writing this until nearly a year in and during the dead of winter when I had a stronger sense of what is and is not important to bring.
Honestly, this post was written mainly to help future Peace Corps volunteers traveling to Armenia or other parts of Eastern Europe. If you aren’t planning to move here then this might be boring to you.
All the items below are sorted into categories. After each category, I discuss my reasoning behind some of the items and what I would change from the list.
2 Large Rolling Luggage Pieces (Swiss Army)
1 Backpacking Pack, 65L (MHM)
1 Normal Sized Backpack
1 Duffel Bag
1 Crossbody Satchel
The Peace Corps allows for all Trainees (people who have not yet gone through PST and haven’t been sworn in as Volunteers) to bring two pieces of checked luggage whose total weight does not exceed 100 lbs. You may also bring a carry-on item (overhead luggage) and a personal item (like a purse or backpack). If you notice, I brought three large pieces of luggage (a backpacking pack and two normal suitcases). Originally, I wanted to only bring one of the rolling suitcases and the other checked item was going to be my backpacking pack. However, the day before I left, I got nervous about if I’d be able to check my backpacking pack due to all the hanging straps on it so I packed it (along with the duffel bag and satchel) into another large rolling suitcase. While this ended up being convenient for traveling internationally, I now have three big pieces of luggage that I have no idea what to do with once I finish my service! I wish I had simply saran-wrapped my backpacking pack or put it in a very large duffel bag to keep all the hanging pieces contained.
My backpacking pack is versatile because it acts as a very mobile piece of large luggage. Specifically, it’s a 65L bag from a small Colorado based company called MHM. Originally, I bought it thinking that I would only use it for backpacking this summer, but so far I’ve used it whenever I leave site for overnight trips. I got mine at a discount from mhmgear.com just for being a Peace Corps Volunteer! Many companies will give discounts to PCVs (Peace Corps volunteers) if you email them or reach out over Facebook. Here is a list of some places that offer discounts.
My smaller, normal sized backpack is a Swiss Army product that I have been using since I was a freshman at U of A. I used it all through college and afterward when I lived in Florida and New York. While it looks pretty beat up now, it still does the job. A solid backpack is definitely something worth using extra cash on just to make sure you have something durable.
I use my duffel bag occasionally but not as much as my either of my backpacks. I guess it’s good for longer trips.
My satchel is something that has already been super useful for me since I moved to NYC. While plenty of guys back home and in Armenia have jokingly asked if it is a purse, its utility use is great. In Armenia, just like in the U.S., kids bring backpacks to school and teachers usually don’t. This satchel (from Target) is durable and isn’t overly cumbersome to carry or pack (like a briefcase would be). I don’t need to worry about looking like a student and I still have something that’s both convenient and sturdy.
2 Tank Tops
4 Flannel Shirts
9 Button-down Dress shirts
3 Long-sleeved T-shirts
2 Short-sleeved Polos
I wear my regular T-shirts when I hike, do touristy things, or lounge around. I wish I brought maybe a few more but I’m doing good enough with the ones I have. However, I have never worn any of my tank tops and I wish I hadn’t brought them. I doubt I will ever wear either of them here. On the flip side, I’ve worn my long-sleeved t-shirts everyday since it started getting cold, I should have brought more.
I wear flannels, button-downs and polos when I am teaching at my school. People in this country pay a fair amount of attention to appearance and clothing. As someone from outside the village trying to integrate, it’s important not to look as granola as most Americans imagine PCVs to be. This means non-collared shirts aren’t really appropriate for any professional environment here.
In winter, however, it is extremely cold and most buildings aren’t insulated, so layers upon layers are worn in the classroom. Due to this, I can get away with wearing t-shirts since no one will see it under my many layers. So far this has been the only benefit of the frigid winter.
2 Pairs of Khaki Slacks
2 Pairs of Black Slacks
3 Pairs of Jeans
4 Pairs of Shorts
I wear slacks at school and at any official Peace Corps business when I’m told to dress appropriately. Two of my four slacks I brought with me are made by a company called Bluffworks. While they’re a bit pricey it’s hard to get them dirty and super easy to clean them. Plus they also give discounts to Peace Corps volunteers!
I’ve probably worn jeans the most through my service so far. While I could get away with wearing them to class (like some of the male teachers sometimes do), I’m not going to risk it. Three pairs of jeans are fine for me so far but I’d probably be better off with another pair.
I wear shorts during the summer only when I know I’ll be outside for awhile, visiting Yerevan or staying home. Shorts simply aren’t an article of clothing you’ll see often in Armenia, aside from people playing soccer.
1 Denim Jacket
1 Large Down Jacket
1 Light Rain Slicker
2 Wool Caps
2 Baseball Hats
1 Pair of Gloves
I have used all of the above items except the slicker and one of my blazers. I figure I’ll probably use the slicker when spring showers come starting next month. The extra blazer was completely unnecessary. The only time I needed to wear a suit was when we were sworn in as Peace Corps volunteers last summer. I don’t know why I thought I would need two different suits. I doubt I will wear anything this formal during the remainder of my service.
I bought a leather jacket here not out of necessity, but to look more like an “ahkbear” (the Armenian equivalent of “bro”). I wear it nearly every day now and I plan on being buried in it.
1 Marmot Sleeping Bag
1 Water Purifier
1 Naglene Water Bottle
1 Roll of Duct Tape
I got the sleeping bag (with a subzero temperature rating) at a discount from Marmot in the same way I got a discount for my backpacking pack. I’ve used it when I’ve slept at other PCVs houses and in my own bed as an extra blanket. As I mentioned before, most buildings here aren’t insulated. Sleeping is a chilly affair during winter but since I have such a warm sleeping bag, I usually get a full night’s sleep. Also, I plan on using this when I backpack this summer.
My multi-tool has been great for everything from changing guitar strings to fixing wobbly desks at school. I didn’t get a super high-end one and it works fine, but I wouldn’t recommend going too cheap on one either. My compass and purifier haven’t been used since I got here but I figure they’ll be helpful this summer.
I use my water bottle all the time. It’s gotten pretty beaten up, but it’s as durable as one expects nalgene bottles to be. I wish I hadn’t bought one that has a small mouth since it’s pretty hard to reach a cloth or brush into it for cleaning. I hear there are tablets that take care of this issue but I would just get one you can wash easily.
Duct tape is useful everywhere. So are flashlights. What a surprise, they’re handy here too.
Average Vans with laces
Black Dress Shoes
I use my hiking boots all the time. I recommend breaking them in before leaving the States. Waterproof ones make for easier days when you need to face rain, snow, or a surprisingly deep stream.
I’ve worn my cowboy boots a few times during PST. I brought them mostly because they have sentimental value. I might wear them to class for the sake of cultural exchange but that’s a big maybe. I’m not sure it was worth the weight to bring them.
My brown boots that look somewhat dressy are what I wear when I go to school on non-snowy days. As I said earlier, Armenians pay close attention to appearance and I can’t get away with wearing anything short of these shoes to school. Right now these boots are a bit dusty and beaten up, so I might need to think about shining them before the snow melts next month.
I mostly wore my vans this summer and now they’re pretty worn out. They’ve been nice for easier trails, soccer and walking around Yerevan. These are too casual to wear in the classroom.
I wear my flip flops around the house and if I venture into my host family’s yard. Sandals aren’t worn much outside of very casual settings. I could probably do without them but they’re convenient in the summer. Plus they’re the same pair of Rainbows I wore for most of my illustrious lifeguard career. Right now they’re gathering dust in my closet.
Black dress shoes are what most Armenian men wear on a regular basis. You’ll have no trouble finding a pair in any Armenian city, unless you wear anything above a size 12.
I did not pack any snow boots. I figured since I was getting to Armenia just as the snow was melting, I would have plenty of time to get snow boots either in country or via post. Fortunately, my parents sent me a durable pair of Columbia boots that I have been wearing almost every day this winter (both in and out of the classroom). I’ve only slipped a few times with them on and that’s probably due more to my coordination than the terrain or boots.
6 Pairs of Wool Socks
3 Pairs of Long Thermal Underwear
3 Thermal Undershirts
Lots of normal underwear and socks
You can never have enough of the above things. Warm socks, undies and undershirts are a must have in this part of the word. While summers can be somewhat hot (the highest temp is around 90 degrees Fahrenheit in my village), the winters can be brutally cold. The trick to surviving is layering. I’ve found I am usually in four or five layers of clothing and it all starts with my thermals and wool socks.
1 Huawei Honor 5X (Smart Phone)
1 iPod Touch
1 Kindle E-Reader
1 Kindle Fire Tablet
2 Pairs of Earbuds
2 European Power Converters
1 Portable Battery Charger
1 External Hard Drive
Before I came here, Peace Corps Staff recommended we bring a decent smart phone that will take any type of SIM card. I settled on this phone because it was cheap, highly rated and I could still run Instagram, Snapchat, Fantasy Football, etc. on it. If you don’t bring a phone or don’t get one here, PC staff provides PCVs with a brick phone you might remember from a decade ago. While these phones can’t do as much they’re definitely more durable and they won’t draw the attention of kids who want to play games on it. Sorry, Gagik, I don’t want you changing my fantasy lineup in your quest to find Angry Birds on my phone!
I use my super old iPod Touch exclusively for music and podcasts. It helps on long marshutni rides and hikes. In the event my smart phone dies, I can still run those apps on it without missing a beat.
I use my e-reader during family soap opera time. This occurs just after dinner when my host brother, father and mother watch TV with rapt attention. While I tried to get as immersed in the lives of Vir, Ichacha and Tapasya (characters from a popular Indian soap that’s somehow really popuar here), I just couldn’t do it. Rather than hiding in my room and binging on Netflix, I figure it’s better to spend this time with the family. It’s nice that I now have a designated time where I can only read and I won’t be tempted to waste time on the internet. Anyway, e-readers are a must-have for any PCV here.
I use my laptop for most of my work and leisure. If you are a PCV coming here, you will need one regardless of what PC staff says.
My Kindle Fire was a gift I received just before I left. I mostly use it for Netflix and occasionally for blog writing. Lately I’ve been using my Fire for an app called Songsterr. It saves chord charts and allows me to scroll through them automatically, which makes guitar playing easier in the classroom. Instead of squinting at my phone’s small screen trying to read the tiny charts, I can bring in this tablet and have the same songs displayed in a bigger font. I’ll be busting it out to play “Oh Sussana” for my fifth graders next week.
Earbuds break as often in Armenia as they do back home. Luckily, you can buy new ones in any city here.
It took me more research than I expected to figure out that Armenia uses standard European outlets. One of my converters broke, so now I only have one between my phone and laptop. Again, you can buy converters in many cities here.
My portable battery charger is something I haven’t gotten the chance to use yet but in the event of a long power outage, I’m sure it’ll be useful. I plan on bringing it with me when I go backpacking this summer.
I have used my external hard drive regularly since I got here. PCVs share music and movies through these glorious things. In regions where internet service is intermittent, these drives can save you from being bored out of your mind while snowed in. However, with internet service gradually becoming more reliable and Netflix now legally available here, I think future PCVs will use external hard drives less. Another positive aspect about having one of these is the fact you can back up all of your important documents in the event your computer is damaged, stolen or lost.
1 Harmonica Holder
3 Packs of Guitar Strings
2 Bags of Picks
1 Guitar Strap
I played guitar on a regular basis back in Arizona and I knew it was something I would miss when I moved out here. I did a lot of research on travel guitars, how best to travel with guitars and where to buy guitars in Yerevan. When I left, I decided I would buy a guitar once I got here rather than go through the hassle of bringing one with me. Other PCVs I know actually didn’t face much hassle when they brought their own instruments from home. Luckily, towards the end of PST one of my Armenian teachers lent me a solid guitar for my time here and I have been using it since. While I was very fortunate in this instance, I would recommend just bringing a travel guitar in a good case. I always miss playing electric guitar, but I knew with all the equipment and wattage required that it would be impossible.
While the notion of a PCV with a guitar is very cliché, it has been super useful since I got to my village. In class, I use music as a way to get kids to memorize vocabulary. It’s also great for destressing and I’ve shown a few kids how to (sort of) play. I am sure my service would be so much harder for me without it. Also, while playing harmonica and guitar at the same time seems gimmicky, the kids love it and it has only helped with integration.
2 Boxes of Contact Lenses
2 Bottles of Salene Solution (for contacts)
2 Tooth Brushes
2 Big Tubes of Tooth Paste
1 Quick Dry Towel
5 Rolls of Floss
1 Electric Razor with Charger
I wore contacts often back home and I kept that habit during PST. However, now that I’m at site it’s so much easier to roll out of bed and just put on my glasses. You never need contacts during service. I’ll still probably wear mine occasionally but that’ll most likely end up being once every few months.
You can find toothbrushes and toothpaste anywhere in Armenia. This is something you don’t need to worry about at all. Floss, however, has been a bit harder to find. If you‘re tenacious, though, you can track some down in Yerevan and probably in most cities.
My quick dry towel has been great this winter. I never have to worry about it freezing or taking forever to dry.
It’s no hassle trying to find shaving equipment here. Most Armenian men are clean shaven but it’s not too uncommon to see someone with a beard or mustache here. If you have a beard, just make sure it’s maintained and not scruffy, otherwise you’ll get some looks.
2 Belts (Brown and Black)
2 Pairs of Prescription Glasses
2 Digital Watches
2 Bolo Ties
1 Pair of Sunglasses
1 Tape Measurer
4 Sticker Books
4 Packs of Index Cards
1 Deck of Playing Cards
1 Deck of Uno Cards
2 Decks of American Playing Cards
4 Arizona Key Chains
4 Arizona Refrigerator Magnets
I have broken both of these leather belts since I got here. It’s probably due to the weight loss many PCVs experience and how I’ve had to cinch up my belts pretty tight. It’s easy to find new ones here since all pairs of pants generally require the same supplementary equipment.
The Peace Corps requires all PCVs who need them to bring two pairs of prescription glasses when they start service. I’ve only had to use one pair, but there’s always the chance that they’ll break in the next two years. In the event that I lose both, the Peace Corps will pay for a new pair.
The digital watch I brought with me finally broke. It was as helpful as a watch normally is. I have a nicer Fossil watch with me but I never wear it since I’m afraid of breaking it.
The sticker books, index cards, playing cards, and Uno cards have all been great in the classroom. Uno is especially a hit here. I can’t imagine my life without Uno. Uno has saved a dead class or club on so many occasions. If I leave my Uno cards in Vaghatin at the end of my service, it might be the most sustainable thing I leave behind. One of these days I might write a post about the miracle invention that is Uno.
The key chains, magnets and other decks of cards were gifts for my host families (the one I had during PST in Artashat and the one I live with now). They were great in that they’re unique in Armenia and they aren’t super big or expensive. My sunglasses and tape measurer have also been as useful as expected.
I hope this helps any future Peace Corps volunteers moving to Armenia or Eastern Europe. I encourage you to read other blogs besides my own before finalizing what you need to pack. If there is a way I could sum up this very long post, it would be in the following three points:
- Most things you can buy here or live without.
- Winter is coming. Bring layers.
- Uno will protect you from all things terrible.