Advice to Future PCV Vanuatu
Updated: Jan 17, 2019
You might be applying to Peace Corps or maybe just got accepted to serve in Vanuatu or you’re my mom. Either way, I’ve decided to try and compile a “advice” post for you all but I already know this will change throughout the next to years so if you are a newbie applicant feel free to check back in on this post.
One thing you’ll hear from every. single. one. of. us. is “hemi depend” or “i stap blo yu”. It means it depends and it’s up to you/your personal preference. You do you.
Vanuatu is huge, yet ridiculously small and though it won’t feel like it as you stress about packing and what to expect, this is truly the best advice. Every site here is extremely different, for example my site is on a beautiful wee island with 700 people and has very little kustom. I have a 3 room cement house with a copper roof, plenty of space, privacy, a bush kitchen and a gas stove. I can wear pants and knee length shorts every so often, I can drink kava, drink alcohol, hang out with young fella, and snorkel on a regular basis. However I also don’t have consistent water, millipods often visit my house along with rats and ridiculously huge spiders. It takes an hour to walk around the island, there’s no natural water source, everything is solar powered, and I have to take a boat to get into town.
Whereas I have friends who live in the gorgeous bush with flowing water, have bush houses (which are way cooler in the heat), yet are very far from any ocean. There are even people here with electricity! So when you ask us for specifics we can’t really give you a straight answer because you won’t know until you get here. I know it’s infuriating but as I try and give you small bits of wisdom remember to go with the flow and this is specifically from my experiences.
Let’s dive in.
If there was a way for me to look you in the eyes so I can get this point across I would. Pack what makes you feel ready. It is not a competition, it doesn’t matter if you bring exactly the amount you are allowed or one bag. Trust me, you will pack too much and too little, either way it is ok. I was the one who brought as much as I could and damn did I bring too much yet not enough. I’m going to tell you what I wish I knew before I left, what I absolutely do not regret bringing and what I wish I left home.
YOU DO NOT NEED AS MUCH AS YOU THINK! Your clothes will be destroyed within the first month. Hand washing is rough on your clothes and you will get holes in everything be it from rats or god knows what. And guess what, you won’t care. You also won’t care if you’re in the same clothes for 3 days plus you will have access after training to stret price, a local thrift store, and the resource room free bin. I brought wayyy too many clothes.
Here’s what I wish I brought:
1 comfy plain knee length dress (without or with very little cleavage and pockets)
1-2 plain skirts (WITH POCKETS)
2 plain tank tops
1 plain long-sleeve or button up shirt (light flannel even)
2 plain basic shirts
1 comfy large t-shirt
1 hoodie (yes, it does get cold)
1 pair of sweatpants/long pants
1-2 pairs of comfy shorts (knee length and quick dry, you will swim in them)
Flip flops (1 pair)
Hiking sandals or hiking ankle shoes (again that can get wet and depending on where you are you may never use these)
Enough quick dry underwear for 2 weeks
A week’s worth of bralettes/sports bras
2 plain one-piece swimsuits
And honestly that’s it. Even then it feels like too much still because you will have zero clues to what you can wear in your community. I’m going to be honest, guys you have it easy - shorts and t-shirts. Ladies, I’m sorry but it’s a bit more strict. Knee length (if not longer) everything, depending on where you are you might be able to wear tank tops, you might not. Same goes for pants and shorts, most places are kustom and make you pay a fine if you wear shorts or you could be like my village and not care as long as it’s knee length and even then I still wear skirts the majority of the time.
My best advice to you is pack plain things that can mix and match together, leave you favorites at home unless it’s a hoodie or comforting, and do not pack for “when you travel to Australia or New Zealand” etc. You can get cute clothes here, you can borrow clothes from your fellow volunteers, and I repeat no one, I mean no one, cares if you’ve worn the same thing 3 times in a row. You will also get island shirts and dresses from host families, so trust me you will have PLENTY of clothes. Also don’t fret about branding or quality, they are all going to get destroyed so go thrifting.
Here’s what I don’t regret packing:
Extra “going out” clothes I put in my storage bag so I had fresh clothes after training
My favorite scarf blanket
My jean jacket (it’s warm but also not crazy warm)
My short shorts - I wear these under skirts or around my house all the time. It’s fun to break the dress code
My style. Even though they are basics, I brought things in my favorite colors so I still felt like me.
Dresses and skirts with POCKETS
A ton of underwear and bralettes/sports bras (I highly recommend Knix, ExOfficio, and Target)
A long sleeve shirt
Here’s what I do regret packing:
Too many clothes, I brought so many shirts and tend to wear a select few
Sneakers (never use them, always in flip flops but I also work out barefoot so “i stap blo yu”)
Socks (again never need them)
This is a tricky subject because it all depends on what you love. What are your hobbies? What do you find you need in your home? Cause truthfully you can get a lot here and if you can’t I’m sure there’s a loving member of your family or friends who will send you it, if you’re desperate. Also so much of what I’m about to write is available here, you are absolutely able to get by without bringing many of the below.
Things I don’t regret packing:
4 TB hard drive with CURRENT movies and tv shows (this will be huge, bring new, recent stuff because we have alllll the older ones and willing to share)
Waterproof backpack (Aquaquest is the absolute best)
My milk frother (again it’s what brings you comfort and fancy coffee makes me happy)
My favorite mug
Silicone cooking utensils
A camping foldable chair (this is a lifesaver when always sitting on mats)
Spices from home (they are ridiculously expensive here)
A bluetooth speaker
Laminated pictures from home
Little clips to hang pictures from string
Reusable bags and a good ole tote bag
Snorkel gear (you can buy fins here)
Sweet fanny pack (incase your skirt or dress doesn’t have pockets)
Playing cards (plastic is recommended and two packs *wish I brought plastic ones*)
Vibrator (careful these are technically illegal here so ya know don’t parade it around and if you’ve got battery powered bring rechargeable ones.)
Camping French press
Tiny hanging calendar (I got the one from Target dollar section, cute and so useful)
Extra cords for my equipment
Rume clothes hanging travel case (I hang it in my room since shelves are rare and store underwear, bras, swimsuits, socks, etc)
Here’s what I wish I brought:
Honestly I wish I packed one bag just completely with kitchen supplies, spices, seeds, good pots and comfort foods. You can get it all here but it’s very expensive and not always great quality. It also would save you a hell of a lot of time trying to run around finding stuff for your house when you’ve already got it. I mean like silicone kitchen utensils, every basic spice, good kitchen towels (microfiber are amazing), any extract you use (like vanilla or peppermint), candy you love - especially chocolate aka peanut m&m’s, Tupperware (I’m serious ants are real here y’all, get the good suction ones!), fruit fly and normal fly repellent, good knives (can you fly with those…double check on that one)
Snacks. Some of my favorites - these are comfort foods. It’s rough in training and even more so at site when you’re still getting used to everything. Having these comforts will make the transition a bit more at ease. Also ya never know if your body can handle the food, mine still can’t.
Protein powder/drink mixes with caffeine and/or electrolytes
I mostly regret not packing food things and stuff for my kitchen hahaha
More to come.