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How to Pack for Two Years?

Note: This was written prior to my departure from the US.

How does one pack for two years?

It’s a question I’ve seen over and over again from the Peace Corps volunteers as they attempt to figure out what to pack for their service. One good piece of advice I saw is to recognize that I’m moving somewhere, not camping in the middle of the woods for two years. I can purchase pretty much anything I need over there. That being said, this is the mess that was the living room as I pulled out everything I want to take with me:

Contents of my bags spread out across the living room (but no, the dog isn’t coming sadly)

Yeah. Many hours of struggling and cutting out items, I now have 4 bags totaling at least 130 lbs. Two checked bags, one carry on and one personal item. Chances are that I’ll have brought too much and won’t use most of it, but that is my problem to figure out.

So what did I actually pack?

I had intended to do a full list of items, but it honestly just got too cumbersome to keep track of everything. I have a lot of clothes and shoes, plus notebooks, books, too many electronics (seriously, it’s ridiculous), hygiene items (contact solution and hand sanitizer FTW), tools and even a pillow. Maybe after I have a few months to reflect on what I packed and the environment I live it, I can give better to advice to anyone looking for packing lists of their own!

Washington DC (in photos)

Another post already?! Well this ended up to be mostly a recap of my few days in DC, although I didn’t intend that to happen. It’s been a whirlwind of a few days–they feel as though they’ve flown by, but at the same time as though they’ve lasted for ever–yet I know in a very short time these days will be fleeting memories in the grand scheme of things. So here I write my memories…

I arrived Sunday night and an awesome fellow PCT picked four of us up that arrived at Reagan. Typically that wouldn’t be an issue, but us PCT’s brought quadruple the number of bags than people, so that her poor car looked like this:

Plus we each had a bag on our laps!

Breakfast with my cousin included animal crackers with our coffee

After staging, I met an old friend (since elementary school!) for an amazing Peruvian dinner before heading back to the hotel. Some of the PCTs I’d met the night before were going on a late night bike tour of the city, so I went along for the ride! In the end, about 11 of us went and it made for an awesome last night in the US.

Midnight bike tour of DC began with Lincoln

Continued with MLK Jr

Around to Jefferson

Through the Roosevelt Memorial

Past the Capitol

To the Washington Monument (which sadly, has a crack in it from the earthquake)

Ending at a previously pink but now very dark White House

The bike tour was probably one of the coolest things I’ve ever done! The streets were deserted and we pretty much had free reign to ride right up to the monuments and cycle around DC. I’d highly recommend it to anyone trying to do something off the beaten track.

I only have a few hours before we have to check out and head to the airport. I’m expecting to be exhausted, but optimistic that I’ll manage to sleep the entire flight to Addis and be well rested when we arrive at 7:45 am. I feel strangely calm, but lately have considered that meaning I’m on the right path for me at this time. I’m so ready to get to Ethiopia and see what happens!

Casting Off

via pinterest

Even now; with a thousand little voyages notched in my belt, I still feel a memorial chill on casting off – E.B. White

Last night I arrived in Washington, DC, to start the great adventure. It still hasn’t settled in… that I’m doing this, I’m moving to Ethiopia for two years to become a Peace Corps volunteer. It feels a little bit like vacation, except that I have a LOT of luggage. Staging is today, so I expect it to feel more “real” after that. At different times, I’ve felt different things–nervous, excited, scared, thrilled, terrified, etc–but right now all I feel is the excitement. I’m really doing this.

I woke up early this morning (or at least, it felt really early) to meet my cousin for breakfast. It’s a beautiful day in DC. This time tomorrow we’ll be at the airport for the flight and should arrive in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, around 1 am central time… early morning there.

The nautical definition of to cast off is “To turn (a ship); change to the opposite tack.” If there ever was a point that could be defined as casting off in my life, this is it… the last chapter closed, a new chapter beginning.

Here we go!

The Times They Are a-Changin’

Man, when changes happen… they HAPPEN. I received my staging instructions on Friday (exactly 31 days before staging for anyone keeping track!) and made my flight reservations to DC. It’s weird to think there are only 25 days until I leave.

pupsbags

I had to say goodbye to my sweet puppy for the first time—he went back to my hometown with my parents as planned for me to finish out my last few weeks in San Antonio. I also attempted packing everything I’m planning on taking into my 3 bags… and I failed miserably. I’ve already started collecting the items I couldn’t fit into another bag, so I’ll be spending some time over the next three and a half weeks fitting everything in (while keeping the total weight under 80 lbs).

Speaking of time, I suddenly find myself with quite a bit of it… I put in five and a half weeks notice at work, and since then had been working on wrapping up a couple projects and handing everything over to the co-worker who was taking my load. Yesterday morning I found out I was included in the layoffs since “I was leaving anyway.” It was a bit of a shock—I wasn’t prepared to leave and I didn’t have a chance to tell everyone goodbye—but I know it was for the best.  Someone else who needs the job still has theirs, because I “lost” the last two weeks of mine. Plus, I’m able to take an extra few weeks to wrap up my life… and I don’t have to spend those two weeks saying goodbye over and over again, although I really will miss everyone.

So there have been a lot of changes. But then, I knew that would happen when I decided to join the Peace Corps!

All the “What Ifs”

Thanks to an email some of my fellow PC invitees received (and I finally got early last week), I was reminded I needed to get my Yellow Fever vaccine more than four weeks in advance of departure. Since I was planning to get mine in mid-September, that was not going to fly. Oops.

Luckily, there’s a place that does travel health I’d visited prior to my trip to Costa Rica. After spending 20 minutes reviewing my current vaccinations, the RN deemed Yellow Fever as the only vaccine I needed and I was out in 5 more minutes with my pretty yellow WHO card stamped. Yay.

***

Wrapping up life as I’ve known it is a lot more difficult than I thought it would be. I’m typically good at closing chapters of my life and beginning new ones, but thus far this one has proven to be really difficult. Mostly because I’m happy… I love the city I live in. I’ve made a lot of great friends lately–both here and across the US. I have a job that I would have been at long-term.

Two years isn’t a lifetime, yet it’s hard not to think about the things that’ll happen while I’m gone. I’ll miss four weddings in the next year alone–my best friend and three cousins–and likely more as people fall in love. I’ll miss at least two births and those babies will be toddlers by the time my service is complete, but likely many more. My brother will graduate from college. It’s hard not to think about the “what ifs” on what I’ll miss over the next two years.

But what would I miss if I stay here? I would miss weddings. I would miss deaths and births. I would miss a new place that I just might fall in love with. I would miss the opportunity to make new friends and to learn a new language. I would miss the opportunity to make a radical change in my world view. I would miss the opportunity to do a little good for people who deserve it.

Things that are worth doing are very rarely easy. They’re scary. They’re hard. I might cry… a lot. I might ask myself what the %^@* I was thinking on a regular basis, but at the end of it, I know that I will have no regrets.

How many “what ifs” is that worth?