Now I will take a break from writing about the past to give some advise about packing! Because lord knows, this consumed my every thought and waking moment for about 6 months…
- Buy those black jeans! Seriously though, they’re way more versatile than those black slacks you are thinking of bringing and they will serve so many purposes while you’re here! I don’t know how many times I’ve worn mine to school, Hub (read being around all the other volunteers, PC staff, and even our Country Director). They 100% count as work attire here so GO FOR IT! buy some nice ones, you’ll use them ALL YEAR! I could basically cut my pants space in half if I’d brought a pair from the get-go (Shout out to the heavenly Barb who gifted me my pair! you’re too good for me…but I’ll never let you go love!).
- Blouses in different colors. I opted to bring only a white button up and a flannel? I jettisoned two perfect blouses right before I left because of space??? Be better than me! I could have used these blouses basically everyday. Essentially Albanians dress like the rest of Europe even if they live in cement block houses. They rock the posh look too, so for the sake of blending, buy the chic blouse you saw in the store the other day. you’ll thank yourself when you get to Albania and see that all these ladies know how to work the tucked blouse and skinny jean combo.
- A multi-purpose blazer. as stated above these ladies know what’s up. I didn’t bring a blazer either because obviously I read all the wrong posts about Albania. EVERYONE has a blazer from your host mom to a 4th grader in a small village. I don’t know how many times I found myself kicking myself for leaving my navy Target blazer at home. You want a blazer that you can roll the sleeves for the warmer weather but is still full sleeve length for the colder months or honestly the whole year if you’ll be at a school or inside for long periods of time. And I know I said Navy but you can basically use any color as long as it works with the clothes you are bringing with you. I would kill for a nice orange-y red blazer since so much of my clothing is neutral.HINT, HINT care package humans! Did I mention how nice you look today? Have you been working out?!Anyway, I ended up buying a bone colored blazer in a second-hand shop that is almost perfect. It has a little shine to it which normally looks a bit childish but somehow this blazer makes it work. the only downside is that it’s a summer blazer so I’ll need a cold weather blazer soon enough.
- Adidas joggers. you’re going to want to bring sweat pants regardless, go ahead and send a nod to your new culture and buy yourself a cute pair of slim fit Adidas joggers. The more adidas-y the better! I’m talking stripes down the sides, big emblems sewn or stitched on; Go all out with it! The plus is in Albania you can wear these ANYWHERE…except for work, but right after work you can throw them on and watch some netflix, go shop for dinner, go for a run, or really anything.
- Ankle boots with a decent sole. The roads here kind of suck. I would recommend getting a pair of ankle boots that are both nice to walk in for a while read: low heel, and nice enough to wear to a hub day or two (or everyday).
- Low profile sneakers, Van’s, Keds, Converse, or any others like these. I would have loved to have my kids or Converse so many times but alas I left these at home as well. I did however, but an excellent pair of low tops from Børn that work pretty well…I just wish I’d gotten them in black or a deep wine color.
- Your makeup. Trust me, Albanians like to look nice and they value the effort you put into your appearance. If you were looking for the peace Corps 2 year break from make up, you’re going to need to change countries because this place is not it. You can buy nice make up in Tirana, Elbasan, and probably any larger city but bring yourself a supply or at least 3 months worth of what you must have to look your level of nice.
- scarves! I am admittedly obsessed with scarves but I tried to pull back and not take a MILLION with me…Mistake. HUUUUGE Mistake. We all know that a scarf is essentially a magical blanket that makes you look exceptionally polished and keeps you nice and toasty in those freezing cold concrete schools!
- headbands. Either the hard kinds or the soft fabric/lace kinds will do but either way your hair is not always going to look ‘leave the house’ ready, especially with the showering only 2 times a week. Everyones hair freaks out when it gets to Albania. And think about it, you’re eating wildly different food, doing wildly different things, and feeling extremely out of place. Sometimes you just need a little something to make your hair look passably nice before you can run home after school on shower day!
- Workout clothes. I brought leggings but I forgot to bring athletic shorts or capris for when it gets a little warmer. you will definitely want these when the heat sets in on the summer. and it will for everyone except for my dear friends in the cold, cold north…but even there it’s nice in the summer. On that note throw in a fan/water spritzer you use at music festivals. Trust me you’ll be glad you did come June…I’m actually sitting in my non air-conditioned apartment in only a tank top and cut-off shorts wishing I had one right now.
- Boring socks/socks in general. if you’re like me you love a good statement sock, but you also sometimes want your ankles to be warm but not draw attention: Enter the boring black business sock. I forgot to bring a few pairs of these boring wonders (now don’t get me wrong these socks are super comfortable, versatile and by all means a respectable sock…they are not, however, socks with flying buffalo’s or dinosaurs. They just aren’t. They never will be. But there’s a time and a place for both so go ahead and make room for both in your suitcase.
- Cardigans! I only brought one ridiculously warm cardigan and…well I should have brought all its friends along with me! Layers are the name of the game here in Albania, and I dare say all the Balkan countries. I’m personally a fan of button-able cardigans but whatever you’re comfortable with go ahead and do that!
Now I say all this but I didn’t do too bad a job at packing! I think I actually did pretty okay! So now I’ll take a moment to share with you a few things that I absolutely love that I brought with me!
- My long sleeve thermal tops from 32 degrees! they are a life saver! I could probably have 20 more and still wish i had a few. They are so light weight, take up so little room and manage to make you feel like you’re wearing a portable heater! Treat yo’ self!
- My semi-slouchy but still professional black v-neck. Thank you Target for all that you have done for me. without you, I would have a far less comfortable work-wear section in my closest.
- My black and white striped dress. the sleeves on this dress are perfect, Not too long, not to short, and the fabric is the kind of quality that says ‘I know I look good today but I bet you 50$ I’ll still look good in 2 years.’ I spent actual money on this dress but I don’t feel bad about it for a second!
- My multi-country power cord. Works for everything and I don’t have to worry about whether or not I can actually power something. Huge win! Also I ended up with an apartment that is lacking in outlets i.e. bacially I have 3 that work. So without this cord I’d be going bonkers.
- my waterproof portable speaker. I bought this last minute at TJ Maxx of all places and it’s been absolutely wonderful. And As I just saw on amazon most people, like myself, have found this speaker to be a fantastic speaker despite its small size. No lousy phone speakers for me! and the fact that it’s waterproof means I can shower with some music in the background!
- My swiss army knife. And my leatherman. Both have already been useful!
- My big black bag. Also a last minute purchase, and it has saved my butt so many times. you’ll need a nicest looking bag when you go to hub and basically to blend in (you won’t but you’ll look less out of place if you’re not wearing a backpack around the city). I would recommend this or a stylish black pleather or canvas backpack..all the college students I saw had one of these in various styles and colors and it does have the advantage of keeping your hands free…I kind of want one since I have SO many books I need to haul around my town.
- My green army-style jacket. I love this lightweight jacket (shown in the title photo)! I basically use it whenever I can possibly manage to. In the winter I layer it with my crazy warm cardigan and a base layer shirt and it feels as if I’m wearing a heavy winter jacket. It’s also light enough on its own to wear as a spring/summer jacket for when it’s just a little chilly. It’s one of my staple wardrobe pieces and I hope it lasts forever!
- Ladies get yourself a ring. You have no idea how helpful this is in getting Albanian men away from you. you don’t even need to know how to say ‘I’m not interrested’ you just point to the ring and message recieved. Mine I brought just because I liked it but once I landed in Albania I was blown away by how happy I was that I’d taken it. It’s a cheap brass ring I got at a street market for 14 euro. So no need to get anything real flashy, just a band will do, or one of those pretty celtic knot rings, whatever your style it will work.
- Stationary. My friend gave me some pretty stationary so I could write to her and tiny person (my fairy god-daughter). It’s such a sweet, pretty reminder that I have wonderful people back home who love me, and I them. If you also have some one or someone’s to write a little paper and enevlopes aren’t going to break your back so take them!
A few more things I wish I’d brought are as Follows:
- Shorts! It’s SOOOO hot here. And in the south especially it’s normal to see young women wearing shorts. Even the older ladies wear those hideous board shorts or Bermuda short things…And on the hotter days I feel myself envying their breathable material, as distasteful as those shorts are. I can’t apologize if you love these sorts of shorts..they’re basically fabric Crocs. Actual fact.
- A pair of sleek black walking sandals. I wear a 9 1/2 in shoes or a 40? in European sizes. This size does not exist in normal Albanian stores, I’ll have to go to Tirana or another ‘Big’ city to buy shoes.
- Breathable summer tops, tank tops/ short-sleeved. It’s REALLY HOT.
- Spices. Trust me. I wish I’d thrown in a bunch of my favorite hot sauces, and herbs, maybe even some basil plant seeds because for some reason Albanians havent discovered the best plant on this great rock. One Italian airport will now allow you to carry on Pesto to take home and I feel like making a trip just to hug each Airport associate who made this happen. Thank you.
- Games! Card games, checkers, really anything because these kids are bored. and All we’ve got is chess and decks of cards. I’d kill for some apples to apples to help these kids with english and Cards against humanity for my personal sanity (obviously for me and another volunteers and not for the public. but I’m sure I didn’t have to specify that).
- A big roll-y bag. I thought I’d be the smart one not having a huge rolling suitcase. Wrong. you’ll definitely want one when you need to maneuver the Tirana streets with all your worldly possessions in tow. I may have ended up having an Albanian drag my wonderful hiking pack across gravel. there are holes now. I’m pak Mërsit about this. But it was so hot, and I was so frustrated, there was nothing I could do.