Packing for the Africa Mercy is hard. There's no perfect list as every job is a little different, every person is a little different, and every country is a little different. In an attempt to help you with your own feat of fitting your life into a suitcase, here's (the long version of) what I wish I'd known.
As an example, below is my packing list for my first field service in Madagascar (5 months) with a few adjustments, along with tips and tricks picked up over a year on board. All of this fit in a large rolling duffle, a small duffle, a carry-on suitcase and my camera/laptop bag.
* - Optional/Low Priority
| This is the hardest category to explain since so much of it is personal preference and job requirements. The best piece of advice I can give is bring what you normally would wear, with some considerations. Many positions have uniforms, but for the rest of us, it's fairly casual. My job (photographer) bounces back and forth from inside to outside the ship, down in the wards and out in the field in patients' homes. Lightweight layers are best for adjusting between the heat outside and the cold of the air conditioning inside. |
|Tank Tops (5)|
|Button-Up Shirts (2)|
|Nice Sleeveless Tops (2)|
|Long Sleeve T-shirt (2)|
|Cardigan/sweater (2) - Again, the A/C on the ship is cold. Bring warm layers!|
|Dresses (4) - Bring at least one nice, professional dress for special events|
|Long Pants - Quick Dry; I love |
| Jeans (2)|
|Good Rain Jacket|
|Compression Socks - I swear by these for long flights.|
|Duvet Cover* - MS does provide one (often patterned) for short-term crew, but I wanted my own to make it feel more like home.|
|Throw blanket* - Could buy here, but again, wanted my favorite from home.|
|Towel + Washcloth* - MS does provide one of each for short-term crew|
|Laundry Bag + Delicates Bag|
|Quick Dry Towel - Like or a for the pool/beach|
|The Ship Shop carries a variety of toiletries and household items, but don't plan on buying your full supply on board. Think of it as more of an emergency supply. Not only is the selection limited, it takes months for things to be restocked from the States. I highly recommend bringing your full supply, or sending a personal restock via container (see note below).|
|Contacts + Extra Contacts Cases|
|Contact Solution - Bring extra. This is all but impossible to find in most parts of Africa.|
|Glasses + Case|
|Daily Face Wash + Facial Scrub|
|Make Up Remover|
|Bug Spray - Deep Woods with DEET recommended|
|Sunscreen- I swear by Keeps me from burning, but with a light scent and texture that I don't hate wearing daily.|
|First Aid Kit|
|You can get basic over-the-counter meds at the AFM pharmacy, but I like having my own stash of bandaids, Tylenol, Ibuprofen, Benadryl, etc.|
|After sun care/aloe|
| - Works on sunburn, bug bites, sore muscles, and as vapor rub. Also the best remedy for Mahambo sand flea bites.|
|Electrical Adapters - For the ship (UK plugs) & in-port country (European for Mada)|
| iPhone + charger + headphones|
| iPad + charger|
|Kindle + charger - Highly recommended|
|Laptop + charger|
|External Hard drive - Or flash drives to be able to transfer photos from AFM computers|
|Camera + charger|
|Hobbies - Ex. a small watercolor kit or craft supplies, card-making supplies, games or cards|
|Items to decorate your cabin &/or office - Photos of loved ones, etc. + magnets|
|Personal Office Kit - Scissors, Pens, Pencils, Tape|
|Small Sewing Kit|
|Laptop &/or Camera Bag|
|Day Pack - Large purse or small backpack for day trips. Something comfortable enough to carry a water bottle, lunch/snacks, suncreen/bugspray, rain jacket, etc. all day.|
|Weekend Bag - Large backpack or duffle recommend. Ideally something you can carry for at least half a mile.|
|Large Duffle - I highly recommend . Packs like a suitcase, but folds down and fits under my bunk where it functions like an extra drawer. Usually comes right to 50 lb packed full. Super sturdy with a life-time guarantee.|
|Coffee mug with lid|
|Stationery + stamps from your home country (see note below)|
|Closet Organizer + Magnets|
|Bible / Bible Studies + Journal|
| Favorite snacks from home|
|Hat & Sunglasses|
Misc. Tips, Tricks & FAQ
- Pack Light - It's not just a matter of what you can fit in your suitcases, do keep in mind that you will be living in very close quarters while on the AFM with limited storage. Your cabin mates will thank you. See photo below of a typical berth.
- The walls and ceiling are magnetic. I drastically underestimated the gloriousness of this fact. I thought too small, limiting myself to a few magnets for hanging photos. Think much, much bigger, especially if you're coming long term, and bring strong earth magnets. Strong magnets can be used to hang closet organizers from the ceiling, attach baskets to the wall for added storage, or a million other things. You can buy magnets in the ship shop, including clothes hooks and picture hangers, but it wouldn't hurt to bring your own.
- Do I need an iPhone, iPod, iPad, a laptop, AND a separate camera? Generally, I'd say no. And I definitely wouldn't recommend going out and buying all (or any) of these things. I use all of mine for different things and already owned all of them. I do recommend a small device you can carry with you on the ship that can connect to the internet (iPhone, iPod touch, smart phone, etc). For professional communication, the ship uses phones, email and pagers. For personal communication (i.e. "We're watching a movie in the Queen's Lounge if you want to join!"), most crew use either iMessage or Facebook messages. I love my iPad for watching movies and FaceTime (a luxury that most other countries besides Madagascar won't have). I LOVE my Kindle for books and can even borrow books while on the ship from my library at home for free.
- What about a cell phone? To use a local SIM card, you'll need an unlocked phone (i.e. not tied to a carrier like Verizon or Sprint). I bought a used Droid, which I rarely carry because I hate it. I carry my iPhone (which is essentially an iPod touch when out of service range) for iMessage, FaceTime and as a pocket camera. If I were to do it again, I would have spent a bit more and bought an unlocked iPhone so I'd only have one device or gotten a cheap dumb phone just for calls and texts in-country. You don't absolutely need a local phone--many people don't have one--but they are handy for things like making weekend reservations and security off-ship. The ship does have a handful of phones you can borrow.
- Ship water--and life in Africa--is very hard on clothes. Bring things you feel comfortable (& cute!) in, but also be prepared to potentially leave them all behind when you return home.
- Mercy Ships is not responsible for your personal possessions. Don't bring anything with you (of monetary or personal value) that you are not prepared to have lost, broken or stolen.
- Containers for Longer-Term Crew - About once a month, a shipping container is sent from the IOC in Texas to the ship, taking 6-12 weeks to arrive. While slow, sending items via container is free to crew members, though you do still have to get it to Texas. Alternatively, you can receive Crew Mail in about 2-3 weeks. At almost $9/lb, it adds up quick. I sent myself a box of toiletries via container, which cost about $25 to ship to TX from TN, but was free to receive on the ship . . . three months later. If you are going to On Boarding, you will be able to drop off boxes for container directly at the warehouse. Do keep in mind, it's free to send things to the ship, but it will be your responsibility to get it all home when your commitment is done.
- Bring backups of any critical items - chargers, SD cards, headphones, sunglasses, etc...anything you're particular about that you would be very sad if it was lost.
- Stationery Supplies - Bring a variety of envelopes, cards, cardstock, etc. for giving notes on the ship as well as mailing home. Also, bring stamps from your home country as you can send mail home with returning crew.
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