There’s a lot of practical advice I wish I’d been given before going on my mission:
1. Most moments are mundane — tracting, trying to find people to teach, contacting referrals who aren’t home, etc. — but the miracles you see and the people you grow to love make every moment worth it.
2. PLANNING IS KING. Plan backups on backups on backups.
3. You’re going to meet a lot of really, really stinky dogs — and you’re going to have to pretend that they smell great even though deep inside, you’re wondering if you can sneak some dry shampoo into your next lesson.
Maybe more than anything, though, I wish someone had told me to bring these random (but super useful) items with me on my mission.
Tide to Go Sticks
Black matches with everything — except for that big ol’ mustard stain. Luckily, when you drop a greasy pepperoni on your white skirt or spill grape juice on your tie, Tide to Go sticks have got your back. Seriously, I can’t tell you how many times these little pens saved my life as a missionary. (Okay, that’s a little dramatic, but they did save my clothes. Same thing, right?) They are a necessity for every missionary, and I’d recommend getting one (or five, whatever) to keep in your backpack, especially if you’re as clumsy as I am.
I know this isn’t a thing in every mission, but I think it should be. So if it’s not, guess what, trendsetter? You’re about to start a mission tradition.
A transfer journal is a book or binder (although I strongly recommend the latter) for other missionaries (or even members and investigators) to write in when you’re transferred out of an area. It’s basically a yearbook for your mission, and it’s a great way to give your friends your contact info for after you return home. Although books and binders both work, I started off with a book and quickly switched to a binder. Binders allow you to remove a page and give it to someone to write on rather than sending them off with your whole book, not knowing when you’ll get it back for other people to sign.
Thanks to my smart phone, I rarely wore a watch prior to my mission. Luckily, I brought one and I quickly realized how essential a watch is to missionary life. It’s hard to be on time as a missionary (people like to talk — like, a lot), but it’s even harder if you don’t have a point of reference for time, and you can’t just pull out your phone in the middle of the lesson to check (unless you’re super into looking rude). Having a watch allows you to discreetly check the time during lessons or dinner appointments so you can know when to wrap things up.
Fun Colored Pens for Spiritual Journal
As a missionary, you attend a lot of meetings: district meetings, zone meetings, zone conference, mission conference, etc. — so having a journal for note-taking at these events is a must. Having different colored pens or markers isn’t, but it definitely makes journaling more fun, and allows you to color-code by topics and speakers.
A Plan of Salvation Diagram
There are a ton of beautiful Plan of Salvation kits and boards that you can buy — but truthfully, for teaching purposes, I preferred my handmade diagram. They’re easy to make; I used bright sticky notes and cut everything into shapes. After labelling everything in marker, I used tape to laminate each shape, because I wasn’t about to use my MSF card to laminate something I could do myself. Thus, my ghetto fabulous PoS diagram was born. It was nice having something made of paper that I could stick in an envelope that fit into my scriptures rather than having a board take up additional much-needed space in my purse.
Travel-sized Hand Sanitizer
You’re shaking lots of people’s hands, all day every day. People you don’t know. Need I say more?
A Small Book or Binder for Recipes
The purpose of this book or binder is two-fold: one, you’re going to get cravings for things from home and two, you’re going to eat lots of delicious things that you’ll want the recipe for. Having a book or binder where you can store these recipes will ensure that this precious cargo (I really love food, okay?) isn’t lost, and will also allow you to satisfy cravings when your dinner appointment cancels last minute and you’re feeling hangry enough to tackle your companion.
Keep a small bottle of ibuprofen or Tylenol in your bag for those moments when your companion’s spastic driving makes your head ache.
A Supportive Shoulder Bag
As of 2013, missionaries no longer wear backpacks, instead opting for more professional-looking shoulder bags. But I cannot stress this enough: ALL missionaries should get a good, supportive shoulder bag. I didn’t bring a shoulder bag, assuming my purse would be fine (it was big enough to hold my scriptures and other items). Uh, spoiler alert: IT WAS NOT FINE. By halfway through my mission, I thought my shoulder was literally going to fall off, probably mid-lesson, and I’d have to be rushed to the emergency room. While that never happened, I swear my shoulders have never been the same. Don’t be like me — get a shoulder bag!
Gum for Morning Study
I know what you’re thinking — this “Amy” character is preaching blasphemy! But before you get too worked up and head to Walmart for a pitchfork, I’d like to point out that the white handbook only prohibits chewing gum in public. So for morning studies (personal and companionship), chewing gum is fine — and it helps you stay awake during those wee morning hours when it’s taking all of your strength not to make like Joseph and dream “yet another dream.”
First Aid Kit
While hopefully you’ll never need it, it’s a good idea to bring a first aid kit filled with bandaids, antibiotic ointments, gauze, etc. I’d also recommend keeping some basic meds in there for allergies, colds, and other common maladies.
Small Sewing Kit
Here’s a quick story called “My skirt got caught in my bike wheels!” Yeah, that’s the whole story, actually. Luckily, with the help of a travel-sized sewing kit, you can stitch that skirt right back up without too much trouble. (If you don’t know how to sew, print off a basic tutorial for hand stitching and keep it in your sewing kit.)
^See above about smelly dogs. Doggos also, in addition to rolling in unidentifiable objects outside, enjoy shedding all over your new suit.
A Binder for Talks You Like (If You’re Not an iPad Mission)
When I arrived in Denver, Colorado (where I served my mission), before my companion picked me up, we watched several training videos and talked with our mission president and the APs. “We don’t have iPads now, but we’ll be getting them soon,” they excitedly informed us. One year into my mission: “We don’t have iPads now, but we’ll be getting them soon!” The day I went home: “We don’t have iPads now, but we’ll be getting them soon!”
Yeah. I still don’t think my mission is an iPad mission. In any case, if your mission isn’t an iPad mission, bring a binder containing a few of your favorite talks. As your mission progresses, you’ll add more and more to the binder, and soon you’ll be a scriptorian… Or a… General Conference-torian? Whatever. You get the gist.
Sticky Notes for Scripture References
One of the most beneficial things I ever did as a missionary was stick scripture references on the inside flap of my scriptures. (Again, this is for you non-iPad wielding missionaries.) Ideally, I’d know the references off of the top of my head, but it’s hard to remember the exact location of so many different scriptures. Because of that, when I’d come across a scripture I felt would be applicable in a lesson, I’d write it on the sticky note with a key phrase that I’d remember it by. It saved me a LOT of time fumbling through my Book of Mormon attempting to find a scripture that I read two weeks ago.
Workouts and Circuits
For when your pants are getting way too tight for comfort and doing stretches isn’t cutting it. Pinterest has a ton of workouts you can print off, or you can use something like the booklet this Sister compiled. I printed off a booklet similar to this one for my mission, and it was a huge help for making those 30 minutes of exercise in the morning truly productive.
For Climates You’re Unfamiliar With
If you’re from Alaska but just got called to Jamaica, chances are you’re not sure what all to pack. In that case, google “mission blogs” along with the title of your mission (ex: “Mission blogs, Colorado Denver North”). You’ll find pictures and tips for what kind of clothing to bring (among other random items, like perhaps these mosquito-repellent bracelets). You can also email or call your mission office and ask any questions you have regarding what to bring on your mission.
Not something to bring, but something to know: ask to box up your food when members are trying to give you seconds and you feel like you might explode. You can say something along the lines of, “This was SO delicious, but I’m so full — could you possibly send me home with some so I can have it tomorrow for lunch?” (Of course, be aware of how much food the members have, and don’t ask to box it up if they hardly have any left or if you know the family is financially struggling.) People love to know that you’ve enjoyed their food and in most cases, will happily send you home with a disposable plate full of leftovers.
While there are a lot of different considerations for your specific mission, know that all of these things are helpful, but supplemental. The most important thing you can bring — and the most important thing you can have in your life, period — is a testimony of the gospel. With that, you can face anything and weather any storm.