How to Pack for Your Volunteering Abroad Adventure
So you’ve made the exciting decision to pursue a volunteer programme abroad, and you’ve started the process of preparing for your adventure.
There are many things to get ready before you leave, but one of the biggest question marks for many volunteers is: how in the world do I pack?
Here are a 12 tips to keep in mind while deciding what to bring and what not to bring.
1. Simplify Your Life by Packing Light
While it can be tempting to try to bring everything you can think of, you’ll soon be thanking yourself for packing light.
Focus your efforts on the things you won’t be able to buy in your destination country.
You might find a lightweight backpack much more convenient for travelling, than dragging around a giant suitcase.
Finally, make sure you check your airline’s baggage limits. You should try to pack light anyway, but failing that you definitely don’t want to end up paying extra for going over the weight restrictions (also check out this video for how cabin crew pack their own bags).
2. Check Official Travel Recommendations for Your Destination
You should research your travel insurance options.
Review official sources for information on health, weather, or safety advice relevant to the region or community where you’ll be volunteering.
These recommendations could include:
- vaccines to get before leaving
- medicines or treatments you might need while you’re there
- weather warnings
- advice on getting around safely
You can also check the A – Z Factsheet from travelhealthpro.com
Also keep an eye out for differences in local outlet and voltage standards.
For a complete list of plug, socket types and voltages for every country check out the World Standards list. If necessary bring an adaptor and/or convertor so you’ll be able to keep your electronics charged.
3. Find Out What’s Included in Your Accommodation
You could be staying in a shared volunteer house, a host family’s home, or in private accommodation.
It will all depend on the region, culture and the structure of the volunteer programme. So, it’s important to get all the specifics on what’s included and what you’ll need to bring, from your programme coordinator.
Ask about what is provided such as:
- Sleeping bags
- Mosquito netting, if applicable
There might be other basic commodities you want to ask about like clothes washing facilities.
Don’t be shy to ask about anything you think you might need to know.
4. Research the Local Climate and Seasons
If it’s a hot climate, consider bringing loose, comfortable clothing to help you stay cool; sandals and light trainers; sunscreen; mosquito repellent and sunglasses.
For a cold climate, bring: a winter jacket; sweaters; and other accessories like scarves, hats, and gloves. It is also a good idea to bring a pair of good boots.
However, if you are buying a new pair, make sure you leave yourself enough time to wear them in properly.
No one likes having blisters!
If it’s rainy season while you’re volunteering, it might be worth bringing a waterproof jacket, some lightweight rubber boots and a easy-to-pack small umbrella.
5. Consider Cultural Expectations of How You Should Dress
In order for you to adapt, build relationships, and demonstrate respect to those around you, you should try to understand what is expected of you culturally.
Research your destination and their local cultural expectations.
These expectations may also differ greatly for women and men, so research accordingly!
It’s also a good idea to bring at least one semi-formal outfit, in case you get invited to an important local event.
6. Pack Enough Personal Items for duration of your stay
If you take any medications, talk to your doctor about getting an extended supply for the duration of your volunteer programme.
Medicines and prescriptions can vary greatly between countries.
Don’t rely on the possibility of getting the same medicines and prescriptions in your destination country.
Different countries will also have their own security and customs procedures, and allowances.
So, be prepared, keep any prescription medications in their original containers along with the original prescription.
Remember you might not be able to buy your preferred brands of toiletries in your destination country, so stock up on your key personal items.
7. Pack a Small, Basic First Aid Kit
In the case of any moderate to severe illness or injury, you should immediately seek professional medical care. However, it can be helpful to have a basic first aid kit for the less serious emergencies.
You might include:
- Plasters (band aids)
- Antiseptic cream
- Blister treatments
- Mosquito bite relief gel or cream
- Antihistamine medication for allergic reactions
- Anti-diarrhoea oral medication, to be used temporarily for minor stomach troubles
- Oral rehydration packs, in the case of dehydration
- Your preferred headache/pain relief medicine
First aid kits can be small and compact, so they don’t need to take up much of your packing space. Also, it’s better to have it and not need to use it, then not to have it and not be able to buy it anywhere.
8. Bring Any Materials You Might Need for Your Work
If you’re teaching, you might want to bring some small, fun classroom incentives like stickers or other knickknacks to liven up your classes.
Access to reliable and fast internet might be a challenge in your volunteer destination.
Helpful hint, download any materials or videos you might need onto your laptop or tablet before leaving.
For more physical work, you might need some quality work gloves. A wristwatch could also be useful, as you may not be able to access your mobile phone easily.
9. Gather Important Documents and Information
Making sure your paperwork is in order might be less exciting than packing, but it’s no less important.
First, you should make photocopies of all your important documents:
- Driver’s license
- Credit cards
- Insurance card
- Insurance documentation
In the event that you should lose any of them, this could make recovering or renewing them much easier.
Second, write down the address and contact information of your local programme coordinator.
Yes, really write it down on paper, not just in your phone! You don’t want to get stuck without this critical information.
Finally, take note of other key contact information, including:
- The number to call to report your lost or missing credit card
- The number of your insurance company
- Friends and family
- Your local embassy in your destination country
- Local emergency phone numbers
- Your accommodations’ address and phone number
Keeping all this important information written down and in one place, will make it easier to access and keep track of.
It also means that if you can’t charge your phone or other electrical devices, you still have all the contact information you need.
10. Record Your Time Volunteering
Recording your experience can be a wonderful reflective process, and in the future will also allow you to relive many moments that you might have otherwise forgotten.
Bring a journal and some pens, so you can jot down how you’re feeling, the successes and challenges that you’ve had and all of the little things that, in the end, will define your experience.
You can also bring a camera or your phone to take pictures of the people and places that make up your new home.
11. Other Items to Consider
If the local language isn’t English, you can download a translate app onto your phone. Make sure you’ll be able to use the translate app offline before downloading it.
A small flashlight or headlamp can be helpful especially in the event of the power going out, or simply for a source of light at night.
If you’re prone to snacking, you might want to bring a box of granola or protein bars as well. Many volunteers also bring a refillable water bottle.
12. What Not to Bring
As important as it is to make sure you bring the right items, it will also save you a lot of headaches to make sure you don’t bring the wrong things!
Here are a few items you probably don’t need to bother bringing:
- Perfume or cologne, you likely won’t need it much, and it may attract insects
- Unnecessary electronics, you likely won’t be using them much, and don’t want to risk losing them
- Your most valuable jewellery, even if it’s your favourite item, think how you’ll feel if it gets lost
- Tonnes of books, they weigh lots, and usually aren’t worth the space in your bag. Try an Electronic reading device like a Kindle instead
Before you pack your bag lay everyhting out.
This will help you decide if you really need to take everything laid out in front of you.
Any Further Questions?
Still have doubts on how to pack for your volunteer programme, or any specific questions about the local climate or culture?
Contact your volunteer programme coordinator. He or she should be able to give you a better idea of the important variables you’ll need to consider for your particular programme.
Your programme coordinator can give you a more tailored list of recommended items for you bring.
Curious about how Inspire volunteers usually pack for their programmes? Drop us a line at +44 1635 285666, go to our enquiries page, or leave a comment below.