Your flights are booked, your volunteer trip itinerary is all set… now it’s just time to pack! For an trip overseas, it can be daunting to know what to bring and what to leave behind. We asked travel blogger Sher She Goes for some packing tips.
Volunteer Packing List
Whether you’re working in a wildlife sanctuary, teaching English, or helping to build homes, here are some tips and questions to help guide your packing process!
What will the weather be like?
Will it be rainy season? Do temperatures fluctuate wildly from morning to night?
Is the culture conservative? What kind of environment will you be working in?
In many cultures, modest clothing that covers the shoulders and knees is appropriate.
Will you be doing projects that require specific gear?
Perhaps construction, hiking or will you need formal clothing?
1. Comfortable, Multi-Purpose Clothing
Bring items you can layer. Think t-shirts, leggings, pullovers and fleece jackets.
Choose sturdy fabrics like cotton and linen that can withstand dust and dirt. Or, pack for your vacation as you normally would and include a set of old clothes for volunteering that you don’t mind throwing away if they become too dirty.
A scarf or shemagh make for a great accessory. Not only can they keep you warm and protect you from dust, they can also wrap around your shoulders and legs to cover up if you need to dress more modestly in a pinch. Don’t forget a rain jacket, too!
Pack comfortable sneakers you can walk in all day, and a pair of flip flops for the shower. Check your itinerary – will you be on your feet all day? Do you need something slightly dressier to meet local community leaders? Or will you be actively biking and trekking?
If you buy new shoes, make sure to break them in before hand, and pack band-aids and blister cream just in case. A mini tub of Vaseline works multi-purpose for both new shoes and chapped lips!
2. Lightweight Backpack or Rolling Duffel
For international volunteer trips, we recommend soft luggage. Hard rolling suitcases can get stuck in potholes, take up too much space in small vans and are unwieldy for remote areas.
Other handy packing items?
Packing Cubes: We swear by packing cubes to keep everything organized. They’re also great for separating worn and dirty clothes from your clean items!
Water Bottle: Bring a refillable water bottle to stay hydrated and cut down on plastic use.
Phone: Make sure your phone is unlocked, so that you can use local SIM cards when traveling. Also don’t forget a universal charger!
Travel Towel: Lightweight, quick drying towels are great to pack. They’re great if you’re staying somewhere without bed linens or bath towels, and handy if you want to go swimming!
3. Travel Documents
Passport & Identification
Don’t leave home without your passport, a secondary form of ID and boarding pass. Planning to volunteer for a couple months, or throughout different countries? It can be helpful to save both an electronic and physical copy of your itinerary, important addresses and phone numbers in case of emergency.
Do a final check a month before you leave. Most countries require that your passport be valid for 6 months after your final date of travel. Some customs departments want to see proof of onward travel. Flying on a budget airline? Save yourself unnecessary fees by printing your boarding pass.
Contact your bank to let them know you’ll be traveling abroad. Often bank fraud departments will have checks in place to block cards when they’re used unexpectedly overseas.
If you have it, bring a credit card that offers no foreign transaction fees. If you plan to just use a debit card, check to see how much ATM fees will cost you abroad. They can usually add up, so look into opening a Charles Schwab account which reimburses you for all ATM fees worldwide.
Take out some US dollars to have on hand for emergencies. Try to get crisp new $20 bills, as some countries will refuse to exchange small denominations or will insist on ‘new’ looking bills.
This one’s crucial. Many travel volunteer trips will either include insurance coverage with the trip, or require that you obtain it on your own. Don’t forget this!
Whether your luggage is delayed, your phone is stolen or you get injured and need to visit a hospital, travel insurance will help when you need it most.
Personally, I like to keep all my important documents together in a travel wallet. That way I don’t have to rummage through all my things for the important stuff!
4. Gifts & Donations, If Appropriate
This one can be tricky. You might be tempted to bring candy and treats for the kids, but often excessive sugar can be detrimental for children in areas without access to great dental care. Meanwhile giving out money can incentivize parents to pull their kids out of school and foster a begging culture.
Instead, check with your program director about what types of donations are most needed for the local community.
If you’ll be volunteering at a school, often art supplies, notebooks and backpacks are a great way to help — just be sure to give directly to the school. Working at an animal rescue shelter? Perhaps they may need old blankets or pet supplies. Not sure what kind of work you’ll be assisting with? Cards and board games are universally enjoyed by kids and adults. Or, simply purchasing from the local economy can be a great help.
If you’re feeling generous to donate, reach out to your volunteer program coordinator who can advise on what gifts are most appropriate.
5. A Journal & Camera
Volunteering for good is a life-changing experience. Keeping a journal is a great way to unwind after each day and will be a nice memory to look back on the trip.
And of course, you can’t forget a camera! If you’ll be working with children, it’s a nice idea to bring along a Polaroid camera. Kids love getting their picture taken and being able to give them a physical photo to keep is a sweet memory.
And finally, enjoy the experience!
Travelocity’s Travel for Good™ program aims to inspire travelers to give back in ways big and small throughout their journeys. To learn more about the program, get involved in a local community or start planning your next Travel for Good trip, please visit Travelocity.com/TravelForGood.
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Sher She Goes is an official Travelocity Gnational Gnomad. Gnational Gnomads is an exclusive group of high-profile travel and lifestyle experts who offer tips and inspiration on behalf of Travelocity.
Travelocity compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site; such compensation may include travel and other costs.