Packing for volunteering abroad is not the same as packing for a relaxing beach break or a sightseeing trip. In this article we will give you some helpful packing tips for your volunteering abroad to make the experience easier.

What do I need to pack?

The key to packing for volunteering abroad is packing light. Remember, most of your time is likely to be spent working on your volunteer project and therefore we recommend that everything you bring is comfortable, practical and versatile. Many volunteer projects are based in tropical climates so pack accordingly. If you are going to be working in a school, check with your volunteer organization if there is any sort of dress-code. Any existing dress-codes are likely to be relatively relaxed but many schools will request that females for example do not wear anything too revealing. Also be aware of the culture of the location you will be visiting. Are women expected to cover up? Whilst allowances may be made for volunteers/foreigners, it is always preferable to fit in as much as possible and respect the community of which you will be a part of. If you are going to be working on a physical project such as building work, check with your volunteer organization with regards to what specialised equipment you should bring and what will be included. This may include items such as gloves and appropriate footwear.

Here is a general packing list for volunteering abroad

  • Passport and other travel documentation – Make sure you have copies of your flight information, contact details at home and in your destination and even proof of vaccination  available in your hand luggage  and main luggage.
  • Waterproof bag – Even a healthy supply of ziploc bags can help to protect your money and phone from a tropical rainstorm and from dust/sand in dry areas.
  • Comfortable waterproof shoes – preferably some sort of walking/hiking shoe as these can be used for physical labour and any exploring you may do. However, a good quality pair of sneakers will also be useful (bonus tip: wear these when you travel as they are the heaviest, bulkiest item you will probably pack.
  • Bathing suit and towel – To save on space, invest in a microfiber towel. These are extremely absorbent, dry quickly and don't take up much space.
  • Rain jacket and umbrella – skip the umbrella if you're low on space but a lightweight rain jacket is vital if you will be in the tropics. Even in 'dry season', certain areas can still experience sudden rain and mountainous areas are prone to rain year-round.
  • Electronics – Don't bring a laptop unless specifically asked to. Bring a camera if you wish but most volunteers make do with just a smart-phone for the duration of their trip.
  • Cables and adaptors – Don't forget to bring the appropriate charging cables for any electronics you do bring and an appropriate travel adaptor.
  • Sunscreen, insect repellent, band-aids, antiseptic – Remember, there are a number of mosquito-borne viruses for which there is no vaccination such as chikungunya and dengue fever so make sure your insect repellent is strong enough for tropical climates.
  • Other medications and toiletries – Remember to bring any other medication you need to take and consider bringing antihistamines even if you are not prone to allergies as they can help with itching from bug bites. It is likely you will be able to purchase toiletries such as shampoo wherever you are staying (and potentially very cheaply) but consider your transport options may be limited as will availability of products you are used to.
  • Limited cash and a currency/credit card – Prepaid currency cards are now widely available and are like a cross between travellers checks and a credit card. They usually have better international transaction fees than a regular bank card and are much safer than carrying large amounts of cash.
  • Guidebook – Check out classics like Lonely Planet or ditch the bulk by downloading an app that will work without internet such as Trip Advisor's City Guides (only available for select cities but they are constantly increasing the range) or Triposo
  • First aid kit – pretty self-explanatory. Buy one readymade or DIY your own.
  • Sunglasses – Make sure they are quality sunglasses with real UVA and UVB protection.

Here's a basic list of what clothes to pack for volunteering abroad:

  • One or two pairs of comfortable shorts
  • 1 pair of lightweight long pants
  • 5-10 tank tops/t-shirts
  • a couple lightweight, long-sleeved t-shirts
  • a hoody or sweatshirt
  • flip flops
  • casual day shoes
  • sneakers/walking shoes
  • Baseball cap/hat
  • Something to sleep in
  • Underwear!!

As I said before, some volunteer programs may require more specific items. This is just a general outline to help you get started.