Your Volunteer Adventure: Top Tips for Proper Packing and Preparing

Volunteering abroad is a lifetime experience you’ll never forget. From learning the ropes of a whole new culture, to providing help to those in need, the volunteer life is a challenging, yet rewarding one, with new obstacles ahead.

While fashion may not exactly be top of mind, what you pack sets the tone for success, comfort and the unexpected moments ahead. To help you navigate this new space, we’ve put together some tips and tricks so you’re prepared for whatever your volunteer work entails.

Plan Key Details in Advance

In most cases, your volunteer organization is not going to plan the trip for you, and as a result, you’ll need to navigate through booking, paperwork and more. Here’s a look at some of the most important basics:

  • DocumentsIf you need a passport, apply for your documentation at least six weeks in advance. Same goes for a work visa if one is required for your trip.
  • Vaccines and HealthBecause certain countries require specific vaccines, talk with your organization about the requirements you’ll need to meet before your volunteer work begins. The CDC has some good info for learning more about vaccinations.
  • Conditions, Climate and MoreIf your volunteer job takes place in a city, dressing for the occasion may not be all that different from your day-to-day schedule in your home country. However, if you’re teaching in Thailand or building wells in Western Africa, you may need to adjust your wardrobe for heat, humidity and more.
  • Phones — Most cell phones are unlocked for international use, and you can easily pick up a SIM card and use your phone while you are away. If you’re heading somewhere you think your smartphone won’t stand a chance, look for a burner phone, grab a calling card and stay in touch worry-free.
  • Travel Insurance — Hopefully you’ll return home safe and sound, but it’s better safe than sorry when traveling abroad. Travel insurance allows volunteers to see a doctor should they get hurt or become terminally ill. Check out World Nomads to find a plan best suited for your travels.

The Clothing Situation

First, you’ll want to have knowledge of what kind of cultural dress code you’ll need to follow. Second, what you bring depends on the work you’ll be doing.

If you’re in a medical setting, bring clothing suited to protect the skin from infection. Doing physical labor? You’ll need some solid boots and protective clothing. Don’t dress like you’re going on vacation. Volunteering can be hard work, and you’ll want to both pack light and bring comfortable clothes are already broken.

The Fine Print

Beyond knowing the appropriate items to bring on the trip and preparing for the worst from health crises to money, read your briefing over and over, and once more for good measure.

Your volunteer overseas organization should provide you with information regarding where you’re staying, and what kind of ethical issues and customs you need to be aware of.

Preparedness is King, But… So is Flexibility 

At the end of the day, much of your experience depends on how well you prepare. But, as we all know, you can’t prepare for every scenario. Build some room in your travel budget for unexpected expenses. Get ready for immersion, plenty of detours, and most importantly, keep an open mind.


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