What To Pack For Volunteering Abroad

by Rebecca

Want to know what to pack for volunteering abroad? Chances are you’re about to set off on the adventure of a lifetime, volunteering on a project abroad. Having done the same myself I can safely say you will have the time of your life. To help with the stress that packing for such a trip is likely to cause, I have created the ultimate guide for what to pack for volunteering abroad.

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what to pack for volunteering abroad ICS

When you pack for volunteering abroad think about the environment

Take a moment before you start to pack for volunteering abroad to consider some of the factors that will affect what you bring. Here are some things for you to think about:

  • What season will it be during your project? Scorching summer heat, freezing winter or even rainy season?
  • Even if it is super hot, does the temperature drop at night and first thing in the morning?
  • What is the culture like? Is it a conservative or very religious – what kind of clothing is acceptable for this location? Take some time to research social and religious norms.
  • Following on from the previous point, what clothing is appropriate for your placement? For example, you’ll need respectable/modest clothing for teaching or mentoring placements or clothes that are comfortable and you don’t mind getting dirty for construction projects. You get the idea.
  • Will you want nice clothing for evenings out or special occasions?
  • Will you be travelling further afield or participating in specific activities during your time off and weekends? If so you may need specific gear like hiking boots, activewear or even swimwear.
  • Timeframe and future plans will really change what you need to pack. Think about How long you are going for. If volunteering is making up a small part of a bigger around the world trip, your needs will be different to someone who is going to volunteer for 2-weeks in the same location. Even if you are going away for a long time, try to remember less is more. You don’t want to be lugging your whole life around on your back. Pack what you need and anything else can be bought along the way.

These factors will be the cornerstone to your packing preparation. With detailed research- which you should remember to stick to- you will arrive at your placement feeling prepared, which will mean your main focus will be on the project.

Start with your luggage

When it comes to figuring out what to pack for volunteering abroad, honestly, what I recommend starting with is a good backpack. When it comes to volunteering abroad, you really could be in any environment. Where I was based in Kenya, the roads were just dirt and dust paths with lots of holes – definitely not suitable for a suitcase. Good news is there are some fabulous bags out there, some of which are specifically designed for a women’s frame, meaning they fit much better and you don’t get any of those horrible back or shoulder pains that come from an ill-fitting pack.

The Osprey Fairpoint is my absolute favourite and has been my go-to on so many adventures. I love how it isn’t a top-loading pack, meaning it’s easy to get to all your belongings. The fact it comes with and an attachable daypack is the best thing since sliced bread. To this day, I use my day pack all the time, even when I’m not travelling. It’s super comfy, perfectly sized and has a cushioned laptop compartment to keep your electronics safe.

A reliable backpack

If you don’t get a pack similar to the one above with a zip on a daypack, you will definitely need to invest in a good backpack for your trip. You’ll be doing a lot of walking around with the resources you need during the project so this is definitely a needed item.

A good backpack is worth its weight in gold. You want to look stylish whilst exploring but also need something that’s practical and sturdy.

A foldable shopper

Chances are depending on where you’re based, you may need to go to the market to do some food shopping at some point. Hence, a foldable and sturdy shopper makes it easy for carrying your goods back home – even if it is a bit of a walk.

A day to night bag

This is a good one for the women out there to consider when getting ready to pack for volunteering abroad. Honestly, this wasn’t something I expected to need – but boy oh boy I really did. Even in the middle of nowhere in Kenya, our team of volunteers still managed to go on day trips shopping and nights out at the bar. The last thing you want in either of those situations is to be stuck lumbering your backpack around. A small bag certainly became very useful.

 

Plus extras for your flight

When you pack for volunteering abroad, don’t neglect your travel on. Pack these in your carry on to stay super comfy during your flight. I don’t travel anywhere without earplugs and an eye-mask. I also hate asking for water all the time on a flight so therefore bringing a collapsible bottle is a lifesaver.

ICS volunteers

The group of volunteers on my three-month project in Kenya

I lived in Njoro, Kenya for three months and worked with entrepreneurs ↑

Toiletries

It can be pretty tricky to figure out what you need to pack for volunteering abroad depending on the length of your project and the environment you are based in and space in your luggage. For that reason, It is worth bearing in mind that some of the things you need you can buy where you are, and others are worth bringing with you. So here is a list of everything you are likely to need:

  • Toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, mouthwash
  • Toiletry organiser 
  • Hairbrush, hair ties, bobby pins, and a good hairband or bandana– great for bad hair days or hot or moist environments
  • Deodorant
  • Shampoo and conditioner- I recommend getting a Lush shampoo bar. Mine lasted for the whole 3-month duration of my trip and barely took up any space in my luggage. With conditioner, you really should bring enough to laugh and one that helps heal frazzled hair. The heat played havoc on my tresses and I had to get a lot cut-off when I got home. Make sure the same doesn’t happen to you.
  • Sunscreen SPF (my favourite is Hawaiian Tropics)
  • Aftersun- (Banana Boat Aloe gel will save your life on more than one occasion)
  • Moisturiser (very important to protect your skin from the environment)
  • Extra contacts, solution, and contact case (if you need them)
  • Glasses and prescription sunglasses (if you need them)
  • Prescription medication with the label. Make sure you bring more than enough, just in case.

For Women:

  • Your Makeup kit- pack your basic fuss-free everyday products and a couple of extras to jazz up your look for the evening. Some girls may not want to bring any but I love make-up, it makes me feel human.
  • Functional makeup bag
  • Face wash/ scrub to combat dry skin
  • Makeup wipes
  • Lip balm
  • Feminine hygiene products (I recommend getting a Saalt Cup, moon-Cup or Diva-Cup as packing enough of anything else will take up a lot of space and disposing of them in certain countries can be difficult)
  • If you want them, don’t forget your beauty electronics- but make them travel size!

Top Tip- Always pack some coconut oil. You can use it for almost anything, including; sunburn, bites, dry skin, dry hair and even to whiten your teeth.

Depending on the environment your project is based, you may also need:

  • Mosquito spray – Protect yourself from diseases. Also when you are hot and bothered you don’t also want to be dealing with bites.
  • A Medical kit with all the basics-  a similar pain reliever, antihistamine for relief from allergies or insect bites, diarrhoea relief, powdered electrolytes, scissors and tweezers, plasters, antiseptic cream for cuts and grazes etc…

Essential tech

What essential bits of kit should you add to your list? Some of these must-haves may not be the same for everyone. Here are some items to consider bringing.

I recommend putting the above items in your travel backpack and use it as carry-on luggage. Not only will it keep you entertained on your journey but it’ll make sure nothing gets broken.

Hiking is a great team-building exercise

Clothing

Firstly, I suggest you do some research into what the climate will be like in your destination at the time of year you are going. For example, in Kenya, there is a massive difference between rainy season and dry season so If I’d packed the wrong kit I would have had a very unpleasant time.

Furthermore, don’t bring anything very expensive or that require specific washing requirements like dry clean only. Remember your location, it could be a remote village where things are washed by hand.

When packing consider including the following:

  • Trousers or shorts x 3/4
  • Something smart for more formal occasions or for evenings out
  • Tops x 7 – pack a mix of different tops but make sure they can be mix and match with the bottoms (think universal colour scheme)
  • Underwear (bring roughly one week worth)
  • Swimwear – if you are likely to need it
  • Warm jacket, hoodie or fleece – even if you are going somewhere tropical it’s always a good idea to have something comfy, the weather has the tendency to surprise
  • Rain jacket- preferably a lightweight one
  • Shoes x 3 – one pair of comfy open shoes, I suggest black sandals as they won’t show up dust or dirt and go with everything, a pair of trainers that support your foot and a pair of flip flops to wear around the house (and in the outdoor toilet if you have one)
  • Socks
  • A travel towel
  • Pyjamas
  • If you love working out you may want to pack some activewear

Extras for women:

  • Dress or skirt that goes below the knees x 2/3
  • A scarf or sarong
  • Leggings x 1

Working with Kenyan entrepreneurs was amazing

Important documents

These are all the important things you really shouldn’t forget.

  • Passport- and ensure it has at least 6 months validity after the final day of travel otherwise RENEW RENEW RENEW
  • Visa- depending on your location, you may need a visa. Either research this yourself and apply ASAP or depending on your programme, they may be able to advise, help or even apply for one for you.
  • Print out or save any of the important documents sent to you by your programme
  • A form of ID/Student ID card
  • Cash and credit/ debit card(s) – Make sure to inform your card or bank where you’re going so they don’t cancel your card to prevent fraud. Some banks even let you do it on the mobile app.
  • Health insurance cards/document(s)
  • Travel insurance information
  • Reservations and itineraries (if needed) – also save a copy on your phone
  • Transportation tickets (plane, train, bus, etc.)
  • Important contact information
  • If you’re an EU citizen travelling in the EU make sure to bring your European health card.
  • Guide books and maps (and links to helpful blogs)
  • Health information- e.g some locations provide proof of a Yellow Fever vaccination.
  • Make photocopies of things in case you lose anything! better to be overly prepared just in case.

To be super-duper organised you can get a document wallet to keep everything in one place.

If you’re staying in a host home how about packing a small gift from home to say thank you?

Ask your project coordinators if there is anything specific you need to bring along with you.

Maybe you like the idea of bringing something like pencils along to give to locals? Again check with the project you are participating in about this.

So really that’s everything you need to get your project off to a flying start!

But if you have any questions at all please do contact me. Drop me a message or a comment and I’d be happy to help. I spent three months volunteering in Kenya and had the time of my life, and I’m sure you will too!

 

Want to read more about volunteering? check out these awesome blog posts for more: 

A day in the life: Volunteering in Kenya

A guide to Kenyan food

A year on from volunteering in Kenya

My volunteering journey, I’m off to Kenya

*Disclaimer- some of the links above are affiliate links, which means if you end up purchasing a product I earn a small amount of money at no extra cost to you. The products I have recommended are ones that I either genuinely use, are on my wishlist or have excellent reviews. If you do purchase anything it helps me to keep bringing you helpful blog posts like this one.*

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