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How To Pack For A Volunteer Trip

How to pack to volunteer abroad with IVHQ

Do I need this rain jacket for Vietnam? What power adaptor do I need for Mexico? While packing for international travel can be a headache, with the right help it can actually be a lot of fun! After all, you are getting ready for the trip of a lifetime, you should be jumping for joy, but you can’t do that when you’re weighed down with nagging questions about what to take, or, heaven forbid it gets to this stage - a backpack twice your size. So we are going to walk you through how to pack for a volunteer trip now to ensure you can make the most of your time abroad.

Whether you’re a ‘prepare everything down to the tiniest detail 30 days before you are ready to depart’ kind of traveler, or a ‘I have 2 hours until I need to be at the airport, what exactly do I need’ kind of person - this is your one-stop guide to packing for international travel like a pro.

Step One: Research where you are going

About that rain jacket in Vietnam, well it depends. Is it rainy season, or are you visiting during the dry season? A simple Google search for the climate during the time of year you’ll be visiting is so important!

It’s easy to get swept away and just start placing your favorite things out on the bed but before you start packing, put the time in and do your research. Remember every destination, its seasons and even regions are different. So consider the following:

  • What season will it be when you are there? Is it summer, winter or even rainy season?
  • Does the temperature drop at night?
  • Is it a conservative culture - what kind of clothing is acceptable?
  • What clothing is appropriate for your placement? i.e respectable/modest clothing for teaching placements or clothes that you don’t mind getting marked for construction projects
  • Will you be traveling further afield during your weekends?
  • Will you want formal/nice clothing for evenings out?
  • Also, consider how long you are going for. If you are headed off on your gap year and volunteering for six months across multiple destinations, then your needs are going to be different from someone who is only volunteering for two weeks in one destination. And, if you’re traveling for a longer period of time, don’t get sucked into thinking that you need to take a vast amount of stuff. After all it’s just stuff, you can buy it on the road.

Let this information guide your packing. Putting the time in to research will mean you will arrive feeling in control and like a travel pro, which will set you up for an awesome experience abroad!

Step Two: Get your documents organized

  • Add the IVHQ country specific guide book to your iBooks or Android equivalent
  • Make sure you have easy access to the necessary contact numbers and information ready for your arrival in your destination. It’s important to make sure you don’t need WiFi to access it.
  • Let your bank know that you are headed abroad to avoid having your account frozen.
  • Make a copy of your passport, credit cards, itinerary, travel insurance and any other import documentation you may have or need. Leave a copy with your family and have a digital version as well.
  • Get all your travel docs ready in one handy location that can easily fit in your carry-on. Some people swear by a travel wallet, others are happy with a simple folder to keep everything together - figure out what works for you!

Get your documents in order before you volunteer abroad

Step Three: Choose the best bag for traveling

There’s nothing worse than getting your travel bag choice wrong! Dragging a suitcase on wheels down cobbled streets will suck the joy out of the trip and lugging a pack the size of a human around on your back in stifling heat won’t exactly make you smile from ear to ear.

So how do you choose the best bag for traveling? There’s no hard and fast rule as crtain destinations and volunteer projects will lend themselves toward taking one over the other, but largely it’s a personal preference. Once you’ve clocked up a few travel miles, you’re likely to have established a preference but until then, give each option a whirl. A few of our IVHQ Program Managers weigh in on the pack vs. suitacse debate here. And remember, you don’t need a bag that will fit the contents of your entire wardrobe. Travel light people!

Step Four: How to pack lightly

Because you’ve done your research, deciding what will go in your bag will be a much easier process! You’re not going to turn up in Romania with a bag full of clothes suited to Fiji. Use this travel packing list as a rough guide. Of course, ignore and add to it as you see fit and make sure you refer to the packing list in your destination-specific IVHQ guide book as will have information and recommendations specific to your program.

Clothes to pack for volunteering abroad:

  • Appropriate clothes for you project. This will vary depending on your project but ensure it is culturally appropriate as well
  • Pants/trousers x 2
  • Dress or skirt that goes below the knees
  • Tops x 4 - as a rule of thumb it’s always a good idea for these to be modest and cover your shoulders
  • Underwear
  • Swimsuit - obviously not if you aren’t likely to be near any water
  • Warm jacket - even if you are going somewhere tropical it’s always a good idea to have something snug for the plane and incase the weather turns south
  • Rain jacket
  • Shoes x 2 - one pair of open shoes and a pair of closed in sneakers (make sure you are comfortable walking in both, you’ll be clocking up some miles)
  • Socks
  • A scarf or sarong
  • Towel

Toiletries to pack for international travel:

  • Medical kit with aspirin (or a similar pain reliever), antihistamine for relief from allergies or insect bites, diarrhea ‘stoppers’ such as Diastop, powdered electrolytes, scissors and tweezers, bandaids, antiseptic cream for cuts and grazes, sunscreen, lip balm, insect repellant and any personal medication
  • Travel size shampoo and conditioner
  • Toothbrush, toothpaste and dental floss
  • Deodorant
  • Hairbrush
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Baby wipes - when we asked past volunteers what was the one thing to pack these came up time and time again. We suggest choosing a biodegradable wipe
  • Soap

Electrical goods to include on your international travel packing list:

  • Unlocked phone
  • Camera or GoPro
  • Head-torch
  • Adapters and chargers

In terms of volume, try to stick to the list and if you can’t then remember, the general rule of thumb to packing lightly for international travel is to lay out everything you need and then half it! That’s actually what you need to take with you. Harsh, but true!

How to choose the right bag to volunteer abroad with

Step Five: Carry on packing tips

  • It’s always a good idea to bring a change of clothes in your carry-on just in case your checked in baggage ends up going on a holiday without you.
  • Don’t forget a drink bottle for the plane. Keeping hydrated is vital to arriving and still feeling human. You want to minimize the impact of jet lag at every possible opportunity and taking an empty water bottle which you can fill up when onboard and use when you are in country is a double win!
  • Ear plugs
  • Herbal tea bags, hydration sachets, or anything you might feel like on the plan that will encourage you to keep hydrated
  • Lip balm and face towelettes
  • Pain relief and any medication you may require
  • A book, headphones (noise canceling if the budget allows), or something to pass the hours
  • Neck pillow
  • Don’t forget a pen for all those forms you’ll be filling out
  • A scarf is a great option if you get cold on planes and it can also double as a eye mask for when you need to take a kip
  • Don’t forget to put your carry on liquids in a clear ziplock bag and make sure all your liquids and creams are under 100ml
  • If you are taking electrical goods like a laptop then pack it in your carry-on

Step Six: What do I bring for my volunteer project?

Talk to your IVHQ Program Manager about what you can pack to support your project, as they will be able to work with the local team to find out what is truly needed on the project. They will also be advise you whether you will be able to purchase these items in country, which is our preferred option where possible. Not only does it mean you do not have to carry the supplies on the plane with you, it means any money you spend will be invested back into the local economy.

What do I pack for my project?

Step Seven: Depart for a life changing experience!

Now that you’ve packed your material objects, it’s a good time to think about your mindset. While it may sound corny, the best thing you can possibly ever pack is a positive attitude and an open-mind. Even if you somehow end up in say Argentina in winter when you packed for summer in Costa Rica, if you’ve departed with a positive mindset, this oversight won’t ruin your trip. You’ll be able to adapt, have a funny yarn to tell in the future and no doubt learn a thing or two along from your mistakes. Oh, and enjoy, you are off on an adventure!

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How to get started

Pick a destination + project and apply for free
Meet your personal volunteer travel expert
Pay the registration fee to secure your place and upgrade your MyIVHQ account
Get ready to volunteer abroad, we’ll support you every step of the way!