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Should I Use A Backpack Or Suitcase When I Volunteer Abroad?


Should you use a backpack or a suitcase when you volunteer abroad?

Even if you’re an expert at packing or have plenty of travel experience up your sleeve, the great debate on what type of luggage is going to be most suitable for your next volunteer trip abroad can often get the better of you.

I have traveled with both a suitcase and backpack and I have to be honest, I’m not sold on either. I have become frustrated with lugging my suitcase on and off public transport while trying to keep up with friends. On other occasions, I have wished for the ease of an orderly suitcase when rifling through my backpack looking for my only clean t-shirt, especially as it almost always turned up in the pile of clothing that I had already thrown out of the pack or in a different compartment altogether.

It seems there is no ‘one option suits all’ approach, so the IVHQ Experts (aka. IVHQ Program Managers) have a couple of suggestions for you to think about when packing for some of our IVHQ volunteer programs abroad:

IVHQ Program Manager Claire Chambers

For the South Africa, Zambia and Victoria Falls programs either a suitcase or a backpack is suitable however, storage and shelves can often be minimal so you will want luggage that can easily be stored under a bed. I would recommend you take the same precautions you would in any dormitory/backpackers style accommodation and bring a padlock to lock valuables away your luggage when not in use. Make sure you also bring a small backpack to use during the day while out and about and at your placement.

Suitcase or Backpack when you volunteer in Africa?

IVHQ Program Manager William Rowland

Bringing a suitcase to the programs in Tanzania, Kenya or Uganda is no worries! However, I would just suggest thinking about your travel before and after the programs. During your stay you will likely look into going on a safari, a weekend trip or perhaps a hike, in these instances I would bring an extra back pack to leave most of your luggage behind at your accommodation and only take the weekend essentials.

IVHQ Program Manager Ashlee Bishop

When volunteering in Nepal, India or Sri Lanka, I highly recommend you bring a backpack, dragging a suitcase along a dirt or unpaved road will be extremely tiresome. In the Sri Lanka accommodation in Kandy, you will have access to small lockers to keep valuable items such as your cash and passport safe, however it is not big enough to store bigger items such as a laptop or gifts.

IVHQ Program Manager Chelsea Green

If you have chosen to volunteer on the Peru Cusco Amazon Jungle Conservation project or the Costa Rica Turtle Conservation project, the placement sites require walking through areas where you really need a backpack and not a rolling suitcase. I would not recommend even trying to get away with a big suitcase as you’ll be sorry later!

Volunteer with a Pack and Suitcase?

IVHQ Program Manager Lydia Van Den Assum

When packing for the Colombia Cartagena program do keep in mind that you will be sharing your room, and your storage space will be under or to the side of your bunk bed, so pack light (it’s very hot in Cartagena so you can leave those warm bulky clothes behind). The Mexico and Ecuador programs are suitable for a suitcase; again you may find this a better option as you won’t have much space for storage. I would, however suggest you bring an extra pack that you can use for weekend trips and tours while leaving your other bag locked up in your room.

IVHQ Program Manager Louise Frame

Due to the remote location of the Madagascar program, on Nosy Komba Island, traveling with a backpack will make your life so much easier, especially when getting on and off the boat and climbing stairs. For programs in Italy, Morocco, Ghana and Transylvania suitcases are no trouble; my only advice here is to ensure you pack light (this also allows for a little extra room for all of the extra shopping!).

IVHQ Program Manager Margarete Lua

Bring a backpack, not a suitcase when traveling to Asia. Most of our program locations in Asia are just not suitable for a suitcase, whose wheels are likely to break (if not drive you crazy) before long. The only exception to this would be Ho Chi Minh, where a suitcase is totally fine.

Suitcase of Backpack when you volunteer in Asia?

Still a little unsure what to take? Try asking the IVHQ community on our Facebook group, or email your IVHQ Program Manager for a little more clarification. Once you’ve decided on how you’ll carry your luggage, make sure you then pack it properly!

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!