We know how helpful it is to hear tips from volunteers who have been in your shoes and experienced our programs as first-time IVHQers too. Ensuring you have everything you need to fully prepare yourself and learning where to find those off-the-beaten-track gems can drastically change a great trip into an unforgettable one. Passed down from one IVHQer to the next, here are the top volunteer abroad tips and secrets from our IVHQers on Instagram and Facebook to ensure your upcoming volunteer program is memorable and impactful.
Essential items to pack
You’re days away from departing on a new and life changing adventure, your excitement is getting in the way of your packing and you know there is something essential you have forgotten. Lucky for you, our past IVHQ volunteers have your back with these essential packing tips...
@bradygillies (IVHQ Kenya) - Do your research. If you’re going to a dusty country (eg. Kenya, or India) bring baby wipes! Not only are they good for wiping the dust away...but they make good showers when you can't shower that often. Another thing...bring a water bottle with a filter in it. I got to my placement in Kenya at 11pm and wanted to brush my teeth and go to bed...didn't have any safe water. Luckily another volunteer came to my rescue with a filter bottle.
Jonathan Harden (IVHQ India Delhi) - I'm there now. Pillow, mosquito repellent, a mug if you like coffee, bring coffee. Cards and toilet paper. It’s great here. Nice people, the volunteers, staff and hosts.
@savannasaurus_x (IVHQ Nepal) - Everyone forgets to pack a towel... Pack a towel!
@ellie_laughlin (IVHQ Bali) - Don't forget to bring your eye contact case and cleaning solution! The country you go to might not have replacements!
@sam_peturson (IVHQ Kenya) - Definitely bring a filter water bottle and depending on your placement, supplies. For example we are placed at an orphanage and wish we would have brought more craft supplies. Chewable vitamins and dry shampoo for sure! Also if you have time learn a few basic Swahili words, you'll come off better to the locals.
@ssteps - If you have food allergies bring some go-to snacks from home. It can be difficult explaining to others.
Lauren Kylie (IVHQ Ghana & Kenya) - I often would take money out of an ATM as needed to avoid having too much cash at one time. The easiest card to have abroad I have found to be is VISA. Almost all areas have an ATM that will work with visa. I would say an equivalence of $100 USD exchanged right off the bat would be enough and then you could take out more as needed. There are some nice malls and banks that have secure ATM's and it was never an issue/ but it's really what you're comfortable with and how much you plan on spending
@thecubicleescapee (IVHQ Guatemala) - Learn as much of the language as you can. Pack light. Have a Wi-Fi device it will come in handy! Smile it's universal I promise :)... Have fun. I can go on and on :)
Secrets to dressing right
Packing for a new country means thinking about not only a new climate and weather conditions, a new culture, religious beliefs and customs (as well as the new and wonderful activities you'll be doing in your free time), but also ensuring you don’t pack your entire wardrobe! Each IVHQ program is different, so do your research on which clothing is appropriate to pack for your project (you'll find all the info in your IVHQ Information Booklet), take our interactive volunteer abroad training, discuss any questions with your IVHQ Program Manager, and listen to this advice given from our experienced IVHQ volunteers...
Charlotte Webber (IVHQ Tanzania) - In Tanzania where we went we took with us 3/4 pants and a bunch of cheap t-shirts as we were told to cover our shoulders and knees for cultural reasons as well as personal, some of us wore singlets as well and we all bought the Bali style "hype type" pants with us to which were great and comfortable considering the heat, you can buy them over there also which we did as they were very cheap. That's just our personal experience though.
Kaila Cochrane (IVHQ Kenya) - I was in Kenya at Christmas it was very warm that time of year but still would cool down at night... and if the sun wasn't out during the day it got cool... definitely 3/4 pants... t-shirts... I brought my jean jacket which I wore a lot... dressing in layers is good... long skirts... I did bring one night outfit cause we did go out... you will get dirty due to the dust and it will stain your clothes... don't bring anything really important... also I brought one comfy tracksuit for night.
Darnyl Katzinger (IVHQ Costa Rica) - I'm doing turtle conservation now... I recommend a couple of swim suits, a cover up or two, tanks and shorts, comfy shoes as you will be doing A LOT of walking, dark clothes for patrol. You will not need a mosquito net or sleeping bag. Definitely bring stuff to entertain yourself as there is a lot of down time.
@vicky_Jackson (IVHQ Peru Cusco) - Bring some nice (but conservative clothes) for going out because there's some fun place in Plaza de Armas that the volunteers go out to some nights.
Makayla Jodrey (IVHQ Kenya) - Wear light colours such as browns, etc. because mosquitos are attracted to darks and blues!
@shanndeezyy (IVHQ Peru Cusco) - Pack a coat for Cusco, it can get cold at night. Also head up to the roof at the volunteer house best view ever- I miss it every day! Have fun!!
Michaela Dalal (IVHQ India Delhi) - Get light but conservative clothing (or you can buy great cheaper stuff in India) it's going to be brutally HOT in July.
Brea Gaudioso (IVHQ Costa Rica) - I just got back a few days ago. I suggest Crocs or flip flops for the Turtle Conservation project, also it's super-hot, make sure you bring lots of light clothing! You only need an outfit or two for night patrol but you sweat a lot during the days!!
Treat it like your first day of a new job
While it is important to do your research and ensure you are well prepared before you depart, there is also a lot to consider during your time in country to ensure you are a valuable volunteer and don't leave anything to hindsight. For volunteers working in education-based projects, you can never be too prepared for your volunteer work - taking into account items you can bring to aid the learning of your students and your lesson planning. Remember to research you host country and project as much as possible, ask your IVHQ Program Manager for recommendations and speak with past volunteers on our IVHQ Facebook group for tips and insight.
Jerrah Biggerstaff (IVHQ Tanzania) - You will have an amazing time! I taught at charity school this summer, the kids are awesome and the other teachers really care about the students! I would prepare some ideas for lesson plans if you end up with the older classes and arts and craft ideas/kids’ books for the baby classes. Bringing any toys is also a great idea, like bubbles or soccer balls, they loved those!
Jessica Benson (IVHQ Costa Rica) - If you can, bring books, colouring books, and crayons!
Jessica Tarves (IVHQ Bali) - We went to a store in the village with money we had fundraised (everything is wayyy cheaper over there) and bought each one in our class their own notebook. And bring stickers they loved the stickers I brought!
Marlene Brubaker (IVHQ South Africa & Peru Lima) - Agree with the other posts, don't buy stuff at home, take the money, and shop at local stores there, you will boost the economy (helping the parents).
Liz Hargreaves (IVHQ Vietnam Hanoi) - I met a woman who had a GoFundMe, and she raised a lot of money, which she has used to buy much needed equipment for the school she volunteered at. None of it was for her own expenses; in fact she didn't start it at all until she was already there and realized the need.
Jenny Higgins Bradanini (IVHQ Peru Cusco) - I just returned from childcare in Peru. My biggest piece of advice is think of yourself as an arts and crafts or PE teacher and plan activities before you leave and bring supplies from home. I brought fabric paints and 30 t-shirts from the dollar store in Cusco, they loved decorating them. Be proactive, have a plan, the kids will love it, even simple things like bring a bag of $1.99 popsicle sticks and glue, they can build a house or box and paint it. The highlight at the end of the week for my girls, I took a picture of each one and found a place to develop them (they don’t have picture of themselves ), I gave each one a copy and glued group pictures to a pieces of cardboard and they helped make a mural ... Anyway those are done ideas for you ..have fun and remember the experience is yours to have!
Katherine Milligan (IVHQ Uganda) - During my time in Uganda lots of volunteers provided funding and equipment which was a great help to the teaching placement I was volunteering in. Some volunteers also helped with a building placement and built a fence and shelving. More balls would be handy, blank paper for drawing, more reading books would be good too as they learn English but they don't get to practice reading it, Chalk and dusters, decent pencils, sharpeners, decent crayons as well.
Mark Willis (IVHQ Vietnam) - Keep a journal! You'll thank yourself in 5 years.
Must see volunteer abroad hotspots
Every volunteer destination has something unique and special to offer for your free time. Whether you are interested in exploring the country side, you’re a bit of an adrenaline junkie or you prefer relaxing on the beach with a book, you'll have no shortage of weekend adventures to choose from. If you have already explored our Travel and Tours pages and scrolled through pages and pages of Google results, and are completely overwhelmed by your options, it’s time to turn to your trusted IVHQ volunteers who have all the best kept travel secrets and suggestions...
Lauren Kylie (IVHQ Ghana & Kenya) - I've done both Kenya and Ghana for 4 weeks each. I can't describe how amazing both experiences were but on different levels. Each place has its own needs and each place has so much love and hospitality. There are many things to do on your weekends off in both places such as beaches, safaris, canopy tours, etc. Be careful though! If you do Africa once, you WILL be back. (I leave Saturday for round 4).
@vicky_Jackson (IVHQ Peru Cusco) - You MUST see Machu Picchu when you're there and for an extra $10 I think you can climb up Wayna Picchu which is the sister mountain that'll give you a gorgeous birds eye view of it - so worth it!
Krista Gregory (IVHQ Bali) - Make sure to travel on the weekends - if you're there long enough, go to Amed and scuba dive - it's beautiful. Pedang Pedang is nice too (well everything was great!)
Katherine Milligan (IVHQ Uganda) - Uganda has a picturesque countryside. Going on the safari was one of the best things I have done. Seeing the animals roaming free was really nice. The Murchison Falls were also pretty stunning. We were able to see locals dancing with local musicians as well and the food was very good, served in a grass hut. Jinja is where you can bungy jump or do white water rafting or you can go for a swim at a local hotel that are very accommodating, nice and relaxing to get out of the city.
Paw Bear (IVHQ Bali) - If you have a chance to come back to Bali. Gili T is the paradise party island combine with many amazing activities and sights! Best weekend I've ever spent in Bali except for the boat ride.
@vicky_Jackson (IVHQ Peru Cusco & Tanzania) - Weekend excursions are so much cheaper if you wait book them with local companies when you're there - other volunteers will be able to give suggestions! I've been to Peru and Tanzania with IVHQ and had incredible experiences.
Jessica Palmer (IVHQ Costa Rica) - I would budget average $100 a weekend for activities in Costa Rica. It really just depends what you have in mind you want to do. Tours like zip lining and white water rafting are going to be more expensive than just buying a bus ticket to the beach for the weekend. I stayed in a hotel with a group of girls and split the cost which was just a little bit more than the hostel but the hostels weren't bad either.
Julia Hanna (IVHQ Nepal) - If you head out to the Chitwan district there’s a place in Sauraha called 'Eden Jungle Safari'. You can stay 2 nights of your weekend. It’s a great price and tours, activities, accom and food for about $100Aus... I also did the Mt Everest 1hr flight which was about $200Aus, but once in a lifetime. Kathmandu is fabulous shopping and eating!!
Words of wisdom from IVHQ volunteers
So your packing list is sorted, you’ve done endless research on your host country and culture, your flights are booked and you have your weekends planned, this is when the nerves kick in and you turn to friends and family for final pieces of advice. While your IVHQ Program Manager will ensure you are every bit ready to go on your trip, it’s always nice to hear some volunteer travel tips from the locals as well as from those who have just returned from their own IVHQ volunteer trips...
@alenajohoff (IVHQ Bali) - Don't be worried about traveling alone!! You make really great friendships and learn a lot about yourself!
@kardllx197 - My advice from my personal experience is don't be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. Not only third world countries but every country has a different lifestyle so you will do things differently. It's an amazing thing to volunteer and help others, you get to travel the world while changing the world for people one by one! Stay positive throughout your whole trip. If some people can live a certain way you’re not use to & don't like than you can do it for a temporary time! Nothing stronger than a volunteer’s heart.
Michaela Dalal (IVHQ India) - As long as you use caution and common sense, you will be fine. Don't go places alone (best to stick to the buddy system) especially at night. As a western you will get a lot of stares and attention, especially from men, so just be prepared for that. As long as you’re cautious and use your head you will have a wonderful experience in India.
@ssteps - Be ready to go with the flow. Things will never run as smooth as they do at home. Just enjoy the loose schedule and take in each moment.
@kaitoujo (IVHQ Tanzania) - 1) If you have a choice between home stay and a volunteer house, choose the home stay, you will learn more about the community and yourself. 2) Listen more than you speak 3) you may see some things that shock you, but that is real life. That is reality for the people you see every day, so do not judge, try to understand. 4) back up your photos just in case, and know that Internet cafes are probably not as safe as what you are used to.
@brodiedtd (IVHQ India) - Don't stress about volunteering alone! I made so many great lifelong friends while volunteering in India last year. A few of us have already started talking about doing South America with IVHQ.
Lauren Kylie (IVHQ Ghana & Kenya) - I have been fortunate enough to travel with IVHQ to Ghana and Kenya. Both experiences were remarkable and life changing in different ways. Many people are always concerned about their safety. But just like anywhere else, it's just about knowing your surroundings. You could be in New York City and something unexpected can happen to you. Same as if you're in Nairobi. Just know where you are, and just like Carol said, grasp every single opportunity you come across. You won't be disappointed.
Kayla Recck (IVHQ Kenya) - I went to Kenya, alone. You may travel alone, but once you arrive in whichever country you decide, you're instantly surrounded by fellow volunteers, placement family and staff. You come home with many new friends! You're definitely forced beyond your natural comfort zones, which is empowering! It's a blast.
A big thanks to all of our wonderful volunteers who continue to share their volunteering abroad tips and advice for future IVHQers via Instagram and our Facebook group. Please keep your tips coming and if you have any more tips to add to this list, please post them in the comments section below – happy volunteering!