Whether you’re building a schoolhouse in Haiti, teaching kids how to read in the slums of India, or even retraining orphaned baby elephants in Cambodia’s jungle, a volunteering trip is one holiday you will never forget.
It can be a fun and life-changing way to make the most of your time off, as long as you have travel insurance and your bags are packed with everything you need. With that in mind, let our handy checklist help you while you’re preparing to help others overseas.
Volunteer’s packing checklist
- Big-brimmed hat: Sensible volunteers use real hats to keep skin cancer and heat-stroke at bay.
- Repellent containing DEET or picaridin: If you get bitten by mosquitoes overseas, you could catch many debilitating diseases including malaria, dengue fever, zika or chikungunya virus. Remember, repellent goes on over the top of your sunscreen. These repellents are safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women and children older than 2 months when used according to instructions.
- SPF50+: If you’re out in an Asian paddock or an African plain, the sun can be just as fierce as back home – but not all countries sell SPF50+. Your best friend if you do get burnt (maybe on a boat trip to a remote island community) is a small tube Aloe Vera gel in your backpack.
- Sunglasses: Protect your eyes from eye cancer, cataracts, and skin cancer on your eyelids, while you’re out there helping others. Get yourself some sunnies with labels saying “Blocks 99-100% of UV rays” or “UV absorption up to 400nm”.
- Cotton clothing: Most cross-cultural volunteering situations require some modest dressing, meaning long pants/skirt and sleeved shirts. That can get sweaty, so sticking to cotton or linen is a must, since they breathe the best in heat and humidity. Long sleeves/legs can help minimise mosquito bites, too.
- Bum bag: “Oh, that’s not cool!” I can hear you now. Don’t scoff – whenever you’re in a market, you’ll thank us that your passport, cash, and camera are not just loose in your backpack.
- Big boots and comfy flip-flops: It doesn’t matter if you’re building or teaching or just playing with kids in the street – nothing protects your feet from unknown dangers such as sharp rocks and needles like a thick pair of boots. Flip-flops are what protect your feet from tinea in shared toilets and bathrooms wherever you end up staying.
- Notebook for journalling: The volunteering experience can be emotionally moving, exciting, and challenging – all in one day! The first time I went overseas to a developing nation, I struggled with culture shock just from seeing beggars lining the footpath. Every night I was so glad I had my notebook with me, to record everything I’d seen and what I thought about it. When you get home, it also helps you to remember everything all your stories to tell your family and friends!
- Emergency snacks: You never know when your bus could be delayed, or your debrief meeting at the end of the day could run into dinnertime. A hungry volunteer is a useless volunteer, so come prepared. Most countries’ Customs and Quarantine don’t have a problem with individually-wrapped muesli bars, but you should always check when it comes to bringing other foods.
- Reusable water bottle: When you’re working, you’re sweating. Replace all that lost water by keeping your hydration at your side instead of waiting for the next meal to rehydrate. An aluminium or stainless steel water bottle will keep the water cool and tasting nice, and it will leak less than a plastic bottle. Ask your group leader whether the water from the tap is safe to drink where you are, or whether you need to refill your bottle from bought bottled water.
- Ear plugs: If you’re sleeping in a dorm or in a room with another snoring volunteer, don’t stress – ear plugs will make sure you still get a good night’s shut-eye.
- Plastic bags or zip-lock bags: Lots of things need to be kept dry and clean – like undies, cameras, etc. You can never bring too many plastic bags.
- Hand sanitiser and pocket tissues: Hand sanitiser and pocket tissues are lifesavers for those public restrooms halfway up a mountain.
- Deck of cards: Not an essential, but your fellow volunteers will enjoy it. Some of my favourite memories of my travels are playing ‘500’ or ‘Up and Down the River’ while waiting for a meal to arrive or waiting for a ferry.
- Flashlight: An essential if you’re staying anywhere that only has electricity during certain hours (and take spare batteries).
- Travel insurance: Travel insurance will cover many things that could go wrong – things like replacing stolen belongings, paying to get on a new flight home if yours gets cancelled, or paying for medical care if you fall ill.
We can’t pack your bag for you, but we have made choosing your travel insurance easy at Canstar by researching and rating travel insurance products available on the market.