What to pack, and not, when volunteering overseas

Vancouver, BC | Posted: February 4th, 2019

Choose a rugged backpack for what to pack for volunteering abroad

What to pack, and not pack, when you are volunteering overseas

It goes without saying that preparation is key for any journey, adventure, or time spent away from your home-base. Volunteering, Citizen Science, or Applied Learning experiences are no different and require the same forethought. There are things to pack for yourself, and things you may want to bring for others.

Below is a list of packing considerations such as what to pack, and not pack, when you are volunteering overseas.

Packing for yourself:

Choose Appropriate Footwear

Are you going to hot climates, or climates with a lot of rain, or perhaps a job site? The right footwear is key, you may find yourself in a community with limited supply and spending 2 weeks without boots, hikers, or heel-strap sandals could ruin what could otherwise have been an amazing experience.

TIP: Wear your footwear before you arrive. Get blisters from new shoes on day one, can also negatively impact your experience. Give some time to all for adjustment and breaking the footwear in.

Choose Appropriate Pants & Shorts

Are you going to be patrolling a beach at night looking for sea turtle nests? Mosquitos could be out in full force, and the Conservation program may regulate your use of chemical-based bug-spray as it’s now scientifically proven to negatively impact Sea Turtle egg development.

If your program has you investing in a lot of physical labor, you may want to consider pants and shorts with anti-bacterial materials allowing for easy-cleaning and fresher smells. Similarly, there are water-proof pants that could come in handy in destinations or seasons that typically come with a lot of humidity and rain.

TIP: Choosing light breathable pants, that allow you resistance to bug-bites and/or keep relatively cool in hot weather. Cotton and linen are your friends. Polyester and spandex, or related blends are most certainly not.

Choose Appropriate Underwear and Socks

Choose comfort over style. Select underwear and socks that are easy-cleaning, breathable and comfortable. Again, depending on what you are doing during the day may dictate how many sets of items you will need to bring.

TIP: Prepare for a scenario where you won’t have access to reliable laundry facilities and if you are building walls during the day, and out exploring at night, you’ll likely want 2 sets of underwear and socks for every day.

Choose Appropriate Shirts & Tops

Similarly to pants, weather and seasonality are important. Hot humid climates should dictate your shirt/top choices. You may, however, want to add a few nicer items, like a linen blouse or collared shirt in the event you have social gatherings at night. Some shirts allow you to roll up the sleeves, while others are convertible that unzip above the elbow and serve as both a long and short-sleeve instant alternative.

TIP: If you are going to the subject of photos, be sure to pack bold non-patterned shirts, choose darker colors to avoid unsightly sweat rings, or choose lighter colors if you are in direct sunshine.

Choose Appropriate Hats

Hats were invented to keep your head warm and sun off your face. If you are in colder climates, choose wool hats, if you are in hot climates choose lighter materials, like cotton or linen. Full 360-brim hats, the ones made popular with both sports fishermen and stereotypically iconic Australians, are ideal for areas with a lot of full sun.

Add Miscellaneous Items

  • Backpack and/or light, rugged luggage
  • Toothbrush and Toothpaste
  • Deodorant/Antiperspirant
  • Small First-aid kit, including bandages and blister covers
  • Feminine Hygiene products
  • Water-proof Sunscreen
  • Basic camera or basic smartphone with photo functionality
  • Inexpensive laptop (if necessary, and make sure you back-up your files before you leave)
  • Chargers with appropriate power adaptors
  • Photocopy of your passport and/or drivers license
  • Books – handy in the event power goes out and for long bus rides

What not to pack:

What not to pack is just as important as what to pack for volunteering abroad. Leaving items at home could make all the difference between personal safety, border hang-ups, and fines. Just because things are a certain way at home, doesn’t mean they are socially or culturally acceptable in your place of destination. It pays to do a little research. As a rule, we recommend you avoid adding the following items in your luggage;

  • Culturally inappropriate clothing and swimwear
  • Louis Vuitton (or similar) luggage and handbags
  • Flashy jewelry
  • Expensive electronics and devices
  • Fresh fruit and vegetables
  • Illicit drugs, firearms, and/or other contraband such as illegally-traded animal products

Packing for others:

It’s normal to want to bring gifts for people you are staying with, volunteering for, or giving back to. Just make sure your gifts are useful. Older items that are bound for a waste bin, are generally ill-advised. Items that require follow-up or replacement part, are also unpractical. TIP: When you are looking at what to pack for volunteering, choose deflated soccer balls, baseball gloves, coloring books, crayons, or books in their native language. These are the gifts that are most welcomed. Avoid giving the same items that would put you in danger. Giving the same jewelry or electronic devices could bring unintended consequences.

Retailers that can help you: