So you are all ready for your overseas voluntary placement. You’ve got your flights booked, travel insurance sorted, but there is one big problem most volunteers face: What to pack?
This largely depends on the type of voluntary placement of course and also on dress codes in different countries. If you are helping out building schools in Africa, work in a wildlife sanctuary in South America, teach English in Asia, or working for a human rights NGO in Central America, this will all require different types of clothing, and it is always advisable to check with your host organization beforehand.
If you are doing mostly manual labor or are working in dirty conditions there is no need to take your most fancy outfits and the latest fashion items with you. Also consider the weather conditions.
Chances are that they will get dirty and ruined within a few weeks. Take some old clothes with you that you don’t mind getting dirty. If it is going to be hot and sunny, consider some wide, quick drying clothes with long sleeves, and also a sunhat so that you are protected from the sun. If it is going to be cold consider buying warm, wool-based base layers and gloves to keep you warm.
Working with animals
If you are going to work with animals you are likely to get dirty too, so you should take durable clothes with you that you don’t mind getting ruined. You may also need to bring some rubber boots or workers gloves, depending on the type of placement.
Check with your host organization what type of uniform they will provide and what you will need to bring yourself.
What to wear for teaching placements will depend on the type of school you are working for and if it is a TOEFL placement or if you are working for an orphanage for example. Generally, paid for positions will require you to dress smartly, but if you are working for an orphanage you usually get away with wearing casual clothes, such as Jeans, T-Shirts and trainers.
Working for NGOs
If you are going to start an office-based placement for an NGO you usually have to dress smartly, just like you would in an office in your home country. Bear in mind that you may have to meet with potential donors or local officials, so you want to look somewhat presentable to be taken seriously.
Despite what type of placement you do there is some gear that is advisable to take to any placement.
During my various placements I found the following items to be invaluable: Swiss army knife (to cut fruit and open wine bottles); mini first aid kit (with band aids and disinfecting wipes); head torch (when you are in remote places without electricity at night); mosquito net (especially when you are in malaria zones); travel laptop/smart phone or tablet with Skype (to stay in touch with loved ones back home); diarrhea medication and rehydration sachet (it will hit you one day, I promise, so it is best to be prepared); and finally a camera to capture all these wonderful memories.
I hope you find these tips helpful, but remember, even if you have forgotten something or need to get some different type of clothing, you can always buy some stuff locally. This will usually be more suitable for local conditions anyway. So don’t panic too much over what to pack and just enjoy your placement.
Tammy Lowe hails from Germany, but has been living an expat life for the past 10 years. In 2011 she and her hubby quit their cubicle jobs in London to travel the world and work and volunteer along the way. Tammy is currently in Cambodia volunteering as a communications adviser for a human rights NGO. She blogs about her experiences and misadventures on her blog Tammy & Chris on the move. You can also follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest or Instagram.