The Ultimate Packing List [Updated 2020]

So you’re ready to volunteer abroad. You’ve got your flights booked, travel insurance sorted, but there’s one problem. What on earth to pack when volunteering abroad? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Based on our experience, we’ve created the ultimate pack list for your upcoming volunteer adventure!

The magic question you need to ask yourself while packing is: “Will I be using this twice a week?” If the answer is no, leave it. You always have the chance to buy things if you need them — they may be even cheaper there.

If this is your first time going abroad, it’s tricky to know exactly what you’ll need to pack. You’ll get better with experience, we promise!

There is only one way to find out what you really need when travelling: trying, trying, trying!

We’re experts in traveling and have done this quite a few times, so we’re here to give you a hand with our ultimate packing list:

Clothing essentials

The best packing tip we can give you is: Stick to the essentials. There’s nothing more annoying than carrying around a heavy backpack with stuff you don’t need. This is why we keep the ultimate pack list short.

When it comes to clothing, bring comfortable clothes you can layer. Here are our clothing essentials:

  • 5 Shirts
  • 2 Jumpers
  • 2 Pairs of Trousers
  • 2 Pairs of Shoes
  • 7 Underwear
  • a jacket that protects you from wind and rain
  • a light fleece jacket
  • a pair of trainers
  • a pair of trekking shoes
  • a pair of sandals
  • a pyjama/leisure suit
  • a bikini/swimming trunks
  • a hat (for rain or intensive sunshine)
  • a scarf (which can also be used as a wrap for your shoulders, neck or head)
  • Sunglasses

The kind of clothing depends on the volunteer project and the dress codes in different countries. Building schools in Africa or working in a wildlife sanctuary in South America will be sweaty while working for a human rights NGO in Central America or teaching English in Asia will require you to wear a more modest wardrobe. It’s a great idea to check with your host organization beforehand.

Hygiene essentials

Next to the essential clothing, there are, of course, the hygiene essentials:

  • 1 Towel
  • Soap/shampoo
  • Toothpaste and toothbrush
  • Hairbrush
  • Face and body cream
  • Shaving equipment
  • Hairslides and hair ties
  • Female hygiene products
  • Nail scissors and file
  • Toilet paper (as it isn’t used in every culture)
  • Laundry detergent
  • Contact lenses

Essential documents and general things

This is the most important part of your packing, so really pay attention here. Although it would be unpleasant if you forget your toothbrush or towel, without these documents, you won’t even make it to your volunteer project.

  • Passport (and visa)
  • Cash
  • Credit card
  • Photocopies of your passport and tickets (dispersed in your luggage)
  • Contact addresses of your travel program
  • (International) drivers licence
  • International insurance card
  • Flight tickets (and flight schedule)
  • a List of numbers to block your credit cards
  • a List of emergency contacts and addresses (like the embassy)
  • Tourist guide and language guide
  • Vaccination card
  • Mobile phone and battery recharger

First-Aid Essentials

Fingers crossed your volunteer experience will be a healthy one without any medical emergency. Just in case this isn’t the case, here are some first-aid essentials that are good to pack for your stay abroad:

  • Painkiller and
  • Anti-diarrheal medication
  • Ointment for insect bites
  • Sunscreen
  • After-sunburn
  • Band-aid, gauze bandage
  • Tweezers and scissors
  • Anti-bacterial gel
  • Bug repellant
  • Contraceptives
  • Clinical thermometer
  • Prescription glasses

Fill in the Gaps

If you’ve packed everything and feel you’re well-prepared, you can fill the remaining space in your backpack or suitcase with things that could make your volunteer experience more pleasant. This could be a

  • Book
  • iPad
  • E-Reader
  • Headphones
  • Diving goggles, snorkel or flippers
  • Hiking sticks
  • Donations or Gitfs for the volunteer project

A great tip is to leave some of your things behind while traveling. If you brought books with you, for example, you can leave them behind so others can read them too during their stay. 

Clothes you don’t need anymore can be given away. This will create space in your luggage for souvenirs you want to take back with you. 

Last Hacks for your Ultimate Pack list

  • roll up your clothes
  • stuff shoes with smaller items
  • (re-)use travel sized bottles for your toiletries

If we forgot to mention something, please tell us in the comment section below and we will be sure to add them to our pack list.

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