The Ultimate Packing List

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? Based on our experiences we created the ultimate pack list for your next volunteer abroad stay!

From my travels, a three-month-trip through Costa Rica and several other journeys, I know what is important to consider when packing for a time abroad. One question you should ask yourself while packing is: “Do I need it at least twice a week?” If not, do not take it with you! You always have the chance to buy things you did not pack in the foreign country – often it is even cheaper there.

Of course it is not that easy to know what you will need if this is your first time going abroad.

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

So, after doing this the last couple of years, here is my ultimate pack list:

Stay with the essentials

When living and working abroad for a longer time the best packing tip you can get is to stick with the essentials. There’s nothing more disturbing than to have way too many things you don’t need with you. This is why we tried to keep the ultimate pack list as short as possible.

When it comes to clothing, bringing comfortable clothes you can layer is always a good idea. Here are the essentials you will always need:

  • several blouses, t-shirts, jumpers, trousers/shorts, a dress, underwear, socks
  • a jacket that protects you from rain and wind and a light fleece jacket
  • a pair of sport shoes
  • a pair of trekking shoes
  • a pair of sandals
  • a pyjama/sweat suit
  • a bikini/swimming trunks
  • headdress (for rain or intensive sunshine)
  • a scarf (which also functions well as a wrap for your shoulders, neck or head)
  • rain shield

Of course the kind of clothing largely depends on the type of voluntary placement 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 organisation beforehand.

Hygiene essentials

Next to the essential clothing you should always take some hygiene essentials with you:

    • some flannels
    • soap/shampoo/showergel
    • toothpaste and toothbrush
    • hairbrush
    • face and body cream
    • shaving equipment
    • hairslides and hair ties
    • female hygiene products
    • nail scissors and nail file
    • toilet paper (as it isn’t used in every culture)
    • laundry detergent

Essential documents and general things

There are some things on our ultimate pack list you should never forget when leaving your homecountry to volunteer abroad:

  • passport (and visa)
  • some cash
  • credit card
  • photocopies of your passport and tickets (dispersed in your luggage)
  • contact addresses of your volunteer placement
  • drivers licence
  • international insurance card
  • mobile phone and battery recharger
  • 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

Emergency Essentials

Hopefully you will spend your volunteering time without any diseases and medical emergencies, but in case you don’t, you should take some emergency essentials with you:

  • painkiller and diarrheal agents
  • salve to use on insect bites, sunburn, spraining, contusion
  • band-aid, gauze bandage, dressing material
  • tweezers and scissors
  • germicide
  • bug repellant, sunscreen and après-sun-lotion
  • contraceptives
  • clinical thermometer

Last Hacks for your Ultimate Pack list


If you packed all of these things you are well prepared. Of course you should fill the remaining space in your backpack or suitcase with everything you could also need or want during your volunteering time. This could be a great book, diving goggles and snorkel, mp3-player, donations for your volunteering placement or guest presents and so on …

A great last tip is to sort things out of your luggage when travelling. If you took some books with you for example, there is always the possibility to leave them in a hostel so that others can read them too during their stay. Clothes that you don’t need anymore can be thrown or given away. You will get new space in your luggage and be able to buy new things to take home with you. If we forget something please use the comment section and we will add these items to our ultimate pack list.

There are so many reasons to volunteer abroad. Enjoy your time!

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