So you’re ready to volunteer abroad. You’ve got your flights booked, and 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:
Table of Contents
What to wear while volunteering? 👕
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)
What to wear while volunteering 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.
Which hygiene essentials to pack? 🧻
Next to the essential clothing, there are, of course, the hygiene essentials:
- 1 Towel
- Toothpaste and toothbrush
- 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
Which essential documents to bring?
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, you won’t even make it to your volunteer project without these documents.
- Passport (and visa)
- Credit card
- Photocopies of your passport and tickets (dispersed in your luggage)
- Contact addresses of your travel program
- (International) drivers license
- 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
Always check for further entry requirements in your destination, especially in times of Covid-19. Those can potentially include an up-to-date, negative PCR result.
Which first-aid essentials to pack for volunteering? ⛑
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
- Band-aid, gauze bandage
- Tweezers and scissors
- Anti-bacterial gel
- Bug repellant
- Clinical thermometer
- Prescription glasses
What project-specific essentials to bring?
Each project may have its own items that are super helpful to have with you. It’s always best to check with your local contact person what they’d suggest adding to your bag. Here are some tips for our favorite projects.
What to pack when volunteering with sea turtles? 🐢
- headlamp or flashlight with red light functionality: Sea turtles are easily disturbed by light but they are unable to perceive red light.
- dark and long clothes: This will make spotting turtles on night patrols easier and less disturbing for the animals.
- raincoat and comfortable shoes: Night patrols can get long and wet, so better be prepared.
- an extra bottle of insect repellent: Because no one likes mosquitos at night – you may opt for shopping local repellent as this is oftentimes more effective.
What to pack for a diving volunteer program? 🤿
Most of the time, you can choose between bringing your own gear or borrowing them on-site. Your local coordinator can give you a specific overview of what’s available on-site — and what’s not. Especially when staying on a project for several months, buying may be cheaper than lending. Tanks, gauges and regulators are oftentimes provided.
- Diving goggles, snorkel, or fins: For personal hygiene, it’s oftentimes recommended to bring your own.
- Wetsuit: It depends on how you feel the cold, but it’s no fun while diving at all. Please check the water temperatures of your destination beforehand; having a 3mm wetsuit hasn’t hurt anyone yet.
- Diving computer: Especially when you are planning for taking a course or diving at deeper levels.
- Dive Torch: If you are planning on night dives.
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. Depending on your project location, you might have limited internet or electricity so it’s definitely worth considering a few “offline-things” as well. This could be
- a book or two, even three. With even more, your backpack will thank you for switching to e-books
- iPad: download some of your favorite shows, music or podcasts in advance
- Snacks: You might come to a point where you crave for some comfy home food
- Headphones: Whether you are awake late at night (other volunteers will be thankful) or just need some personal time
- Hiking sticks: a mountainous exploration can be hard. Sticks are there to help you out.
- Donations or Gifts for the volunteer project, people you learn to love throughout your stay and to share some of your culture with locals as well
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.