* I have volunteered all over the world and can admit there is nothing worse than landing and realizing you have left half of the things you need in your bedroom at home.
Here are some essentials for any volunteer holiday.
Travel towels are perfect for volunteering abroad, they are fast drying which means that you can use it both to dry yourself after a shower in the morning and then take it to the beach or pool in the afternoon too, bulkier towels take all day to dry and need a warm dry hanging space. Smaller and lighter than bath and beach towels, travel towels are much easier to pack and take up less space.
The easiest way of travelling and using your phone, without it costing an arm and a leg, is to travel with an unlocked phone and get a local sim card when at your destination. Texts and call costs can double or even triple in price and data roaming costs can set you back a hefty amount. There are still news stories of travelers getting caught with a £2000 roaming bill.
Living with a group of fellow volunteers can make morning routines a bit of a nightmare and in volunteer accommodation you won’t have a corridor of shower cubicles, there may even be only one! You may have to queue for a long time to use the shower and sometimes you won’t get in. Dry shampoo can be the perfect solution before returning back to the volunteer house in the afternoon. Wet wipes can come in handy too!
The best way to ensure you are packing suitable clothing is to check the weather a week before you travel. Don’t rely on the volunteer sending organisation to advise what is usually needed as weather can be unpredictable. Pack clothes suitable for the temperatures and weather forecast for the next few days even if this means last minute panic buying! Be sure to also check the night time temperatures as in some countries, it can be warm during the day and below zero at night.
Even if you are packing nice, leather sandals, it is a good idea to still pack some cheap plastic flip-flops which can get wet. These are great for chucking on to potter around the house in and also for wearing in the shower, you don’t want to come back with athletes foot.
Most volunteers travel to underdeveloped countries to make a bigger impact with their help. As you can imagine underdeveloped countries have much fewer supplies and resources. It is likely that schools will have very limited paper, pens and pencils and everything is bought over with volunteers. Likewise, hospitals and building projects will have the majority of the supplies donated.
Travelling with an organisation can help you prepare for you trip and know exactly what is currently needed in the local area. Personally, I have traveled with Original Volunteers many times, they send a packing list to their volunteers which makes getting supplies much less painful.
A Large Bag For Life
While most volunteers remember a day bag to carry their drinks, snacks, phone/camera and whatever else they need, however most volunteers forget that they will also need to take all of their supplies to and from the project each day too. These can be unusual sizes and shapes and may not fit in a tote, small backpack or carrier bag.
I have found the most useful luggage on any volunteer holiday is a large bag for life, one with a hard-rectangular base works best. They’re only around a pound and don’t weigh anything, making them easy to pack, but they can still fit everything in!
Protection against annoying mosquitoes, flies and other biting pests is essential when travelling abroad. These are especially needed in warmer countries. Sometimes volunteer accommodation won’t have nets on their windows or above their beds. You never want to awake from a peaceful sleep, itchy and covered in bites. It is also worth carrying a mozzie repellent which emits a noise and a spray which is high in deet to stay protected during the day.
This is worthy of its own mention as many travelers waste a lot of time finding a local doctor to prescribe antibiotics, which cost much more abroad. Insect bites abroad can get infected, taking antihistamines from day one can prevent the severity of the infection getting so bad. Best to bring them with you, ready to take from day one, as when volunteers go to buy them after they have been bitten it can still be too late and bites may already be infected.
An obvious essential for travelling abroad. It is a horrible feeling when you arrive in a country without the correct socket adapter. While fellow volunteers will be happy to lend you their adapters and help you maintain your phone battery, it can be annoying and awkward not to have your own. Make sure you check online before you travel and have purchased the correct one! And watch out for some countries which may use two types of socket, like Ghana.
Whilst most packing lists advise travelers to get shampoo and body lotion whilst aboard, there are certain toiletries which are best bought in the UK and taken with. Sun cream can be expensive abroad. The general rule is that it will cost you £1 for every factor protection number. So a factor fifty sun cream may cost £50! To avoid peeling red skin, stock up whilst in the UK with a cream you know you like and trust and take it all over with you!
Most of the developing world don’t use tampons and they can be near impossible to find. You don’t want to have to travel to a capital city where the locals are wealthier, just to find a pack of tampons which will still not be a brand you know. Take more than what you need from home.
There are basic pads available in smaller towns, but they are not as comfortable as brands back home and may lack a decent adhesive strip so won’t stay in place. Toilets and sewage systems abroad tend to be less developed and eco-friendly, help protect the local environment and take biodegradable products with you.
Have you ever volunteered abroad? Would you like too?
* This is a pre-written collaborative post