Any seasoned traveller knows the basic rules of packing for travel. Pack light. Bring more undies than you think you’ll need. Roll, don’t fold. And if all else fails, buy what you need over there. Packing for volunteering overseas on the other hand is a whole other kettle of fish. You could be packing for a long-term trip, you could be travelling to a remote community with limited access to shops or pharmacies or even power. There are a few more variables at play, so it’s really important to pack right.
Whether you’re away for a month or two years, staying in the mountains or the desert, travelling for the first time or the thousandth, there are a few things to know that can make life a whole lot easier. Here are our tips for packing for volunteering overseas.
1. Know the customs
Every culture has its own standards and expectations when it comes to dressing appropriately, so be sure to do your research before you decide what to bring. What might be appropriate for a local might not be for a foreigner. What might be acceptable for a tourist on the beach might not be acceptable for wearing to work.
To play on the safe side, both men and women should bring clothing that covers their shoulders and knees, and should avoid tight, overly revealing clothing completely. Women should bring a sarong or light scarf that they can fold up in their bags for covering up on the fly. If you’re volunteering through an organisation (like Palms Australia), ask the Program Coordinator or your direct contact for their advice.
2. Know the climate
If you’re volunteering in Samoa, that puffy jacket you brought along is going to stay scrunched up at the bottom of your bag. The same goes to the hiking boots you brought to Kiribati, or the scarf you brought to Myanmar. It’s good to be prepared, but when space and weight limits apply it makes life a lot easier to pack what you know you’ll wear. Research the climate for the period of time you’ll be away and pack accordingly.
3. Choose the right bag
We’re not going to tell you to bring a backpack, nor will we tell you to bring a suitcase. The type of bag that works best for you will depend on a lot of things, including where you’re travelling, how you like to travel, what you’re bringing, and what you’ll be doing overseas. Finding out as much as you can about the location of your placement (including what the airport is like; some require strappy bags to be covered) can help you make the right decision.
4. Get appy
There’s always an app for that. When packing to volunteer overseas, think about what can potentially move from your suitcase to your phone. Here are a few apps that promise to make packing for volunteering overseas that little bit easier.
- Google Translate: Google Translate can translate between 103 languages in text, including 59 that can be downloaded so you don’t need to be connected to the internet when you use it. It can also instantly translate text through its camera (no more mystery signs) and can translate bilingual conversations on the fly.
- Google Maps: Even if you’re not connected to the internet, if your phone has GPS (which most do) Google Maps will be able to show you where you are and where you’re going.
- Converter app: At some point while volunteering overseas you’ll want to convert currency or a unit of measurement (especially if you’re teaching). A versatile converter app like Unit Converter will no doubt come in handy.
- Duolingo: Although it’s no match for formal language lessons, Duolingo makes learning one of their 31 languages incredibly easy and fun.
- Accuweather: Not sure whether to bring an umbrella to work? Feeling uneasy about a storm cloud? Accuweather lets you track local weather conditions with real time updates, weather maps and local weather alerts.
- Prey Anti-Theft: Lost your phone, tablet or laptop? The Prey Anti-Theft app lets you track and find your devices and deliver detailed evidence back to you (including pictures of who’s using your device).
5. Pack smart
If you’re volunteering through an organisation like Palms Australia, you should receive a list of things to pack. But cotton undies and phone charger aside, there are a few less obvious things you might want to pack for your overseas volunteer trip that could make a world of difference:
- Speakers and music: Sharing music from home with your new community, and allowing them to share theirs, can be pretty magical. If music is important to you, you might want to pack some compact, portable speakers.
- Adaptors: It seems obvious, but adaptors are something our volunteers often forget. Buy a few and pop them onto the plugs of all the electronics you’re bringing before you pack them.
- Reusable items: It’s likely that you’ll be volunteering in a country where waste management isn’t what it is in Australia. Reduce your footprint by bringing a collapsible drink bottle, reusable cutlery, and a reusable shopping bag.
- Something nice: Living and working in a new community, you will eventually become part of it. You will likely be invited to weddings, christenings, funerals, parties, dinners and will wish you had something nicer than cargo pants to wear. Pack a smart collared shirt or modest dress for special occasions.
Avoid packing an unnecessary amount of toiletries, or anything you can’t buy on your placement or online (most volunteers have access to a mailbox). And above all, don’t bring anything you’re not prepared to lose.
Feeling inspired? We’re looking for skilled volunteers to take up placements in Asia, Africa and The Pacific in 2018 and 2019. Apply now!