Everyone knows – or at least I hope they do – that there are certain items you simply must pack when you go overseas to volunteer. I’d like to think it goes without saying why you need things like a padlock, first aid kit, head torch, pocket knife and money belt.
But having said that, to my mind there are a lot of items that you should seriously consider taking with you, such as…
You know how things can rip, tear, or otherwise break when you’re on the road? Gaffer tape is your one-stop-shop for repairing so many of those things. Whether there’s a hole in your tent, a rip in your trousers or a loose part on your platypus water mechanism, this inexpensive item can be a life-saver!
Photo Courtesy of Antje Verena
Yeah sure, most of use our mobile phones as our alarm clocks these days, but electricity can be scarce – whether through a power cut, or because you’re simply too far in the wild – so you may not always be able to keep it charged.
Hand sanitiser/baby wipes
Baby wipes can very often serve as the closest thing you’ll get to a shower when you’re in areas where water is in short supply. Regular application of hand sanitiser will ward off germs and the possibility of getting ill (although water is probably better for visible, excess dirt).
Family/home life photos
Making a proper connection with the people you’re volunteering with/for is every bit as important as the ‘work’ you do. I’ve found that they are invariably curious about your home life, and always appreciate you being able to show them…complete with anecdotes, of course!
Nine times out of ten this will be provided for you by the placement, but there’s no guarantee of its quality. Remember that you are more susceptible to being really wiped out by diseases associated with mosquito bites – and indeed simply be more irritated by being bit – than the locals, so your own mosquito net could be a difference maker.
Even a seemingly luxurious mosquito net like this might have holes in it!
More often than not you’ll find yourself sleeping in digs at the lower end of the luxury scale, and this can mean decidedly grim and unhygienic sleeping conditions. Your own pillow case can save you from waking up with a head full of ugly bugs or worse.
If you’re expecting washing machine/tumble dryer facilities…well, think again. Finding hand washing materials is easy enough, but what about the drying part of the process? A portable elastic clothesline – with either suction pads or hooks on the ends – is your answer here.
Small gift(s) from your country
I certainly don’t advocate giving away toys and other trinkets to those you’re volunteering to help because of the beggar mentality it can instill (especially in children), but the remarkable people who work day in, day out at the project you’re only at temporarily certainly deserve and appreciate gestures like this. If you’re staying with a local host family – a fairly common occurrence – these would go a long way to showing your appreciation too.
What I would probably take – they’d appreciate the cheesy souvenirs more than me! Photo courtesy of Christian Cordova
What other useful-but-not-obvious items do you think you should take with you when you’re volunteering overseas? Let me know in the comments below!