What to pack when volunteering abroad

What to pack when volunteering abroad

The build-up to your time volunteering abroad is full of excitement, but the worry of what to pack can creep up on you and cause a headache! But fear not, with our handy guide on what to pack when volunteering abroad, you can make sure you’re prepared for all eventualities without over packing so much you can’t put your backpack on without falling backwards! Whether you are preparation royalty and reading this months before you head off, or a last minute packer heading to the airport in 2 hours, check this out for your one-stop volunteering abroad packing lowdown.

First things first, luggage! 

Not to be dramatic, but having the right luggage can make or break your trip… hauling a suitcase whilst trying to trek through the jungle is as troublesome as lugging as giant backpack along smooth streets a wheelie suitcase would be a dream on. It is important to think about your environment and choose your luggage wisely to make transportation as easy as possible, so you can arrive at your destination stress-free and ready to lend a hand! Purchasing packing cubes, whichever side of the suitcase vs. backpack debate you land on, means you can use space more efficiently and save some room for all the souvenirs you’re bound to be bringing back.

Documents, documents, documents

Although you may be worrying about which of your favourite t-shirts you’re going to bring, you won’t get very far without your essential documents so it is important you get these organised first! Although you should have everything downloaded and easily accessible on your phone, hard copies never fail and could save you in the midst of a bad signal, no wifi meltdown. Key documents include:

  • Your passport; the key to your adventure, double, triple and quadruple check that you have it, or you’ll be making the long drive back home from the airport.
  • Travel itinerary; good to reassure your parents and let them know what you will be up to, but especially key if you encounter scary border control and need to explain the purpose and itinerary for your travels.
  • Arrival details; the address of where you’re staying, what transportation you’re taking and a number to call if you get lost all make the disorientation easier when you have just landed.
  • Money; cash for public transport or to pay the taxi driver, and a card that you can use in your new home (and avoid crazy expensive internationals fees!)


Although you are there for a purpose and to immerse yourself in the culture, it is nice to be able to take photos to remember all the good times you’re having, and listen to your favourite songs at the end of a long day. So remember your

  • Mobile phone
  • Charger
  • Earphones
  • Adaptor
  • Leave the larger electronic items such as laptops and tablets behind – they risk being damaged or stolen and you probably won’t have time to use them!


This is where the weight of your luggage can seem to multiply – although you may want to bring the contents of the bathroom cabinet, the best bet is to take travel sized basics so you can stay feeling fresh but be weighed down. If you find you are missing a product, you can always purchase it in your new destination! The following is a good arsenal of basics to be prepared:

  • Mini first aid kit; you never know what you might need
  • Travel size shampoo and conditioner
  • Toothbrush & toothpaste
  • Deodorant
  • Hairbrush
  • Soap
  • Hand sanitizer
  • (Biodegradable) baby wipes
  • Suncream – essential if you will be working outside!

Finally, clothes

This can be the most intimidating part of packing, as it is difficult to know what you will need, especially if you are going to a country you have never been to and do not know what to expect. It is important to bear in mind the environment so that you will be comfortable and suitably dressed…but bear in mind it isn’t a fashion show! Refer to the list below so you can be confident you are ready to style your volunteering project out:

  • An all-purpose jacket so you are ready for whatever the weather has in store.
  • Warm base layers (even if you are going somewhere warm these will be handy for chilly nights)
  • 5-7 shirts a range of long and short sleeve options depending on local conditions and customs (you may be required to cover up out of respect so should be prepared for this)
  • 3-5 bottoms – once again, a range of short and long options so you have choice
  • A week’s worth of underwear & underwear
  • Shoes – two pairs should be enough; a walking trainer option and a lighter sandal
  • Sunglasses & a sunhat, especially if you will be working in the sun all day
  • A swimsuit / swim trunks – you never know when the opportunity to swim might pop up and you don’t want to miss out!

With this extensive packing list, you should have everything you need for the volunteering experience of a lifetime – happy packing!