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Packing can be difficult regardless of destination, but packing for a volunteer trip abroad can be especially tricky. Chances are, the climate of the area you are visiting is drastically different, you won’t have a scheduled list of events or happenings before you leave, and the culture of the country may be unfamiliar to you. Though exact items to bring will vary depending on the type of volunteering you are doing and the country you are going to, there is a list that can help you decide what to bring and what not to bring.


Though you might feel inclined to bring a rolling suitcase, you’re better off with a backpack or easily portable duffel bag. A suitcase is nice in theory, but becomes impractical once you actually get moving. Volunteer trips are full of bus rides, taxis, walking, and rough terrain. Trying to roll a suitcase around becomes very inconvenient very quickly. Additionally, using a backpack or duffel bag limits the amount of things you can bring, which makes your luggage even easier to tote around.


What you bring to wear should be well thought out. All the pieces you bring should be able to mix and match well, so opt for neutral colors. Packing items that coordinate allows you to pack less but not limit your options. Breathable and easy to move in fabrics are recommended regardless of the kind of work you’ll be doing. The most important thing to remember about clothes is that you should always err on the conservative side so as to not draw any unwanted attention to yourself or insult anyone. If you can’t wear it to work, you shouldn’t wear it volunteering. Also, remember to break in shoes before you leave for a trip to avoid painful blistering.


Much like clothing, less is more when it comes to toiletries. Pack only what you absolutely need. Many products can be found in travel-size versions. Opt for these initially, and if you run out on your trip, there will be opportunities to buy more. You’ll also want to make sure that the products you use are not fragrance heavy, which means you should leave any perfume or cologne at home, too. Fragrances are known to attract unwanted insects like mosquitoes, which can carry malaria.

Electronics and Entertainment

Bringing items that are likely to distract you from all the amazing sights and experiences you’re about to witness is not recommended. However, you will have time to relax. Books and gaming equipment can be heavy and easily lost or stolen. If you are looking for ways to fill your free time, bringing a Kindle or Nook is more convenient for travel and easy to tuck out of sight.

Emergency Equipment

Packing a whole survival kit isn’t necessary, but there are a few items everyone should have in their packs for an emergency. Keeping a pocket knife, a headlamp, rain jacket, and a small first aid kit close is always a good idea.


If you’re going abroad to volunteer, the most important thing you need to do, long before packing, is heavily research the area you’re visiting. This list above is general, but research into where you’re going will help determine the exact items you’ll need to bring. You can also ask the organization leading the trip what they suggest you pack, since they’re more than likely to be veteran volunteers in that area. Oh, and don’t forget to pack a positive attitude and open mind! Those are the only two things you truly need for volunteering abroad.