What to Pack for your Volunteer Adventure

Published on Wednesday 7 September 2016

What to Pack for your Volunteer Adventure

You’ve booked your placement, your travel dates have been set, and you’re all ready to go – apart from packing your case. But what do you take on your volunteering adventure? Volunteering abroad is no holiday – far from it – so you’ll need a whole different set of clothes and equipment compared to what you’d usually pack for a holiday abroad.

You are unlikely to have volunteered abroad before and whilst you can of course find out from others what to pack and get their advice, everyone is different and what you take compared to the next person will vary.

To help you decide what to pack for your travel odyssey we’ve put together a handy guide of all the essentials you don’t want to forget.

The Case

It can be tempting to want to pack everything but the kitchen sink in your biggest suitcase, but volunteering is not a luxury holiday where your bags are ferried around for you and you’ll probably be surprised at how little you can actually get by with.

A travelling rucksack is the most portable option to pack your volunteering wares in. It’s best to invest in one of the big name brands to make sure you’ve got something of a high quality to go away with. Packing squares are also great to separate out your clothing items by type and allow you to quickly find what you’re looking for rather than rummaging through a stuffed backpack.

Surprisingly, we don’t discourage you from taking a case either. If you have a permanent base such as a host family or volunteer accommodation, a lockable hard case can be a good place to store the clothing and work items you don’t need to carry when heading off exploring at weekends.

A day sack is also an essential item to take in combination with a large rucksack or case. You won’t need to take everything you’ve brought with you for weekend trips so a day sack can come in handy for transporting just the clothes you need for the beach or bazaar and all the must have souvenirs!


We will give you a comprehensive list of what you’ll need for the placement and much of what you need will both depend on the length of your placement and location. However, some items are common to all placements and these are some of the must-haves.

  • Sturdy and comfortable footwear – something with a good grip and cushioning
  • Rainproof or lightweight jacket – a foldaway mac will work best if you’re short on space
  • Jumper or hoodie
  • Lightweight tops which you can layer up – the weather is often unreliable so pack items which you can add or remove as necessary
  • Shorts, skirts or trousers depending on the weather
  • Underwear and socks
  • Something relatively formal just in case
  • Swimwear

Remember that some clothing that’s acceptable at home may not be in the culture in your host country so make sure you pack items that respect other customs and religions.


Things can get pretty weighty when it comes to all the toiletries you need for your trip, so make sure you keep an eye on your weight allowance before you buy heavy duty bottles of shower gels and shampoos. It’s also worth remembering that you can buy most toiletries in shops locally so bring small travel bottles and stock up on what you need when you arrive.

However, it’s worth noting that the brands and ingredients will be very different to what you’re used to. If you have sensitive skin or hair you might want to bring enough to last the whole trip. Feminine hygiene products in particular are often very different overseas so we’d recommend bringing enough to see you through.

  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Dry shampoo
  • Brush/comb
  • Shower gel/soap
  • Deodorant
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Sun cream
  • Razor
  • Moisturiser
  • Wipes
  • Lip balm with SPF
  • Tweezers
  • Nail Clippers


Taking a mini first aid kit on any type of holiday is always advisable, and even more so when volunteering abroad. Try to pack this lightly as you’ll usually be able to buy extra medical supplies if you need too. Most first aid packs have slings, bandages and trauma items you are unlikely to ever need. Here are the essentials you’ll definitely need:

  • Plasters
  • Antiseptic wipes and cream
  • Paracetamol and Ibuprofen
  • Eyewash
  • Dressings
  • Diarrhoea tablets
  • Rehydration sachets
  • Any extra medication you regularly take e.g. inhalers
  • Anti-repellent sprays
  • Bite cream


There’s always going to be a few random items you’ll need to include in your rucksack that you don’t want to be without. Here’s a few other things you may need to include:

  • Adaptors
  • Phone charger
  • Camera (and plenty of memory)
  • Torch
  • Book / e reader / tablet
  • Sunglasses
  • Hat
  • Travel towel – a microfibre one will dry quickly
  • Plastic bag to keep dirty clothes separate
  • Ear plugs and eye mask – you never know what sleeping conditions will be like
  • Money belt


There are a few essential documents you need to take with you and keep safe. It’s worth picking up a small plastic envelope wallet to keep these safe in, that way you know exactly where everything is rather than stuffed in random pockets or your rucksack.

  • Passport
  • A photocopy of your passport photo page and visa
  • Emergency contact and accommodation details
  • Health and travel insurance documents
  • Pen (essential for filling in essential arrivals immigration paperwork)
  • Money – remember to check the local currency and take a debit or travel money card as back up
  • Student ID

What NOT to Take

Tempting as it may be to take them, there are a few things you simply don’t need to take with you abroad. Try to keep your rucksack as light as possible and avoid over packing it with these items.

  • Brand new clothing or shoes – you may end up ruining items and you don’t want blisters either
  • Too many toiletries – you don’t need to volunteer in a full face of make-up or over pack on beauty items
  • Valuables – if you don’t want something to get damaged or lost then don’t bring them

Leaving for an adventure is an exciting time, but you don’t want to get too caught up that you end up missing out the essentials. Keep in mind our checklist and make a list before you begin to pack of everything you need.