How to pack to volunteer abroad?

Volunteer Packing Guide

So you’ve decided to take the plunge and volunteer abroad, now comes the preparation part! From selecting the project that’s right for you to booking flights and getting the appropriate travel vaccinations for your trip, there are a number of things you need to do before you head off on your life changing adventure. Including packing the essential travel gear you’ll need for your destination.

“What are the essentials?” is a question many travellers ask themselves prior to their trip, many people find it difficult to limit the amount of clothing and equipment they pack, but sticking to the essentials is key to ensuring you don’t over pack and end up carrying half your wardrobe around with you while you’re away! Here are a few handy packing tips for you…

Lay out everything you’d like to take with you, then try and half this amount by strict elimination…do you really need that extra jacket? Probably not.

To maximise space in your backpack try rolling your clothes or invest in some compression sacks or bags to make your clothes and accessories pack down smaller.

Make sure you have a suitable sized backpack or travel bag for your trip if you are going to be doing a lot of travelling around, for a 3-6 month trip you should be fine with a backpack around 60-70 litres in size, for anything more than that you may want to go for something around 80 litres or more. Always take your height into consideration here, there is no point getting the biggest backpack possible if you’re quite short, this will only put strain on your back and be extremely uncomfortable to carry. If you are heading to a city project or a project where there will be little travelling after arrival and you are not backpacking around afterwards then a suitcase will be ideal. Suitcases can be great to keep all your clothes folded away neatly and under lock and key! Most volunteers to Marrakesh who are not travelling afterwards for example, find suitcases more practical with a daypack for every day use.


Pack travel towels instead of standard sized towels and large beach towels from home, these are more compact, lightweight and absorbent compared to normal towels. You can even get travel towels with anti-bacterial protection, this stops mould and odours from developing.

Research your destination beforehand and make sure you’ve packed the correct travel plug adapter for your trip, the last thing you want is to not be able to charge your camera to get some mementos from your adventure.

Try not to worry too much about packing lots of toiletries for your trip, take essentials such as a toothbrush, deodorant etc, but bear in mind that many destinations will sell toiletries and day to day essentials. For more remote locations, you may want to consider taking a more comprehensive set of toiletries, but try and keep to travel sized toiletries or buy some travel toiletry bottles to fill up with your favourite shower gels and shampoos. Volunteers recently on Facebook recommended the following items as lifesavers : tampons, razor, plastic jug for showering (India, Kenya, Malawi projects), wetwipes, headtorch, femfresh, Germolene, toothbrush cover, bar of soap as can last longer than gel, hairbands and Beroca tablets to flavour water that’s been purified with tablets.

Remember you can wash your clothes while you’re away…pack some travel detergent and keep washing clothing after you have worn it, this will help minimise on the amount of clothes you’ll need to pack for your trip. In warmer climates, you’ll have no problem drying your clothes, they should dry overnight, and you can even use a travel washing line to hang them on while they’re drying. In poorer countries most local people use a barbed wire fence at the side of their property to hang their washing on, the washing line in or closer to your bedroom might prevent your clothes getting ripped or chewed by livestock!

If you need to take a sleeping bag, make sure you look into lightweight and compact options designed specifically for travelling, these can weigh as little as 600g and have models designed for use in hot and tropical climates. Some sleeping bags come with handy travel specific features, such as anti-bacterial protection and mosquito nets in the hood.

Make sure you pack some basic first aid equipment. There are many different travel first aid kits available that are designed to be compact and lightweight for travelling. A basic kit will be fine for many destinations, but for countries with poor medical facilities, you may want to invest in a sterile needle kit, too.

A backpack with a detachable daypack can be extremely handy for when you’re out exploring during the day. You definitely won’t want to carry a cumbersome backpack around with you all day! Daypacks are great for storing your daily essentials, including water, snacks, maps and other accessories you may need.

Security accessories are also an important item you may forget to pack. Backpack locks are a good idea for keeping your stuff secure and give you peace of mind that your belongings aren’t going to fall into someone else’s hands!


? Packing a travel mosquito net for countries where mosquitoes and Malaria would be wise if your accommodation doesn’t already provide them, always check in advance if possible to avoid using space inside your backpack that you don’t need to. In the UK Boots the chemist sell mosquito spirals which you can burn on a plate on the floor in your room to keep the mozzies at bay until you get your net fixed up. Do make sure the room is well ventilated though, there is no need to secure the room completely as the chemicals in them can be quite strong.  Spirals are useful if you are sitting on a terrasse in the evening outside to keep them from chomping your ankles. Usually there is a local equivalent you can buy as they can be quite expensive at home.

Many travellers will pack everything but the kitchen sink for their volunteer experience but being as minimalistic as possible is key. You’d be surprised at just how little you’ll use some of the things you’ve packed, but those essentials will come in handy time and time again!