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How to Pack for Volunteering

As summer rolls around, my hope is, that many VA members are packing their bags and heading off to Africa to volunteer at an inspirational organization that they found while using the amazing resource that VA is, (how bout that for a promotional plug?) My hope, is that at least some of you are packing your bag for the first time, so as a volunteer who has been living in East Africa for the last 9 months I figured that I would write a little post about the things I wish I brought and the things I should have left at home.

THE BAG: The bag you put things in is surprisingly important to think about. My opinion is that backpacks are awesome, and rolley bags are about as useless here as they are on an Everest expedition. As well, the more you will be traveling from place to place, the more you will hate all of your luggage with a passion, so pack light, pack in a backpack, and pack in an old backpack at that so you don’t draw un-necessary attention to your stuff when it is under or on top of the bus.

Clothes: Believe it or not, in my entire time that I have been here I have never been in need of more than 2 pockets, needed to instantly convert from pants to shorts, or have my clothes dry in less than two minutes. As well, if you are going to the southern hemisphere it will be their winter so keep that in mind. The first time I went to Malawi I packed my clothes based on the weather in the Lion King and ended up very cold!

Extras: Here is the list I compiled when a friend came to visit and was able to bring me some extra stuff.

  1. Portable speakers: there is a lot of down time while volunteering and it is great to be able to listen to music and watch movies as a group.
  2. Snacks: I have never met anyone who returned to the US after a trip here with a bag of snacks left over. Snacks from home make tough days a whole lot easier.
  3. Headlamp or other flashlight: Power, if available at all is not as reliable as it is in the US, so if you want to read at night, bring a light.
  4. Some way to access WiFi: Obviously this recommendation is site specific, but WiFi is becoming surprisingly common all around the world, and it is nice to be able to stay in touch.

Most importantly make sure to pack a big smile and an open mind.

Have fun this summer and be safe!

Nathan Brand