What to Pack for a Volunteer Trip

volunteer trip

Written by Caroline Eubanks on

Caroline Eubanks is a freelance writer from Atlanta, Georgia whose work has been published by BBC Travel, Afar, Thrillist, and National Geographic Traveler and is the author of the book This Is My South: The Essential Travel Guide to the Southern States. You can follow her work at CarolineEubanks.com.

volunteer trip

Packing for a trip volunteering abroad requires special items you might not usually bring. Use this volunteer trip packing list so you don’t forget the essentials!

Packing for volunteer trips requires items outside of the standard travel experience. You might be preparing for a quick week-long mission trip or gearing up for a two year commitment in the Peace Corps. You might be working with animals, teaching children, or helping construct homes. No matter the purpose, don’t leave without these essential items on your packing list for volunteering abroad.

Clothing to Pack

For the most part, any clothing packed for a volunteer trip should be comfortable and something you’re willing to part with at the end. After working at an elephant sanctuary in Thailand, I ended up tossing my heavily stained t-shirts at the end of the week. In some countries, shorts aren’t appropriate, so a lightweight pair of pants can be helpful. Bring a laundry bag or packing cube with separate compartments to keep clean items from dirty ones.

If you’re working with wildlife or outdoors, moisture wicking clothing is helpful for keeping you from being covered in sweat. And if you don’t have the right clothing, remember that in most places you can buy additional pieces when you arrive. Sturdy travel sneakers are ideal for volunteering, especially when working outside.

Sun and Mosquito Protection

Sunscreen and hats are important, especially if you’re working in warm climates. Make sure it covers your neck to avoid burns. A bandana is also helpful, especially for covering your face when needed or wiping off sweat. In some places, you also might need mosquito repellent. I recommend checking if DEET is important for your destination and investing in clothing that has Insect Shield.

Medications and Toiletries

Obviously you’ll need the standard essentials in your toiletry kit, like shampoo and conditioner and toothpaste and your toothbrush. Deodorant is also a must-have, especially for hot climates like in Southeast Asia or Africa.

It’s also smart to assemble your own first aid kit using a small packing sac filled with the essentials you’ll need for your specific volunteer trip. Motion sickness medicine is recommended for the journeys you might be taking to get to your destination. Anti-diarrheal medicine, ibuprofen, antihistamine, antibacterial ointment, and sunburn cream are all recommended. Rehydration salts can also fix a lot of medical issues.

Before you go, see which vaccinations are required or recommended for your destination and find the closest travel clinic to your volunteer placement. And don’t forget to buy travel insurance, which can cover all sorts of emergency situations !

Other Essentials

In addition to the items mentioned you might want to throw in a few things to make your volunteer trip more comfortable. A refillable water bottle is a must-have, especially one with a filtration feature—this will also help you avoid single-use plastic on your trip. Wet wipes and hand sanitizer keep you feeling clean. A flashlight or headlamp is important if you’re staying in a rural area where there aren’t street lights.

You also might want a book or e-reader for down time, along with a deck of cards. If you’re teaching or interacting with children, you might want to bring pencils or other treats, with permission of the organization, of course. Cash for souvenirs is also a must-have—pack it along with your passport and visas in a neck pouch for safekeeping.

Volunteer Packing Checklist


- Moisture wicking shirts

- Disposable t-shirts

- Lightweight pants or shorts (when culturally appropriate)

- Clothing with Insect Shield where necessary

- Sturdy shoes


- Sunscreen

- Mosquito repellent (possibly with DEET)

- Bandana

- Sunhat


- Shampoo & conditioner

- Toothpaste & toothbrush

- Deodorant

First Aid Kit Additions

- Motion sickness medicine

- Anti-diarrheal medicine

- Ibuprofen

- Antihistamine

- Antibacterial ointment

- Sunburn cream

Travel Essentials

- Reusable water bottle

- Wet wipes & hand sanitizer

- E-reader

- Neck pouch

Pack it all up in a backpack or duffel bag, ideally out of a stain resistant material, complete with packing cubes and organizers . Add in a colorful luggage tag that you’ll recognize at the baggage carousel and you’ll be all set to enjoy your volunteer trip abroad.

Related Links (from Eagle Creek blog):

How to Make Travel a Résumé-Booster

7 Ways to Become a More Sustainable Traveler

Volunteering with WILDCOAST: How I Helped the Sea Turtles