How to Prepare for Your Service Trip Abroad (Easy Guide)
Going on a service trip abroad can be one of the most fulfilling experiences you can have, however, to make your trip a success you must prepare appropriately. Having everything you need on your trip will ensure that your mind on focused on service, rather than worrying about what you’re missing. Here’s a quick list that we recommend you go through when preparing for your service trip abroad:
1. Check which vaccinations are required for your destination
When you’re participating in a volunteer abroad program for college credits through a school or institution, it is likely that you’ll have to complete medical paperwork beforehand. If you are responsible for medical protocols yourself, you need to be proactive and take care of the details.
Disease outbreaks and health precautions constantly change. Even if you have had previous experience with the destination where you’ll be volunteering abroad, it’s best to check and make sure beforehand.
Use a trustworthy resource, like the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Travelers’ Health directory, to get an overview of the medical preparations and vaccines recommended for your destination. Other great places to start are volunteer organizations and your doctor.
2. Make sure you have the correct legal documents
The most crucial document to pack before your trip is your passport! In addition to that, you must gather all other documents that may be needed for a visa, entry, or anything else required for your stay. Even a short-term program could have strict legal policies determined by the country. To make sure your entry is legal and departure smooth, plan ahead to have all the documents you need.
Learn about all the documents you may need for the specific program. Only use information provided by your volunteer organization or official governmental websites to make sure you have the most accurate and up-to-date information.
3. Think about what you’re packing
Arguably, some of the most important decisions for volunteering abroad have to do with your wardrobe! Will you be teaching kids in an orphanage or building water projects abroad? The comfort and the functionality of your clothes must take priority over any sense of style you may want to display. Try contacting the volunteer project’s on-site leaders or past volunteers to determine which clothes will work best.
You should also consider what would be culturally appropriate for the community where you will volunteer. Even if it is extremely hot and humid, wearing shorts may be a massive taboo that won’t be acceptable. Take current local customs, traditions, and religious norms into account when you decide on your wardrobe.
4. Pack the minimum you’ll require
Once you’ve made organized piles of things you want to take with you, go through it again and remove anything you don’t need. Whether it’s shoes, clothes, or makeup, there are bound to be many things you’ll actually never use. Put aside the things that you want to take “just-in-case”, such as an extra pair of walking shoes, or different colors of the same blouse, and leave them behind!
If you manage to simplify your baggage, you’ll end up with a lot less to lug around and your volunteer experience will be much easier.
5. Take small mementos or gifts with you
Even if you will mainly be working abroad with plants or animals, there will be people around that have made the volunteer abroad experience possible.
Taking some small thank-you gifts, such as postcards, notes, or things unique to your home is a considerate way to show appreciation. It is often very challenging working for a nonprofit organization, so every act of kindness will help.
6. Make sure you have your emergency contact details handy
Although volunteering abroad is a great learning experience and fun, things can go wrong. Always have your emergency contact information handy, just in case. Start by getting information for the embassy closest to your volunteer destination. Legal issues and lost passports are an inherent part of travelling, so know where you can get governmental help.
In this day and age, we tend to only know our own phone number, our parents’, and maybe a close friend’s. To volunteer abroad successfully, a good habit is to have your family and friends’ contact details written down on a piece of paper that you can keep safe.
You may also want to know your group’s contact information while on site. That includes the leader of your specific project, your volunteer organization’s emergency number, and local law enforcement. Keep these numbers in a safe place with you at all times. It won’t help if they’re in your room and you have an emergency out in the field.
7. Check your health insurance for abroad and visit your pharmacist
Healthcare systems have different rules depending on the country. If you regularly use any non-prescription or prescription medicine, ensure you have enough with you to last the duration of the volunteer experience abroad. Countries have different rules regarding over-the-counter medicines. Something as simple as migraine pills may not be available abroad unless you have a note from a doctor.
Ask your doctor for an extended prescription to be sure it will last. It is crucial to make sure your insurance will cover you in case of emergencies. If your normal insurance does not cover overseas travel, various companies will offer affordable short-term policies for your destination.
8. Check on communication options
Most of us are so used to internet access and Wi-Fi we don’t even think about it. You may however find yourself in a country without these services and have no way to contact home. You need to get familiar with the connection situation during your volunteer training.
Will the accommodation have Wi-Fi, a network cable, or even a phone that can be used to make international calls? Although you may be having an absolute blast, communication with your loved ones back home will always be appreciated.
9. Get to know the project details and your responsibilities
Before you depart for your volunteer experience abroad, you should fully familiarize yourself with your volunteer expectations and responsibilities. You will most likely have been given a guide to volunteering abroad by your volunteer organization. This should include vital information on your duties and responsibilities.
This should not only be done to help yourself, but as a volunteer you are responsible for using the resources and time abroad skillfully and efficiently. A volunteer project is not simply a trip where you get to travel abroad, it’s an opportunity to do good and to help others.
10. Make sure you take essentials you can’t live without
If you use things regularly that you feel you can’t do without, you should definitely take these with you to make your volunteer experience more comfortable. This could be things as simple as cut-off socks or dry shampoo. There is no guarantee you’ll be able to find your favorite conveniences anywhere close to your volunteer site, so it’s very important to stock up before you leave.
We have a great list of items that we recommend for volunteers traveling abroad.
Although this seems to conflict with some advice for volunteering abroad given above, it’s about achieving balance. It boils down to location, and even if the essentials can easily be found in Eastern Europe, it may not be sold in Africa. Get to know which products can be bought at your destination, and leave those at home to purchase later.
11. Check on payment options
While you’re volunteering abroad, you need to know what payment options are available to you in your area. Is card or cash the best option while you’re at your volunteer destination?
ATMs may not even be available, and you might have to take enough cash with you to exchange. Your volunteer organization will know what works best and will be glad to advise you.
12. Do as much fundraising as you possibly can
Volunteer experiences will garner a lot of interest from family, friends, and even strangers. If you are prepared to reach out and ask, you’ll be surprised to see how much financial support you can raise for your experience.
Fundraising is always a good idea, irrespective of your destination and how much you think you’ll need. The more money you can raise beforehand, the less your financial stress will be at the end of the day.
BLUE Missions has created a custom fundraising platform for all of the service trip volunteers. The platform is easy to use and functions as an all-in-one place to keep track of your fundraising initiatives. We highly recommend that BLUE volunteers leverage this free fundraising platform.
Finally, have fun and get the most out of your volunteer experience!
Now that you’ve mastered this preparation guide, you’re ready to safely volunteer abroad and change lives. Sometimes things may happen that you have no control over.
However, with adequate volunteer training and a little bit of foresight, you will be ready to handle any unexpected situations. The most important thing to remember is to have fun and enjoy your experience, this is a unique opportunity to learn about other cultures while making an impact.
You’ll surely forge lasting relationships with your peer volunteers, and you’ll return home with a renewed sense of purpose.