You’re about to head off on an adventure to volunteer in a far-flung part of the world and spend an extended time WAY out of your comfort zone. How can you best prepare yourself for the unknown?
You’ve already read the Lonely Planet cover-to-cover and any website you can get your eyeballs on. What should you make sure to do as the days tick down to your departure?
Bear in mind these priceless tips on how to put your best foot forward and get the most out of your life-changing volunteering experience!
Pack Climate-Appropriate Apparel
Add your destination into your favorite weather app. and starting tracking weather patterns. If you’re going for a long time, check a climate guide (www.climatestotravel.com) and get familiar with the environment. Be prepared for extremely humid days or for not-so-great living conditions. Pack quick-dry clothing if you are going to especially humid places, and clothes that can take a beating if you will be doing hand washing. Layers are essential, and don’t forget to take closed-toe shoes and a multifunctional scarf.
Medications to Make Your Trip and Your Body Run Smoothly
If you have any prescriptions, make sure to visit your primary care doctor and pharmacy well before your departure. Let your doctor know where you’re going, and check your immunization records against any possible requirements or suggestions. You may need to visit a specific travel clinic if you need to get less-common shots such as yellow fever or typhoid. The most common traveling illness is diarrhea (yuck), so add in some extra anti-diarrhea and rehydration tablets into your suitcase. You’ll probably find some medicine that you might recognize in your destination country, but if the ingredients are in another language, it can be challenging or impossible to know if it’s the right antidote for whatever ails you. Pack extras of stomach, flu, and allergy medicine if you are prone to sinus or flu ailments. Pro tip: Emergen-C (or your favorite Vitamin C brand) before and after any flight can help give a boost to your immune system after long flights with extensive germ exposure.
Don’t count on tech, bring paper and offline backups
Depending on how rural your volunteer site is, you may be relegated to using older technology, such as 3G, no wifi, or even pen and paper. Plan for zero technology right at the moment when you may typically depend on it the most — looking up which bus you want to take, or getting the phone number of a person you are meeting to tell them you are running late. Write down any necessary transportation details and contact information, and your well-organized agenda will become your BFF.
Check with your bank and health insurance
Even if you are volunteering abroad on the cheap, and you have made any big payments such as flights and fees before you depart, you want to make sure you have access to bank accounts to pay for incidentals — a meal here and there if all else is provided, gifts, etc. Make a budget, anticipate what your costs will be, and plan for how you will access that money once there. Many countries are cash societies, and small vendors won’t accept credit cards. Will your debit card work overseas? You may want to check the foreign exchange fees your bank will charge — is it a better deal to withdraw money once there or exchange cash? Plan to keep a combination of cash in USD and local currency, and it may help to not transfer it all at once. Also give your health insurance company a call. Will you have coverage while abroad? If not, you should look into travel health insurance options! (www.hthtravelinsurance.com)
Do your homework on the local culture, history and customs
The way of interacting and doing different things fluctuates quite a bit from one culture to another. As a volunteer who wants to contribute or at least have an experience in a different place within a limited period of time, it will help to get to know what major differences and customs you may come across. Search Youtube for clips about the history or culture, pick up a book from the library, or see if you have any friends who know someone from there or have traveled there for some tips.
Realities are different, but this doesn’t mean that one is better than other, volunteering abroad is an amazing opportunity to experience another part of the world, and be pushed out of your comfort zone. Enjoy your experience as much as you can, learn as much as you can, and don’t forget to fully prepare by taking into account the above advice!
Ready to volunteer somewhere awesome? Take a look at Xploreo’s volunteer experiences and get started planning on your next overseas volunteer experience!