After you’ve decided where to go, what you’re going to do, and which organisation to sign up with, the next big step to volunteering overseas is preparing for your trip. By now, you already know that this is much different from a tour holiday or spring break getaway. You’ll have to learn to be more independent on this particular adventure.
To make sure you’re prepared as much as possible, use these helpful tips.
1. Make sure all your documents are in order
See to it that you acquire a passport, visa, and other entry requirements as early as possible. Remember to also do extra research if there are any special papers needed. Joining a Nepal volunteer group may require different travel documents from participating in relief efforts in Eastern Europe. Preparing all requirements earlier means fewer headaches and having enough time to fix any issues that may arise.
2. Get the required vaccines and prescription for medications
It’s great that you’re helping eradicate malaria in third world countries, but it won’t be so amazing if you return home sick. Check with your doctor or local health agency regarding any vaccinations you need to get.
Make sure you also research about rules on bringing over-the-counter or prescription medicines. You might have to ask for a note from your physician so you can bring some maintenance meds with you. It is also helpful to inquire about the best alternatives in case your brand or type of medication isn’t available in the country you’re visiting.
3. Have a list of emergency contacts and numbers
Being prepared is a motto you will swear by when volunteering overseas. You might not have such good internet or mobile phone access in your chosen destination. It’s best to have a written list of your emergency contacts as well as hotline numbers for local agencies (police, hospitals, emergency response units, etc.). Of course, have the contact details of the head of your programme. Have this information on you at all times. Check it out at Involvement Volunteers International
4. Get insurance
Find a plan that covers healthcare and emergencies for overseas travellers. You can also opt for affordable short-term policies for health insurance for your destination.
5. Pack with minimalism in mind
Being fashionable will be the last thing on your mind when you’re digging wells in the tropical heat. Go for clothes that provide comfort and which won’t be taboo in the local culture. Pack only what you will surely use and need. You can ask for a packing list from your project coordinator or previous volunteers. Remember that it’s going to be you who suffers when you have to haul a huge, heavy bag on your Everest base camp trek on your way to your assigned community.
6. Find out what form of communication and funds you can access
Will there be a reliable mobile phone signal or Wi-Fi network? Will there be ethernet or a telephone at your lodgings or headquarters? Knowing this allows you to plan how to best communicate with people back at home.
You should also find out if you can use ATMs or credit cards there, or if cash is the only way to pay.
7. Know how to get to your destination
Get directions that are as specific as possible and plan your trip beforehand. Know the local forms of transportation, as well as the schedules and fares. If your programme head sends you written instructions, read it well and make clarifications if needed.
8. Learn more about your duties and the programme
Being well-prepared for volunteering overseas makes the experience more enjoyable and meaningful not only for you, but for those who you will be helping as well. Get to know your role in the project as well as how the programme is impacting the community. This can inspire you to work harder and share even more. It can also give you a deeper appreciation for what you and the organisation are doing.
9. Bring essentials
Pack light, but don’t leave your essentials. For example, if you use medical socks, make sure to bring enough pairs. You might not be able to find these at your destination, or if you can, the price could be sky high. A durable water bottle is also a must.
10. Schedule some time for being a tourist
Yes, the objective of the trip is to do fulfilling volunteer work, but that doesn’t mean you can’t see the sights. Befriend the locals and immerse yourself in the culture. Participate in festivals, local celebrations, and events that introduce you to traditions. Squeeze in a tour during your days off.
You can also sign up for programmes that let you hit two birds with one stone. For example, you can join a Nepal earthquake rebuilding volunteer experience which includes trekking through the Solu Khumba District, then on to the Everest base camp. If you’re interested to apply for a trip like this, check out www.volunteering.org.au for more details.
As you become a more seasoned overseas volunteer, not only will you get to help save the world, but you get to see and experience more of it too.