11 Things to Do Before Volunteering in a Developing Country

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Passport? Check. Visa? Check. Plane ticket, deodorant, travel guide, and an adventurous spirit? Check and check. These are all obvious things to consider before traveling abroad, particularly to a developing country, but are you sure you have considered everything? If you are going to be volunteering abroad in a developing country, especially for the first time, here are a few things you need to consider before boarding the plane:

African children jumping

1. Research the Local Dress of the Area.

In addition to the research you do on the location you are visiting, find out what clothing is culturally appropriate for the destination(s) you are traveling. Dress is an important way of showing respect in the place you are going. Something as simple as your outfit says a lot to the locals, and careful consideration can help you avoid unwanted attention. For example, covering your calves in Ghana and not wearing jeans as a female in certain parts of India would be important to research before you get there. Do your research before packing, and always err on the side of modesty if possible.

2. Pack the Right Shoes.

Pack good walking shoes, especially sandals for hot locations. Chacos are highly recommended, as they can get you through a river, up a mountain, or through a bustling street with no problems. Whatever shoes you bring, make sure they are durable and that you wear them prior to leaving to break them before wearing them daily. If you are going to spend money on anything, make sure it’s a good pair of shoes.

3. Scan a Copy of your Passport.

Print a copy of your passport out to have as a backup while you travel around if you will not have your original passport on you (which you should avoid at all costs). Email a copy of your passport and visa to yourself in case something happens to the original.

A volunteer with a child

4. Register with your Embassy before Leaving.

Registering with your country’s embassy allows you to receive important updates and security advice in the event of an emergency. They will not be able to help you as quickly if they do not even know you are there. The process takes about ten minutes.

5. Call your Bank.

Inform your bank and any companies you have credit cards with that you are leaving the country. Let them know what countries you will be going to so your account does not freeze when you try to withdraw money. Just in case, write down the numbers on the back of your cards and bring some cash in the event that it does freeze. 

6. Bring a Contact Card.

Pack a physical card (an index card will do) with emergency and other important phone numbers in the event that you do not have your cell phone or internet access. You might be surprised how many phone numbers you do not have memorized because you have relied on technology. Keep this contact card on your person.

7. (For Girls) Bring Tampons, Birth Control, etc.

In many developing countries, tampons are not available, as they are seen as improper. OB Tampons are great if you need to be discreet, as they do not have applicators. They cut down on trash and packing space as well.

8. Pack and Refill Important Medications.

Make filling prescription medications a priority before leaving. Some medications are especially difficult to find abroad. Contact your doctor about extending your prescriptions depending on the length of your stay with enough advanced notice. 

A girl with two African kids

9. Bring a Small, Multi-Use Towel.

Whether you are taking a bucket shower or drying dishes, having a lightweight towel is a must in developing countries. Microfiber is usually best in terms of space and quality. Microfiber towels also dry quicker, even in humid climates. 

10. Consider On-The-Go Flavor Packets.

When traveling in a developing country, you will be drinking more bottled water than you ever thought possible. If you are the kind of person who gets sick of drinking only water but still wants to stay hydrated, consider packing a bag of powder flavor packets to mix into your water bottle.

11. GetShots and Malaria Preventatives.

Check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website and other resources for the most up-to-date information on what immunizations and medications to take prior to leaving. Some countries require a series of shots that can take up to three months to complete, so do not procrastinate. Also, look into malaria medications that are effective for your desired location. Some anti-malarial medications, such as Larium, should be avoided, as it has strange and extreme side effects. In addition, not every anti-malarial works the same in each area, so do your research.

You're ready to volunteer in a developing country!

If you think you are prepared to accept the challenges that come along with volunteering in the developing world, then it is time for you to search for a volunteer program abroad!

Topic:  Before You Go