Welcome back to my blog! Today I am adding on to my Global Volunteer series by sharing with you guys how to prepare for volunteering in a developing country.
In my last few posts for my Volunteer page, I talked about; choosing a location, travel insurance, and travel vaccinations.
Today I want to make a more generalized post about the preperation process. Obviously if you are like me, from a first world country, you are not accustomed to living with the bare essentials.
I would’t call myself the most materialistic person in the world but I’m not gonna lie to ya’ll, I certainly like my amenities.
As I get closer to my departure date my mind is reeling with all the things I need to think to bring with me and get together before I go. I have to consider the possibilities of not having a store close to me that has all the things I am used to.
Especially as a woman! I have some specific needs!
Let’s break it down:
When preparing for a big international volunteer trip, one of the MOST important things you can do is have all your documents in order. In fact this is probably the first thing you should do.
When I say documents I am referring to:
- Visa (if applicable)
- ID or driver’s License
- Copy of your travel insurance
- Copy of your travel vaccination card (you should get this from your doctor, it is a small yellow booklet.)
- Flight Itineraries
- Confirmation codes for all accomidation and physical addresses
- Trip itinerary
Once you have all of these documents ready to roll, make at least 3 copies! In my case I made 4 and I am about to explain why.
It is so important that you have all your ducks in a row when you are traveling internationally but, especially when you are staying for a good chunk of time.
I personally like to not only have copies of everything for myself, but I also take an extra in the event one set gets lost or damaged.
The other two sets of copies go to both my parents and Brady’s parents.
Obviously you are going to have to take your actual passport, ID, and vaccination card. However, making copies of these is a good thing to do for the packets you give your family or loved ones.
In the event of an emergency this allows everyone to have all the info they need in order to better assist you.
In addition, I am sure for all my younger travelers out there, your parents would greatly appreciate having all the detailed info.
Even for all my well seasoned travelers, this is a great way to keep your loved ones in the loop and give everyone piece of mind.
Research Research Research
I can not stress enough how imperative it is that you research everything you can think of about your volunteer destination. But, to make the task easier I am going to list some things that may be slightly more useful to research than others.
- Drinking Water– Make sure you have a good understanding of what the water situation is like. This is a broad topic because water can be used for so many things. First and foremost, look into the drinkability of the water. Odds are, if you are traveling to a developing country, the water is not safe to drink in it’s original form. This also means it is probably not safe to brush your teeth with the water or eat fruits that have been washed with untreated water. Getting something like a water purification straw or iodine drops/tablets is an absolute must!
- Water (Bathing and Swimming)- Another thing to look into about the water is how safe it is to swim in fresh water. Many developing and third-world countries have gnarly parasites that can get into your blood stream a variety of ways. It is pretty important to understand what the risks are before you decide to just jump in. Your doctor can give you detailed info on the specific location you plan to travel to and even vaccinate you against some threats. Some people are opposed to vaccines, if that’s you then I really recommend against getting in any fresh water at all.
- Feminie Products- Sorry to all my male readers out there, you might wanna skip over this bullet. Unfortunately, Mother Nature does’t give a flying fadoodle how kind hearted and adventurous you are. Periods still happen when you’re in the jungle (or where ever you are). One of the more nerve racking things in my life right now is wrapping my mind around the Diva Cup. If you haven’t heard of it then you live under a rock. LOL… I am just kidding, I’m nervous. Tampons are crappy for the environment already but when you are somewhere that might not have a sanitation department or an organized waste system, it is better to implement something that is re-usable. Obviously, what you do with your vagina is your business, but I truly think this will make your life easier. No figuring out where to stash your unmentionables and no fear of running out, especially because tampons aren’t even available in most developing and third world countries! The diva cup or its many counterparts are a great hypoallergenic and environmentally friendly alternative to your mainstream fem. products.
- Safety- This one is kinda a no brainer, please research the place you are going and it’s crime rate before you get on a plane. Read reviews for days and find articles regarding the tourist environment. Typically if you can find a lot of blog articles or trip advisor reviews it means people frequent that area and you won’t be the only foreigner there.
- Cultural Etiquette- The world is a diverse place, not only ethnically speaking but culturally as well. It is always best to try and avoid as many cultural faux pas as possible. Make sure to look into what the appropriate greetings are and what is considered rude. Asian cultures specifically, have quite a few cultural differences in the sense of appropriate eye contact, dining etiquette, and greetings. You never want to go into another country and offend a bunch of people all because you’re ignorant to their norms. It is not only awkward and embarrassing, but it also shows that you did’t think or take the time to research before coming into their home.
- Laws and Your Rights As A Foreigner- This one kinda goes hand in hand with the previous bullet. It is so important to know your rights before entering a foreign country, even if it is Canada. Different country + Different Government = Different Laws. I know that should be common sense, but you’d be surprised. I have seen fellow exchange students get themselves into real pickles because of their naivety. The last thing you EVER want to do is be in legal trouble abroad. You can always find some really good points of reference for this on the embassy website of the country you plan to travel to. Whenever you are abroad it is always best to be more cautious than you would be normally.
- Toiletries- As many of you know, if you are a follower of my blog, I am always looking for more environmentally friendly ways to travel. Brady actually has a degree in sustainable tourism so we are pretty passionate about it. I love using fair trade castile soap anytime I travel because ethically it is the better choice and it is multi-functional. I use my castile soap to was my face, body, and hair. As far as conditioner and tooth paste, there are endless fair trade options! I usually use Amazon to find all the random toiletries I need. Getting all of your toiletries before you leave is smart because depending on how remote you will be, a lot of this stuff won’t be available to you once there. Unless you travel into a city, but even then they will have brands you have never seen and unless you can read the local language, you won’t know whats in it.
This sounds silly but I always need time to mentally prepare for just about anything, especially a big international trip. Depending on what type of person you are, this could look very different for you than it does for me.
When I am mentally preparing for a trip I like to double check everything, it always makes me feel better. I also talk A LOT. I am sure Brady is tired of me mentioning the same 4 “What if…” scenarios.
The reality is that talking things through helps a lot of people process whats happening but it also helps you release some of the anxiety.
I actually suffer from a mild anxiety disorder and I find that I spiral when I feel like I am not in control of a situation. It helps to keep your calm when you are traveling globally because there are always hiccups. Having a “go with the flow” attitude is a great tool for success.
For me, achieving this attitude can be natural but I also have certain triggers that send me into a frenzy. If you are traveling alone, it is more important for you to have a good relationship with your emotions because you have to be your own rock in times of stress.
Luckily for me, Brady is pretty good at getting me calmed down if I get worked up. But, I do have a series of breathing techniques I employ when I need them.
Really, I just suggest coming up with a few calming techniques for yourself for those stressful moments so you can have the best trip possible!
You Can Do It!
Now that you have my most important tips for Global Volunteer preparation it is time to make moves.
Remember, if you are planning on volunteering abroad then you are already a pretty awesome person! You just need to make sure you understand the people and places you’ll encounter while on your trip.
Thank you so much for reading today’s post! I wish all of you very happy travels and I hope this post was helpful to those of you planning on engaging in some global volunteer action. Always feel free to comment so I know what you would like to read in the future.