When planning your big volunteering trip abroad, you might think you need to bring heaps of outfits, shoes, beauty products etc. What if you look underdressed? What if you run out of clean clothes? Don’t worry, following a few guidelines can really help you to pack light, keeping you mobile and potentially even saving you money on your flight.


Shoes - A mistake that a lot of people make when packing for a trip abroad is to insist on bringing loads of pairs of shoes. People will go as far as stuffing in 4 or 5 pairs of different shoes for a couple of weeks away. High heels, flats, sandals, walking boots, trainers and more are all thrown in on the off-chance that they might be used at some point. The problem is, shoes don’t pack easily, and are often surprisingly heavy. As a guideline, we recommend packing a maximum of 2 pairs of shoes for a volunteer trip. One casual pair for day-to-day use and one more sturdy pair for more serious tasks like hiking. You can always pack a light pair of flip flops the beach if you need.

[caption id="attachment_60012" align="alignnone" width="800"] By Liisklammer[/caption]

Towels - this is another thing that people regularly end up wasting their valuable bag space on. Don’t get us wrong, a towel is a vital part of any traveller’s kit, but using up a big portion of your bag on a big fluffy towel just doesn’t make sense. Picking up a lightweight microfibre towel is one of the best travelling decisions you can make. They can be found for a few dollars, weigh next to nothing, are super absorbent and dry quickly. It’s a no-brainer.

Pack for the climate - If you’re sticking to one area of the globe on your travels, try to pack your clothes with the climate in mind. It might sound obvious, but when you’re at home it can be hard to imagine just how little you’ll need anything resembling warm clothing when visiting, for example, a tropical country. Countries like Thailand are hot and sticky, even at night, so the lighter your clothing the better. It can be a good idea to pack a thin jumper just in case (and a light waterproof jacket), but much more than that is overkill.

Pack clothes with more than 1 use - A great tip when packing clothing is to find items with multiple uses. For example, a pair of walking sandals can be used on a beach as well as on a hike. Swimming shorts can double as casual shorts. A sari is great on a beach, but can also be used to cover your legs or shoulders when entering somewhere like a temple. Always try to include as many multi-purpose items as you can.

Limit your luxuries

Food - It is a waste of space bringing a mountain of snacks and treats when travelling. If you’re staying with uVolunteer we provide most of your food, so you’re not going to go hungry. Saying that, if you have any luxury foods from home that you simply can’t live without, it might be worth bringing some small things along, but all the basics can be purchased when you arrive on site.

[caption id="attachment_60019" align="alignnone" width="800"] By Seanfreese[/caption]

Only bring 1 device - Nowadays it seems as though everybody owns several devices, but when it really comes down to it how much use will you really get out of them while travelling? Limiting yourself to just 1 device such as a smartphone is a brilliant way to both free up some bag space, and encourage you to enjoy your surroundings more. There’s no need for a laptop and a tablet when a phone can basically do the same job. You can even download a reading app like Kindle and leave the physical books behind.

Toiletries - Challenge yourself to cut down to the bare minimum. You don’t really need multiple deodorants, hair and makeup products. Buy travel-sized packs, or transfer them yourselves into smaller, lightweight packaging. Are you going to need a full bottle of perfume or aftershave on a 2-week trip? Probably not...

Packing logistics

Use a small bag - It is definitely worth investing in a good quality small bag before anything else. Ideally, you will be able to fit your main bag onto the plane as cabin baggage. To comply with most airlines, this means getting everything into a bag of around 45L capacity (or less). Buying a small bag and then choosing what to put in, as opposed to the other way round, makes it easier to be discerning and pack light.

We recommend that people also pack a small day bag for short excursions. It’s easy to find one that packs down to almost nothing, so it shouldn’t take up too much space.

[caption id="attachment_60062" align="alignnone" width="800"] By Ritmatt[/caption]

Use compression bags - If you’re really struggling to fit everything in, it might be worth getting some compression bags. By vacuum packing items like clothing with all the air removed, you can easily free up an extra 10 or 20% of space in your bag. Don’t go overboard though, or you might end up carrying a lot more weight than you would have been, which kind of defeats the purpose of a small bag.

Ask yourself ‘do I really need this?’ - It sounds simple, but picking up every item before putting it in your bag and asking yourself this question, as a rule, can really help you cut down to the essentials. Imagine how little you actually use day-to-day at home, then imagine how much less you’re going to use when you’re in a new country with things to do, people to meet and places to see. You’ll soon realise that you need less than you thought to be fulfilled.


Packing only the essential items are genuinely liberating. It’s so satisfying when you realise how much of your stuff is unnecessary and how little you really need to live on. It can actually help you to realise the things that really matter and live in the moment.

If you’re interested in travelling with a purpose, check out our volunteering projects across the globe.

^ Back to top