It's not all about what's on your kit list. Don't forget to pack an open mind, patience and energy, says Francesca Camporeale from online volunteering community benevola!
We all get excited when we're planning a trip, and can't help trying to picture what our experience will be like. Often, the best experiences are the ones that take you by surprise, when you haven't built up any expectations. When it comes to volunteering abroad, a lot will take you by surprise, in the best possible way. You can't have any expectations for the experiences you'll have, the people you'll meet, and the things you'll learn along the way. That's why it's best to pack an open mind, so that you will be able to embrace everything your volunteering adventure throws at you.
This might seem obvious to the experienced traveller, but it doesn't always go without saying! A lot of volunteering opportunities will be hands on, so you can't be afraid to get a bit mucky, or worry about your favourite outfit getting ruined.
Consider the climate, and also the social environment you'll be working in. Even if you're going somewhere tropical, you can't expect to teach a classroom full of kids in something skimpy. If you're volunteering on a building site, gardening, working with animals, or even just in a hot climate – wearing comfortable clothes and shoes you'll find yourself at ease and carefree.
Even if your volunteering placement isn't so physical, pack a good pair of walking boots anyway, you never know the exploring adventures you might end up having.
When you're in a new country, you will have to adapt to the culture that you're suddenly immersed in. This doesn't always happen instantaneously. It is therefore important to have patience; patience with the new cultural surroundings that you might find testing at times, and also patience with yourself.
You need to allow yourself time to adapt and get comfortable, don't expect too much too soon, it's all part of the experience.
Personally, even though I try to pack light, I'm always surprised to find how many unnecessary items I end up cramming into my backpack. Too many clothes, too much shampoo, relics from home that you completely forget you brought because you're having too much fun... Pack light! You'll feel so much more free if you don't have a heavy bag weighing you down on your journeys. Also remember things are likely to cost less where you're going, so you might end up saving a few pennies buying abroad.
In order to be accepted and welcomed where you are, it is important that you are accepting also, and aware of cultural differences. It's always worth doing a bit of research before you go to a new place to learn about the subtle cultural differences in customs and manners. This is especially important when you're going to volunteer, as you will be working alongside locals, and to get on well it's good to show that you respect the culture and are willing to adapt.
Regardless of the type of volunteering you're going to be doing, you'll need buckets of energy, whether it's mainly physical, mental, emotional or social! You want to be able to give your volunteering opportunity as much as it's giving you to get the most out of the experience.
As with travelling in general, there's only so much of your experience that you can capture with a camera. All the funny incidents, the strange and wonderful people you meet, the way you felt at various times of your trip... memories that can get lost in a photograph. Write about them to go alongside your travel snaps so you don't forget a thing!
benevola is a new online community that offers free global volunteering opportunities. With an eclectic range of projects to suit the intrepid wanderer and first time traveller alike, benevola enables the volunteer to find a project which matches their personal skills best. The diverse opportunities offered include looking after animals at a sanctuary in Thailand, working with a human rights campaign in South Africa, and creating a strategy for a small family business in Brazil. Find out more here.