Being prepared for your volunteering experience

The how-to guide for being super prepared for your volunteer experience with an essentials kit guide:

You have decided to take a leap of faith and join the ethical conservation revolution by spending your holiday or gap year by making a real impact and getting your hands dirty! So now what…?

What kind of project will suit you: Before you decide on a project placement, be sure to know what kind of volunteering you would like to be involved in, do you prefer a more hands on experience working with animals? A research-based experience?  Game reserve or marine conservation? Most importantly what kind of impact you feel you will be able to make when you are at your chosen project, because truthfully, we are all on a mission to make this world a better place and what’s better than actually being present at an ethically run project getting your hands dirty and a happy heart knowing that your contribution literally made an impact on the lives and habitat of our wildlife.

Experience? Volunteering projects will teach you the skills you will need, so no experience is needed, however you do need to arrive with a keen attitude to get stuck in, muck up and have a great love for conservation in order to be fully present in this life changing experience.

Research where you are going: Please take time to research the project and the country it is in as you will need the lowdown on what the native culture is like (you don’t want to offend anyone, a golden rule here would just to smile and say thank you, it goes a long way and wearing a bikini top while visiting a rural village might not go down so well), dress codes vary in different country as well as the climate in the region, you will want to make sure that you pack accordingly and respect the local culture. Researching the currency as well as what kind of local products are available to ensure you either take with what you need (this includes favourite snacks and books) so that you don’t run out, or if it is not available in that country and take enough cash with you if there are no card machines available if you are based in a rural setting.

Passports and visas: Ensure you know if you are required to apply for a visa for the country you are visiting as different rules apply for different countries and if you are under the age of 18 you might need to complete some documentation with your parents. You will also need at least 6 months left on your passport before it expires otherwise you will be denied entry into a country, please also make sure that you make copies of your passport and keep the copies on you while you are travelling in case you misplace your passport as a back up and give a copy to a family member too with a copy of the emergency contact numbers for the project, placement agency and in-country contracts.

Insurance: Travel insurance is a non-negotiable in this day and age, and yes it costs a bit extra and hopefully you might not need it, but in the case of an emergency, travel insurance can save your life or replace your favourite camera and hiking boots should they grow legs and find a new owner.

Cash/Bank cards: Please ensure you call your bank before you leave your country to let them know where you are going and for how long as most banks will block you card if you don’t as they will think that it is fraudulent activity if they notice overseas transactions without permission granted. Cash is always handy, just make sure you enquire how much and the type of currency you will need and ask the project if they can lock up your cash in a safe while you are there for safe keeping.

Plugs/adaptors/gadgets: If you decide to travel with your gadgetry, please make sure you bring the right adaptors for the country you will be visiting and should you be visiting a project that does not have power, please ensure you notify your friends and family so that they know you will be out of communication for your travels and ensure you supply them with the projects emergency contact numbers as there will always be a point of contact for each project.

Pack for a purpose: Most projects have a wish list for either the communities they support for goods such as school supplies, second hand clothing and basic day to day supplies, or other projects have wish lists for their animals for goods like medical supplies, old towels and blankets, hand sanitizers. Worldwide Experience will include these wish lists in your information packs for you. Please also consider the eco-friendliest options should you choose to bring some goodies over for the project you will be visiting for your volunteering experience.

Self-preparation: In order to make sure you thrive during your volunteering experience it is best to ensure that you get enough sleep each night, eat well (should you have any special dietary requirements please do let us know so that we can make doubly sure you are catered for to keep you healthy and well fed). Stay hydrated! This is one of the most important tips to follow, especially if you are out under the African sun, so make sure you bring a water bottle (750ml) with you and ensure you fill it before you leave for your daily duties each day. Their will always be water refill areas at each project so please make sure you ask the volunteer co-coordinators to show you upon arrival so that you know where to go from day one for your water fix! Bring sunscreen with you… a giant bottle of a good quality high SPF and make sure you apply this every few hours if you are going to be working in a hot climate, sunstroke and dehydration is a real thing! Personal hygiene is an absolute must so make sure you pack all the necessary products you use daily (eco-friendly options please).

Keep a diary: Photographs are great for story-telling, but to truly keep your incredible experiences alive forever, would be to document each day in a written diary. Please also be mindful of each project’s rules and regulations when it comes to photographs and respect the animals when taking photos. Most projects and Worldwide Experience believe that animals do not need to be in a selfie for personal use and against their wishes. Each animal has a story and you will have the super powers to turn your photograph into a conservation message which will benefit the animals. We also believe that animals have the right to approach you but we should respect the animals by not chasing them down or putting them in a situation where they may feel threatened or uncomfortable in order for you to take the ultimate selfie.

And last but not least, ensure you take in every moment of your time at your chosen experience. It is a privilege in today’s world to be able to be interact so closely with our wildlife and make a real impact for the conservation of our wildlife. Laugh, smile, cry, make friends (with humans too) and treasure the sights, smells and sounds of nature.

Below I have included the ultimate kit list of essentials that you will need on all projects:

  • Toiletries – please use eco-friendly biodegradable options where possible.
  • Sunglasses
  • Cap
  • Sunscreen
  • Water bottle (750ml)
  • Pocket knife/multi tool
  • Lip balm with SPF
  • Deet-free insect repellent
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Ruck sack – for packing daily necessities
  • Your favourite snacks from home
  • Personal first aid kit with re-hydration salts and any other medical supplies you may need, please make sure any prescription medication is accompanied with a letter from you Doctor
  • Notebook and pen
  • Headlight or torch
  • Waterproof pouch
  • Sense of humour 😉