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Packing for a volunteer placement or working abroad program | Rural South Africa

Packing can be the most stressful part of your travel experience. You might not have been to South Africa or for those joining our Wildlife Volunteer Placements, never lived on a remote wildlife reserve, as such, you don’t know what's essential and what you can live without.

We’ve got some handy advice from vagabonds who’ve been traveling for years, helping you find the perfect balance between bringing everything you need and bringing everything you own.

Traveling internationally to your placement or study abroad program

For first-time travellers, the potential for getting lost and stranded without help seems like the ultimate looming threat, especially when traveling alone to an unknown location.

What to carry on you while traveling to your placement or project

We say, before starting on your first steps: apply travel triage!

Triage is how the order of treatment for medical patients is decided based on severity, let’s apply the same methodology to your packing.

  • Do I have everything I need to travel internationally? Flight tickets, passports, visa’s, and immigration documentation or other documents like travel insurance or proof of vaccines.

  • Do I have the contact information of the individual or organisation whom I’m scheduled to meet? Personal mobile, business phone, social media handles or email address.

  • Have I got all the supporting items I’ll need for travel? Medications, phone, laptops, chargers and access to money.

These are the essentials that should be kept on you at all times. With them even if there’s an obstacle you’ve got everything you need to make alternative plans as well as contact others who can support you remotely.

Maybe you missed a connecting flight because the baggage reclaim was too slow?

Now it's no problem! You've got everything you need to stay proactive and make alternative plans. Go and talk to an airport staff member, schedule the next available flight, sit down and buy a coffee, send a message to whoever is meeting you from tour leader to doting mother and relax.

Congratulations, with your use of triage you can no longer get stranded abroad... unfortunately you'll now have to go back home to work at some point.

students and volunteers are getting ready to do conservaton projects
Volunteers during conservation project out in the bush!

Life living and working in rural South African

Now you’ve got your essentials prioritised and packed, you need to decide what to bring so you’re fully prepared and equipped to take part in the conservation projects or community development work you’ll be working on.

Life in rural South Africa is a bit different. You’ll rarely leave your wildlife reserve or rural community. You can’t just “pop down the road” to pick up another shirt or toiletries if you’re running low as the nearest shop could be over 1 hour’s drive away!

Here’s how to make the most out of any suitcase space.

When and where is your volunteer abroad or study placement?

Are you going to spend the winter with rhinos out in the bush or by the beach and in need of bikini or board shorts during South Africa’s hot and humid summer?

The seasons and temperatures fluctuate heavily in South Africa, especially in winter where days can be hot and nights down too close to freezing. Knowing when and where you’re traveling will help you decide if you can get away without bringing a thick jacket or if you couldn’t survive without one.

What projects will you be working or volunteering with?

You might be joining long term as a university student to get some experience related to your ecological studies through our conservation projects, a passionate veterinarian or wildlife fanatic volunteering and get up close and personal with Africa’s iconic animals through our work, maybe your a Gap year traveller wanting to meet new people and place’s and help make a difference with our rural community work.

What you’re doing will define what you need to bring.

Are you going to be spending a lot of time outdoors? You’ll need hiking boots and long trousers for when you’re walking through thick and thorny bush deploying camera traps or with vegetation surveys.

Will you be doing manual work? If you’re going to get hot and sweaty in the sun as you help with agricultural development projects you’ll need to bring water bottles and hats.

Research work and project development? Bring appropriate stationery, notepads, laptops, recommended books, binoculars, and other equipment that you’ll need to complete your study or work placements.

As you prepare for your placement and projects, if you have any questions or are unsure make sure to ask your Tour Leader or Project Coordinator in advance.

And with each of our placements, you’ll receive a kit list and checklist!

Health and safety | Items you should travel with

As a prepared and confident traveller, you should have a few health and safety items that will help you stay comfortable, happy and healthy.

There’s no way to change the brightness of the sun, how many bugs are out or even avoid getting cuts and scrapes while working. We can however bring sunscreen, insect repellent and a small first-aid kit.

This can mean the difference between spending a placement sore from sunburn, unable to get a splinter out and generally crankier than a hippo out of the water and spending a placement as cool as a cucumber.

Of course, your placement will stock larger first-aid kits for use but bringing your own means you can treat and prevent any minor issues

What to wear | Volunteer or study abroad projects

One of the best parts of joining a study abroad, international volunteer placement or gap year travel group is the diverse array of people you’ll live and work with.

Your group will likely be made of multiple nationalities, cultures and people of different backgrounds. As such there is no “normal” with what recreational clothes you choose to wear when you’re not doing wildlife conservation or community development projects.

If you want to relax the campfire in leggings or a checkered shirt, whatever is most comfortable and confident for you!

Entertainment | Extras to bring while traveling

By now, you’ve figured out what essentials you’re going to need when travelling internationally, clothes and equipment you’ll need for your projects and what to wear after your project work.

If you have any space left in your suitcase, it’s a case of what fun things do you want to bring?

Card games and board games are the travellers best friend, they break the ice and are a great social event for most evening. A good book is also a great thing for when you need some quiet “me time”.

All set for adventure

Well done, you're hopefully one step closer on the road to confident travel and have everything you need to take part in your important conservation or community development projects.

If you are still unsure about what to bring, contact our team and they'll be happy to give you advance.

As we say in South Africa, Hamba gashle! (Go well)

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