The Ultimate Packing Guide for Volunteering in Africa

Your First Steps:

You’ve just confirmed your spot on one of Naturally Africa’s volunteer programs in Africa. You are hopefully feeling excited about volunteering in Africa, maybe also a little anxious, as you begin to prepare for your upcoming adventure. Depending on your chosen program, you could be getting involved with healthcare, teaching, sports; all with elements of community outreach! You may be a bright gap year student, wanting to hone your skills before going off to university; a trained teacher; or even a midwife, looking for healthcare volunteer experience abroad – Naturally Africa caters for a wide range of potential volunteers. Whatever your background, what do you need to pack?

Among the numerous things you have on your to-do list, packing can be one of the most daunting tasks. As a previous volunteer for Naturally Africa, I can tell you that it’s easier than you may think. To make packing more convenient, I have categorized a detailed list of the top things to pack for your volunteer program that will help you feel prepared and comfortable during your stay.

Looking the Part for Charity Work in Africa:

Focus on light and breathable materials when packing your clothing to overcome the consistently hot temperatures; although note that things can get a little cooler during Africa’s dry season. Pack a variety of clothing items, including pants (trousers), shorts, t-shirts, and tank tops to be prepared for any activity your program may require and for weekend excursions. It is not necessary to purchase new clothing for your trip. Second-hand stores are great for finding any clothing items you may need if you are a frugal traveller like myself. You can also donate any clothing items that you don’t want to take back with you to locals in need.

In some African countries, women are expected to wear skirts that cover their knees and have their shoulders covered. If you are a female volunteer, I highly suggest packing a few skirts to respect the local culture while in your volunteer role, especially those working in schools. You can also purchase authentic cultural skirts from the local market, which are affordable and fun to wear.

At the volunteer house, volunteers are welcome to wear their regular attire. Make sure to also pack some casual summer clothing to wear on your breaks and days off.

How to Keep Occupied During your Volunteer Experience:

The evenings can be a bit quiet at the volunteer house. I suggest packing cards, books, or board games to make your time off more enjoyable. A board game or round of cards can also be a great icebreaker and help you get to know the other volunteers better!

Staying Connected in Africa:

At times, the power at the volunteer house is unavailable, due to power shortages in the village, which is common in Africa and certainly nothing to worry about! Additionally, power may also not be available at some of the excursion accommodations. I recommend packing a power bank to be prepared for these situations!

You will also need an outlet adaptor to charge your electronics. Make sure you have the proper outlet adaptor for the African country you are planning to visit, since they are not all the same. Adaptors can be easily found in local supermarkets, or on Amazon for a reasonable price. However, if you’re volunteering in Malawi, know that they use the same outlet adaptors as those found in the UK.

How Much Money Should I Take?

I recommend bringing USDs, a MasterCard, or Visa, to pay for additional items and activities, including weekend excursions, souvenirs, WI-FI, beverages, and snacks. If you are volunteering in Malawi, you can exchange your USDs to the local currency, or withdraw cash from the ATMs in the nearest town, Mangochi. It is best to bring both USDs and a credit card in case the ATMs are unavailable, due to a network error, which can happen from time to time! USDs that are older than the 2009 series may not be accepted at some locations. To avoid this inconvenience, request that your USDs are issued within the last five years prior to your departure.

Top Tip! Your entry visa, if you chose to do it on arrival, has been lowered from $75 to $50, and is free to renew if you plan on visiting other areas of Malawi after your time with Naturally Africa.

Other Essentials: 

If you love organization as much as I do, I would recommend purchasing packing cubes, especially if you are taking a backpack. Packing cubes will help you locate your belongings easily and make additional room in your backpack.

Although the Naturally Africa program provides volunteers with three meals per day, it is nice to have some of your go-to snacks from home for in-between meals. Additional snacks can be purchased at the local markets, but the selection may be minimal.

Pack extra bug repellent, sunscreen, and hand sanitizer for your stay. You will be using these products often. If you have any surplus of these products at the end of your program, you can choose to donate them to locals in need! Mosquito repellent is always much appreciated.

You will need a day bag or small backpack to carry your belongings to your program each day. A collapsible backpack is the perfect size to carry everything you’ll need during the day, including a water bottle, hand sanitizer, sunscreen, bug repellent and your phone. You may also want to pack a medium-sized day bag for weekend excursions.

To remember all of the memories you’ve made during your program, pack a journal and pens to record your experiences as a volunteer. Each day is completely different in Africa and you’ll want to tell your family and friends about every detail.

In any case, volunteering in Africa is an unforgettable experience, and with the right mind set, you are guaranteed to get a lot out of it, such a memories and even health benefits! Naturally Africa Volunteers is also partnered with a UK the based charity Naturally Africa Foundation and their website is worth a visit if you want to learn more about their activities.


Child Care and Development Volunteer

Feburary to March 2020

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