How do you prepare and pack for a trip that includes giving back and often in an unknown culture? While seemingly daunting, here are eight tips that might help you even better prepare for your upcoming trip.
- Pack some lollipops or other individually wrapped sweets. They are a fun give away to local children who might be excited to see foreigners or perhaps approach you requesting money. An alternative, more valuable option depending on how impoverished the children are is bringing packets of Plumpy Nut. Don’t bring unprocessed or unpackaged foods to give away. It will be hard to keep them fresh in foreign countries and you may have trouble with customs.
- If you have a host family or other host, a small gift is generally a sign of appreciation. We don’t recommend bringing anything expensive – these things don’t typically translate and can be construed as insensitive to the local needs if they are not useful or germane to local communities (i.e. an expensive candle). Try something locally relevant or perhaps that has functional or local value like a solar cooker.
- Involve your family and friends in packing and other preparations. Part of the joy of philanthropic travel is the lead up. Perhaps you will discuss your excitement with friends and help one of them learn that philanthropic travel is even an option. Or perhaps you discuss the learning objectives amongst your family at a family meeting and help clarify how this work fits in amongst your overall giving strategy. Regardless, each of these conversations helps to extend the value of the trip.
- Similarly, leave space in your bag to bring things back. Whether it’s artisanal coffee beans prepared by local women or hand sewn items of clothing made by previously unemployed workers, it’s not about what you bring back, its about how you share the story of what you experienced and learned. The items provide opportunities to discuss serious issues that can otherwise be difficult to bring up like abuse, unemployment, and even the downsides of capitalism. Plus, it gives you an excuse to invest in the local economy beyond the tourism trade – thus also helping to lift up local communities. And finally, it is a great way to support a cause, community and/or person you are invested in, all while stocking up on future gifts.
- Register your international trip with the US State Department. Once you do so, the local embassy will keep you abreast about the safety situation so that you can make informed decisions. It will also make it easier for the local US embassy to get in touch with you during a disaster should there be one locally while you’re traveling; and it will ease the challenge of family and friends knowing you are safe during an emergency.
- Contact your health insurance company to review coverage in your destination country and become familiar with how to use it if you need to go to a doctor, pharmacy, or hospital. You might want to also research and consider purchasing travel insurance, above and beyond your normal policy. Most American policies require you to pay cash up front for care abroad and submit reimbursements later. Also, many will not include a medical evacuation clause (also known as medi-vac) and you should consider the local health system when deciding to purchase medi-vac coverage as well.
- Download a translation app on your phone. Google Translate is a free app that covers many languages, several of which that will work offline, and will also live translate text through your phone’s camera, like signs or menus. If you don’t expect to be somewhere where there will be wifi readily available, or will be somewhere where a local dialect is used more than a more common national language, write down some key phrases on invest in a pocket dictionary.
- Bring a small notebook, like a moleskin, to journal experiences as you go. Often times, just a day or two later, it can be difficult to remember all the details of an action packed trip. Similarly, journaling allows us to be reflective of what we’re experiencing. On particularly emotionally charged days, this can be a beneficial practice. Alternatively, sometimes a sketch book or a book of quotes can be a good reflective tool.
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