Wednesday, January 2

What to pack for Volunteering

If you're going Volunteering in the Dominican Republic this summer, or anywhere, here are some items which i found useful and not so useful. If anything it will help you add stuff to your packing checklist.

Boots. Strong, waterproof, breathable hiking boots. You'll need them on your feet whatever work you're doing and if you decide to go hiking they will be your best friend. You will love your boots. Plus mosquitos cant bite your feet if they're in boots. Also take a pair of sandals and a pair of lightweight trainers that will dry quickly. The sandals are for the beach, and indeed the majority of the time. They keep your feet cool and are the most comfortable to wear. On the other hand they are impractical at certain times and I wouldn't recommend going caving in them. :)

I briefly mentioned this: Mosquito Repellant. Take more than you think you'll need. I found the best type is this Autan Active Stick. It goes on like a deodorant stick and out of all the insect repellents my ISV buddies had the Autan active line seemed to work the best and it doesn't have an unpleasant odour like some insect repellents. Take at least 3. They don't take up much room and you'll hate yourself when you run out. Be prepared to lend it to people and don't forget to put some on your feet if you're wearing sandals.

Towel. This is an important choice. You can get one of those fancy, felt like, "quick dry", fold away, compact, antibacterial towels which supposedly every traveller can't live without. However, personally, even though you may have to wash it, I would prefer a normal Towel. At most places you stay there will be a place you can leave it out to dry for all of the 10 minutes it takes in such a hot country and for me i much prefer the feel of a normal towel. Its like a home comfort that you can so easily take with you. Douglas Adams had it right when he suggested the most important thing when travelling is to have a good towel (and know where it is).

You might think suncream, but i say not really. I mean definitely take some, especially if you're pale but I found i couldn't tan very well with my high SPF cream. I think it must have something to do with the ozone levels above the carribean because no one go sunburnt at all while out there, jus great tans. Then as soon as we got back to England my girlfriend managed to get herself sunburnt. What does this say? Probably just never underestimate the sun wherever you are. Suncream is available everywhere in the DR from one shop or another so don't take too much with you because it will only explode in your case and make a horrible mess.

What about your personal entertainment? Something you can do on a bus for a long time is essential. I can read on the bus (and even in the car) so i read some books for the 6 hour bus ride from one end of the country to the other. iPods are a popular choice. Load up some videos if you have enough space. An iPod touch is a great thing to have as you can email home for free; Most bars in tourist spots have free WiFi for the rich locals (ex pats) and high class tourists. This will let you avoid the high rates and the queues at the internet cafes, plus you can do while sitting on the beach front drinking Pina Colada out of a real pineapple. Don't take iPod speakers, at least 2 other people will have a set.

Take a pair of tweezers and a sewing kit. Splinters can be very annoying and there is quite a high possibility of getting some sea urchin caught in your foot. In fact I would recommend wearing your sandals in the sea.

Don't take too much currency in US Dollars. Honestly just look for a good bank with low or zero costs for getting money out abroad (UK Travellers go to Nationwide Building Society NOW!) and just get your money out in pesos. Even the people who quote their prices in dollars will accept pesos and you'll end up paying less because even the locals have to get their currency converted. Honestly only the most massive hotels only take US Dollars and if you're reading this you aint going to be staying in one of those. Take as much as you can afford. Its really easy to live within your means. Most places will say "You need X amount to have a good time". Well with ISV most of the stuff is paid for you so all you need is stuff for extra food, souvenirs and nights out.

Well that's pretty much the essentials. Apart from clothes and toiletries you wont need much else. Anything you forget you can buy out there anyway (and if you can't then you don't need it!).

Good luck and have fun.