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Packing List for Volunteers in Ghana

Nick Benson

Five must-haves for volunteering abroad. 

No matter how hard you try, you always pack something you never end up using and forget something you didn’t know you’d need.

With hindsight from other trips I’ve tried to second-guess those essentials and lighten my bag of any unnecessaries, but I know there’s bound to be something. (Or perhaps several things.)

Here are five items that I’ve decided I’ll need in Ghana and my careful reasons for choosing them:

Battery-powered light source

Two words: outdoor toilets. Facilities aren’t the same everywhere, but it’s more than likely that toilets will be built separate to the house where I’m staying. Going to the toilet in the middle of the night can be pretty scary as it is, and when you’re in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar wildlife, you don’t want to be wandering off into someone (or something) else’s house.

So a torch? Well, torches are always useful and sometimes essential, but it’s worth broadening your search terms a bit when looking for some portable light. Volunteers on my placement have been advised that Jirapa, like many other places in Ghana, experiences frequent and unpredictable power cuts, so something you can use as a temporary indoor light-fixture is bound to come in handy. I’m going for an Alpkit MightyLight, and there are plenty of similar products out there.

Finally, on a new routine with new bedtimes you can easily find yourself bored and in the dark before or after you’d usually be nodding off. A small lamp plus a pack of cards might be needed for burning the midnight batteries.


Another talking point might be a laptop or tablet; something to crowd around for a movie can be a great way to bond with the people you’re working with (especially once you’ve run out of things to talk about). This is a good tip from a returned volunteer from my program.

Tablets are also good for packing down a reading list into a few megabytes. Books take up a lot of bag space, so any kind of e-reader device is a worthwhile investment for bookish travellers.

Tablets are also something to create documents and access the Internet with, which might be useful for organizing projects on my placement too—not to mention, of course, keeping the blog up to date!

Rain jacket

This is the classic unexpected essential for first-timers in a hot climate. I’ll be in Ghana during the rainy season, for which I’ve been told to rethink my definition of a rainy day. If you need to be out in the elements you need to be ready for it, and if your playing cards get wet or your tablet runs out of battery, staying inside all day might not be very appealing.

Electrical tape

For when the lamp, the laptop, the waterproof, or just about anything else, starts to fall apart. Strong tape is particularly life saving when suitcases break or when holes appear in backpacks. It’s cheap and light and will hopefully see you through a lot of trips.

Kendal Mint Cake

Kendal Mint Cake is my favourite “emergency ration;” a block of baked sugar once requested for a 1953 expedition to Everest. Everyone needs emergency rations, whether the emergency is severely low blood sugar or just slightly low morale. Your Kendal Mint Cake might be cookies or jelly beans or something entirely different, but it needs to be non-melting, high-energy and compact. And yes, it is an essential.

At the end of my three months the list may look a lot different. I won’t be able to pack what was missing, ditch what was superfluous, and get straight back on the plane (if only), but I will share the “after picture” of my ideal packing list. I hope someone finds this helpful, and any comments and suggestions would be welcome, before and after.

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Published in Volunteer Abroad Blogs
Nick Benson

Nick Benson studies languages in the UK and feels “the world of work” looming on the horizon. On a summer placement in Ghana with Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) he’s writing about pushing borders, making friends and keeping the mosquitos at bay.

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