Country: Malaysia


Seven Christmas Gifts For The Needy Volunteer Traveler

December 12, 2012

Christmas for a volunteer can be tough—especially if you’re about to leave on a major trip abroad. It’s likely that you want to pack light, and you might have a hard time explaining to friends and family what exactly you can take along on your trip. As someone who’s volunteered abroad and is about to leave on a trip myself, here is my handy-dandy guide for the needy volunteer! (And remember, volunteer abroad projects can vary wildly, so all of these gifts might not be perfect for the volunteer on your list.)


Traveling while volunteering abroad involves a lot more waiting around than you’d expect. Whether you’re in line at customs, riding on a train, or just relaxing as you wait to go to bed, having something to read is essential.

Morocco - Volunteer Global

Since it’s not totally appealing to carry a library on your back along with everything else—and English-language books can be rather pricey—an e-reader is a perfect gift for the volunteer traveler. I can personally vouch for the Kindle Keyboard with 3G, but am sure that there are plenty of other options that are perfectly adequate!


I love blogging and recognize that there are many ways to translate your experience while volunteering abroad into a story. However, there really is no replacement for a good journal. Many times as I traveled, I didn’t have access to a computer and some moments were too poignant not to record. Journals are also great for scrapbooking moments that you pick up along your journey.

A camera (or any multi-use device with a camera in it!)

It can be tempting while traveling abroad to forego the camera in an effort to see with your eyes, and not with a lens. However, it’s hard to translate your experience abroad without at least having a couple dozen point-and-shoot photographs to show friends and family. Giving a camera to a volunteer is also a great way to help them preserve memories.

Silk Sleep Sack, Good Socks, and Other Very Practical Things

There are many practical volunteer abroad gifts that are cheap, light, and totally necessary. Browse lists intended for people traveling to places that your giftee is volunteering—they will likely need all of these supplies and more. Also be sure to ask your volunteer what they need—especially if they are already in country. It doesn’t take long to realize things like just how scarce flat sheets are in Southeast Asia or how nice it’d be to have wool socks in Chile.

A Skype Premium AccountSuitcases - Volunteer Global

When traveling abroad, it’s surprising just how nice it is to be connected to people from home. A great way to do this is to use a Skype premium account, which allows the traveler to access benefits such as a phone number local to their friends and family, group video call, and voicemail service. The premium accounts aren’t expensive—but are extremely useful to volunteers traveling abroad who need to have a quick connection back to the states.

Another Week Away From Home

Even though you might be missing your friend volunteering abroad terribly, the best gift might be to help them finance another week or so at their project. Volunteering abroad doesn’t have to be expensive, but extra funds are always welcome for someone who wants to keep traveling. You may want to donate to them directly or else through a volunteer abroad fundraising organization such as Volunteer Forever.

Small Trinkets to Give Away

Every time I go volunteering abroad, I can never manage to bring enough small trinkets and gifts to give away to the people I spend time with in my new home. These gifts can be anything: bookmarks, post cards, calendars, or anything else small and unique. This is the gift that quite literally keeps giving as volunteers will be restocked with supplies to make their new friendships last. 

Photos courtesy of martinvarsavsky and retnatarajan, Creative Commons.