20 Kilos of My Life: How to Pack for a Year of Volunteering

Volunteers often do everything spontaneously. But when it comes to packing you either end up taking it all or leave home with passport and panama hat. Either can lead you into trouble, and here’s how I solved mine.  

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It’s a story of how I fit all my life in 20 kilos.

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In September 2016 I left my sweet Ukraine to spend a year on a European Voluntary Service in Wales. It took me a week to pack.

Unfortunately my biggest suitcase (50 litres) couldn’t fit a two-bedroom flat of things. So at first I just stood in front of it and stared at its empty insides… for two days. It is called a shock of packing and you shouldn’t be scared of the thing, as it will pass.

Then I went to listen to advice.

My minimalist friend was saying “just don’t pack – take a rucksack with your laptop, contact lenses and money – and fly away.” On the other shoulder was my mom, pushing me to squeeze a fir coat and winter boots in a 50-liter carry-on “I saw all these Jane Austen movies on BBC and you will freeze to death in this horrific England!”

Where does one find a middle ground?

Thankfully sending packages from Ukraine was too expensive and out of the question, so I simply had to obey rules of the airline and pack 20 kilos plus hand luggage. And I succeeded! So here are the rules I learned from those torturous 2 days before my flight:

  1. It’s absolutely legal to wear 2-3 coats in the airport (all this air-conditioning, you know);
  2. Compare the price of shampoo and your jeans, before deciding which one to take;
  3. Take a bag or a backpack that you won’t be sorry to throw away – you are going to volunteer, not to become a new English queen.
  4. Medicine is a must, but every country has paracetamol;
  5. Take enough socks to shove in the shoes so that the shoes keep their form in the bag;

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Things I regret that I took:

  • hammock (don’t ask why);
  • all my training diplomas;
  • hand and other creams;
  • expensive and heavy leather bag (which I later sent home);
  • three pairs of high-heel shoes;
  • Ukrainian food ( what took 3 kilos of my space turns out you can buy in a Continental store);
  • towels;
  • musical keyboard (don’t ask);
  • 5 of those dresses I never got a chance to wear.

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What I don’t regret that I took:

  • raincoat;
  • umbrella;
  • airport pillow;
  • small plaid (saved me in many hikes, but I guess you can always buy one on the way);
  • laptop, phone and small camera;
  • souvenirs and sweets for future colleagues and neighbours;

Basically, volunteer should gather experiences and memories rather than things. On my most memorable photo I’m standing in a borrowed raincoat in wellington boots I bought for 2 pounds in a charity shop two days before, but no one would notice, cause there’s the most amazing beach ever behind!

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To get inspired more, check out these stories:

Choosing EVS in 5 Steps

Amazing Films to Prepare you for Volunteering

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