What to prepare for before you leave:
1) Figure out where you will go and what you're going to do
You also might want to figure out what the team is going to focus on doing when you get there. Knowing how you're going to spend your time before you even leave your home will do wonders for helping you to not worry about how the trip will go. If you know what you're going to be doing in the place you're visiting, then you will be able to have a better idea of what to pack. If you're going to be helping indoors at a church or organization, you will need different clothes compared to if you are helping people build or clean things. When I went, we spent a lot of time cleaning and painting the apartment that a couple from my church will be staying in for the next year, but we did go to chapel a few times. So, while we worked a lot, we still needed to be able to look nice when the occasion arose.
2) Get a passport
Word of advice: apply for your passport a few months in advance since it will take a couple months for them to get it ready and send it to you, especially if they have a large number of applications to process. I had mine for about two months before I left, which was nice, and, again, one less thing to worry about when the date approached.
3) Familiarize yourself with your plane schedule and the airline's luggage policies
4) Prepare for the possibility of limited cell phone use
5) Get ready to start packing!!
That being said, below is my suggested mission trip packing list. You can bring more if you don't only bring a carry-on like I did, but having an extra piece of luggage is great for bringing items to donate to the people in the place you are visiting. However, use a checked bag for your personal stuff in that scenario, as long as you keep your valuables on your person.
Also, if you don't already, roll your clothes to maximize space - this tip has helped me so much when packing for this mission trip and various camps or vacations.
I brought with me pretty much everything that I listed, but I put an asterisk beside any item that I didn't actually bring, even though I wished that I had. I put items that I didn't personally bring but bought/shared in bold, but you might want to bring if you are going on a different sort of trip than I did or won't have access to a grocery/convenience store like I did. Of course, depending on your personal needs or preferences, your list might be slightly different, but this will definitely cover the basics.
- clothes - shirts, shorts, pants, jeans, etc. If you are able to wash your clothes, you won't necessarily need to pack an outfit for every single day that you are away, but you could if you wanted to. For one week, I packed three work t-shirts (2 looked the same), wore one nicer, lounge t-shirt and packed one, 2 cotton shorts, 1 pair of jean shorts. I also only did laundry once.
- socks and underwear - you should probably just bring one for every day and a couple extra so that you don't end up with no clean pairs to wear
- bandannas - Since I basically wore the same outfits twice during one week, I decided to keep things "fresh" by bringing lots of bandannas. They're small, so they are easy to fit into random spaces in your suitcase, and they are super helpful to wear to catch sweat, hide frizz (my hair goes crazy in the heat/humidity), and to use to wipe up spills or dust things.
- gum*** (especially helpful on the plane, luckily someone let me have a piece of theirs)
- dress clothes - At some point, you are probably going to attend a church service, so you need to be able to look nice. Girls, just make sure whatever you bring is long or modest enough for the culture you're visiting. I thought we were going to go to church more than just on two different days, so I brought two black-based maxi skirts and three plain-colored shirts to mix-and-match if I needed a large array of outfit options. Guys can probably do the same (and get away with it better) with a black pair and khaki pair of pants. Keep in mind that you might have different needs if you don't have access to good laundry services.
- toiletries and personal hygiene items - toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, sunscreen, bug spray, body soap, perfume, lotion, hairbrush, hair product, band-aids, etc.
- zip-lock bags*** and some plastic bags - these don't take up much space, but you never know when you might need them, or use them as a dirty clothes bag.
- a dirty clothes bag - if you want a fancier, cloth bag. This is what I used, but sometimes these take up more space than they are probably worth.
- eyeglasses or contacts and related items (if needed) - Make sure you have cases, solution, a backup?, etc.
- makeup - for girls, of course, but only if you think you'll really want it. For work situations, I wouldn't advise it since you'll just sweat it off, but I did bring some mascara and eyeliner for church. I might have brought more if I checked my bag and didn't have to fit everything in a quart-sized plastic bag. Also, I probably could have used some concealer or foundation*** to cover up my sunburn by the end of the week. Bring some makeup remover, too, if you want (travel-sized).
- nail clipper set - can be handy in many situations
- jacket for cooler nights/hotel - I just used the lightweight cardigan that I wore on the plane for use as a blanket and jacket for later throughout the week.
- raincoat or umbrella
- phone and charger
- portable charger
- tennis shoes
- dress shoes
- flip-flops - Use in the shower - never go around barefoot in a third world country.
- bathing suit (if applicable) - on the last day before we left, we stayed in the capital city, so we had a nicer hotel with a pool and a beach nearby. If you won't need it, though, of course don't bring it.
- extension cord*** - Not really a necessity, but we only had two outlets in our hotel, so it was tough when there was three of us sharing them. Plus, they were far away from my bed, so (first world problem) I would have preferred to have had my phone near my bed before I went to sleep.
- Bible (duh)
- journal, pens, or pencil - I like to write, so I always take a journal with me, but it's nice to be able to document the happenings of the trip.
- medications - make sure to check with your doctor for ones specific to where you're visiting, but also bring some over-the-counter pain medications and anti-diarrhea pills for traveler's sickness, or just to be safe.
- a book - for down time
- wipes*** - for the Dominican, this was important for the bathroom, but they're always good to have around.
- small bag/purse - either foldable or small enough, just put stuff inside of it when it's in your luggage to save space. This is great for carrying small items while there.
I think that sums up my packing suggestions. If you have anything you would add, just mention it in the comments, along with any suggestions for future blog posts. Also, make sure you follow me on Twitter (@mdw_made) and Instagram (@mdwood97) and subscribe to my email list for future blog updates.