Anna completed her ICS placement in Nepal a year ago, as a youth reporter alumni she continues to contribute to our blog.
What should I pack for my ICS placement?!
I would say this is probably one of the most asked questions by all ICS volunteers. Everyone is different and every placement is different but this guide might give you an idea of the essentials you should consider packing.
I will also give you some tips on how to save room in your luggage and how to travel more economically.
First of all, toiletries
With shampoo and body soap, I took soap bars and soap boxes. You can get these from shops like Superdrug and Lush. These last for a long time, are vegan friendly and they save so much room in your case. For toothpaste, I bought some tooth tabs from Lush. I also took a bamboo toothbrush which came in cardboard packaging perfect for travelling.
Hand sanitiser is very useful to have too, especially when you’re out and about and soap isn’t available. I added face wipes or cleanser onto the list because in Nepal it was very dusty and these came in handy.
You are most likely going to be outside a lot and that may mean spending a lot of time in the sun. Skincare is really important, especially in a new climate. Be sure to take sun cream, after sun and moisturiser. Sometimes, sun cream and aftersun won’t be available in your community. You may find them in a city but the options may be limited. I would take your own just to be sure. Protecting yourself from mosquitoes is also very important. Be sure to pack repellent that is over 20% DEET for safer protection.
Some countries have very limited options when it comes to sanitary products. This is why I took my own. In Asia, tampons are a very rare find. In rural Nepal, periods can also be a very taboo topic. For this reason, I made sure I packed nappy sacks and bin liners so I could have my period discreetly and burn everything afterwards. Burning is, unfortunately, one of the main techniques of waste management in Nepal.
I also added wet wipes and tissues to the list as in Nepal, it’s mainly squat style toilets on offer with a jug of water to wash yourself rather than tissue. When your menstruating, sometimes it’s nice to have some wipes!
I don’t know about you but I don’t enjoy using microfiber towels. They never seem to dry me and although they are convenient to travel with, they are a bit of a pain to use. I have found that bamboo beach towels roll up to a similar size, they are eco friendly and they are so much nicer to use.
Finally, taking a nail brush was a great tip from a friend of mine as like I said earlier, Nepal can be quite dusty and that means a lot of gunk under the nail.
The first aid kit
You might be supplied with a team first aid kit once you reach your community but having a small travel one you can take out and about can come in very handy. I decided to make my own as it worked out cheaper than buying a ready made kit.
Imodium works well for some people to stop diarrhoea but if you haven’t tried it before, perhaps look into more natural remedies. Rehydration sachets are great to have after you have had diarrhoea to replenish lost minerals and salts. I also found Germolene really useful as an antibacterial cream to put on bites, small scratches and cuts.
Clothing and footwear
I would highly recommend doing some research on the weather before you depart. If it looks like it’s going to be cold or rainy, make sure to pack a rain jacket, a thermal or even an umbrella. Umbrellas can also be useful for sunny weather too.
Do research on what locals wear before you leave so that you are dressed appropriately. You can buy clothing in your communities. Taking closed shoes like pumps for formal events, church visits or weddings is a good idea. Also taking walking boots or waterproof shoes if it’s going to rain a lot and if you have to walk to and from your local school.
You definitely don’t need to take too many clothes. Remember that you will most likely be washing them by hand, so you will soon get to grips with wearing the same things a lot. Laundry detergent can most likely be bought in your community.
I took a backpack rather than a suitcase. Once we arrived in country, we moved from our city hotel, to our training venue, to our placements. It doesn’t sound like too much moving but when your climbing steep hills or a lot of steps, you may be glad that your are carrying your luggage on your back rather than dragging it behind you.
An over the shoulder bag is also a great tip to avoid the dreaded sweaty back t-shirt look after walking around all day handing out invites to your community events.
Packing cubes are a big love of mine. There is nothing worse than taking a big backpack and having everything lose in there. Packing cubes meant I could organise my things and stack them up in a neat pile in my room so I wasn’t living out of a rucksack for 2-3 months. It’s also good to note that your room be most likely be quite small and you will also be sharing with others. If you all have big cases, it can get a bit hectic.
One thing to consider is electricity, you may not have it or it may be intermittent. In Nepal, we experienced a lot of stormy weather which meant the power was on and off. I took a solar power bar and left it on the window ledge to charge, this came in very useful, as did a torch when the power was out.
Taking an unlocked phone is important too as then you can use a local SIM card. Being able to communicate with your teammates as well as your family back home can only happen if the SIM card works in your phone. If you have an iPhone, be sure to take the little metal pin or one similar so you can open the SIM card compartment.
Having my headphones and kindle meant that I could take time to myself, whether that was reading, listening to podcasts or music. Make sure if you have Spotify or something similar, to download playlists before you go. For us, a portable speaker was a luxury worth having. My teammates loved listening to each other’s music when we were planning events together.
In Nepal, you can’t take the currency in and out of the country. This means you have to buy it there. Make sure you take some cash with you (this can be in British Pounds or American Dollars) or alternatively a bank card. In the city, there will be an ATM where you can withdraw cash. Just be sure to tell your bank before you go. On my placement, I only took £50-£100 as I knew I wouldn’t be buying souvenirs etc. We had a small allowance for topping up our phones and buying snacks so I didn’t need much money at all.
Having passport photos and photocopies of your passport are great to take to any country when travelling. You may need them when entering the country or when buying a SIM card. You may not need them at all, but sometimes they are handy to have, just make sure you have them in your hand luggage not in your checked baggage.
Other items to consider
I didn’t take a mirror with me, but my counterpart volunteer purchased one in the local community. I didn’t think to bring one but when you haven’t seen yourself in a few weeks they can be nice to have. I also took a bit of makeup and bought some nail varnish in community. When you have been feeling a bit grubby, sometimes it’s very refreshing to have a pamper day and take the time to look after yourself. This can be meditation, exercise or just doing your nails! I also took my yoga matt as doing yoga is one way I like to de-stress.
I took some pictures of my family, some cards from my friends and a letter from my boyfriend. I would say that taking some sort of home comfort is a must.
Having a phrasebook of the Nepali language was really great to have so I wasn’t relying on my counterpart volunteer to translate for me all the time. It also improved my confidence when I was out and about in the community.
Taking a journal and a pen meant that I could write down all of the little stories about my days, I still read back on those memories to this day. You could also keep these notes to write a blog once you get home, you could even log this as an action for your Action at Home.
I always recommend to everyone who is going travelling to take a sleeping bag liner. Some people even take eye masks or earplugs. If sleep is important to you or you struggle with it, try taking something that may help. For me it was a cotton sleeping bag liner which was also anti bed bug and anti mosquito.
In my host home, we played lots of card games, especially in our time off and in the evenings. We also played a lot with the inflatable ball that I brought and we even took it into the local school with us. Having games and things to play with is also a great way to get past language barriers, as well as your phrasebook of course!
And finally, a gift for you host family. Like everything I am talking about in this article, it is totally optional. I decided to take postcards from where I was living at the time, North Wales. My host family were very interested in seeing the scenery and where I had come from. I also took postcards for the school and other local people I had become close with. They were very much appreciated by everyone.
So, as I said, packing is all down to personal preference and personal experience. I hope that this article does help you out and gives you a bit of an idea of what to expect on placement too.
I hope you enjoy your placement, wherever and whenever that may be!