Volunteer Abroad: Pack like a pro for your
Jason Asteros and Ezra Millstein are members of Habitat for Humanity International’s photo and video team. They’re also seasoned leaders of Global Village trips, so they know all the must-haves for any Habitat travel.
Find out what they don’t leave home without — and learn how to pack so that you get the most out of the build site and cultural experiences that every Global Village trip offers.
JASON’S PACKING PICKS
1. Quick dry clothing is the best. I carry two of everything. That way, I can wear clothes in the shower, hang them up to dry and — in most locations — they are ready to go the next day. It’s a great way to maximize your packing space.
2. The tool I travel with the most is a measuring tape that shows both inches and millimeters. If you’re traveling to build internationally, a quick-reference metric-system translator like this can be very important.
3. My DSLR camera with viewfinder allows me to shoot both video and still photography. I always say that I have the greatest job in the world. With Habitat, I get to have once-in-a-lifetime experiences more than once in a lifetime — often, in fact. I’m always honored to be invited so intimately into people’s lives and homes and to document part of their own personal Habitat journey.
4. Lots of travelers carry pocket packs of tissues, and they are great on Global Village trips for all the usual practical uses. But here’s a particularly Habitat reason to keep them handy: House dedications and leaving the friends and family with whom you have built so much will definitely always make you cry.
5. These overshoes have saved me on more than one occasion, like a rainy Big Build in Cambodia and a GV trip to Fiji where we built a house on stilts. They’re lightweight, waterproof, have a strong grip and, maybe best of all, are a great way to do your work on the build site but keep your shoes clean.
6. I always bring photos of my friends and family. Homeowner families will always ask you about your life, and I’ve found that having photos to share can be the coolest of exchanges. Once, in Guatemala, I had old photos of me with a friend who was also on the trip, and everyone loved that. The best was in Cambodia, when a homeowner discovered from my photos that I raise chickens and we spent time sharing tips with each other!
EZRA’S PACKING PICKS
1. Whether using a mobile phone or a camera, almost everyone photographs their building experience. I’m lucky to do what I love for a living; I get to be creative, while helping to fight poverty housing by telling stories about Habitat’s important work around the world. You don’t need pro gear to take great pictures of your travels — your vision is much more important than your camera.
2. Quick dry clothes are invaluable. They are lighter to pack than most clothes, take up less space, keep you cooler and drier, and you can wash them out and hang them up to dry overnight. They’re great for the build site or just exploring; many even have sunblock or insect repellent built in.
3. I love trying new foods, and some of the best meals I’ve ever had were during GV trips. The lunches cooked by our homeowner family in Borneo were a real highlight; it was hard to get back to work after eating so much coconut milk-based curry! While I never want to pass up the opportunity to try something interesting, protein bars fit the bill on days that I want an extra boost or something to tide me over on a long flight or car ride.
4. Although all of your expenses are covered from the moment your GV trip begins, bring cash for any extra items, such as souvenirs, or extra time in country before or after your build. Try to calculate how much you’ll realistically need, and don’t bring more than that.
5. When you realize at 9 p.m. that you have to wash those clothes for the next day, it’s good to have travel detergent on hand. These small, light, TSA-compliant containers hold small dry sheets of detergent — just add water in your hotel sink.
6. I always bring my tablet on the road. I can carry multiple books in one small package — everything from novels for the airplane to guidebooks that help me find the best papaya salad in Bangkok. I can communicate with friends and family, and I can show new friends pictures of home. It’s truly the utility tool of the digital world.
7. A more traditional utility tool also comes in handy. I’ve repaired a suitcase, cut bandages, sliced fruit, fixed a tripod and more. Just make sure not to pack it in your carry-on luggage; my first one is probably still in Nicaragua!