Around 400,000 missionaries travel every year, with over 50,000 of them coming from the LDS church. This doesn’t even include the humanitarian trips unaffiliated with any church or the United State government’s Peace Corps program, which sends out almost 4,000 volunteers each year. In any case, a remarkable number of people travel every year hoping to make a difference in the world.
Mission trips are a very special type of travel that will take you off the beaten path into areas not designed for tourists. They can be incredibly rewarding, but usually require more extensive preparation than the average vacation. In this post, we’ll discuss some of the challenges that come with mission trips, how you can best prepare for one, and how TravelBug Health can make your travels safer and more enjoyable.
Missionary Preparation Checklist
The items on your missionary preparation checklist will vary widely depending on where your trip takes you –– shorter trips within North America require fewer arrangements than a two-year-long Peace Corps commitment in rural Africa. This comprehensive mission trip preparation guide lays out some of the basic things you’ll need to know before embarking on this life-changing trip.
Find an Organization
Unless you’re volunteering with an organization you’re already involved in, like your local church, you’ll need to do some research to find a quality non-profit or NGO (non-governmental organization group). There’s certainly no shortage of groups promoting themselves as doing something good for the world. Unfortunately, some organizations are known to take advantage of volunteers' good intentions and financial generosity. Sites like Charity Navigator assess the credibility of these volunteer organizations and the impact they’re making in their field.
Many international organizations that work in multiple countries have in-country partners that coordinate local volunteer projects. You'll want to get a sense of their legitimacy and how effective they are in their role.
Research Your Destination
Once you’ve found a suitable volunteer organization, you’ll want to investigate where they work. If you’re going to travel to and live in this place for some time, it’s important to understand the language, history, and cultural norms. If there are any serious risks to your health or safety, the U.S. State Department may issue a travel advisory.
You’ll also want to know what kind of amenities will be available –– pharmacies, clean drinking water, and specific foods if you’re on a restricted diet.
Prepare Essential Documentation and Paperwork
When it comes to travel paperwork, you always want to start early. If you need to apply for a passport or renew the one you have, current wait times are anywhere between eight and eleven weeks. Immigration officials at your destination will usually require that your passport be valid for at least six months from your arrival date, but if your volunteer commitment is even longer, it’ll need to be valid until you arrive home. On top of that, if the country you're visiting requires a visa (which you’ll need a current passport to apply for), it can add a month or more to the processing time.
In addition to travel documents, it’s good to carry any health records and prescriptions for medications you’ve packed. Once you have everything in order, make a couple of copies to be kept in separate places.
Get Travel Medical Insurance
Purchasing a travel insurance policy will help to cover the cost of treatment while you’re overseas. Make sure the policy includes a provision for evacuations. This will cover the cost of transferring you to a higher-level facility if the injury is severe or cannot be treated locally. Most mission trip organizers require that their members have travel insurance and will make arrangements for them.
Pack Your Bags
Almost everyone overpacks, especially if it’s their first big trip; you’ll be surprised with how little you actually need to get by. Many essentials can be purchased in the country, plus for things like clothes, you might find more culturally appropriate options than would be available back home. However, a small digital camera or GoPro is well-worth the extra weight, allowing you to document your trip for friends and family back home.
If this is your first mission trip, some anxiety is certainly understandable. It’s hard to know what to expect, but you want to do everything possible to arrive prepared. Start by preparing a list of questions for one of the leaders of your church or organization. They’ve been on similar trips and will have a wealth of knowledge that they can share with you.
Preparing for a Mission Trip FAQs
Do I Need Travel Vaccinations for a Mission Trip?
Unless your mission trip is taking you to Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, or Western Europe, you’ll probably need a vaccine or two. Even in those countries, COVID-19 vaccines or a negative test may be required for entry. The number of vaccines you’ll need depends on your specific destination as well as your activities and itinerary, so it’s always best to consult with a travel medicine specialist before departing for your mission trip.
How Do I Know What Vaccinations I Will Need?
A quick internet search of CDC guidelines can give you a general idea of the vaccinations necessary for your mission trip, but it should only be used as a jumping-off point. Vaccine requirements vary within countries and depend on the activities you’ll engage in while you’re there.
Start by obtaining a record of your vaccinations going back to childhood; these records are usually available from your state health department but can take a few weeks to receive. You can discuss this information with your primary care physician and get some of the necessary vaccines from them, but they’re unlikely to have the specialized training in diseases endemic to destinations outside the United States. Travel health specialists at TravelBug Health can personalize their recommendations to your mission trip and provide you with options when it comes to things like malaria prophylaxis.
What Should I Pack for My Mission Trip?
“Pack light, but pack smart” should be the mantra when preparing for a mission trip. You want to bring everything necessary, and nothing that isn’t. These are a few of the most important things you’ll want to pack:
Weather Appropriate Clothing - Don’t bring a down coat to the Dominican Republic or shorts to the mountains of Nepal. Research what the weather will be like during your mission trip and only pack what you'll actually wear.
Toiletries - Basic toiletries will likely be available at your destination, but they may not be the same brands as you’re accustomed to back home.
Comfortable Shoes and Socks - You’ll do a fair bit of walking during your mission trip and you don’t want blisters to slow you down.
First Aid Kit - Bring a small kit with bandages, disinfectant, and tape for minor cuts and scrapes. A small quantity of Tylenol or ibuprofen and a tube of anti-itch cream may also come in handy.
Sunscreen - You’ll probably spend more time outside than you do back home. A water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 is ideal.
Insect Repellant - It’s especially important for tropical destinations where bugs are more abundant and countries where malaria or dengue fever is prevalent. Effective repellents are DEET or picaridin based.
Plug Adaptor - Most countries use a different style of electrical plug than the U.S. does. Research which style is used at your destination or pick up a multi-country plug that’ll work everywhere. Many countries also use a different voltage than the U.S., though laptops, phone chargers, and other devices with a transformer integrated into their cord will work just fine. Be careful with hair dryers and electric razors, which can be damaged by the mismatched voltage.
Unlocked Smartphone - While you can purchase cell phone plans in the U.S. that’ll cover you overseas, they are very expensive for long-term use. A better option is to purchase a SIM card at your destination, which may cost less per month than your plan in the U.S. Your phone needs to be unlocked before your departure though.
Travel Documents - You won’t even make it through immigration without a passport and perhaps some vaccine certifications. Don’t leave home without them!
Journal - This is a once-in-a-lifetime journey, and you’ll want to document some of your thoughts and feelings throughout your trip.
Get Prepared for Your Mission Trip With TravelBug Health
Your mission trip will undoubtedly be one of the most exciting adventures of your life. Not only will you experience a new environment and culture, but you’ll also feel like you’re making a positive impact in a community that probably hasn’t had extensive contact with your home country. Preparation is key to having the best experience, which is why it’s so important to visit a qualified travel clinic before your departure.
If you’re in the Scottsdale or Phoenix, AZ area the consultants at TravelBug Health can review your immunization records and advise you on any vaccinations and medications necessary for your mission trip. To make an appointment, send us a message or call us at (480) 435-2774.