Travel

To bring or not to bring? – from a Think Pacific Volunteer.

I planned to write this post a while back but frankly, Disney got in the way! However, I still want to write this for the reference of any future volunteers.

If you’re waiting to start your Think Pacific project, or are thinking about taking part – www.thinkpacific.com – then this post will hopefully give you a few tips and tricks on what you really need and what you don’t necessarily need while on project (which is an insight I would have loved to have had before taking part in mine, so I hope this helps)!

If you have already signed on to take part and have access to the Think Pacific Volunteer Portal then you’ll probably have already seen the Kit List they provide. This list is a massive help and a great guide for making sure you have all the little things you don’t usually require for travel abroad.  I followed it carefully and double checked I had what was recommended for my time in Fiji, but after having completed a project I learnt that there are a few other things that you may need as well as some things they suggest that you may not! I also wanted to include a little more information about particular things I learnt in relation to my belongings on project that might also help you out in deciding what to bring.

Backpack 

It’s recommended you bring a backpack instead of a large rolling suitcase and this is something I completely agree with! There were several times we had to make ‘bag chains’ to move all our bags as well as all the other supplies for the village, such as when we had to load everything into a few little motorboats, and just from this experience I can tell you that having a backpack makes not only yours but everybody else’s life easier! It is also SO much more convenient for moving around and if you have a good one then it really is going to be a lifelong investment especially if you are planning for further backpacking or travel whether that is immediately after your project or in the future. 

If you have seen my previous post ‘What am I taking backpacking?’ then you’ll know that I decided to go with the Osprey Fairview 70 and after a month in Fiji as well as a month backpacking I can safely say that I stand by my decision and I am very happy with my choice. 

This Osprey is a 55L + a 15L daypack and therefore the main rucksack is too large to be a carry on bag however the design of the Osprey means it can securely zip away all straps and can then be stowed in the hold without any worry of damage to the bag. I won’t lie, the size was a squeeze and I did struggle to fit everything I wanted to take in but in the end I didn’t even wear half of the clothing I packed so really there was plenty of room! I travelled to 6 other countries around my time in Fiji and I ultimately had room for everything I needed for that whole time. Many people on my project had larger backpacks going up to 80L ones and while they are very spacious and there is plenty of room for packing extras I personally would advise against it if you plan on doing lots of backpacking in the future as they are bulky and impractical and therefore wouldn’t be the greatest investment long-term. Another thing I loved about the Osprey is that it wasn’t a top-loading rucksack but instead zipped open much like a suitcase would and therefore was extremely easy to access and organise both in the village and while backpacking.

A carry-on bag with gifts for your family/village

While I brought as many gifts as I could fit into my bag and left behind even more of my belongings for my family and the rest of the village, I wish I had planned ahead and brought so many more with me. Another volunteer in my team had the great idea of bringing an old unwanted carry-on suitcase (but you could always grab a cheap one if you didn’t have one lying around) and then filled that with gifts, clothing, British snacks, old rugby boots and kit – which are always a hit in Fiji! I thought this was a brilliant idea as none of us has used our cabin baggage allowance on the way as we didn’t need to be lugging another bag around however the great thing about this idea is that once you get to the village you can not only leave behind all the gifts but also leave the bag behind too. We put the bag into our village raffle and it was the first prize to be snapped up! This means you don’t have to worry about carrying another bag with you on further travels and you also have more space to bring more gifts and donations with you! I won’t list gift ideas here too as it’d take up a lot of space but if you would like any inspiration or ideas then comment on this post and I’ll get back to you.

Clothing

So this section is primarily aimed at girls clothing as one, I am a girl and two, we have much more clothing restrictions than the boys so it’s harder for us! Clothing was something I wish I had been given information from a volunteer about beforehand because while the Think Pacific Kit List was a great guide, I found I didn’t need a lot of things that I had struggled to find and panic-bought in the UK and that I could instead actually buy a lot of them out there and the clothes I bought in Fiji were ultimately the ones I ended up wearing the most!

When it comes to finding dresses that fit the Fiji guidelines (long, covered shoulders but also light and breathable) don’t bother even looking in advance! Save that money you would have spent on a strappy dress with the aim of shoving a t-shirt underneath it and instead just buy your dresses in Fiji! On your trip to Suva you’ll be taken to the ‘incredible’ Trendy Fashions and there they have all the Fijian dresses you could wish for as well as the bonus of a Think Pacific discount! These are the formal dresses you’ll wear at school and to church on Sunday’s and are both comfortable and acceptable for village life. I struggled to find dresses beforehand that fit the criteria and while some girls did buy strappy dresses or short-sleeve wrap dresses – they either required a t-shirt underneath or were too low-cut and in the end were more of a hassle and all of us just wore our Fijian dresses! I bought 2 dresses from Trendy Fashions as well as 1 sulu (along-side the Think Pacific sulu you are given) and that was enough for my month project but if I could go back I would have probably bought another of each, especially if I was on a two-month project. Plus, they are super comfortable!

For girls, another issue we have is finding comfortable knee-length shorts as it’s pretty hard to just stumble across them in stores in the UK. However, I was lucky enough to find some perfect and affordable ones on Amazon which while they aren’t fashionable were knee-length, durable and comfortable. These are the ones I bought and I cannot recommend them enough! They were another item I left behind in the village as I wasn’t going to be wearing them again back home.

Something that is recommended on the Kit List is a formal blouse. This is something that again is rather hard to find as you need something with a modest neckline, short sleeves but with an element of ‘smartness’ and therefore is not something you’d just stumble across in the UK. They suggest a blouse as another formal-wear option you can pair with a maxi skirt for school or church etc. but honestly, you won’t really need one! As I said before, you can just wear your Fijian dresses. I just threw on some long shorts under them and either tucked the dress into the shorts for my morning/afternoon trek to and from school or chucked on a t-shirt and changed into the dress at school and it was extremely convenient. The dresses roll up small so they can be fit into your backpack and buying an extra dress will be much better than trying to find a blouse you probably won’t wear!

Something I do recommend though is a floaty, elasticated maxi-skirt (and this is something you can easily find in markets in the UK). You don’t necessarily need it for formal wear but instead just to wear around the village. Whenever us girls are with our family or out around the village we have to wear a sulu over our shorts. However, while you will quickly get the knack of tying a sulu sometimes, especially when you are sick, it’ll be much easier to just slip into a comfy skirt that won’t untie itself and wear that instead. I ended up borrowing my leader’s skirt while I was sick after one day I quickly ran out of the house to vomit in just my shorts! She came over to see if I was okay and to help but also to give me the skirt to put on!

The only other thing to talk about really is t-shirts. Bring a tonne of t-shirts! Cheap t-shirts, old t-shirts you have lying around – ones with holes in or covered in paint etc. as long as you have t-shirts you’ll be okay! You’ll wear a t-shirt pretty much every day and once again, they are something that you can leave behind in the village that will be highly appreciated gifts. Also be aware that if you swim on the project you will be swimming in a t-shirt and shorts so if you wanted to dedicate some as swimwear then feel free although you will likely jump in the sea spontaneously in whatever you are currently wearing!

For the boys, you really don’t have much to worry about. T-shirt’s, rugby/sports shorts are all you are going to need beforehand. You get to have a nice little browse around Trendy Fashions too and get your Bula shirts and both formal and casual sulu’s. Your shirt and formal sulu will be your formal wear for school and church and around the village, you aren’t required to wear a sulu all the time but if you would like to it would still be very appreciated. The other thing you can do is find some cheap comfortable short sleeve shirts in advance so you don’t have to buy too many in Fiji but this is really just personal preference. Also with your shorts, the length restrictions aren’t as strict either so typical rugby shorts that fall above the knee are completely fine.

Mosquito Stuff

Mosquito’s in a Fijian village are something you cannot avoid and at the end of the day you will get bitten and you will probably get bitten a lot!

The Kit List is informative in that it tells you to bring mosquito spray and a net etc. but I want to be a little more specific about what worked best for me and my team to help you get the least bites possible! I am actually someone who usually gets bitten like crazy but I was rather lucky in that whatever I was doing in Fiji, I was doing it right as compared to many of my team I didn’t get many bites whatsoever!

The first thing you will be thinking about getting is a mosquito net and you DEFINITELY should get one! I got a Lifesystems net which is again linked on my previous post and was one that many people had and used. I, however, did not use a mosquito net in the village… I know, shocker! The way my house was meant that it would be nearly impossible to tie up a mosquito net and the ceiling over my bed was so high that my small net wouldn’t have done anything anyway! At first, this panicked me as I thought It’d mean I would be eaten alive at night, but instead my sister and I were given mosquito coils by our leaders and our family and honestly, I think they work just as well if not better than having a net! Many other volunteers in my team had nets already waiting for them that their families already had or had been put up so they too didn’t use the ones they had bought but you never know what will be waiting for you and the last thing you want is to be exposed at night so without a doubt DO buy yourself a mosquito net in advance and if you don’t use it you can leave it with your family when you leave. The mosquito coils were amazing though and having one next to my bed at night meant that it didn’t matter that I didn’t use a net on my project. If you want to you can get some in advance, I didn’t even know they existed until I was in Fiji but I can say that even though your leaders will have some, when I go back I’ll definitely be taking some with me just as an extra precaution as they really did work that well!

The next thing to consider when it comes to mosquitos is bug spray and there are so many out there that it might seem hard to know which the best choice is but the first thing you need to think about is does it have DEET. The answer should be yes and if not then you need to find a bug spray with at least 30% DEET. Then comes the decision of what type of spray to get. It really doesn’t matter as long as you can be covered and I got the Boots own brand DEET spray which worked fine (although every bottle ended up leaking). The best type of spray I found was the ones that come in a cannister and spray like an aerosol. These are so quick to cover your skin and super easy and effective. They may be a little more pricey and therefore it may not be worth it for you if you are happy to just use the pump sprays but next time I need bug spray for travelling I can assure you I’ll be travelling with an aerosol bug spray like this one!

Antihistamine

This links into the mosquito topic nicely and is another thing important to consider. Firstly, I’ll say that antihistamine tablets are a MUST and we were taking one a day in the village to make sure that our irritation and itching was as non-existent as it could be because scratching equals open wounds which equals infections and after the infected bites I saw on project I urge you to just take antihistamines every morning because they really do help!

While the tablets are great and an essential the antihistamine cream, on the other hand, was a bit of a waste of money in my opinion. If I went again I would probably still take one but honestly, it’s messy and sticky and never goes on properly, the tubes always leak and ooze and ultimately it really doesn’t help with itching that much at all especially when you are constantly moving around and rubbing/sweating it off. It probably is worth getting if you become desperately itchy but I would not rely on it alone.

Multivitamins

This is a short one but the gist of it is BUY VITAMINS and TAKE THEM EVERYDAY! Adding a few extra vitamins and minerals to your body doesn’t do any harm. I actually didn’t get any beforehand (honestly, it kind of just slipped my mind!) and when we got to Suva and were told to get some there they were extortionate! Luckily my leader had some spare and so we shared those in the village. However, when I got sick and wasn’t eating the one thing I was making sure I had throughout my time were vitamins and I think they really did help a lot. Once again, it’s better to be safe than sorry and when you don’t know what could be involved in your diet its best to supplement.

Rehydration Salts

This is getting a little repetitive but again, these are an absolute must! Most brands are pretty gross tasting but you can find some decent ones. I got these ORS ones and they actually tasted pretty good! It may get to the point where you are taking rehydration every day if not several times a day due to an unsettled stomach or not drinking enough. Like the multivitamins, they won’t do any harm and it’s better to have more, take more and be safe rather than risk dehydration. I only took one tube and it was enough for me on a one month project but due to the fact I got sick and got dehydrated, I should have probably taken more.

Plasters

Plasters come with most first aid kits and even if they don’t come with many it’s extremely easy and cheap to find more. I took a pack and then even bought more in Suva but in the end, they were all useless to me and I didn’t use them despite having cuts that needed covering as they were useless and kept coming off! In Fiji, you’ll be walking around barefoot or just in flip flops a lot of the time. You’ll be walking in the sea and you’ll be covered in bites (some of which you likely will have scratched) and ultimately you will get cuts and scrapes whether that’s from falling while trekking, from standing on some unknown sharp object in the sea or like me, from having snorkeling fins rub the skin off your feet on during briefing before you even get to the village! You will need plasters and you’ll need good ones! Most standard plasters, even if they say they are waterproof realistically they aren’t and they won’t survive in Fiji regardless. Your leaders will have a huge first aid kit with them and individual ones for school in the day too and while they have good plasters that do stay on and withstand Fijian life as much as any can, everyone will be using them so I’m giving you a heads up on what to get so you don’t waste money and have your own private supply of decent plasters! These steroplast plasters are extremely tough, durable and sticky! They won’t last forever in water but they will do a much better job than any high street plasters and they will be worth the investment as while in Fiji you do need to keep any cuts clean and covered to prevent infection. My cuts didn’t heal until the last couple of days before we left the village and the only reason they didn’t get infected was as a result of these strong plasters!

Reef Shoes

Reef shoes are mentioned in the Kit List and stated as essential if you are going to be in a village by the sea. In your online pre-departure briefing when you are told which village you are going to you may then be told more specifically if you need to get reef shoes or not depending on where you will be located as they are quite an investment and therefore why buy them if you don’t need them? Well, if I were you I would buy them anyway and one of my biggest regrets was that I didn’t just get them despite being told we would be in a highland village on the main island, nowhere near the sea and therefore shouldn’t bother buying them. As a matter of fact, when we got to our briefing resort we found out we weren’t going to that village at all but instead would be heading to Moturiki Island which as I’m sure you’ve realised is a small island IN THE ACTUAL OCEAN. There had been a shuffle of villages due to one not being able to host volunteers last minute and therefore we had been given another project location. The only thing was only one girl in my team had actually got reef shoes after they told us not to bother and so we all went into panic mode! We were told that if we were worried about it we could try to find some in Suva (no luck there) or maybe just get some cheap sandals to wear in the sea. A couple girls did but I chose not too although I wish I had found something because we were walking in the sea constantly on project as our village, and my house, was literally right on the sea.

You may get told you’re in a highland village and the likelihood is you probably will end up in that exact highland village. Or you may be told you are going to be on the sea and therefore you will by reef shoes and end up carefully wading through water and not cutting up your feet. However, you may also have an unexpected location change or a beach visit and since you are in Fiji it is likely you’ll be in the sea at some point and so it is definitely useful to invest in some reef shoes and you can again, leave them behind after your project if you don’t think you’ll have a future use for them.

Trainers

A good pair of trainers but ones you don’t mind getting very dirty and kind of wrecked are a necessity! You want ones that will be comfy too but also ones that you may not mind leaving behind as they will likely be in quite a state by the time you leave Fiji. I had a 45-minute trek to school and back every day and therefore good trainers were essential for me and luckily I took an old but good pair with me. They were dragged through the mud, the sea and flooded paths and they just about made it out alive, although I did decide to leave them with my family in the end.

Baby Wipes 

You may have thought about this or you may have not but living in a village with no plumbing means showering is not as easy, or always as pleasant, as you’d hope – especially when your village rainwater tanks run dry! Baby wipes were a lifesaver for me! I had one pack and I was careful with when I used them and they got me through the month but if you have room for more then, by all means, take more! The best thing about having baby wipes is being able to wipe all the dirt off your feet, which trust me feels incredible when they are constantly covered in dirt and you’re about to get into bed. After school, as I usually had mud splattered all over my lower legs and ankles as well as just before bed I always took a couple baby wipes and just got the worst off and it makes all the difference. Having dirt and dust and mud constantly all over my feet is something I absolutely despise and was something I had to just learn to deal with in Fiji but being able to whip out a baby wipe and clean them up every so often was a great feeling! They also come in handy for armpits if you don’t get round to a shower that day and you’ve been sweating on a trek or during sports.

Nail Clippers

This was something that I didn’t even think about before heading out on my travels but are pretty essential when it comes to living in a Fijian village. Luckily I had many people on my project who did think about this and brought some with them and ultimately in Fiji you all share, but it’s definitely something to think about bringing. The last thing you want is our nails growing out and even more dirt gathering under them when you have no sinks to wash your hands in! I kept my nails trimmed right down purely because if they weren’t then you’d be stuck with black dirt under your nails constantly so either nail clippers or even a nail set which include a nail filer is definitely something to consider bringing.

Head Torch

This is on the Kit List and there isn’t much to say about it but get a head torch and get a good one! One with different brightness settings so you can use a dimmer one in your house when it gets dark but also a bright light to use when you’re stumbling across a frog-ridden field in the middle of the night trying to find the toilet. You will use it every day and it’ll be a massive help to just moving around in general and again it can be left behind for the villagers and is something they are extremely grateful for – especially if you have a new one packed full with hours more battery life.

A watch

The Kit List includes this too and as someone who never wears watches over here I didn’t buy or take one with me – this was a mistake! I wish I had one! Yes, I never use watches here but that is because I either have my phone on me or I’m in the vicinity of some electronic device or clock that can tell me the time. However, in Fiji, you won’t find those things and even clocks were rare to find. Around half my team probably brought a watch in the end and it became an essential item when it came to school and sports as you needed to be able to plan out your time with the children. Luckily the girl I was teaching with had a watch so it wasn’t too hard for us and as we were in kindi we were doing things together all the time but if you were doing one-on-one’s and didn’t have a way of tracking the time it became a bit more of a challenge! Definitely take a watch, even if it’s just a cheap kids one as it will be a massive help for the whole of your time in the village.

Hand Sanitiser

As I mentioned earlier, with little to no plumbing in a village and no sinks or running water to wash your hands often you will become very grubby, very fast! I took three hand sanitisers and they were amazing – I shared them out a lot and the rest of my team wished they had brought some too. There isn’t really much to say apart from if you want clean hands then its best to get some hand sanitiser!

Surge Protector

This is also recommended and this Belkin one that Think Pacific suggest is great as it gives you a UK plug point but also two USB cable slots. If you’re bringing a camera, a phone or a portable charger that’ll need re-charging then a surge protector is necessary. Your village may or not be connected to a power grid depending on how rural it is. Mine was not but they did have a generator they ran for a few hours at night and so we took turn charging items in the leader’s house on an extension lead they had connected. However, generators or even power connections in general in Fijian villages aren’t reliable and they will likely surge. So please do get a surge protector and use it as you don’t want to risk burning out anything expensive! We had a power surge in our village and a charging cable was fried. Luckily nothing was connected at the time and anything that was connected had a surge protector plugged in too!

Adaptors

If you are going to be plugging things in though you will need an adaptor. In Fiji, the sockets are type I (like Australia and New Zealand) and therefore you can’t just use a standard UK plug. I was travelling elsewhere before and after my project so decided that I would buy a universal travel adaptor and got this Lencent one which came with different plug ends that could be slotted onto the main plug with 4 USB connection points. The multiple USB points also meant that several people could plug in at once which everyone was happy about!

Stationery

This is something I did bring but I wish I had brought more of! I took a journal as well as pens and pencils but I didn’t think about bringing extra notebooks, colouring pencils, etc. which would have been extremely useful for school planning. You do get access to the school donations and are able to use some of the supplies with the children while you are there to show their use to the schools but you don’t want to use them all up so it’s definitely useful to bring more of your own. A couple of spare notebooks are something I would definitely recommend as you will be able to use one for briefing and then one in school too.

Packing Cubes

I took packing cubes and did find them useful but also can see how they could be a bit of a nuisance. If you are taking a backpack your space will be pretty limited but a little organisation goes a long way in the village. There is no point buying large packing cubes as they are way too bulky and will be ineffective but investing in a couple of smaller ones can actually help a lot! I ended up using some to separate different clothing. I had one for non-village/other travelling clothing, another for underwear and another for village clothing. This made it super easy for me to get to the clothes I needed when I needed them and meant my bag could be a little more organised and easily accessible too!

Plastic bags

Plastic bags or any other kind of reusable bags will also be very handy in organising stuff in the village. If you need to chuck flip flops into your backpack for wearing at school but they aren’t too clean then just wrap them in a plastic bag first. Need somewhere to keep your dirty laundry until you get a chance to wash it? Keep it in a separate plastic bag! There are countless uses for plastic bags in the village and they can be used over and over.

Toilet Roll

Toilet Roll is another pretty essential item. It is a good idea to bring a roll or two with from the UK just in case but you are able to buy packs in Suva too. So if you are travelling beforehand and don’t have much room in your luggage then you can just wait and buy a pack in Suva. I actually forgot to put mine in my bag and so didn’t get any until Suva but we didn’t have any in our room at briefing and therefore had to share a couple girls’ as several of us hadn’t brought any. While in the village it is likely your family will have some and of course, you will be able to use it but when they may not be able to buy it often it is always good for you to be able to bring and use your own so as not to use too much of their supply. I bought a 6 pack in Suva and this was plenty for my month in the village. You will also need to take it with you to school too so it’s handy to keep a roll in your backpack too.

Period Products

This one is for the ladies only but is something most of us girls didn’t really think about or consider before project as we had thought to plan ahead and most of us had found a way to avoid being on our periods while we were in the village. However, at briefing, we were given a letter and a little chat from our leader basically telling us that because of the drastically different lifestyle we’d be living in the village it is likely that we could get a period even if it wasn’t due or we were taking a pill. Even girls who had the implant were warned that it may not stop their periods in the village and therefore any of us who hadn’t brought anything with us were told to pick some up when we got to Suva as a precaution. So girls, be prepared and if you would prefer then bring some from home with you so you don’t have to get some in Suva as even though I was lucky there were several girls in my group who weren’t as lucky and were thankful they had been warned and bought some before we got to the village.

A Towel

This again is a pretty obvious one but you will need a towel and you will use it a lot! They are pretty bulky and can be hard to fit in your bag but it is worth bringing a proper bath towel along as it works so much better than those flimsy pack-away travel towel things. You don’t need a huge beach one but a proper bathroom body towel will be perfect and if you roll it up really tight you shouldn’t have too much trouble tucking it down the side of your backpack.

What you might not need…

In terms of what you don’t need on project, the main thing I would say is don’t overpack clothing! I mentioned this earlier but don’t panic in advance about dresses etc. girls because you can get them there and those ones ar the ones you will actually wear. As well as that make-up wise, don’t bother bringing makeup really. If you are travelling before and after then feel free to take a little – I took a small concealer, mascara and a little beauty blender and that was all and that kept me going for all my travels but in the village you won’t wear makeup (aside from maybe a little mascara for church and on your last day). With toiletries in general, don’t go overboard! You won’t need that much. Get a medium-small sized shampoo/conditioner and body-wash and if your hair isn’t a frizzy curly nightmare like mine then even take a 3 in 1 soap which you can use for everything! It saves room and at the end of the day, you aren’t going to need to be looking party-ready in the village.

So, that’s pretty much it! Sorry for such a long post but I wanted to include as much as I could remember in regards to what I wished I had taken and what I believe to be essentials for village life. If there is anything else you think about, are unsure of or if you have any further questions then please do comment below and I’ll be sure to answer and help out in anyway I can!

Thank you for reading and sticking around! Hopefully, there won’t be as long a gap between this and my next blog post as there was with my last!

Yaz x

* links in this post are affiliate links.

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