Your initial answer might be: "I have to pack, stop the mail, pay the bills, etc." Yes, this would ensure that you have clothes and accoutrements on your trip, don't have an angry "postal-delivery person" in your absence, and have a home to which you may return.
We are talking about something else, however, when we use the word "want." We are talking about: "How do you want to influence the voluntour upon which you are about to embark, and what can you do prior to your departure to make it that much better?"
Many travelers talk about studying a foreign language in order to better communicate with the people in the communities to which they are traveling. Well, in some parts of the world, this will work for you. But if you are really getting out there and conducting some "village-based" VolunTourism, likely the people will be speaking a dialect that does not appear on the language options list at your local university or college campus, or even a cd-rom that you can listen to in your car or portable cd-player.
What can you do in such a situation; prepare yourself for the culture instead. There are books that discuss the cultural "taboos" when visiting with a group of people, and this is certainly a place you can start. But you may also want to review any anthropological information about a group of people, say the Maasai, for instance. Anthropology is a very different science from leisure travel. You may find back issues of National Geographic Society Magazine that have insightful stories about your destination - its people and/or environment that you may be supporting while there.
Any pre-trip research that you do will only support you in acclimating yourself once you hit the ground. The distinction, of course, is that you are not simply talking about preparation of your "5 senses," you are also talking about preparation for your heart. (But we will discuss this more in the "Processing" section.)
Other practical items to review:
1. Identification & Copies of Your Identification
2. Insurance Coverage - Travelers Insurance
3. Medical Condition - including food allergies, etc.
Any good travel guide will "alert" you to items worthy of review prior to departure.
But have you ever considered reading up on group dynamics in preparation for a trip? Most VolunTourism experiences are group-based. Even if you sign up as an individual, you will likely be added to a group of other people. Are you "educated" on how to handle such situations? Do not leave this to chance. Be proactive and review some tips on how to better function as a part of a team.
Likewise you may consider looking into community development and what it means, particularly in the destination to which you are traveling. This may allow you to have a more meaningful conversation with someone else on the trip because they may have a background in community development, for example.
The idea is not to over-saturate yourself with information. Simply give yourself a chance to have a more enriching experience by cultivating some additional knowledge that may open doors to unexpected conversations and interactions with others.
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We have already stressed the value of additional education for yourself prior to your departure, especially in reference to the voluntary service work you may be doing. We also want you to know how important it is to manage your expectations.
If you consider yourself to be a world traveler, a VolunTourism experience may be even more challenging for you. Logistics are wonderful placeholders, but time is not a great consideration in the developing world. Working on an "agriculture-based" clock in many locations around the globe, communities do not spend their days running out every hour to see if the seeds have sprouted through the soil. What you may or may not do as a VolunTourist falls into the hands of the "destination clock." And you will need to shift your attitude regarding time slots, regimented itineraries, etc.
Also, you need to realize that you may not complete a project while you are on a given VolunTourism journey. The expectation that you will accomplish some task and be able to point to a finished product will have to wait until you return to your office desk. Communities do not represent "end results," but, rather, a continuing, spiral-like motion along the path of their own evolution toward self-reliance.
Now, if you need to point to something and say, "look at what I did," then you may want to include this as an element in your VolunTourism Matrix (see Trip Selection). There are VolunTourism experiences around the world that are set to complete a project in a given period of time. But if this is a criteria for you, realize that you will be severely limiting what opportunities may be available to you.
It is not possible, of course, to eliminate all of your expectations. But you will be well-suited to remove these two expectations: Time Sensitivity and Accomplishment Syndrome. You and other VolunTourists who may be with you will be extremely grateful not to hear your disgruntled remarks about why things are not on time and how come you haven't been able to accomplish anything.
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