What to Pack for an Overseas Missions Trip

I’ve gone to Mexico, Ethiopia, China, Nicaragua, South Africa, Lebanon, and Thailand for trips of a few days to a few years. I’ve tried a lot of different approaches, but here’s what I now bring when I’m crossing an ocean.

The essentials:

1. Passport

You’ll need one to go abroad, and they take a while to get. So start the process now.

2. Credit card

You can buy stuff elsewhere. Having less stuff (but a way to get stuff you really need) enables you to focus more on the truly important things (e.g., Jesus Christ and the people around you).

The negotiables:

3. Backup credit card

If one gets locked up, lost, or stolen, you really need another.

4. A small amount of cash

There are a lot of places overseas that only take cash, and if there’s no ATM for 100 miles, you won’t be buying your lunch, or anything in that really cool market.

5. Printed copies of your passport and important numbers

Think banking, insurance, and identity stuff that you may need for visas, or if all your originals were stolen. Before your trip, scan these and store the files somewhere secure online.

6. Backup “wallet”

For the backup credit card, some extra cash, and maybe an expired passport or driver’s license—these will be incredibly helpful if your regular wallet gets stolen! Keep it somewhere other than where your main stuff is—so, for example, have one in your pocket and one locked up in your room or even just in your backpack.

7. Clothes

Pack as little as possible and choose appropriate attire. Think about weather, the work you’ll be doing, and the way those with whom you’ll be partnering and serving will receive your fashion choices (they may value presentation more than you do). Also bring a tiny pouch of powdered detergent. You can do laundry there, even if just in a sink.

8. Shoes and socks

Both need to be good for walking. Plan to get these a bit beforehand so you can break them in and make sure they’re comfortable. Never get new shoes right before a trip where you need to wear them every day.

9. Flashlight

Especially if you’re going to be jet-lagged and sharing a room, being able to read or find earplugs without disturbing someone else is essential. This brings us to…

10. Earplugs

Never ever plan to travel or sleep anywhere (besides your own home) without quality, comfortable ear plugs. I also carry a backup pair. Nothing is as annoying as a snoring neighbor or a rooster before dawn or the neighborhood dance club. I’ve even used them at over-amplified worship services.

11. Electronic doodads

You need rechargeable batteries, cords, and adapters for everything. Bring a U.S. electrical plug adapter, as well as a U.S. 1-to-3 splitter. It’ll make one outlet into three and allow you to charge your phone, camera, and juicer all at once. (Please note: Don’t actually bring a juicer.)

12. Gifts from home

Gifts are a really important part of many cultures. Having a few small items to share with new friends can be really kind. I’ve tried pens, lapel pins, magnets, family photos, small Bibles, small candles, and key rings. Choosing the right potential gifts can be pretty hard, but having something on hand can help. 

13. Printed Bible

More and more of us in North America are relying on our phone’s Bible apps to read Scripture on the go. But will you always have power where you’re going? And just as importantly, what will it communicate to the people you’re spending time with? In some places, not having a printed Bible could be an obstacle to ministry and connecting with local Christians.

14. Journal

Even if you don’t normally journal, you will likely have a lot to process from an international, cross-cultural trip. Writing out thoughts and questions, things you want to remember, people’s names, and new commitments can be very helpful to make the most of the time.

15. Comfort item

Go ahead and bring that last, weird little thing that you need to be comfortable. This could be a couple photos, your Irish tin whistle, exercise bands, or pumpkin seeds. Just be honest with yourself, and take the thing that could make a big difference in your attitude and well-being.

OK, what did I miss? Leave a comment below.

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