The first rule of packing for your mission trip is to fill as many suitcases as allowed for no extra charge. In addition to your necessities, fill your bag(s) with items that are in short supply or too expensive for the people you are visiting to purchase. If the airline allows an extra bag, you can purchase one for little cost at resale shops. Fill it and leave it at the mission. No matter where you go, someone needs a suitcase.
Books in English are a good choice. Bring a few paperback novels and magazines you want to read. Enjoy them, and then leave them at the mission. English speaking missionaries and English language learners find these books a valuable resource. For the same reason, pack clothes you can wear once, wash, and leave. Some veteran mission trippers buy their traveling clothes at resale shops and Goodwill stores so they can leave them behind without suffering a serious financial blow. Used clothing items in good condition will be valued by people who need them.
In some countries, India especially, visitors are expected to bring gifts. No matter where you go, gifts are a thoughtful gesture. In limited luggage and budget situations, what to bring can be challenging. Missionaries advise that calendars with photos of your city or a number of American cities are a happy reminder of your visit for people who have never been to the U.S. Frisbees are fun for all ages and do not take up much space. Women love toiletries, and men enjoy appointment books and small tools. For children, consider coloring books and crayons, small dolls, Matchbox cars, jump ropes, puzzles, and other inexpensive toys that do not take up much space in your luggage.
Remember the missionaries as well as the people they serve. You can ask them ahead of time what packable things they need or what they would like you to bring. One missionary said her greatest deprivation was chunky peanut butter. She could buy smooth peanut butter locally, but she sure missed those crunchy chunks. Soap used in missions is usually locally made and harsh. Several bars of luxurious, fragrant soap would be a treat. Body creams and lotions are often in short supply.
Hotel-size toiletries are easy to collect from a group that travels frequently. Ask a church community to donate their "collection." Most people leave their hotels with unopened shampoos, body wash, wrapped soaps, and other toiletries. The people you visit will not mind that their bottle is small. It will be a rare treat for them to use it.
Some organizations that frequently visit missions solve the gift problem by buying a selected item in bulk and having the organization's logo printed on them. Some easy to pack ideas include Frisbees, luggage tags, refrigerator magnets, notebooks, ball caps, USB flash drives, sunglasses, drawstring bags, hand sanitizers, hand towels, and pens. The advantages include bulk pricing, one less thing to shop for, and the people you visit all receive the same gift. Be sure to order far enough in advance of your trip.
Take Care of Yourself
For their personal well being, seasoned travelers advise bringing several small bottles of hand sanitizers one of which should be in your carry-on bag. Also, include in your carry-on a small packet of sanitized wet wipes to clean your airplane tray table and armrests, two of the most germ-laden places on the plane. Eye shades and earplugs are good for the plane ride as well as for your guest house or hotel. The light and noise may be more than you are accustomed to, making sleep difficult.
The World Health Organization recommends that world travelers carry oral rehydration solutions to treat dehydration, a danger of many gastrointestinal problems. These are easy to prepare and pack. Mix six level teaspoons of sugar and one-half of a level teaspoon of salt in a small ziplock plastic bag. Ten bags are an ample supply. When needed, mix the contents of one bag with five cups of clean water. The water needs to be bottled or boiled. Some bottled water is not pure, so be sure to consult with your hosts. Hopefully, you won't need it and can leave the packets at the mission with instructions on their use. When dehydrated, a body cannot benefit from plain water to replace fluids. These fluids must contain salt and sugar to be effective.
Over the counter medications are hard to come by in many poor areas of the world. Bring large bottles of the pain relievers and vitamins you usually take and leave what you do not use at the mission. Be sure to transport them in their original containers to avoid possible hassles when you enter the country you are visiting. Any prescription medicines you bring must be in the original prescription bottle, or they may be confiscated. Worse, you may be questioned about the possibility that they may be illegal drugs. Never leave prescription medications for the mission to use or share them with anyone.
Packable and Useful
A Swiss army knife is a small item with many uses. Gadgets are not common in poor areas, so the Swiss army knife's many functions could, if not save the day, save some time and aggravation. In addition to several knives in one, it includes a bottle opener, corkscrew, screwdriver, and tiny scissors. Be sure to pack this item in your checked luggage. The TSA does not allow knives of any type in the aircraft cabin.
An extra USB flash drive to download mission information, documents, photos, and other files will come in handy where Internet access is minimal and charges are steep. The flash drive will also lessen the luggage you may be expected to leave with. Paperwork takes up space and adds weight.
A small sewing kit, ideally a hotel amenity, is insurance against wardrobe malfunctions and a thoughtful item to leave behind. It will take up no space in your suitcase, particularly if you tuck it into a shoe along with other small items.
A thin, inexpensive shower curtain has more uses than an emergency umbrella. You can wrap your luggage in it in your guest house if bugs are a problem. The shower you use may need a new curtain. It can be used as a mattress protector and an emergency window curtain. This is another item to leave behind. Pack with leaving things behind in mind so you can use that extra space in your suitcase for local crafts you find in village markets and gifts you may receive.
Remember this guideline: arrive heavy, return light.