Mission Trip Travel Safety and Packing Tips

Keep these safety tips, packing guidelines, and other reminders in mind as you prepare for your mission trip. Many of these tips apply to both domestic and international travel, but see below for some extra guidelines for traveling outside the U.S. and Canada.

What to pack

Try to pack light, leave jewelry and non-essential valuables at home, and if you take prescription medications, carry them in their original, labeled containers.

General mission trip packing list

  • Bible
  • Journal
  • Toiletries
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Towel and washcloth (if not provided)
  • Undergarments and pajamas
  • Plastic bag for dirty laundry
  • Flip-flops for showers
  • Rainproof windbreaker (should fold up small)
  • Camera and accessories
  • Work gloves

Packing for tropical and temperate climates

  • Hat and/or sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug spray
  • Bathing suit 
  • T‑shirts (be prepared for dirt, paint, and other stains)
  • Jeans or other work pants (be prepared for dirt, paint, and other stains)
  • Shorts and/or skirts (ask about dressing appropriately for the culture you’re visiting)
  • Tennis shoes and work boots if necessary
  • Flip-flops for wearing outdoors

Packing for cold climates

  • T‑shirts
  • Sweatshirts
  • Jackets (rain and snow)
  • Hats, gloves, and scarves
  • Tennis shoes
  • Boots

Getting there

Air travel tips

  • Arrive at the airport at least 90 minutes before your flight for check-in.
  • Check the TSA or CATSA websites for up-to-date security guidelines.
  • If you aren’t sure whether you’re allowed to put an item in your carry-on luggage, check the TSA or CATSA websites. Always pack prescription medications in your carry-on.
  • Remember the 3–1‑1 rule. All liquids, gels, aerosols, creams, and pastes you wish to put in your carry-on must be packed in one quart sized, clear, zip-top bag. Each container in the bag must be 3.4 ounces (100ml) or less. Each passenger is only allowed one bag.
  • Check with your airline before you travel to see what their luggage policies are.
  • We recommend booking air travel through a travel agent. If you need assistance with finding one, email shortterm@rca.org.

Ground travel tips

  • Drive in vans instead of cars. They carry more people.
  • Make sure you have a GPS or a smartphone with a maps app in each vehicle. Also bring printed or written directions just in case.
  • If you need to rent vans, check if other Christian organizations in your area are willing to rent or lend them.

Travel tips for international mission trips

If you’re traveling outside the US and Canada, here are some more things to keep in mind.

  • Make sure you have a valid passport. If you don’t, you should get one well in advance of your trip. You may also need a new passport if yours is close to expiring. Most countries require that your passport be valid six months beyond the date of your trip.
  • Make two copies of your passport in case you lose it. Take one with you and leave the other at home.
  • Find out if you need a visa to enter the country. Securing a visa can take time, so if you do need one, start the process for obtaining one as early as possible.
  • Research the electrical voltage and plug configuration in the country where you are going. You may need to get an adapter or converter to plug in electronic devices while abroad.
  • Make a plan for exchanging currency. Airports often do not have the best exchange rate. Talk with your hosts before you arrive about where you can safely exchange currency or use a secure ATM.
  • Let your credit card company know you’re traveling outside the country. Take only the credit card(s) you need.
  • Learn about local laws and customs. Your host will be able to help you with this.
  • Learn a few key phrases in the local and/or national languages.
  • Let your credit card company know you’re traveling. Only take the credit card(s) you need.
  • Some countries require a tax to enter and leave the country. Check to see if this is included in your ticket cost.
  • Some countries require a parental consent form for minors traveling without a parent. If you will be traveling with minors, check what the policies are for your destination. It is always a good idea to have parental consent forms when traveling internationally with minors. 
  • Be aware of any travel alerts or warnings for the place you are traveling to.
  • Make sure all your vaccinations are up to date and get any additional immunizations the CDC recommends for travel to the country where you are going. Check the CDC website or the Public Health Agency of Canada website to find out what vaccinations you should get.
  • Find out what your health insurance provider will cover while you’re in another country.
  • Get a medical release form from your church or the organization through which you’re serving. Plan to take the signed form with you and leave an extra copy at your church. 
  • Have a plan for storing passports during the week. Your host may have instructions. If not, it might be best for a leader to keep them all. 
  • Consider purchasing a TSA/CATSA-approved lock for your luggage. Leave luggage locked while it is in your room during the day.
  • Don’t give away money to people on the streets. If you want to give money or donations to people the ministry works with, check with the local ministry staff first, and allow the donation to go through their normal processes. 
  • Check with your host about the appropriateness of gift-giving in their culture. It may be customary to exchange gifts with people.
  • Keep your camera or cell phone in your bag when you aren’t using it.
  • Don’t pet stray animals.
  • If you are offered food, it is always polite to accept it. However, if there is something that you find questionable, you can probably refuse politely. If you have an allergy or intolerance, by all means, let your hosts know that the food looks delicious but that you are allergic. 
  • It may be difficult to maintain certain eating preferences (such as gluten-free or vegan) in other cultures. If you do not have a medical reason to be on a special diet, please be flexible while on your trip.
  • Bring non-perishable snacks. Eating new or different foods doesn’t agree with everyone, and sometimes the meal schedule is different than what your body is used to.
  • It is impossible to guarantee the safety of food and beverages when traveling, especially in developing countries. But you can still enjoy local food; it is part of the joy of traveling. Listen to your host’s instructions; they will take great care of you.
  • Most people do not experience severe problems outside of traveler’s diarrhea, which is normal and nearly impossible to avoid. (Sorry!) Here are a few ways to reduce your risk of foodborne illness:
    • Rule of thumb for food: boil it, cook it, peel it, or forget it.
    • Eat foods that have been cooked thoroughly and are still steaming hot.
    • Avoid raw fruits and vegetables that cannot be peeled. Salad might be tempting, but veggies such as lettuce are easily contaminated and very hard to wash well.
    • Peel fruits and vegetables yourself if possible. Wash your hands with soap first, and do not eat the peelings. Ideally, you should also wash and dry the fruit or vegetable yourself.
    • Use antibacterial liquid hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available (but washing with soap and water is best).
    • Avoid foods and beverages from street vendors when possible. 
    • Avoid popsicles and flavored ices that may have been made with contaminated water.
    • Boil drinking water for one minute or buy bottled water. You should also use bottled, boiled, or chemically treated water for preparing food.
    • Ask for drinks without ice unless the ice is made from bottled or boiled water.
    • Drink beverages made with boiled water whenever possible (hot tea and coffee are safe).
    • Carry safe water with you if you are going out for the day and the availability of safe water is not guaranteed.
    • Use bottled or boiled water to brush your teeth.
    • There is no problem with showering in regular tap water. Just don’t open your mouth and drink the shower water.
    • Become a consistent hand-washer (if you aren’t already!). While some illnesses are airborne, many more can be avoided simply by washing your hands regularly. When soap and water are not available, individually wrapped moist wipes or antibacterial hand sanitizer are recommended. Always eat with clean hands.
Want more trip planning support? Our short-term mission team would love to help.