the writer is a lonely hunter

writing by Gail Aldwin and other authors

Top tips for the first week as a VSO volunteer

on January 2, 2020

For anyone who is interested in following my path as a VSO volunteer, here are some things to expect during the first week and some top tips for staying afloat.

If there’s no one there to collect you at the airport, don’t panic. You will have details of the taxi company included in your welcome letter. Just give them a ring – I found my taxi company very obliging and although the first driver had given up waiting due to the delayed flight, another one arrived within five minutes.

Top Tip #1

Check with your mobile provider that you’re able to make calls on your UK sim in your destination country. I added a few quid to make sure I could also phone home to let everyone know I had arrived safely.


I spent nearly a fortnight staying in hotels during my in-country orientation. If you’re like me a love a cuppa the next top tip is for you.

Top Tip #2

Take a travel kettle and your favourite tea or coffee. I had a wobble during my first few days and just knowing a cup of tea was available really helped me to calm down and remain focused.


Mosquito nets have a mind of their own and can swish about if the opening isn’t secured.

Top Tip #3

Take a few pegs. These are useful to secure the flaps of a mosquito net to keep you truly safe from intruders during sleep. They are also useful to clip any holes in the net. And they can also be used to attached washed socks to hangers for drying in the bathroom.


If you end up living out of a suitcase for two weeks, it’s worth organising your packing so that you can find things easily.

Top Tip #4

Use drawsting bags or cotton shopping bags to group items together. I had one for all things electrical, another for anything related to protection from the sun and a third contained items connected with mosquito bites and how to avoid them. The bags also double up as laundry bags or shoe bags once you reach your final destination.


I experienced a twenty-four hour water cut during my first weekend in Kampala.

Top Tip #5

Take wet wipes for such an emergency. Dry shampoo is probably another good investment.


When I knew I was going to Uganda, I checked with friends to see if they knew anyone in the country.

Top Tip #6

Follow up on any connections offered. A friend of a friend invited me to the North Kampala Rotary Christmas party. Quite the highlight of my first weekend. A fabulous band played.


Splendid band at the Rotary Christmas party

I came down with a cold on day two of my in-country orientation

Top Tip #7

Pack your usual cold remedies. Thank goodness for Echinacea.


For those who don’t like eating in a restaurant alone …

Top Tip #8

Take a stock of your favourite snack bars, nut bars, cereal bars or the like. These are comfort food which will sustain you if you find one night you don’t want to go to the restaurant for dinner.


If you have trouble remembering names and faces …

Top Tip #9

Take a photo of the organisational chart in the country office. It will have photos of post holders and their names.


If you are likely to experience power cuts …

Top Tip #10

Take a power bank to charge your laptop and another charger for your phone. This belt and braces approach will ensure you can remain connected.


3 responses to “Top tips for the first week as a VSO volunteer

  1. jim bates says:

    Great post, Gail. I really got a flavor for travel as a VSO volunteer and felt I was right there with you, for better or worse 🙂

  2. Catherine Randall says:

    Gail, I salute you! You are amazing.

  3. Paula Readman says:

    What an amazing post! I felt as though I was traveling with you. I’m not a well traveled person. I look forward to reading more ❤️Hugs❤️

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