smart stuff to pack for your next short-term mission trip

Short-Term Missions Shopping List

Summer is approaching! More than 1.5 million North Americans will be heading out on Short-Term mission trips. Though everyone has access to standard packing lists, I wanted to create a list of some of the extra stuff I’ve come to value that you might not think about when you’re packing. In no particular order, here are some great items to bring along on your next Short-Term Mission Trip!

A huge rolling duffle bag

In fact, I buy several of these. If you’re bringing down items for donation, VBS supplies, etc., you’re going to need a way to transport them. Duffle bags are great because you can bring them back by putting one inside of another. But the best duffle bags have wheels! When you’ve got an oversized container full of stuff, it’s worth getting one that rolls.

Packing cubes

I love these! My wife and I started using them a few years ago. They help you to organize all that you’re packing. They also solve the issue of always needing to have your suitcase open all the time to get to your stuff. Pack things in the cubes, get the cubes out, and you have what you need. Likewise, even in packing, you don’t have to set a dirty suitcase up on your bed. Pack the cubes, then put them all in your luggage. So, so worth having.

A drawstring day bag

So when you’re traveling down, sure, you may want to bring the largest military-grade backpack you can find. Sure, it helps you bring the most possible stuff in your carry on. But once you get to your destination, you are not going to want to lug that thing everywhere you go. Bring yourself a drawstring day bag that you can pack, rolled up and small while you travel. Then after you’ve arrived, each day, bring only the things you need in this water-proof, lightweight bag. Leave the huge backpack in your hotel room. You will thank yourself every time you pick it up, and your other companions will be so glad your enormous backpack isn’t always in the way.

A luggage scale

I prefer ones like this that don’t use batteries. Rather than wondering whether you’ve got over in the weigh of your suitcase, go ahead and get one of these that hooks on the handle and see exactly how much you’re bringing. It will save you a lot of awkward shuffling/repacking in line at the airport, as well as potential fees for too much weight.

Cortizone itch relief stick

You may not get any weird bug bites on your trip, but if you do, it’s good to have a little relief for the itching. The Cortizone stick is an easy way to accomplish this.

Facial sunscreen

Neutrogena makes great sunscreen options that are not as hard on your skin as some other brands. But it is especially worth getting their sunscreen designed especially for facial skin. It will help you avoid breaking out or getting too oily or sticky. We started bringing this along several years ago and it takes all the nuisance out of wearing sunscreen, especially on your face.

Inexpensive sunglasses

This should be fairly intuitive. If you bring name brand sunglasses with you, they are more of a target for theft. Plus, if you are doing a lot of hard manual labor, you are likely to drop or crush them along the way. Bring some sunglasses you care nothing about so that it doesn’t bother you if the disappear or get destroyed.

A portable charger for your smart devices

Especially if you use your smartphone as a camera, you’ll burn through your battery quickly. It is a great idea to bring along a portable charger so that if you’re not close to a wall outlet and you need to juice up your device, you have an option close by.

A multi-port USB wall charger

Inevitably, you and your roommates are going to be fighting over too few plugs where you’re needing to charge your devices. Get yourself a wall charger that has multiple USB plugs and you will be the hero of your room. They’ll all think you were so smart for planning ahead like this.

An extra-long charging cable

While you’re at it, go ahead and bring along an extra-long charging cable. The outlets might not be anywhere near a nightstand or table where you can place your device, and you may not want to leave it on the floor where it could get stepped on. Get yourself a longer charging cable and have more options for where you leave it.

A boonie hat

Short-term mission trips are more about function than fashion. A traditional baseball cap is fine, but your ears and neck may be exposed to considerably more sun that you are accustomed to, especially in Central America, so it’s a great idea to get yourself a hat that provides more protection.

Scrub pants

TLC may not want no scrubs, but you do! Scrub pants are especially useful because they breathe well, they look modest enough and appropriate enough for most settings, whether casual or formal. And if you are prone to getting mosquito bites, it gives you an extra bit of protection. A lot of ladies especially benefit from having a comfy pair or two of scrub pants.

A rain jacket or poncho

Get something affordable so that you won’t care if anything happens to it. Get something collapsable so that it easily crams into your backpack. When you end up needing one of these, you’ll be really glad you have it with you.

Travel-sized Clorox wipes

You just never know when you’re going to need a clean surface for food, sleeping, or something else and suddenly need to be able to use a disinfectant wipe. The travel Clorox wipes are incredibly useful and small enough not to be burdensome to pack and bring along.

Travel-sized Wet Ones wipes

Similarly, you are frequently going to need to have clean hands and/or a clean face. If you don’t have running water or soap, that might be harder to achieve than you think. Keeping around some Wet Ones is well worth the small amount of space they’ll take. The problem will be running out because everyone else is wanting to use them!

Fingernail polish

Every little girl in every culture loves having her nails painted. And every child in every culture thinks it is funny when an American man will allow them to paint his fingernails. These are universal laws, folks. Bring along some cheap fingernail polish for instant bonding with the kids for when you have downtime.

A decent journal

If you don’t write things down, you’ll eventually forget them. You’ve gone to all the expense and trouble of getting yourself to a new place with new people so that God can help you grow, even working through your imperfect efforts to shape the people you meet. Take the time to write down where you’ve seen God at work. In the coming months, years, and even decades, you’ll thank yourself for the gift that these memories can be for you. Get a journal and use it.

Walkie Talkies

You won’t have any idea just how much you depend on your cell phone until suddenly you need to communicate with someone quickly and you can’t do it. Some simple walkie talkies will go a long way in helping your group stay coordinated, especially if you are traveling around in more than one vehicle.

Pepto Bismol

When you’re eating new foods that you aren’t used to, your body may have a hard time knowing what to do with them. That’s no reflection on the place you’re visiting. You’d have the same problem at home if you tried something highly unusual. Go ahead and bring along the Pepto Bismol, rather than getting into a bad spot, suddenly needing it but not having it. And do the caplets, not the liquid, so you don’t have any trouble getting it through airport security.


If you’re traveling to a place more mountainous than where you’re from, especially packed in a bus full of sweaty people, your potential for motion sickness will grow exponentially. For the big bus rides especially, just go ahead and be proactive. Bring some Dramamine and take it when appropriate. Remember: if you get sick, you not only take yourself out of the picture, but also anyone who has to be your caregiver. Part of how you help your team is by keeping yourself healthy.

A wordless travel book

Sure you’ve been brushing up on your foreign languages, but you are inevitably going to run into a situation where you need to talk about something but don’t know how to ask for what you’re needing. Get one of these picture books! They are designed so that whatever you’re needing, you can simply point to it and the other person will know what you’re talking about. Language barrier eliminated!

Pack your first change of clothes in your carry on

This is simply good advice. You never know if you will experience flight delays, technical difficulties, or weather issues. Always bring one change of clothes–at least clean underwear and a new shirt–in your carry on luggage. If you end up needing it, you will be so glad it is easy to access. This is likewise true for if you arrive late at night. Your first day, it’s easy to know where to get to your stuff without having to unpack the whole suitcase immediately upon arrival.

What other items would you recommend?

What has helped you a lot on your trips?

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  1. old guys need to bring all of their meds and “what if” meds….comfortable shoes… bug spray… I am guessing you will have ding repair for bodies, too.

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