Before You Go

Things to Consider

Please take the time to read as much as you can about the culture and people of the destination you will be visiting.

Learning a few key phrases or words such as “hello, goodbye, where’s the restroom, please and thank you” can take you a long way and is a useful way to gain respect from the locals.

What are the roles of men and women in the country you’ll be volunteering? It could be something very different to what you are used to. Don’t make any assumptions or judgments, but do your research. This does not mean that you should fulfill the traditional male/female roles, but you should be aware of what to expect and of how your differences might be seen.

What is appropriate for men and women to wear when among the people in their villages? (Many cultures have more conservative dress standards particularly for women, e.g. revealing tops (even tops with spaghetti straps) or shorts may not be appropriate during all aspects of your trip. If in doubt, err on the side of caution and seek advice rather than risking causing offense.)

It would be very important to the success of your trip to learn some of the formal and informal ways of greeting the locals.  Be aware of gestures like handshakes, kisses, hugs, etc and be attentive to how males an females interact in this culture.

Other cultures have a very different idea of the importance of formality and ritual in certain situations and occasions compared to what we are used to in the USA. You don’t necessarily need to know all the details and why they are important; just know that they are important. Failing to be conscious of this can be interpreted as being very disrespectful.

Likewise, it’s always good to be aware of gestures that might be considered inappropriate or insulting.  For example, what is commonly used as the “peace” sign in the United States, when presented with the palm facing inwards is offensive in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.  Similarly, the “thumbs up” gesture has a vulgar meaning in parts of Latin America.

What to bring

It is always good to have a photocopy of your passport in each of your suitcases as well as contact information. Keeping small amounts of money in various locations is also a good idea in case you lose your belongings or are robbed.

Safety begins when you pack.

Avoid becoming a target by dressing to blend in.  Those that look like affluent tourists, wearing expensive-looking jewelry (or, depending on where you are going, any jewelry at all), can draw the wrong kind of attention.

Depending on your destination, climates may vary dramatically. It is best to pack layers. Don’t assume it will always be hot.

Try to travel light. Packing too much may tempt you to set down your personal belongings while in public. Don’t bring anything you’d hate to lose, such as:

  • Irreplaceable family objects
  • All unnecessary credit cards
  • Social security card

You want to be able to move quickly and it’s good to have a free hand; remember that traveling light and carrying less valuables = less stress.

Limit your valuables to those things you must have to accomplish what you’d like to on your trip. Examples: 1 or 2 Credit Cards, Passport, Camera, charger, memory sticks

Carry valuables in your carry-on suitcase or bag. It’s always good to pack a set of clothing in your carry-on in case of unexpected circumstances.

It is recommended to leave laptops at home, though you can leave them locked in your room at the resort/hotel.

Packing list

  • Sunglasses
  • Shoes that are comfortable, but can get dirty
  • Good thick socks
  • Earplugs
  • Packaged energy foods—granola, trail mix, raisins, candy bars
  • Camera (with enough memory cards!)
  • Your Travel Health Kit:
    • Prescriptions you normally take
      • Pack in your carry-on and bring extra in case of unanticipated travel delays
      • If your life depends on any of your medications please make your trip leader aware immediately after booking your trip
    • A daily probiotic to take while in Guatemala if you tend to have a sensitive stomach
  • Special prescriptions
    • You doctor may have recommendations for preventative medicines to help you on your trip (i.e. anti-malaria, anti-diarrheal)
    • Any over-the-counter medicines that you or your doctor feel you may need
  • Other important items:
    • Insect repellant (30-50% DEET or up to 15% picardin)
    • Anti-itch aide (ointment, spray, pill, hydrocortisone cream) for insect bites
    • Sunscreen (SPF 15 or greater with both UVB and UVA protection)
    • Anti-bacterial wipes
    • Health insurance card


There are various recommendations on vaccinations to get before traveling abroad. The first place to go for information is the Center for Disease Control’s web site: See Information about Guatemala on the CDC web site.

Having read the CDC web site, you should consult your doctor or visit your local travel clinic for a consultation before making any decisions about what vaccinations to get. To find a travel clinic near you visit the CDC: Travel Clinics webpage. Ideally, this should be done 4 to 6 weeks before your trip to give the vaccines time to become effective.

Please do not ask us what vaccinations you “should” get, as this is a personal choice that you will have to make, in consultation with your physician.

Serve The World Today is unable to give advice on which vaccinations you should or shouldn’t get, as there is no “right” answer. We are not trained medical professionals, and for reasons of liability we cannot give any more advice than there is in this document.

Very few visitors to Guatemala choose to get vaccinated against rabies or malaria, and some choose not to get any vaccinations at all. Others choose to get every vaccination available to them. It is entirely up to you what you feel comfortable with.

International Travel Health Notices

For the latest health information and warnings for countries around the world visit one of the following websites:

CDC: Travel Notices webpage

CDC: Information about Guatemala

US State Department: Country Specific Information

Traveling with Children or Special Health Needs

Please visit the CDC webpage