Moat volunteering organizations (as they should) offer advice on the more philosophic and existential aspects of reverse culture shock when folks like you return home from a volunteering trip abroad. (We at Cosmic Volunteers are no exception)
But what about practical advice for those first hours and days when you return home?
Here you go, with our:
14 Tips After Volunteering Abroad
1. Tell us you got back home OK
Preferably via text message as you’re driving away from the airport with your family, or riding on the train / bus. Our staff cares about you — and want to make sure you’re back home fine.
2. Don’t bring your luggage into your house
Be wary about insects like bed bugs as well as bacteria that may have gotten into your bags. So, when you arrive at your house from the airport, empty your luggage completely — right in your driveway or the sidewalk.
Put all of your clothes into a new plastic trash bag, then remove any shoes, toiletries, and other items from your bags for a visual inspection. The same goes for your laptop bag and any other small bags like duty-free shopping.
3. Disinfect your Luggage
While still outside your house or apartment, spray your suitcase both inside and out with a disinfectant spray like Lysol. On the outside of the bags, focus especially on the handles and wheels which usually have the most germs.
If you don’t have a spray available, put hand sanitizer on a soft cloth and thoroughly rub all interior and exterior surfaces of the bag.
4. Disinfect your shoes
This includes the shoes on your feet as well as the ones in your luggage. Use a disinfectant spray like Lysol or use hand sanitizer on a cloth — on both the soles and inside the shoes.
You should also check to see if you have any mud or other gunk from abroad on the bottom of your shoes. Use a solution of dish soap and warm water and a rag to wipe it off.
5. Do laundry at laundromat
Do your first wash at a laundromat rather than at your house. Be sure to leave the clothes outside your house and in the plastic trash bag (as described above), until you’re ready for the laundromat.
6. Go easy on the greasy food
While it might be tempting to hit McDonald’s on the way home from the airport for that Big Mac you’ve been missing for the last three months abroad, please think about your poor tummy.
Remember when you arrived in Delhi and found yourself eating spicy food, or in Ghana gulping down bowls of heavy oily stews? You were lucky if that immediate change in diet didn’t send you to the toilet often that first week abroad.
Now that you’re back home, ease your digestive system into your normal diet back home. Focus on light, easily-digested meals, and go easy on the grease. Your gut flora will thank you!
7. Gather all documents
Put all of your paperwork in one folder. This includes things like flight itineraries, contact information, store receipts, ATM slips, luggage tickets, immigration forms, foreign currency, and any medical reports if you were sick.
This folder can be a source of scrapbook material and nostalgia in later years, but it can also be of practical use — say, if you need to submit a medical claim to your insurance company.
8. Backup everything
Make backup copies of your photos, videos, and journal (whether paper or electronic). Start by uploading items to the cloud via services like Dropbox, Google Drive, Amazon Drive and iCloud.
Some travelers also use social media like Instagram and Facebook as secondary backups.
We also strongly recommend an offline backup source such as an external hard drive. Why? As tech journalist Mat Honan once detailed, relying exclusively on the cloud for your backups leaves you vulnerable to hackers who can erase all of your online items.
9. Change passwords
This includes your email account(s), bank account(s), and any other type of online account. Do this for each online account, even if you didn’t log in to it while abroad.
Why? If someone hacks into your email account, for example, you might have sensitive information stored there like addresses and ID numbers like SSN’s which could allow hackers to log into other accounts.
10. Check all financial accounts for fraud
While you’re changing your passwords to your online accounts, scan all recent activity on your financial accounts to make sure there’s been no unauthorized use.
Do this for all bank accounts, credit cards, and lines of credit. If you find anything unusual, obviously call the financial company immediately to report it.
11. Go easy on exercise
Be mindful of possible jet lag symptoms, just as you were when you landed in the host country. As we’ve written before, jet lag can cause insomnia, headaches, fatigue and more.
Exercise is one of the best remedies for jet lag — but don’t overdue it. Ease back into your exercise habits.
Many volunteers take a break from their routine while abroad. So when you return home, it’s not a good idea to try to run your personal best 5k time right off the plane.
12. Follow-up on promises you made
If you committed to doing something, then follow-through. This could be a promise you made to a school to raise money for sports equipment; or to send a small gift to your host family; or perhaps to do a presentation on your trip to your school. Be a stand-up person and keep your promises.
13. Say hi to your new friends in the host country
We have volunteers who have stayed in touch with their host families and coordinators for more than a decade. It’s a wonderful idea, one that will really help you remain connected to this special experience you’ve had abroad.
Even consider sending an old-fashioned, handwritten postcard to your new friends abroad — children especially will be excited to have something tangible from a foreign country.
14. Write it down
If you haven’t been keeping a journal about your trip, it’s not too late to start when you return home. Yes everything from the trip is fresh in your mind now; but in the months and (especially) years ahead, you will forget most of the details about it.
As a teenager right now, it seems unimaginable of course that someday you might have grandchildren of your own — but you probably will! And when they’re ready to blast off on a volunteer trip to Mars, what a treasure it will be for them to read about your memorable volunteering trip abroad to “exotic” India when you were a wee-lad.