Volunteering abroad is a life-enriching experience that provides a unique opportunity to make a positive impact in unfamiliar environments. Whether you’re teaching, providing free healthcare, or contributing to community development, the safety and health of international volunteers should always be a top priority. In this post, we’ll explore essential tips to ensure that your overseas volunteering journey is not only fulfilling but also as safe as it can be. From understanding potential risks to staying prepared for medical emergencies, and even safeguarding against scams, we’ve got you covered.
Research and Preparation
Know Your Destination: Before you embark on your overseas volunteering journey, invest time in researching your destination. Understand the political, social, and health landscape. Familiarise yourself with potential risks, such as political instability or health threats, and check travel advisories. Consult your country’s embassy or consulate for up-to-date information.
Travel Insurance: Secure comprehensive travel insurance that covers medical emergencies, evacuation, and trip cancellations. Ensure your policy is tailored to international volunteering, as standard policies may not suffice.
Visa and Legal Requirements: Understand the visa and legal requirements for volunteering in your destination. Ensure you have all necessary permits and paperwork in order before your departure.
Vaccinations and Immunisations: Visit a travel clinic or healthcare professional to determine which vaccinations and immunisations are required for your destination. These may include routine vaccines and region-specific shots. Begin this process well in advance, as some vaccinations may require multiple doses.
Medications and Prescriptions: If you take prescription medications, ensure you have an adequate supply for your entire stay. Keep them in their original packaging and carry a copy of your prescription. It’s also a good idea to bring a well-stocked first aid kit that includes essentials like bandages, antiseptics, and over-the-counter medicines.
Food and Water Safety: In unfamiliar environments, it’s crucial to exercise caution with food and water. Stick to bottled or purified water and avoid ice in your drinks. Be mindful of where and what you eat, opting for well-cooked and hot meals. Foodborne illnesses can quickly turn a great experience into a health crisis.
Local Health Services: Before you leave, familiarise yourself with local healthcare facilities and services in your destination. Keep a list of hospitals, clinics, and pharmacies with contact information and be aware of your nearest embassy or consulate.
Stay Connected: Maintain constant communication with fellow volunteers, family, and friends. Share your itinerary, contact information, and emergency plans with someone back home. In case of unforeseen circumstances, they’ll know how to reach you and provide assistance.
Copies of Important Documents: Make multiple copies of your passport, visa, travel insurance policy, and any other essential documents. Keep these copies in a separate location from the originals and share a set with a trusted contact. Digital copies stored in a secure cloud account can also be invaluable.
Emergency Contacts: Save local emergency contact numbers on your phone and keep a printed list in your wallet or purse. Know how to reach your country’s embassy or consulate, and have their contact details readily available.
Local Laws and Customs: Respect local laws and customs, and familiarize yourself with any cultural taboos. Understanding the cultural context can help prevent misunderstandings and legal issues.
Common Scams & Tips – know what to look for!
Scam Awareness: Scams can target tourists and volunteers. Be vigilant and educate yourself about common scams in your destination. Stay informed about local scams and tactics used to defraud foreigners.
Use Reputable Organisations: Work with reputable volunteer organisations that have a track record of providing safe and legitimate opportunities. Research reviews and ask for references from past volunteers to ensure their credibility.
Financial Security: Carry a limited amount of cash and use a secure money belt or pouch to store valuables. Be cautious when using ATMs, and shield your PIN when withdrawing money. Notify your bank about your travel plans to avoid any issues with your cards.
Beware of Unsolicited Offers: Be wary of unsolicited offers, such as invitations to buy products, services, or investment opportunities. Scammers often prey on tourists and volunteers.
Taxi Scams: In some places, dishonest taxi drivers may take longer routes or refuse to use the meter, leading to higher fares. To avoid this, research the typical taxi rates in your destination, and use reputable taxi companies when possible. Always ask the driver to use the meter.
Fake Police Officers: Scammers may pose as police officers and demand to see your identification or passport. To verify their identity, ask for their badge and take note of their name. If you’re unsure, inform them that you’ll go to the nearest police station to comply.
Pickpocketing: Pickpocketing is a prevalent scam in crowded areas, public transportation, and tourist spots. To prevent it, use an anti-theft bag, keep your valuables secure, and be cautious of distractions created by potential thieves.
Street Performer Distractions: In some tourist areas, scammers may use street performers or beggars to create distractions while an accomplice steals from you. Stay alert and keep an eye on your belongings when enjoying street performances.
Currency Exchange Scams: Dishonest currency exchange operators might give you a worse rate or count your money inaccurately. Always exchange currency at reputable banks or exchange offices, and double-check the amount you receive.
Fake Tickets and Tours: Be cautious when booking tours, tickets, or excursions from street vendors or unverified websites. Scammers may take your money and provide no service in return. Use established tour operators and verify their credentials.
Overpriced Goods: In tourist areas, vendors may charge exorbitant prices for goods. Bargain when appropriate, and do some research to understand the typical prices of items.
The “Closed Attraction” Scam: A scammer might inform you that a popular attraction is closed, offering to take you to an alternative site. This is often a ploy to charge you for a service you didn’t request. Verify attraction closures independently.
Fake Charity Requests: Be cautious of individuals or organizations asking for donations or support for charitable causes. Verify the legitimacy of the charity and donate directly to reputable organizations if you wish to contribute.
Hotel Room Phone Scams: Scammers may call your hotel room pretending to be hotel staff and request your credit card information. Hang up and call the front desk to confirm if it’s a legitimate call.
Awareness and vigilance are your best defense against these common scams while traveling. Always research your destination, stay alert, and trust your instincts when something seems suspicious.
Maintaining Good Health
Hygiene Practices: Maintain good personal hygiene. Regular handwashing, especially before meals, can help prevent illness. Pack personal hygiene items like hand sanitizer, wet wipes, and antibacterial soap.
Physical and Mental Health: Keep an eye on both your physical and mental well-being. Get enough rest, eat well, and stay hydrated. International volunteering can be physically and emotionally demanding, so self-care is essential.
Safety Training: Depending on your volunteer work, you may receive specific safety training. Pay close attention to this training and follow recommended protocols. For example, if you’re involved in wildlife conservation, you may need to know how to handle animals safely.
By conducting thorough research, taking necessary health precautions, following safety measures, and staying vigilant against scams, you can embark on your international volunteering journey with confidence. Remember that staying safe and healthy not only benefits you but also allows you to better serve the communities you’re working with. Your commitment to both your well-being and your mission will help ensure a positive and fulfilling experience.