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Advice for Those Going on Expeditions and Volunteers

General Considerations

If you are partaking in expeditions, voluntary projects and remote travel you may have increased exposure to infection, accident and injury than other types of traveller.

In some destinations accessing timely and effective medical care can prove challenging. In the event of serious illness or injury it may be many hours or even days before it is possible to access to reliable medical facilities. The provision of available medical support can vary enormously, regardless of whether travel is undertaken as an individual, an organised trek, expedition or voluntary project. It is important to investigate the medical support that will be available to you prior to travel, to carry a first aid or expedition kit appropriate to your circumstances and to consider undertaking first aid training in advance of travel; courses are available which are aimed specifically at wilderness/expedition travel.  

Consider the characteristics of the environment you will be in, for example: altitude, extremes of temperature and weather, distance from outside help, and how these factors may affect the ease of rescue in the event of an emergency.

Physical and Mental Fitness

You should consult with your GP, practice nurse or travel health provider for destination specific advice as soon as possible but ideally 6-8 weeks before you depart. If you will not know your destination until the last minute may wish to consider recommendations for all possible destinations in advance.

If you have pre-existing health conditions that require regular medication or treatment, or you have recently had surgery or been in hospital, or if you are concerned about your fitness to travel for any other reason you should consult your own doctor before booking your trip. Travelling with medication should be planned in advance of departure because there may be country specific restrictions on the type or quantity of medication that you need to take. Ongoing supply and replacement of lost medication should also be considered and you should also be aware that counterfeit medicines are a growing problem throughout the world.

A dental check-up is important, and should be done at least three months before departure to give time for any necessary work. Tell your dentist that you will be travelling  and for how long, and they may elect to fix small problems earlier rather than later

Consider the level of physical exertion your travel may involve. If you have a physically demanding itinerary consider preparing yourself with a suitable aerobic exercise programme for several weeks or months before departure, this may increase your enjoyment of the trip and improve your chances of achieving your objectives.

Mental health issues are amongst the leading cause of ill health in travellers and are a common reason for medical repatriation. There are many factors that may disrupt stable mental health during travel; separation from family, friends and normal support systems, the physical demands of travel, disruption to usual routines, unfamiliar cultures and surroundings to name but a few. Mental health issues can occur in travellers with no pre-existing history and in those with a current/previous history of mental illness. Consequently, it is worthwhile considering your mental health before travel and the coping strategies you may use throughout your trip.

Insurance

Appropriate travel health insurance is essential and you should check that:

  • Insurance coverage includes all of your planned destinations and activities, failure to do so may nullify insurance cover.
  • Your policy should include cover for accidents, emergency medical treatment, medical evacuation and repatriation.
  • You should disclose all known medical conditions and medications (including over-the-counter) to your insurance provider, failure to do so may nullify insurance cover.
  • Insurance policies are only as good as the medical facilities available and may require prepayment at point of contact, this can be regardless of whether an insurance policy is in place.

Risk Assessment and Pre-Travel Advice

You should consult with your GP, practice nurse or travel health provider for destination specific advice as soon as possible but ideally at least 6-8 weeks before departure. This can increase your chances of completing required vaccination schedules within a time-frame that optimises effectiveness, allow for planning of malaria chemoprophylaxis or Standby Emergency Treatment for Malaria (if appropriate), and give you time to consider other important risk management advice such as:

There is an entry on Fit for Travel for every country in the world and we recommend you consult these prior to booking your trip.

Voluntourism

The volunteer tourism or ‘voluntourism’ industry has seen rapid growth in recent years with over 800 organisations worldwide now offering volunteer tourism experiences, and 1.6 million trips made per year.

Sadly, the combination of naive and inexperienced travellers with little or no knowledge of the destination country, clever marketing from the travel companies, and corrupt organisations at the destination, can lead not only to a demoralising experience for the traveller but also to the possibility of damage being done to very vulnerable communities.

Arguably travellers should develop some awareness of the ethical issues associated with this kind travel e.g. the association between orphanage tourism and increased child trafficking; as this may improve their ability to carefully assess their plans.

Potential volunteers may wish to consider:

  • What type of organisation is it? (charitable, NGO, profit-making etc).
  • How does the organisation work with the community?
  • What work will you actually be doing and are you appropriately qualified? If you are considered ‘untrained’ to do the work in the UK then the same applies overseas.
  • will there be any pre-departure training and how much training and support once you arrive overseas?
  • Are the values and objectives of your chosen organisation compatible with your own values and objectives?
  • Has there been assessment (evaluation) of previous work by which you can judge both short term and long term impacts?
  • Can you talk to (or contact via social media) previous volunteers with this project and/or organisation?

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