6 Health and Safety Concerns for Humanitarian Travelers

6 Health and Safety Concerns for Humanitarian Travelers

Know your risk factors

Whether you’re aiding in disaster relief, hosting a medical clinic, or teaching English, humanitarian travel often has an increased risk factor when compared with leisure or sightseeing trips. Each type of trip and destination will pose a unique set of challenges. Careful planning and a great travel insurance policy are your best bets for creating a safe and fun work environment for all your volunteers.

These are a few of the most common challenges volunteer travelers face and how to avoid them!

1. Travelers’ Diarrhea

As many as 30-70% of all travelers experience traveler’s diarrhea, depending on the destination and the season in which they travel. Low to intermediate risk destinations include North America, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Africa and Europe. Destinations with greater risk include Mexico, countries in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Central and South America. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramping.

How to Avoid:

Be cautious when selecting food and beverages. Bring water purification tablets or tools, or opt for bottled water while you are abroad. You may even need to avoid ice in your drinks as ice is typically made from local tap water and not purified or bottled water. Stick to foods that are cooked thoroughly, produce with thick peels and dining venues that have proper food preparation standards in place. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water and keep a bottle of alcohol-based sanitizer with you in case handwashing is not possible.

2. Dehydration

Dehydration often goes hand-in-hand with travelers’ diarrhea as the fear of contaminated water can lead to travelers drinking less or opting for bottled, sugary drinks. Mild dehydration can lead to headaches or a lack of energy. If these symptoms are ignored, severe dehydration can land you in a foreign hospital.

How to Avoid:

Watch for those early warning signs and take into account any extra activities or changes in climate that may require you to increase your fluid intake. When working in warmer climates, try to save your most strenuous activities for the cooler mornings or evenings and take a break from the midday sun.

3. Injury

Many humanitarian or relief-focused trips require high levels of physical exertion. You may find yourself putting in long hours outside, hiking to remote destinations, or even participating in construction projects. These activities can pose a greater risk for injuries and accidents. Sprained ankles and broken bones are much more common to volunteer travelers than to the average tourist.

How to Avoid:

Use wisdom in selecting service projects for your volunteer trips. Choose to serve in areas that match the skill set and experience level of your team. This will not only help keep your team safe but allow you to have the most effective impact you can in the communities you serve. Bring appropriate footwear for the activities on your itinerary. Flip flops are great for the shower and beach, but useless on a hike!

4. Mosquito-borne illnesses

The world’s deadliest creature doesn’t have fangs, claws or a fierce growl. The humble mosquito takes this title. Malaria by itself takes more than 400,00 lives each year and the total number of deaths due to mosquito-related diseases is said to be over 800,000.

How to Avoid:

If you are traveling to a region where mosquito-borne diseases are rampant, check the CDC website to make sure you have the all the appropriate vaccinations. Use this Fly For Good packing guide to help you find the right gear for regions where mosquitos thrive.

5. Baggage or identity theft

Lost or stolen items can create major problems when you are traveling abroad — especially if you lose an important document, your passport, or cash. Even if your travel insurance covers lost and stolen items, these can be a hassle to replace.

How to Avoid:

The less you look like a wide-eyed tourist the better. Keep your wits about you and try to read your surroundings. Avoid traveling by foot alone or at night. Purchase a money belt for your passport and cash and make sure you keep copies of all your important documents at another secure location. Don’t bring expensive jewelry, irreplaceable personal items, or technology you can live without.

6. Getting lost

Today’s travelers love to get “off the beaten path” and explore the local culture without a strict itinerary. Getting a little lost might be a great adventure, but completely losing your sense of direction in an unknown city is anything but fun. With thoughtful preparation, you can explore to your heart’s content without the fear of getting stranded somewhere unfamiliar.

How to Avoid:

Before exploring a foreign city, try to familiarize yourself with the area and learn major streets, buildings, and landmarks. Write down the address for your hotel or accommodation in case you need to share these with a taxi or bus driver. Make sure at least one person in your group knows enough of the local language to ask directions or get help finding a familiar location. Avoid exploring after dark and stick to groups of three or more.

In addition to implementing health and safety guidelines for all your travelers, make sure each one is covered by an adequate travel insurance policy. If you need help finding a policy that works for your group, we’d love to assist! Send us an email to staff@flyforgood.com!

Traveling to the Philippines at just 8 months old, Shawna grew up loving all things related to travel and serving abroad. She is passionate about helping others travel safely and make the most of their time abroad.