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Personal Safety

The primary goal of every volunteer should be to return home safe and sound. Without achieving that, any other accomplishments would be diminished. It is not advisable to travel to countries for which the U.S. Department of State has issued a travel warning indicating that Americans should defer all nonessential travel. The Web site is an online resource issued by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs that provides consular-information sheets as well as information on travel advisories, embassies, and consulates. The state department recommends that all travelers enroll in the Smart Traveller Enrollment Program (STEP). The CDC Web site also has important information on travel notices.

Key point to remember: Traveling outside the United States is not like being in Kansas anymore, and bad things can, indeed, happen to good people.
Travelers should use the same common sense when traveling overseas as they would at home and should be especially cautious in or should avoid areas where they are likely to be victimized, including crowded subways, train stations, elevators, tourist sites, marketplaces, festivals, and marginal areas of cities. Shortcuts, narrow alleys, or poorly lit streets should not be used. Avoiding traveling alone at night, staying away from public demonstrations and other civil disturbances, keeping a low profile, avoiding loud conversations or arguments, as well as avoiding discussion of travel plans or other personal matters with strangers are other wise precautionary measures.

If there is a confrontation with a thief, volunteers should not fight back. Money, credit cards, and passports can be replacedeasily if a copy has been kept in a safe location somewhere else in country and also back home, but a volunteer’s life cannot be replaced.

Up-to-date medical information can be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) In addition, several books could be of some help. The International Travel Health Guide (13th edition) by Stuart R. Rose, M.D., and Jay S. Keystone M.D., is now available for free online.

Volunteers with any special health issues should ascertain whether those issues can be accommodated at the project site. Moreover, no one should underestimate the strenuousness of many projects. Being in good physical shape is not just a good idea at home but a great idea when traveling. Volunteers should take enough of their personal medications, especially prescription drugs, to last throughout the trip, as refills might not be available on-site. Traveler’s diarrhea and the common cold are the two most common diseases to afflict volunteers. The best preventive measures against diarrhea are always being aware of what you eat and drink. Forgetting about the ice in a drink and using tap water to brush teeth are common mistakes that even seasoned travelers sometimes make. Constant hand washing in clean water or use of hand sanitizers are good practices for minimizing the chance of getting sick. Volunteers should be prepared to handle gastrointestinal disturbances and be sure to stay hydrated if they do get sick, as dehydration can be a dangerous sequela.

Transportation safety is as important as any other considerations. Any unnecessary risks regarding transportation within any foreign country should not be taken. Some mountain and river roads are dangerous on a clear, sunny day, let alone at night in a driving rainstorm. It might be helpful to carry a two-way radio, a mobile CB radio, or an in-country cell phone that can be used to call for help, especially in remote areas. If there appears to be a civil disturbance of some kind, travelers should steer clear of it and find a temporary safe haven until the situation is calm. Travelers should use the same common sense when traveling overseas as they would at home.