South of the Equator

This year, on my 26th birthday, while slightly intoxicated and ranting to a friend, I named off some goals I wanted to accomplish before my next birthday. One of them was to travel south of the equator for the first time. Then I told him that I was cheating because I already had tickets booked to Indonesia at that time, haha.

Couple months prior, I researched volunteer programs abroad. I found International Volunteer Headquarters, which had pretty good reviews. Next thing you know, it was chosen: Ubud, Bali, Indonesia with their Health Education Program. Unfortunately, I was only able to commit to one week.

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Application process was simple with a quick response. There were two separate fees to be paid (registration and program) which provides housing, some commute, meals, and other things. The only out of pocket purchase is your own mode of transportation to get there (i.e. flights). And of course, you’d pay for everything else that isn’t related to the program.

After program acceptance, they provided preparation info via guidebooks, brochures, online training, resources, and available contacts. They request that you have a background check, travel insurance, passport, and flight information. So far, I’ve had great communication in a timely matter with all my questions.

Here are some things I’ve learned about logistics throughout the process:

BACKGROUND CHECK

If you’ve had a background check performed recently, you can request a copy of that instead of paying for a new background check. For instance, I recently got a job and retrieved a copy of the background check that my company paid for. They won’t deny giving you a copy of your background check however, it does needs to be valid (performed no more than 6-12 months prior to volunteer start date).

TRAVEL INSURANCE

Double-check with your current health insurance to see if travel insurance is already included in your plan. If it is, then that saves you from purchasing separate travel insurance. But don’t forget to check what is included in the available travel insurance too.

PAID TIME OFF

Use PTO strategically. For more time, utilize the weekends (if you don’t usually work weekends). Flying in and out mid-week will give you more time off from work, especially if your flights alone are going take a full-day.

Also, check if your company recognizes volunteer time. My manager approved eight “Volunteer Hours” instead of taking eight “Vacation Hours”. This means I’ll be getting paid for some of the volunteering without using PTO. I’ll be gone for 10 (7 business) days, so eight hours is a lot considering that I won’t have any access to actual work-related things the entire time.

IMMUNIZATIONSimmunizations

Travel clinics are great versus going to a regular physician. They have access to different resources that feed in current and constant updates on trending illnesses, diseases, prevention methods, and more. They work closely with the CDC as well as many other country government controlled public health institutions. They’ll talk through everything and discuss the best options with you.

I went to a county public health travel clinic and the NP was amazing. She had everything prepared for me when I arrived. Packets and reports of info specific to the country traveling to. Not only did we discuss health precautions but also general country information, common laws, current civil unrest, crime, currency, government infrastructure, etc.

Note: I did pay out of pocket for the visit and vaccinations/immunizations however, you can try and back-date the charges to insurance afterwards (I didn’t think it was that expensive, so I didn’t bother with reimbursement).

CASH AND CREDIT 

It’s safer to travel with a credit card over your debit card, so skip the international transaction fees by purchasing with a travel rewards card. Most cards don’t have international transaction fees and you will get at least 1:1 points in return, i.e. Chase Sapphire. Let your bank know where you’re going before you leave!

When it comes to cash, don’t forget to research exchange rates and look for little tidbits on two things: when to get cash and when to use cash.

When should you get cash? Sometimes it’s better to have money prior to departure and sometimes it’s better to go to an ATM at arrival instead. When to use cash? Consider the transaction: how long to process and fees that could be associated with swiping a card; maybe cash is better.

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MISCELLANEOUS

  1. Register yourself to Smart Traveler Enrollment Program so that if anything happens, the U.S. Embassy will have your information.
  2. Make copies of everything and distribute to your emergency contacts. Copies of your travel insurance, passport, identifiers, itinerary, etc. It won’t do you any harm and will come in handy if anything should happen. My mom made me make a wallet size copy of my passport to keep with me at all times.
  3. Find forums and social media outlets to get more live info on the program and experiences. I joined the IVHQ Bali Facebook group where a lot of communication gets across from previous volunteers, future volunteers, and sometimes locals.
  4. If you’re like me, willing to sacrifice sleep in order to see more places, book flights that have longer layovers. Not only will the flights likely cost less, but you won’t have to pay for hotel accommodation nor luggage storage for a day trip into a new city/country.
  5. T-Mobile’s Simple Plan (No Contract) Rates typically include international unlimited data and unlimited text messaging (you will be charged for phone calls). Double-check with your cell phone carrier otherwise definitely look into purchasing a SIM for your phone in the country you’re visiting.
  6. Research visa rules! I’ve been bitten in the butt before: cancelling travel plans due to visa issues. It’s a time sensitive thing, so know when you need it for wherever you’re going.
  7. If you’re in a volunteer program, be prepared to volunteer! Have lesson plans, games, activities, and more that caters to your topic and your crowd. Have an idea of what you want to teach and how you want to teach it. Bringing your own supplies help too! For example, hygiene care: bring hand sanitizer, toothbrushes, floss, etc. Any left over items can be donated to the program. Don’t forget about language barriers too.
  8. Just do your research and use common sense. And most importantly, get excited!
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I leave in a week and a half!

I might be missing some key points and I sure don’t know it all, but that list was just a couple of things I’d tell someone if they asked for advice.

Is there anything else you’d recommend or advise for volunteering abroad?

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