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15 Key Travel Tips for Humanitarian Travel

International humanitarian travel is one of the cornerstones of the globalization of aid. It means that people anywhere in the world can help those in need in a time of crisis or disaster. Being part of the international humanitarian movement is both an honor and a privilege. It is an essential way that demonstrates our global community. But humanitarian international travel has its challenges. That’s why preparation and focus are key to successfully implement international missions. As such, we prepared 15 key travel tips for international humanitarians.

Key Travel Tip #1: Choose the right experience

Whether you are a humanitarian worker or volunteer, you need to understand the scope of your potential impact. That is the bottom line of key travel tip number 1. Is international humanitarian aid right for you? What skills and assets can you contribute? Are you ready to adapt to a new context and culture? When and where?

These are all questions that you should consider before you begin planning international humanitarian travel. That’s because it takes commitment from you and your deployment agency. After all, you are working with real people and often saving lives.

Key Travel Tip #2: Organize your documents

Once you have made the decision, make sure that your documents are in order. Nothing can be worse than getting an assignment abroad only to realize you can’t go because your passport is not ready. Remember, for international travel most places require that your passport be valid for at least 6 months.

Organize Travel Documents

Additionally, check to see if you need visas, permits, or certifications to enter the country. If you are staying for a longer period of time, you probably need to go through some kind of process to secure a residency at your destination. These things take time! So, give yourself enough time to arrange all your documents.

Key Travel Tip #3: See a healthcare professional

The next key tip we have for international humanitarian travelers is to ensure that you are in good health. Do all your annual health examinations back home before you leave. If you get sick abroad, it will affect your performance. Plus, language can be a strong barrier to getting proper health care.

Vaccines When Travelling to AfricaIn addition, your doctor should advise you on whether you need any vaccines. This is particularly important for travelers to Africa, Central, South America, and South East Asia.

Key Travel Tip #4: Get in the mindset

Planning for travel is important. But sometimes, we let ourselves get too caught up in schedules and dates and forget about the emotional impact. Being away from home can be tough. Seeing human suffering while in the field will be even more difficult.

It’s essential for humanitarian workers and volunteers to get in the right mindset before heading overseas. For some, this means doing research. For others, it may be a session with a therapist. Or you might want to try some meditation. Whatever works!

Key Travel Tip #5: Pack smart

Now, it’s time to start packing! Packing for humanitarian travel is not the same as packing for a vacation. Of course, you need your basics such as clothes and personal hygiene items. But, there are a few other things to consider.

For example, it’s a good idea to bring a travel medical aid kit with you. Depending on your destination, you may need a backup power source, water purifying tablets, and a mosquito net. The best way to know for sure is to ask your organization for their packing list. We also have a few key tips for humanitarian travel packing that you can find here and here.

Key Travel Tip #6: Minimize risks

Often, humanitarians deploy to areas that face conflict or disasters. That means the environment can be unsafe. While it’s tempting to throw yourself into work, it is also very important to stay safe. Follow your organization’s safety briefings and guidelines. Listen to advice from locals. Make sure that you are taking all health precautions to prevent getting sick as well.

After all, if you are not healthy, you can’t contribute to the project!

Key Travel Tip #7: Stay informed

During disasters and conflict, things change fast! So, it’s important to stay informed on the latest developments. This includes warnings and alerts but also general information on the area that you are in.

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For example, Raptim provides push notifications to travelers to keep the flow of information even if telecommunications are down. We also make sure that you stay in touch with your organization.

Key Travel Tip #8: Be proactive

Another key travel tip for successful humanitarian travel is to be proactive. Project staff in the field tend to be very busy, so take the initiative to help out where you can. At the same time, ask questions if you don’t understand something. This way, you’ll make sure you are not making mistakes along the way.

Key Travel Tip #9: Make new connections

Humanitarian travel is not just about missions, objectives, and KPIs. It’s about people. So, don’t shy away from making connections once you are on the ground. Meet other staff, both local and international. Get to know people outside your work circle if possible.

Part of the experience of humanitarian travel is to create a new network. To get to know people outside of the places and circumstances you are used to. Some of these connections will likely stay with you throughout your life.

Key Travel Tip #10: Learn the local language

This key travel tip kind of ties in with Key Tip #9. One of the challenges that you’ll find in the field is the language barrier. Of course, this depends on your destination. But if you do find yourself in a place where you don’t speak the language, try to learn at least a bit!

This will help you to be more independent in your new place. You’ll also be able to connect more with locals. Additionally, when working in communities, you’ll be able to develop trust and rapport with project participants.

Key Travel Tip #11: Maximize your time

If your assignment is longer than a few months, it may seem like a long time, but the reality is that it will be shorter than you imagine. That’s why it’s so important to maximize your time during humanitarian travel. Don’t leave ideas or activities for later if you can help it. Instead, implement as much as possible while you are there so you can have a real impact.

Key Travel Tip #12: Focus on community

We’ve already mentioned that humanitarian travel is about people. And often, things on the ground look quite different from what you imagined. In order to implement successful actions in the field, you need to focus on what locals need.

For this, draw your attention to the communities that you are working with. What is their culture? Do they have  traditions? What changes do they need based on their own opinion? Of course, complement this with hard data, and do not disregard the agency of the community that you are working with.

Key Travel Tip #13: Ensure sustainability

In a way, Key Tips #12 and #13 go hand-in-hand. When you are ready to leave your post, you must ensure the sustainability of your actions in the long term. This is one of the biggest challenges that the aid industry faces, and we don’t pretend to have all the right answers!

But some of the ways you can do this is by ensuring that your project is community-oriented and driven. If the people you are trying to help own the actions, then they are more likely to continue in the long run.

Key Travel Tip #14: Watch out for reverse culture shock

When you get back home after finishing an assignment, you will likely face reverse culture shock. It will be amazing to see your family and friends. Yet, you’ll feel a certain change in yourself and the way that you view the world.

Don’t worry! This is perfectly normal. But you should be aware of the signs and symptoms of reverse culture shock. By doing this, you can address it. If you don’t, longer-term issues can even lead to depression.

Key Travel Tip #15: Apply what you’ve learned

Last, but not least, bring your lessons learned with you! You can apply what you have learned—both mistakes and wins—while you were working or volunteering abroad. The context back home might be different, but the lessons we learn during international humanitarian travel do not have to only focus on implementation.

Rather, we often learn new things about other people, humans as a whole, and even about ourselves!

We Help You to Travel Where it is Needed Most

We believe our world is a better place when compassion can travel where it is needed most. As a global humanitarian travel organization, we devote ourselves to serving those who serve the world. Our experienced staff can be reached at any given time. Please use our quick address locator to contact your nearest Raptim office should you have any questions. You can also follow our blog for more stories and travel information.