Archive for August, 2011

Know Before You Go: Keeping Humanitarian Teams Safe

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011 No Commented

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Hundreds of thousands of people travel the globe each year doing volunteer work. Most of these servants have great experiences and do not encounter situations where they are harmed or their safety is at risk. We do, however, live in a volatile world where anything can happen. We have seen in recent years that even places once considered safe have had security incidents.

 

When you lead a humanitarian team abroad, you not only are responsible to make sure the team’s mission is successful, but also that they are kept as safe and secure as possible. One way to do that is to make sure you have good information before you travel.

 

Always do background checks on the country you are traveling to even if you have been there many times before, as circumstances can quickly change.

 

There are several good government sources for information. The U.S. State Department at www.travel.state.gov provides general country information as well as specific travel advisories. The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office provides similar information but from a different perspective at http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/travel-and-living-abroad/ and their Australian counterpart at http://www.smarttraveller.gov.au/.

 

Another excellent government site is the Overseas Security Advisory Council (www.osac.gov) where you can search security related news by region or country. They also have an extensive online library of reports covering topics such as food security, evacuation planning, financial scams, and much more.

 

You also will want to monitor media reports from the country or region. Many countries have English newspapers or English versions of local newspapers that you can read online.

 

Your local contacts are usually some of your best sources of information. Remember, however, that they are looking at things through the lens of a national. What may not pose a security issue for them may be an issue for foreigners.

 

At Humanitarian Travel we not only save you money on your international volunteer trips, but we also provide tools, tips and information to help make those trips safe and successful. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook and catch all of our daily updates.

USA Passport Day Set for September 17

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011 No Commented

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Are you going on your first international humanitarian trip or getting ready to take a volunteer team abroad? Then chances are you or someone on your team still needs a passport. Here is a great opportunity to get it.

The U.S. State Department, which issues passports for U.S. citizens, will have its regional passport offices open on Saturday, September 17 with no appointments needed. You also will be able to apply for standard processing (4-6 weeks) at the normal fee. Typically, you must pay an expedited fee any time you submit an application in person at a passport agency or center.

The State Department plans passport-themed events for children and adults at the passport agencies and at thousands of passport acceptance facilities around the country. You can visit one of the offices and apply for either routine or expedited processing. The State Department has opened several new regional passport offices over the last several months, bringing the total to 26. For a complete list visit http://travel.state.gov/passport/npic/agencies/agencies_913.html.

New passports for adults (age 16 and older) are $135. Renewals are $110. Minor passports, both new and renewals, are $105. Currently, routine processing is taking four to six weeks. Expedited service, which costs $60 more, takes about two to three weeks.

If you need your passport quicker, Humanitarian Travel can help you secure either a new one or a replacement in as quickly as 24 hours. We also can help secure travel visas. For more information on this service, visit http://www.humanitariantravel.net/travel-services/humanitarian-passport-visa.html.

If you already have a passport, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Check the expiration date. Many short term humanitarian travelers fail to do so, only to discover just before a trip that it is expired. No one wants the extra stress, anxiety and expense of trying to renew a passport when they are preparing to leave. Passports are valid for 10 years for an adult and five years for minors under age 16.
  • Make sure your passport will be valid for at least six month after you start your trip. Some countries require that your passport be valid for at least this long or they can refuse entry.
  • Locate your passport 3-4 weeks prior to your volunteer trip. We have heard many, many stories of short-term humanitarian workers getting ready to leave for the airport and not able to find their passport.
  • Cary a copy of your passport with you when you travel. In case your passport is lost or stolen, the copy can make it easier for you to get it replaced while abroad. If you are leading a team, you should keep a copy of each team member’s passport.

For more information on U.S. passports, including how to apply for one, visit http://travel.state.gov/passport. For information on visas and other international travel related issues, visit http://travel.state.gov. For discounted airfare for non-profit organizations and humanitarian travelers, click on the “Request a Quote” tab on our website at www.humanitariantravel.net.

The Rookie International Volunteer Team Member

Thursday, August 18th, 2011 No Commented

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     On the table in front of you are two passports. The one on the left is creased, well worn with lots of stamps inside. The other looks brand new, with just one stamp in it. The one on the left is yours—a telltale sign of a veteran humanitarian travel leader. The one on the right belongs to that team member making her very first trip. Not only is her passport new, but everything is new to her. What can you do to help her have an outstanding experience? Here are a few tips to make the rookie’s trip smoother and more enjoyable.

     First, divide pre-trip training information into three categories: Must Know, Should Know, and Good to Know. Rookies are often overwhelmed with information leading up to their first trip, and some find it difficult to process. By breaking your information into these categories you help pre-process the information for them. They can focus the bulk of their preparation time on the Must Know, some on the Should Know, and any extra time to review the Good to Know.

     Must Know includes things that are critical to fulfilling your mission as well as key logistical information such as travel itineraries and what to do in emergencies. Should Know includes background information on your work, general travel tips, and information specific to the location you are traveling, such as local customs and cultures. Good to Know contains country backgrounds, demographics, detailed cultural practices of your focus population, and so on.

     If your rookie is also a novice traveler, be sure to explain how to navigate passport controls, customs, airports, etc. Remember, just getting through airport security can be stressful! A few words of preparation can go a long way in calming nerves.

     Another good idea is to ask a veteran team member to “buddy” up with the rookie to help him or her through the trip. This takes a lot of pressure off the team leader and allows him or her to maintain focus on the entire team and not just on managing one member.

     Finally, be sure to communicate clearly and often with rookies. Check in frequently with them to see how they are doing and what concerns or questions they might have. Don’t assume that they know how to do certain things or how to act in certain situations. Coach them!

     At Humanitarian Travel, we enjoy helping all international volunteer travelers, both veterans and rookies! We sort through the confusing world of travel to provide you with clear options that save you money. Contact us today about our special discounts for non-profit organizations that travel internationally.

Helping the Volunteer Trip’s Bottom Line: Humanitarian Travel’s Social Media Month in Review

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011 No Commented

Expenses are always a factor in humanitarian travel. Yes the focus is on serving, but making the most of every dollar is critical to humanitarians and those on international volunteer trips. This past month we highlighted several stories in our social media channels Facebook (http://on.fb.me/nzZGiC ) and Twitter (www.twitter.com/humanitarianair ) that were relevant to finances and humanitarian trips. Here are a couple of those items in more in depth.

 

The first was a fun chart created by a group of number crunchers over at The Economist (http://econ.st/q7YTnm) and put into a more visually appealing format by the folks at Credit Sesame (http://bit.ly/nKsIUL). The chart compares the value of a Big Mac in different countries. This is a guide to the purchasing power of the dollar around the world.

 

Why is this important to humanitarian travel? It will help you in budgeting and could even be a factor if you are choosing between countries for your volunteer trip destination.

 

A Big Mac in China is 44% cheaper than the U.S. which implies that the Chinese currency is undervalued against the dollar. Take a service team to Brazil and you will pay 51% more for those two all-beef patties with special sauce. The implication, at least in theory, is that you could expect your in-country expenses in Brazil to be 51% more than what you would pay for something comparable in the U.S. once you factor in exchange rates and the value of the currency.

 

By the way, India has the best deal on Big Macs and Norway has the worst.

 

 

Arthur Frommer, of Frommer’s Travel Guide, recently blogged that the best deals on currency exchanges are at ATMs rather than at an airport or train station exchange kiosks. In Frommer’s example, he saved 15% by using an ATM. We have heard similar stories from our humanitarian clients. One word of caution, however, is that not all debit or cash advance credit cards will work at all ATMs around the world. Europe seems to be the most compatible. You should, however, always do your homework before you rely solely on ATMs to get your cash.

 

The biggest expense for any international humanitarian trip is usually the airfare, and that’s where we work hard every day to help keep your costs down. Contact one of our international travel consultants for your next trip and let us stretch your project dollars. You can request a no-obligation quote online at www.humanitariantravel.net or by calling 1-866-429-1325.

 

Also, if you’re not getting our daily Facebook or Twitter updates, be sure to sign up today and we will keep you informed on all the latest travel news, stories and tips that are relevant to humanitarian and volunteer travel.

How the 2012 Olympics Will Impact Your Humanitarian Trips

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011 No Commented

Every four years the world turns its attention to the summer Olympic Games as the world’s greatest athletes assemble in one place to seek the coveted price of a gold medal. London 2012 may be the farthest thing away from your mind right now as you begin to plan your 2012 volunteer trips, but it shouldn’t be. That’s because its location—London—could impact you regardless of your actual project destination.

 

Many humanitarian travelers go through Europe to get to destinations in Africa and Asia. That means that you can expect a lot of company in European airports if you’re traveling just before, during or right after the July 27-August 12, 2012 event. Even if you do not plan to fly on an airline that transfers in London, you should still expect major crowding in all of the key European hub airports during that time. London, of course, will be the epicenter.

 

For those who do transfer through London and want to explore the city during any layovers, they can expect the subway and other transportation methods to be very congested. According to the London 2012 Organizing Committee, they are aiming for a “public transport” Games, meaning there will be no car parking at or around Olympic venues, pushing even more people into using public transportation. Keep in mind that many of the Games’ events will actually take place outside of London and be spread across the UK, including the cities of Cardiff and Glasgow. So travel throughout the UK will be affected as well.

 

Besides the crowds that you can expect if you fly through Europe during the Olympics, you can also expect to pay more for airfare, especially if you wait much longer to make your airline reservations. We would expect limited inventory for discounted humanitarian tickets.

 

The bottom line is if you typically fly through Europe for your volunteer humanitarian  trips, you may want to consider scheduling your trips to avoid the dates around London 2012. If you do need to travel during that time, ask your Humanitarian Travel consultant about flight options that avoid London. Also, you should make your flight reservations just as soon as possible, knowing that the longer you wait the more you can expect to pay.

 

We do have clients that take volunteer teams to serve at the Olympics. If that is you, our advice is to recruit your teams right away and book your travel just as quickly as possible. Remember that with many of our special airline humanitarian contracts you can reserve space now and not have to pay anything until 45 days prior to departure. This is a definite advantage to help you save money during next summer’s busy travel time.