Volunteering for international aid can be an incredibly rewarding and enriching experience, however it is important to recognise that international aid and development work is not without its risks. Aid workers and volunteers are often in vulnerable environments and landscapes where local health support and resources are limited. The temptation to put others first and work long hours (particularly during a disaster or when providing humanitarian aid) is very easy to do, however it is crucial that you maintain good health and wellbeing including a good work life balance when participating in humanitarian work and volunteering abroad.

Staff and volunteers should also uphold good health and safety practices at all times to help avoid preventable problems should they occur. Good health and safety helps to minimise the impact to personal, relief and project efforts. The following volunteer travel tips include important health and safety checks to minimise risk for humanitarian aid workers. Follow this pre-departure checklist and post deployment travel checklist to ensure your humanitarian work is as effective as possible.

Pre-departure travel checklist

  • Review the Health, safety and security indicators outlined in Principle Seven of the People in Aid Code of Good Practice, www.peopleinaid.org.
  • Research your destination prior to departure. For country specific health and safety advice and to register your overseas plans online visit www.smartraveller.gov.au.
  • Are you emotionally ready for your deployment? Learn a range of stress and trauma management strategies. For more information regarding psychological issues relating to humanitarian aid work visit www.antaresfoundation.org
  • Ensure you have complied with your employers aid worker travel policy and administrative requirements.
  • Make sure your travel plans & contact details are known to your organisation & next of kin prior to departure.
  • Seek a travel health consultation with Travel Doctor-TMVC prior to departure as per company procedures. Contact 1300 658 844 to book your appointment.
  • Ensure your vaccines are up to date prior to departure. Ideally commence vaccinations 4-6 weeks prior to departure. But remember it is never too late to vaccinate. You can visit www.traveldoctor.com.au to see what you may require.
  • Make sure you have adequate supplies of your regular prescription medication and always carry your Travel Doctor-TMVC Travel Medicine Kit.
  • Ensure you receive health, safety and security briefing before departure. Be familiar with contingency plans and evacuations procedures before arriving to provide international aid.
  • Ensure you have travel insurance and that you are familiar with the medical support and emergency contact details.
  • Check the local health care facilitates. Your destination will most likely have limited health care facilities, ensure you check where your closest medical facilities are prior to departure.
  • Make sure your passport is valid at least six month past your expected return date and ensure any relevant visas have been obtained. Carry additional copies of your passport photo page in case you need a replacement while overseas.

Post deployment

  • Ensure you receive a debriefing or exit interview with your employer at the end of your deployment. Health checks, personal counselling and careers advice should be made available to you.
  • International aid work is stressful. Request EAP support from HR or your manager should you experience any difficulties. The transition back home can be just as difficult as your time abroad. Allow time to adjust.
  • If you are sick or injured while overseas, you may need an appointment with Travel Doctor-TMVC upon return. Remember that some infections such as malaria can appear several months after exposure!