Advice for Those Going on Expeditions and Volunteers
Adventure travel, gap years, expeditions and volunteering abroad have become popular and often involve travelling to remote and exotic destinations for an extended period. These travellers are at increased risk of exposure to travel-related infections, accidents and injuries than other types of travel.
This page aims to discuss the type of risks associated with this type of travel and provide advice on how to stay safe.
You are strongly recommended to purchase comprehensive travel insurance before travelling, and carefully check any exclusions. The policy needs to cover:
- the entire duration of your trip
- all destinations you plan to visit
- all planned activities
- medical costs, including evacuation and repatriation
If you travel to a country or area which the Foreign Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) advise against all but essential travel, your insurance policy may become invalid.
It is also worth noting that if accidents or injuries are sustained whilst under the influence of alcohol or drugs, this may invalidate your insurance policy.
Make sure any known health conditions are stabilised, particularly if you plan to travel to remote destinations and/or for an extended period. Consider having:
- a general health check-up with your GP or specialist to ensure you are in good health
- routine dental and/or eye health check-ups and complete any urgent treatment before travelling
Be prepared to disclose your medical history to the tour organisation if undertaking an organised expedition.
Make sure that you up to date with routine vaccinations for life in the UK, including:
- diphtheria, tetanus and polio
- measles, mumps and rubella (MMR)
- seasonal influenza vaccine
- COVID-19 vaccine
You should also get any recommended travel vaccinations for each country on your itinerary.
- Check the individual country pages for further information.
- If you will not know your destination until the last minute, you should check recommendations for all possible destinations in advance.
A travel health risk assessment can also provide you with tailored advice for your individual situation and give you time to consider other important advice for your trip, including:
- food and water precautions
- travellers diarrhoea
- mosquito bite avoidance and insect bite avoidance
- animal bites, snake bites and rabies risk
- sexual health risks and contraception
Carefully research your itinerary and consider the level of physical exertion your trip may involve:
- begin training several weeks or months before departure if your itinerary is physically demanding
- be aware of any environmental factors including high altitude and climate of your destination(s)
See the following advice pages for further information:
Undertaking adventurous physical activities is exciting and can improve your well-being. However, travelling can be stressful, and can sometimes affect your mental health and ability to cope, even if you have never had issues before. It is important to carefully research your destination(s) and consider how you will cope with the following challenges:
- jet lag
- physical demands of travel / expedition
- being unfamiliar with the local culture
- language barriers
- absence of home comforts or familiar surroundings
- separation from your family and friends
- lack of clean toilet and/or and washing facilities
For further information, see
Travelling with medicines
Make sure you have sufficient supply of your medications to cover the duration of your trip, and a little extra supply to allow for unforeseen delays.
- Keep all medicines in their original packaging, in your hand luggage along with a printed copy of your prescription.
- Be aware some medicines, such as morphine-based drugs, might be restricted in certain countries and may even be illegal.
- Check with the foreign embassy if you are unsure.
See the following advice pages for further information:
Accessing medical care abroad
Adventure travellers are more likely to become exposed to infectious diseases or suffer from accidents or injury than other types of travel.
Accessing good quality medical care in some destinations can be challenging, and how quickly you can reach a medical facility will vary enormously from place to place, regardless of whether you are travelling independently or with an organised trek, expedition, or voluntary project.
Make sure you:
- know how to access medical care in each destination on your itinerary
- consider carrying a first aid or expedition kit if you are travelling to remote destinations
- consider undertaking first aid training in advance of travel
For further information, see:
When travelling with an expedition organisation, it is important to establish and consider what safety procedures the organisation has in place to protect you during your trip.
- The FCDO recommend choosing a travel organisation who is compliant with UK safety standards. These standards ensure procedures are in place to manage your safety when overseas.
Be vigilant when travelling abroad, always keep your passport, money and valuables secure. Consider:
- researching safety and security issues at your destination(s) on the FCDO foreign travel advice pages
- be aware how to find the UK embassy or consulate when abroad should you require assistance
- consider leaving copies of important documents at home, including contact details, passport, travel health insurance documents and itinerary
- carry emergency cash or credit cards, electronic copies of important documents and emergency contact details with you at all times.
See the personal safety page for further information.
Volunteer travel or 'voluntourism' are terms commonly used to describe people travelling with the purpose of helping local communities and develop new skills whilst enjoying different cultural experiences.
Not all international volunteer organisations consider the effects of their projects on the local communities. Unfortunately, some projects have the potential to cause more harm than good to local communities if they are not carefully structured and supported by the organisations, and may cause the following unintended consequences.
- Valuable local resources such as food and accommodation are often used for the comfort of volunteers instead of helping to improve the living conditions of the local community.
- Volunteers not properly trained in the type of work they will be doing in the field, for example construction, may produce work which is of poor quality. It may cost the local community more to repair any damage caused.
- Foreign volunteers often take the jobs of local labourers, causing them to lose work and unable to make any income to support their families.
- Projects may be left unfinished when volunteers leave after a few days or weeks.
- Short-term visits to an orphanage can damage children’s development and emotional wellbeing as they need constant and reliable sources of love and support.
- There is evidence in some countries of organisations exploiting children by housing them in poor conditions to attract ongoing financial support from visitors.
When choosing an expedition, you may wish to consider the following aspects:
- What type of organisation is it?
- a charity, non-governmental organisation (NGO), profit-making
- How does the organisation work with the community?
- Do they work with local partners instead of taking jobs away?
- What is the nature of work you will be doing? Are you appropriately qualified?
- If you are ‘untrained’ to do the work in the UK then the same applies when you are overseas.
- What training and/or support will the organisation provide for you before you depart and when you are overseas?
- Do the values and objectives of the organisation match your own values and objectives?
- How does the organisation assess (evaluate) both the short term and long-term impacts of their projects?
- Are they helping the local community to become self-sufficient? For example, teaching local teachers a new language so they can teach others in the community once the volunteers have left
- What are the experiences of previous volunteers with this project and/or organisation?
- Can you contact them either in person or by social media to discuss?
- FCDO: Gap years, volunteering overseas and adventure travelling
- Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO)
- Volunteer Scotland