Planning for international travel can be a little stressful. Add in a remote medical mission and it can be downright scary especially if you don’t know what to expect. When we talk to providers who are getting ready for a medical mission, they often share with us some concerns. The reality is that with international travel there are so many things outside of our control. Unfortunately it is common that flights get delayed and people get sick. But here are a few tips that may help in addressing some common fears and questions.
Is the water and food safe?
The answer is yes and no. In most of the countries we travel to the water is not safe to drink. Even brushing your teeth with tap water could get you sick. However, we work with our nonprofit partners to make sure you have access to clean drinking water and safe food as much as possible. To protect yourself we highly recommend bringing a reusable water bottle that has a way to purify water. Two popular options are LifeStraw and Grayl, though you can find more options on Amazon or REI.
Let’s talk about food! You might be surprised at how good the food can be. The fare is often simpler than what you may be used to and ingredients like rice or beans may be common. This may cause challenges for your digestive system if this is not what you usually eat. Expect that it might be a bit of an adjustment. Consider starting to take a probiotic in the weeks leading up to trip and while traveling. It never hurts to bring some Pepto along with you too.
Common-sense goes a long way in making sure you don’t get sick off the food. Try to avoid street vendors, cut fruit, and food that looks questionable. If you have dietary restrictions, we suggest packing some food or snacks that you can eat.
Are medical missions safe?
Medical missions take place in locations that encounter the most need. Often those countries deal with limited resources or political unrest. But rest assured we keep on top of what is happening in the countries we work with and are in close contact with the nonprofits who have people living in those locations. We will not hesitate to cancel a trip if we feel like it would be a negative experience or if there are any safety risks.
International travel does have some inherent risks. We ask everyone to take typical precautions like keeping your belongings safe, having a copy of your passport, not carrying a lot of cash, and working with your bank at home to exchange money. We always suggest traveling with other people. Especially at night, don’t go out alone and always talk with your hosts or trip leaders about areas that are safe to visit.
What if my flight is delayed or canceled?
International travel can be tricky! It seems like every trip someone’s flight is delayed, canceled, or a bag is lost. One trip the team had to pitch in clothes because a bag was lost. That is bound to happen when multiple flights are needed to arrive to some of these remote locations. The foundation trip coordinator is always there to help you through these situations. Just know that you will need to be flexible as we cannot control what happens while traveling. You may need to book another flight or spend a night in a hotel. And we always suggest having one change of clothes in your carry-on luggage.
I don’t speak a foreign language. Can I still be useful?
Yes! All the partners we work with have translators. If you can spend some time learning a few words or phrases, it will make the trip a bit easier. We suggest starting with simple phrases you may use with your patients a daily basis. But ultimately, you do not need to speak the language to go on a mission.
How expensive are medical missions?
There are two main costs associated with going on a medical mission – program costs and flights. Both of those vary a great deal based on the country and organization you work with. Program costs include things like travel, housing, food, and water, and range from $900 – $4000. It really depends on the type of experience you want to have. Most flights are around $900 – $2000. Traveling to Central and South America are usually less expensive than flights to Africa or Asia.
I’ve never been on a mission and I have no idea what to expect?
Take some time to prepare for a medical mission trip. It can be very rewarding if you go in with the right perspective and expectations. We have several blog posts that can help you set the right mindset for your trip. Start with choosing a medical mission or what to expect when you are on a trip. You may want to do a little research on the location of the mission and how to be culturally sensitive or prepare for reverse culture shock when you get home. We also have a several providers who have gone on trips and would love to talk to you about their experiences.
Please reach out to the foundation if you have any questions about medical missions. We would love to talk with you and find a trip that works for you. We are here as a resource and would love to work with you and support your passion for giving back!