Cambodia – Mary Jo Pham (2009)

Mary Jo Pham grew up in Springfield, MA, and has completed her sophomore year at Tufts University. Mary Jo worked in the Public Affairs Office at the US Embassy in Phom Penh, Cambodia during the summer, concentrating on press, cultural, educational programs. Mary Jo received a $1000 scholarship from Sara’s Wish Foundation.

Here are Mary Jo’s travel safety tips:

Any trip to Southeast Asia will be an unforgettable experience. The journey is one that will open a door to new cultures, languages, people, and adventures. Life in the major cities such as Bangkok, Phnom Penh, and Ho Chi Minh City differ from rural and pastoral living. The rules and tips to how to be safe throughout your trip, however, do not.

  1. Always know where you are and where you’re going, be very aware and vigilant. Put yourself and your safety first.
  2. Give your family/emergency contact person details as to where you’re going, when/how long you’re staying, and contact addresses and phone numbers.
  3. Research your destinations thoroughly and know where to avoid.
  4. Learn key phrases in the language (No. Stop! I need help. I’m lost)
  5. Carry an emergency information card in your wallet and on your person.
  6. Don’t walk or travel at night in unlit areas. While Ho Chi Minh City is lit up like New York City, other places in Vietnam often are not. Roads are dark and seeing road obstructions are difficult. Please don’t night travel.
  7. Please avoid carrying backpacks and purses. Opt to put money in a security pouch or front pocket. If you must wear a purse or carry a bag, make sure it’s slung closely across the front of your body, as to avoid pick-pocketing and snatching.
  8. Keep valuables well hidden and/or in a safe in a hotel room.
  9. Have money available via small amounts of cash, card, traveler’s check, and always have an extra $20 USD -$50 USD on your person should an emergency occur. Invest in a security pouch to wear and to store documents while traveling long distances.
  10. Register with the U.S. Embassy in the country you’re traveling to. Think: GOSHH. Go Off Safe, Healthy, and Happy! When in doubt, always ask questions, always walk, and always put your safety first.


This entry was posted on November 7, 2012, in 2009, Asia.

Philippines – Lena Fairless (2000)

Lena Fairless pursued a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing at Truman State University in Missouri where she also received a BS degree in biology in 1997. During summer 2000, Lena and eleven other nursing majors traveled to the Philippines where they worked in a variety of primitive medical settings. Lena’s award of $1000 covered her airplane ticket to Manila.

Here are Lena’s travel safety tips:

Carry your money in a money belt worn under your clothing. Vary your arrival and departure times from your residence as much as possible while traveling abroad. This prevents thieves from learning your routine.

This entry was posted on November 7, 2012, in 2000, Asia.

Nepal – Karen Mera (2000)

Karen Mera was student at the Yale School of Nursing when she applied to Sara’s Wish Foundation. Her plans were to graduate in 2001 with a Master’s of Science degree in nursing with the training to be licensed as a family nurse practitioner. Karen spent summer 2000 volunteering in a hospital in Kathmandu, working in the outpatient clinic. Karen lived and worked in Nepal for four years prior to beginning graduate school, and is fluent in Nepali. Karen’s scholarship award of $1600 covered the cost of her flight as well as additional living expenses.

Here are Karen’s travel safety tips:

Do not ride motorcycles in Nepal because appropriate medical care is not available for head injuries. Do not ride buses at night. Bus drivers in Nepal tend to take drugs to stay awake when driving at night, and the buses’ headlights are bad.

This entry was posted on November 7, 2012, in 2000, Asia.

China – Kristin Johnson (2011)

Kristin Johnson holds a masters degree in public health from Boston University. Kristin worked in rural China with the Pediatric HIV/AIDS Treatment Support Project. Her work included expanding strategies to promote the adherence to life-saving HIV medications and developing community health worker training programs. Kristin received a $1500 scholarship from Sara’s Wish Foundation.

Here are Kristin’s travel safety tips:

Travel in China is both extremely rewarding and challenging. The people are extremely hospitable, the food selection is vast and delicious, and every corner offers a new adventure. Chinese people tend to be very curious about America, so be prepared to discuss American culture, politics, and economics. Don’t be surprise if you are asked for personal opinions about topics that you might not typically discuss with a new acquaintance. Also, make sure to use these conversations to ask about China, as people will be eager to tell you about their local traditions and culture as well.

Perhaps the most immediate challenge is language. Outside of the major cities most people do not speak English therefore you may want to consider studying Chinese as part of your pre-departure preparations. For me, the population density and the constant attention of being foreigner in rural China was sometimes exhausting. It is not uncommon for strangers to ask to take a photo with/of you, however this is merely an expression of their curiosity; you may be the first American that they have ever met. Also, Chinese cities are very large, generally much larger than most major American cities, so take care to find a map and perhaps plot out your destinations in advance, particularly if your don’t speak Chinese. Pollution in China is also immediately evident by the air quality and the thick layer of smog that covers most cities. While it might not be possible to tackle this problem alone, it is of course best to dispose of trash in proper waste receptacles.

In terms of security, China is generally a very safe country, however that said please take all the standard travel precautions, including making copies of your passport, securing your belongings, carrying some money and leaving some behind, and informing someone of your itinerary. Also, it is always advisable to check in with the US Embassy and to check for updates for the Department of State. Access to certain parts of China may be limited to foreigners so be respectful of these rules. Infectious disease risks vary by region therefore it is best to visit your local travel medicine clinic, but as a general rule always drink bottled water and food that is well cooked. The greatest threat to travelers is automobile accidents; therefore it is best to use China ’s very efficient train system for long distance travel. When purchasing train tickets ask for a “soft sleeper,” which is compartment with a mattress, this will be far more comfortable than the seating. Additionally, take extra care when crossing the street as traffic in China in not likely to stop for pedestrians.

Given all of this, soak up as much local culture as possible. If it is a culinary adventure you seek China will not disappoint you- from insects to a mind boggling assortment of meats, vegetables and tofu the options are endless. China has vastly different culture from region to region therefore your experiences with be most rewarding if you meet and travel with local people. Be safe and enjoy your travels in China.

This entry was posted on November 7, 2012, in 2011, Asia.

Cambodia and Ecuador – Tanya Gonzalez (2011)

Tanya Gonzalez is pursuing a medical degree at Howard University.  During the summer 0f 2011, Tanya contributed her medical expertise to under-served populations in both Cambodia (for two weeks) and Ecuador (for six weeks). Tanya’s volunteer work is possible thanks to a $1500 scholarship from Sara’s Wish Foundation.

Here are Tanya’s travel safety tips for Cambodia:

I found the Cambodian people to be very warm and welcoming towards tourists – always very eager to practice English and share with foreigners the beauty of their country.

With that said, there are of course safety precautions that should be taken regardless.  As with any other place, traveling solo during the day tends to not be a problem but traveling in groups at night is strongly encouraged, especially for female travelers.  If you plan to cross the border by bus or car, do so only during the day.

The streets of Siem Reap, much like other Asian cities, are chaotic compared to those in the US.  Pedestrians must proceed with caution when crossing the streets as cars/motorcyles/tuk-tuks usually do not give them the right of way.  Common modes of transportation, such as tuk-tuks and motorcyles, are not equipped with basic safety gear such as seat belts or helmets, increasing the likelihood of injury should an accident occur.  Additionally, most modes of transportation are gross polluters so taking a motorcycle or tuk-tuk on a daily basis can greatly increase one’s exposure to atmospheric pollutants – a face mask is highly advised when traveling by such modes of transportation.

Since Siem Reap is largely based around the tourism from Angkor Wat, pick-pockets are abound.  Travelers are warned to be aware of this fact and to only bring small amounts of cash and no flashy jewelry or other electronic items (including cameras and iphones/ipods) when traveling about for the day.  Should you choose to wear a purse, I recommend a purse that has some sort of twist and lock mechanism versus a simple snap or zipper for closure – this makes access more difficult for pick pockets.

The number of street children in Cambodia is truly unfortunate.  It is difficult to not lend one’s heart to these children when they approach you selling items or for money.  Sadly, these children are often part of larger units (I hesitate to call them gangs) run by an adult exploiting them.  Often times, these children work all day long and must turn in their money to the adults, who in turn provide them with meager meals.  Instead of purchasing items from them or giving cash, I recommend donating to or volunteering with a local organization dedicated to removing children from a life on the streets.  To provide them immediate assistance, I would suggest offering to buy a meal for them.  Often times, I saw tourists purchase one item from a child and the other children would become enraged if the same tourist didn’t purchase from the other children as well.

Lastly, drugs are widely available in Cambodia, despite being illicit.  Many locals will bombard tourists with offers to buy drugs.  Please be aware that drug laws are often much more strict in Asian countries and the person offering to sell you drugs could potentially be an undercover officer.  Do not attempt to purchase or use illicit drugs while in another country – remaining drug-free is always the best choice.

Here are Tanya’s travel safety tips for Ecuador:

When traveling  around Ecuador, take caution when in the big cities as crime is large problem.  Avoid taking overnight buses – especially up and down the Andes!  These roads are supposed to accommodate two-way traffic but are barely wide enough for two buses.  Exacerbating this is the dreary weather usually found surrounding the roads of thick fogs and bus drivers that come careening around blind curves.  I would recommend flying if at all possible or taking a day bus, even if you spend the whole day traveling.  Also, be careful when traveling across borders – only do so during the day and take extreme caution if you are crossing the border into Colombia as only one or two border-crossings are currently deemed safe.

Tibet – Nancy Zimmerman (2011)

Nancy Zimmerman is studying to be a nurse practitioner at UCLA. Nancy worked as a nurse practitioner in the Himalayan Health Exchange Program in Tibet this summer. Nancy received a $1500 scholarship from Sara’s Wish Foundation.

Here are Nancy’s travel safety tips:

  • Do not be hesitant in whatever form of transportation that you choose (car, rickshaw, carriage) to tell the driver to slow down if you feel uneasy.
  • Do your research on the driving company that has been hired. Ask questions such as: how long have these drivers been with the company, what are the company’s driving policies, and are these policies enforced.
  • If driving long distances with a hired driver, inquire as to whether or not there will be night driving. Try to avoid driving at night if possible, since many cars on the roads do not utilize headlights.
  • Roads can be precarious in northern India, so know the kind of rocky terrain that you will be traveling and make sure the car is suitable for such conditions. Make sure that your car has working seatbelts installed, as many cars do not have this safety feature.
  • When in Delhi, wear a money-belt and keep it close to you at all times. Try not to have your passport on you, and instead keep it stowed away safely in your luggage or hotel.
  • Try to pay before getting in a taxi outside of the Delhi airport. You will avoid money scams and unauthorized taxis by doing so.