Ecuador – Taina Paredes (2013)

1. Make sure to visit your doctor and get all of the vaccinations and medications that you may need, especially if you are travel to different places in a country. In Ecuador, there are several health risks including malaria and altitude sickness. You want to be prepared and informed.
2. Get locks for your suitcases. There are several cases of robberies with airport luggage in Quito.
3. Travel through a specific organized program that you have done your research on. I originally was going to travel to Ecuador through another teaching organization. However, it proved itself to be very unprofessional and sketchy, leaving me with many unanswered questions and scared for my safety. I found out volunteers of the program previously had some of the same experiences, were not prepared for their trip to Ecuador, and many times were mugged or put into danger due to this. Luckily, due to my research and awareness, I was able to find a program that was well known, safe, gave me all the details of my travel. You don’t want to put yourself in danger at your own fault.
4. Make several copies of your passport and ONLY carry around copies. When you are out and about, the best form of identification is your passport. However, you do not want to lose it or have anything happen to it, so keep it safe and secured at your place of stay, and carry a copy whenever you are heading out.

5. Try to stay with someone from the community. This is a way of fitting into and emerging in the community and culture a bit faster. It will also help to get you more accustomed to the language, which is essential as the majority do not speak or understand English. It also serves as a safety precaution, as they know the do’s and don’ts of the community and can give you great pointers all throughout your trip.

6. Arrange for a cab to pick you up from the airport that has been recommended by someone you trust. This way is safer than just taking any cab that comes by the airport. If you do not have this luxury, make sure the cab has a certified cab number on it. If it does not, wait until you find one that does.
7. Always carry a purse that goes over your shoulder, and that does not have precious belongings in it. Quito is a beautiful city but there are still many thefts that go on, especially on buses. Make sure to hold them near to you on buses, as there are possibilities of theft and bag slashes. A small shoulder bag gives you more security and if, by chance, something were to happen, you will not have lost much.
8. Be careful about what you eat and drink. The water all over Ecuador is very different from the water in the United States, and can make you very sick. Several of the foods, particularly from street vendors, are cooked by this water without first sterilizing it. You do not want to be on a trip and sick. It will make you vulnerable and miserable.
9. Always plan your routes ahead of time, with full detail. Figure out which walkways and buses you need to take, and alternative routes. Get home before dark if you are alone, although it is best to travel in pairs or groups at all times, for security purposes and less vulnerability.
10. If you are going to a bar or club at night, do not drink a lot. Alcohol in Ecuador is much cheaper, but you put yourself at risk when drinking alcohol, even if you are legal in the country. Make smart and safe choices while still having fun.

Nicaraugua – Katy Peake (2013)

Firstly, review other Sara’s Wish safety tips! Jen Bishop wrote about educating yourself on where you’ll be traveling to, signing up with the State Department and maintaining contact with people in the US, getting vaccinated, purchasing a cell phone in your host country, using common sense, and having a safety plan in place in case of emergency. Of her tips, I identify especially strongly with purchasing a cell phone and using it to stay in touch with contacts both in the US and in your host country, so that someone knows your location at all times. Also, having an emergency safety plan is incredibly important; I assumed there was a system in place for me in Nicaragua, but I was wrong. I needed an 8-digit ambulance number, and my in-country director informed me that the local private clinic provides better care than the hospital in Rivas. Knowing these things could have made a huge difference in an emergency situation. Take the time to review past recipients’ tips in detail and prepare yourself as thoroughly as possible.
Hilary Robbins also brought up some very valuable points. Knowing your site, as she points out, is incredibly important. Locals can give you insider information on what is and isn’t safe for foreigners, and they also know the easiest travel routes to keep you from getting lost and in a potentially dangerous situation. By learning specifics about your site, and by learning the language, you’ll be more prepared and able to make educated decisions for your safety. Also, as Hilary points out, travel in Managua, Nicaragua requires high vigilance and should be avoided at night. I found buses, in the city and along rural dirt roads, to be safe and did not hear about any accidents or problems.
Here are a few more detailed tips to add on to what previous scholarship recipients have already written about!
Transportation: Although buses are generally safe, avoid taking the last bus of the day anywhere. If the bus breaks down, you could be left in the middle of nowhere without other transportation options. When getting in taxis, especially in Managua, check that the permit number on the front window matches the taxi’s license. Text this number to someone while you’re entering the cab— make it obvious that someone knows where you are! While getting in, make sure that the cab’s seatbelts function correctly. Call someone while in the taxi to let them know where you’re going and when you should arrive. If possible, ask someone you trust (a friend, program director, etc.) if they know of any safe taxi drivers you can call to take you. In rural communities, avoid biking after dark. Dogs tend to be spooked by bikes and are on high alert and ready to bite at night. Even locals walked their bikes past my house after dark. If you must bike after dark, carry a sizeable rock with you that you can throw in the direction of any dangerous animals. As a general rule, try to avoid motorcycles, especially at night and on paved city roads where drivers go fast and weave in and out of lanes. Motorcycle crashes and deaths are a huge problem in Nicaragua. Riding motorcycles, or driving any vehicle, is particularly dangerous at night because many drivers and motorcyclists don’t use headlights and will not see oncoming traffic.
You may experience pressure to ride on the back of a motorcycle to get places in rural communities. As Hilary emphasized, is to discuss safety ahead of time with the people you’ll be working with, and don’t ignore any gut feelings that tell you something is unsafe. There is always alternative transportation, even if it takes longer or is more costly, and it’s worth the conversation if it ends up making you feel more comfortable, or even saving your life.
Health: the sun is very strong in Nicaragua, so drink more water than you think you need to. Pack Gatorade powder to bring with you if you’re worried about dehydration. Wear sunscreen and protect your skin. In terms of food and water, be wary of ice in your drinks and make sure that milk products have been pasteurized. Before traveling, be aware that some things are very hard to get in Nicaragua, or are very expensive. Sunscreen, contact fluid, and tampons are all scarce and costly. Bring any prescription medications with you as well!
Emergency: It’s extremely important that you know where the nearest clinics and hospitals are, and that you have their phone numbers. Also recognize that the police can be unreliable and are particularly absent in rural communities. Your best option might not be to wait around for them to solve a situation for you!
Other: Recognize that the Pacific Ocean can be very, very dangerous. Make sure you consult with locals and knowledgeable individuals before swimming. Rip tides were very common in my community; a fellow intern who was a certified lifeguard admits he almost drowned after getting pulled out by the ocean. At the very least, avoid swimming alone! To avoid robbery, keep money in several different pockets and places. Never leave bags unattended! Have small change ready in one separate pocket to pay for transport. Consider carrying bigger bills and other valuables in a money belt worn around your waist. Generally try not to draw attention, especially in cities. Don’t be obvious about checking your map, plan routes out in advance, walk as though you know where you’re going, and dress inconspicuously.

Peru – Genevieve Smith (2013)

In mid February — before I was scheduled to leave for Cusco, Peru in early March – an issue was released by the U.S. Embassy to U.S. tourists of a potential kidnapping threat in the Cusco region. The U.S. embassy believed there was a threat from the Peruvian terrorist group, The Shining Path. The Shining Path was inspired by Maosim to lead a “People’ War” to overthrow what they called “bourgeois democracy” who emerged as a powerful and growing force in Peru in the 1980s. The Shining Path was severely weakened in the 1990s after failing to install a Communist state and the fall of the founder in 1992, but some remain active in southern Peru. In December 2011, Florindo Flores, the last of the original leaders of the Shining Path, admitted that the Shining Path ahead been defeated and said that remaining rebels were ready for talks with government. Shortly after that the U.S> Embassy released the warning based on information they believe they had intercepted from the group. (Note: Flores was sentenced to life in prison in early June 2013. )
Myself and my team members implementing our program for young indigenous women’s leadership and empowerment around sustainable development issues, took this threat extremely seriously. First, we got more information by contacting our three main partners on the ground in Cusco and the Sacred Valley. One of our partners on the ground works for SIT, a selective study abroad program consisting of largely Americans. She sent us a report, including information from the Peruvian government regarding the warning, that was being sent to all the American students arriving in the following several weeks, saying that there was no perceivable threat in Cusco and there are only certain areas in the jungle, which should be avoided and are dangerous due to drug trafficking centers from the Shining Path, largely cocaine. With information from our partners on the ground and their dedication to our safety, we were comfortable travelling as a team to the area, but only with strict safety precautions.
Our team added to a working list of safety precautions, including:
1. Do not take taxis form the airport when first arriving – be picked up by our program partners
2. Buy two phones immediately and exchange phone numbers with primary local contacts
3. Register our trip and dates with the US embassy: Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)
a. Link:
After a short time in Cusco and in the Sacred Valley, it became clear that the warning had little validity, and there was little to no threat in the general Cusco area. Allegedly, the threat had been issued after an isolated attack in a jungle area on Americans in December followed by the mistaken disappearance of an American couple – later realized had been travelling with no communication. Regardless, it is always important to take extra safety precautions when travelling in a foreign country.
Here are some additional tips for general travelling tips in Cusco and the Sacred Valley region:
I. Before leaving your home country
a. Travel and Health Insurance
i. Great website with various options to explore different health insurances and levels:
ii. Print our travel insurance and keep in a safe place
b. Medications
i. Cipro!!!!
c. Registering your trip with the US Consulate (STEP): Link above
d. Other:
i. Two copies of your passport – kept in different places than your actual passport
e. Debit cards and credit cards
i. Bring at least two debit cards
II. General Peru Info:
a. Health
i. No uncooked vegetables
b. Water
i. Buy sealed water bottles
ii. Bring a steripen: (my personal choice/ investment) or another method to purify your water
c. Land travel
i. Bus travel is the main form of travel between cities – it is important to note that often you will be recommended not to take night buses between the cities. This is because bus drivers have been known to drive drunk at night and it is more dangerous to traverse the windy roads that often connect Peru’s cities in the dark. If possible, take an established bus company, such as:
1. Cruz del Sur (perhaps the most reputable) –
ii. Combi cars – combi’s are like minibuses or large vans that typically take up to 20 packed people at one time between various destinations (Peru’s form of a cheap taxi)
1. I have found these to be quite safe for short trips, under one hour, but would not recommend them for longer trips as they can be quite uncomfortable with people boarding in and out.
Peru is a beautiful country with a friendly culture and I did not feel threatened once while I was there working on our program for over two months. The truth is, the majority of Peruvians are incredibly kind and helpful people. The Peruvian government protects travelers well, as tourism is an important component of their economy. Always be aware and knowledgeable of where you are going, but do not fear, and go with an open mind and heart to experience the incredible beauty of Peru.

Botswana – Emily MacDuffie (2013)

Being Safe in Botswana: Lessons from a Young Traveler

When I learned that I would be spending the next six months studying cervical cancer in Botswana, my brain was bombarded by questions. How would I get there? Would my patients like me? How would I pack for frigid nights and frying-pan hot days? What food would I eat? All of these questions would be answered in time. One question that did not immediately come to mind was “How will I stay safe?” As a young Caucasian girl from America, there are always increased risks when traveling abroad, especially to a non-Western country with a very different culture. Although I had previously spent a few weeks each in India, China, and South Africa, this was going to be my first long-term experience living abroad and the first time I was living and working alone. I was extremely fortunate to find Sara’s Wish Foundation not only to help me fund my travel to and from Botswana but to help me remember how important it is to plan ahead in order to be as safe as possible in the unfamiliar environment I was about to encounter.
My first step was making sure that I had contacts both in Botswana and the US that could help in case of emergency. I registered with International SOS, the emergency medical and security assistance provider for the University of Pennsylvania as well as their Global Activities Registrar. Additionally, I downloaded the International SOS app on my phone so it would always be in reach. I also made a point to reach out to the in-country coordinators at the Botswana-UPenn Partnership so that they were well informed of my travel plans. The second step was contacting a friend who had just returned home from a year-long fellowship studying at the University of Botswana. She was able to tell me about transportation, housing, and general cultural norms I should be aware of. This vital information helped ease me into everyday living in Gaborone, the capital, when I finally arrived a few months later. I felt more confident about how to interact with locals, navigate the public transportation (and gauge when it was a good idea to use it or not), and also allowed me to find a safe living situation in a homestay with a wonderful retired couple.
In addition to the specific advice from my knowledgeable friend, I also gathered advice from locals during my first few weeks. For example, when my Batswana friends would caution against riding in a mini bus after sunset, I heeded their words and would always get a cab. And of course, I always used the seatbelts! I also learned about cross-country travel. After hearing how crowded buses could get, I made a distinct effort to arrive early at the bus station to secure a seat instead of having to stand. Finally, I found that transportation in a foreign country isn’t so hard if you can make friends that you trust. I was able to connect with many other expatriates like myself who had personal transportation that was safer and more reliable than public transport. These friends were a lifeline to me and definitely reduced my travel risk during my stay. Being safe isn’t just about finding safe means of transport, it is also about making relationships with people who will help you, know your whereabouts, and even be lifelong friends.

This entry was posted on January 20, 2015, in Africa.

Namibia – Elizabeth Skurdahl (2014)

Hitchhiking: Hitchhiking, or simply “hiking” as it is referred to locally, is the most common form of transport in Namibia (and in much of southern Africa). Many people in Namibia who live in remote areas don’t have their own vehicles, so they get rides with those who do, splitting the cost of gas. In addition to being the most common form of transport, hiking can also be the best way to see this beautiful country if you don’t have access to your own car.
I hiked throughout my time in Namibia and found it to be a great method of transportation. However, there are some ways to be smart hiker!
First, start conversations with those waiting with you at the hike point for a ride. Not only is it a great way to meet interesting people, they most likely will help you find a ride and make sure you get where you need to go.
Second, when a car does arrive and you are arranging a ride, always make sure to ask the driver where he/she is going, rather than revealing your own destination. That way, if you feel uncomfortable about the ride or want to refuse the hike, you can do so easily by saying you need to travel somewhere else.
Third, always make sure to negotiate the price of the ride in advance. It’s no fun arriving at your destination expecting to pay one price only to find out that your driver wants more!
Finally, go with your gut! You know if a situation seems unsafe or a person makes you uncomfortable, even if you can’t really explain why. Never take a hike where you don’t feel sure about the driver and his/her car.
Cabs: In bigger cities like Windhoek, cabs are the best way to get around. Legitimate, registered cabs will always have large numbers painted on the doors and the back window. Never get in a “cab” that is not painted with these numbers.
Greeting: This might seem like common sense, but you should also make sure you greet people politely before speaking with them. In Namibia, and in many other countries throughout Africa, correct greetings are extremely important as they are a sign of respect and understanding. Speaking to someone without first saying “Hello, how are you?” and allowing them to respond in kind is considered very rude and disrespectful. No matter whom you are speaking to – your boss, your neighbor, a cab driver, a grocery store clerk – always greet them before beginning a conversation or asking for help.
ATMs: When withdrawing cash from an ATM also make sure to check that no one is standing close behind you, as it is common for thieves to look over your shoulder to steal your pin number. Also, if anyone offers to “help you” withdraw money, always refuse as they are most likely looking to steal your debit card.
Important Documents: Make copies of all your important documents – passport, visa, credit cards, etc. Leave a copy at home with a family member or trusted friend and take several copies with you. Having a copy will make replacing the document a lot easier should it become lost or stolen. You can also have a copy of your passport certified at a local police station. You can use this certified copy as identification if you need it as you travel around Namibia and keep your real passport safely locked in your

This entry was posted on January 20, 2015, in Africa.

Tanzania + General Tips – Rachel Hagues (2013)

Lessons Learned in International Travel: Tips for Others

Learn greetings and basic local words
People love to be greeted in their own language. Especially if traveling to a remote area, making the effort at least to learn how to greet the locals can make all the difference! You can quickly go from being the stuck-up foreigner to the friendly traveler whom people are anxious to welcome. Sometimes, even showing effort to communicate in the local language can go a long way to cause the locals to want to help you, too. For example, for my dissertation research (funded in-part by Sara’s Wish), I moved to a remote part of Tanzania for several months. When I first arrived, though I knew some Kiswahili, I was by no-means fluent, and I had to travel from the airport, across a fairly decent sized city, to catch a boat that would take me to the area where I would live the next 6 months. I was fairly nervous about getting through the city with all of my things (remember, I was moving there to stay for 6 months, so I had some hefty bags). As well, having been there before, I knew that finding a taxi that charged a reasonable rate could be a challenge, particularly for the one who was obviously not from the area. Thankfully, I knew enough Kiswahili to be able to negotiate a reasonable price. By the time we got to the port the taxi driver was so excited I knew “kidogo” – a little — Kiswahili, as broken as my Kiswahili was, that he made it his mission to not only be sure I made it to the port, but also to make sure I ate a good lunch and was not traveling on an empty stomach. We went to the port, got my ticket, and he took me to a hotel where I could keep my bags behind the desk and go eat. Before he left, he showed me where I should go to get a taxi for my return to the port and made sure I was well taken care of by the waitress. I do not think he would have been so helpful if I had not made the effort to communicate with him in Kiswahili (with a smile) – even if I did have to keep my trusty dictionary handy.
Be willing to laugh at yourself
This is sometimes difficult to do, but developing the ability to laugh at yourself – particularly your struggles with the language – takes much of the stress off of being unable to clearly communicate or understand what you are being told. It also gives the locals the freedom to laugh with you, rather than laugh at you. I can provide a personal example. In Kiswahili, the word for books is “vitabu” and the word for potatoes is “viazi.” One day I had some left over viazi that I wanted to share with the 6-year old girl that lived next door. So, I brought my pot of potatoes over, set down the pot in front of her, and (in Kiswahili, of course) rather than saying, “do you want to eat some potatoes (viazi),” I said, “do you want to eat some books (vitabu)?” All the while, pointing to the pot of potatoes. She looked at me, pointed to the pot, laughed, and said, “vitabu”? Recognizing the mistake I made, we both were soon rolling with laughter. We proceeded to tell her mom, who was inside when this all happened, and also had a great laugh from it. Ever since, we jokingly have called “potatoes,” “books.”
Be flexible and patient
In Africa, Mexico, and many other places we often refer to as “developing,” time and plans are much more loose than in many westernized countries, particularly the United States. Learn to “go with the flow.” The people who live there have already learned to do so. So, don’t be overly anxious if you are late because of the bus, because you met someone on the way who wanted to talk, because you had a flat tire, etc. It is likely that the people who are expecting your arrival will not even notice your tardiness, or if they do notice, it likely will not irritate them.
Don’t get discouraged
You may have specific goals you are hoping to achieve as you head off into a new country. If you are unable to achieve them the way you had planned, do not let yourself get discouraged. I have many times traveled somewhere with a plan to teach or serve, but have completely been derailed upon my arrival. Often I find that there are other needs that the community considers to be more pressing priorities. Put their needs before your own plans. Remember they are the ones who have to live there after you have gone! I have found that many times I have needed to alter my plans to fit their needs, and the end result is that we have both gained. For example, the first time I went to Tanzania I was a first-year PhD student. My fellow-student colleagues and I had been told that we would lead a program for local teenage girls. We had been preparing activities for months beforehand. But upon our arrival, we learned that local women leaders thought that we were going to provide trainings to them on how they could/should work with their local girls. So rather than toss out all of the plans we made, we invited the women to come and watch as we worked with the girls, and learn from the methods we were using. Not only did they benefit from this, but the girls benefited, too. However, we also benefited from the presence of the women. They were able to provide wisdom and insight into some of the challenges the girls faced, providing knowledge to us that more rightly informed our activities. Rather than us guessing what some of the needs of the girls were, the women were able to offer what they knew.
Be Wise!
People will be curious about you. You do not have to tell them where you live, why you are there, how long you are staying, if you are single, or if you are interested in romance. Be wise and do not tell them where you live unless they need to know. Do not walk by yourself at night – and even during the daytime be careful where you go alone. If your skin or your dress characterize you as being “western”, you may want to carry your bags on the front of your person and do not put important things in your pockets unless they zip or button.
In some countries, if you are a woman you especially need to be concerned about modesty. I always wore skirts or loose pants that went below mid-calf and never wore tank-tops outside of my compound. It is smart to dress similarly as the women who live in the community. You will probably already attract enough attention and do not want the local men thinking you want additional attention from them!
If I have learned anything traveling, it is that a friendly smile goes a long way.

This entry was posted on January 20, 2015, in Africa.

Chile and Patagonia – Tammy Elwell (2013)

Before arrival
• Learn about area to know place names, modes of transportation, and local norms.
• Try to locate a local contact person through a trusted source, and establish communication with that local point person.
• Develop skills to listen to intuition and instincts. Meditation, yoga, and other practices help develop skills of self-awareness and self-listening.
• Share digital copies of passport and health insurance information with your emergency contact(s) at home. Talk with emergency contact(s) beforehand to establish a protocol for any health issue and how to deal with insurance.
• Consider registering with U.S. embassy, especially for lengthier stays. They then send you notices on any potentially risky situations such as national protests. In case of emergencies such as earthquakes, they know more or less where you are located.

When traveling
• Keep paper copy of passport with emergency contacts’ names and phone numbers written clearly. Include contacts from home and at least one person in local area. Keep this paper copy in wallet with small change.
• When possible, travel when rested and alert. When tired, consider paying to rest in a hotel and refresh before continuing travels.
• Blend in as much as possible and be aware of surroundings. If harassed, ignore the harasser and work to be equanimous and calm. Find a nice looking woman, and stick near her.
• Store cash in sock, sports bra, or money belt. Keep change and small bills for public transportation fare at hand. In the case misplaced or stolen, you still have bigger bills stored elsewhere. Store passport in safe spot, either on you or locked up.
• In buses, prefer mid-front seats since closer to bus driver assistant.
• In shared taxis, prefer front passenger seat since this most often has a working seatbelt.
• In Chiloé and other rural areas in southern Chile, foreign and national backpackers often hitchhike. If you choose to hitchhike, do so during the day with someone else you know and trust.
• In urban areas, find phone numbers for a radio taxi service and keep this number with you. In any case where you may be out late, or in the case there is no designated driver, opt to call the radio taxi and pay that service.
• In rural areas, public transportation tends to be scarce. Sometimes a bus or boat may be delayed due to poor weather. In these cases, know where you can stay, either in a hostel or with family members of a local you trust.
• Stay in tune with your inner voice and, if something seems fishy or dubious, listen to that instinct.
• Enjoy your experience!

Viet Nam – Lan Ngo (2013)

Travel Tips For Vietnam

1. On three different occasions, strangers have grabbed at my body before. Luckily, nothing else happened. Be prepared to yell back, but I would not advise attacking or hitting anyone if you are sexually harassed in this way, as violence in fights can escalate very quickly in Vietnam.
2. Avoid extravagance. Fancy jewelry, shoes, clothes, bags, will draw unnecessary attention to you.
3. If you are riding a motorbike: 1) Wear a good helmet. 2) Rent/buy a cheap motorbike. If you drive a really nice bike, you are putting yourself at risk at being robbed while on the street. 3) If you live far from the city center, try to make it home before the streets in your area become too vacant.
These are only 3 of my tips. Here are 2 sites to find Vietnam-specific traveling tips:

This entry was posted on January 20, 2015, in Asia.

Haiti – Jane Park (2012)


Jane Park, .

Here are Jane Park’s travel safety tips:

First off, general safety tips.  Register with the American Embassy.  You can do this online or by fax.  Travel with at least one other person when possible, or at least let people know where you are when you’re out.  Plan in advance, including for lodging and transportation.  Get a phone (Digicel has an awesome line of cheap phones starting at US$12), make sure it has minutes, and keep important phone numbers on you along with your passport photocopy.  Keep up with local news, including during big local holidays/festivities.  While I was there, several demonstrations broke out in Port-au-Prince and Carrefour, which affected travel and local safety.  There was also a heightened level of security during RaRa, the annual festival in Léogâne.

Now, here are some more specific suggestions.  I looked for statistics on the most common reasons for morbidity and mortality among foreigners in Haiti, but because this information was not available, I’m basing these tips on known information and personal anecdotes:

Road traffic accidents

A quick overview of public transportation, focusing on Léogâne, Haiti. For longer distances, buses (the nicest of which are called ‘Obamas’) are super cost-effective and relatively comfortable.  The 1.5 hour bus-ride from Léogâne to Port-au-Prince is only 30 gourdes (US$0.80).  Then there are the colorful taptaps (or, trucks designed to seat 10+ passengers) that drive designated routes within and between cities.  This is the cheapest way to travel, and because there are so many, it is not difficult to find a taptap during daytime hours. For door-to-door service, moto-taxis are ubiquitous, particulary in Léogâne. 

That said, the US embassy website discourages use of public transportation, especially in Port-au-Prince.  It was not too long ago that security in Haiti was much more unstable, and vehicles were subject to kidnappings and theft.  Most international organizations based in Haiti have vehicles to ensure safe transport and internal transportation rules.  All forms of transportation have their risks, with the moto-taxis having the highest risk.  But unless you have a personal car or plan to do a lot of walking, you will most likely have to take public transportation at some point and in that case, ways to minimize risk:

  • When I take the bus from Léogâne to Port au Prince, I make sure that someone knows what time I am leaving and that someone meets me at my destination (which is located in a not-so-nice neighborhood of Port-au-Prince).  I always have my phone handy and keep my contact in Port-au-Prince up to date on where I am by phone.  I only use the bus during daylight hours.
  • I try to exercise discretion when riding tap taps.  The minivan tap taps are nicer and feel safer than the open-air tap taps.  I don’t take ones that appear overloaded or unsafe (i.e. suspicious noises as vehicles are approaching, if the tires look uneven/worn, etc).  And the most common sense piece of advice: Don’t ride on either the roof or on the last seats in the back!
  • I would not recommend taking mototaxis unless you have a helmet, and even then, unless it is driver that you or your organization knows well.  If you absolutely have to take a moto, don’t take it for long distances, try to use only drivers you trust, and never hesitate to say, “Dousman” (slow down).  I kept a list of trusted drivers on my phone.
  • Hitchhiking in Haiti is not recommended (!)

Non-motor vehicle accidents

Last summer in Léogâne, a volunteer at a neighboring organization died when he fell off of a roof while intoxicated. Although I didn’t have any serious accidents, I cut my finger badly enough to need a few stitches while cooking during a power outage this January.  

  • Make sure to have travel insurance
  • Bring a basic first aid kit and a sufficient supply of the medications you normally take.
  • Have a plan of where to go for medical emergencies and non-emergencies.  For example, there are two main hospitals in Léogâne which have different services available.  Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) takes all urgent cases, including trauma and pregnancy-related.  Sainte Croix Hospital and several local clinics handle non-urgent cases, e.g. diarrhea, malaria, mild-moderate dehydration.
  • There are lots of bars and lots of alcohol in Haiti, and it’s a common way to decompress among ex-pats.  If you’re going to get drunk, make sure someone’s looking out for you and that you’re in a safe environment.
  • Money.  There are people who will exchange American dollars for you on the streets of Léogâne, but there are also Western Union branches that are better secured and have a better exchange rate.  There are also ATMs in Port-au-Prince.  It is smart to get a safe ride to and from these locations.  If you bring a large sum of cash, lock it up or alternatively, it is easy to open up a bank account if you’re planning to stay for a longer time.
  • Be extra careful!  Haiti’s medical resources are very limited.


Risk is overall low, but this depends on your conduct.  I had a friend who was attacked while she walked home alone late at night—her purse was stolen and thankfully, she was left physically unharmed.  Also, friends next door were robbed 2 months ago.  They left their valuables unattended in their home, with guards who were ‘contracted’.  The thieves made off with several thousand dollars in laptops, ipods, and cash. 

  • Safe housing.  I stayed at houses that had 24 hour guards.  Even if you don’t have guards, you’ll be safer with good locks, good lighting, good neighbors, good access to roads, reliable amenities, protection against the elements (e.g. earthquakes, floods).
  • Never, never walk alone home at night.  Léogâne has the semblance of a peaceful, sleepy town, but safety should never be taken for granted.  When I needed to walk home at night, I always had a friend and my flashlight (conveniently located on my phone).
  • Even in the daytime, take care when walking/jogging—depending the situation, partnering up is smart.  At the very least, make sure people know where you’re at and carry a phone.
  • Keep valuables locked up, including passport, cash, laptops.
  • Be kind to your neighbors.  People are much more likely to look out for you if they know/respect you.  On the flipside, try not to be the ugly American and invite trouble, e.g. flashing wealth, showing disrespect of local culture…


Gastroenteritis, malaria, respiratory infections, Tuberculosis, Typhoid, sexually transmitted infections— again, most of these are avoidable with proper precautions. But I’ve had friends who contracted typhoid despite having been vaccinated, and friends have gotten malaria despite taking prophylaxis, diarrhea despite good hygiene.  That is no reason to grow lax.  Definitely, those who take precautions are much less at risk of getting sick.

  • Vaccines!  Check the CDC website and make an appointment for vaccines at least a month before you go.
  • Take appropriate prophylaxis, including for malaria, even if you’re planning to stay for a very short or long time.  There is minimal resistance against Chloroquine in Haiti and it’s cheap to buy in Haiti.
  • Beware of street food.  In Léogâne, there are a plethora of street vendors who sell everything from fried plantanes to fried pork (griot) to potpourri juice (a cocktail of natural fruit and vegetable juices and pasta).  Even if food is cooked, dust is ubiquitous.  Be careful of eating non-cooked foods and be wary of food that isn’t covered.
  • There’s lots of diarrhea in Haiti, and the risk of water-bourne diseases goes up during rainy season.  Because of the ongoing cholera epidemic in Haiti, there is a relatively high level of awareness and water hygiene.  You will find plenty of vendors selling plastic baggies and bottles of treated water, which are generally safe.  You already know to drink only boiled or treated water.  Know that you can also get chlorine or aquatabs in Haiti.  At the house where I stayed, we added chlorine to our water at the point of use, despite the fact that the well water went through a sand filter before being pumped into the house.
  • Bring a bednet or make sure that the place you will be staying has bednets.  They’re not as easy to come by as you’d think.
  • If you’re doing any medical work, make sure to bring some fitted N95 masks to protect yourself against tuberculosis.
  • For all kinds of reasons, sex is not something to take lightly in Haiti.

One other note:  You will frequently encounter kids and adults who will ask for (or, rather demand, as is the language/culture) money or a personal item.  Try to keep perspective and not let it get to you.  Most of the time, if you respond with humor or a “Pa genyen” (I don’t have), you’ll meet with a simple shrug or reciprocal humor.

Peru – Anna Kirsch (2012)

Anna Kirsch

Anna Kirschis a medical student at Georgia Health Sciences University.  Anna (Mariah) worked in Peru during the summer of 2012, leading a research team that is assessing the impact of cancer initiatives by a local clinic in the Andes.  Mariah received a $1500 scholarship from Sara’s Wish Foundation.

Here are Anna’s travel safety tips:

Peru has become a popular destination for many travelers of all ages.  Although relatively safe, when traveling to anywhere in the world, I would advise taking certain precautions in the unlikely event something unexpected happens while abroad.  In addition, it is important to remember basic awareness and common sense to keep you safe while traveling to ensure your health and safety.  Based on my recent travels to the Andean region of Peru, I have written out a few guidelines below to help ensure health and safety while enjoying your trip to Peru.

I.             Before you leave your home country:

A.             Vaccinations and Health Consideration

If you will not be traveling to the jungle on your own, yellow fever vaccination will not be necessary.  Antimalarial prophylaxis is also not necessary if you remain in the Andes Mountains (Cusco) or Lima.  However, if you will travel to Iquitos in the jungle region, malaria prophylaxis will be required.  Hepatitis A vaccination is suggested.  It is given in 2 doses spaced 6 months apart. It may be a good idea to bring:

  • Diamox (acetazolamide)- Altitude sickness: You may choose to take Diamox (acetazolamide) to help prevent acute high altitude sickness.  Diamox 125- 250mg every 12 hours should be started at least 24 hours prior to departure for Cusco.  This medication causes an increase in urination and respiratory rate.  The side effects include numbness, tingling, or vibrating sensations in your hands, feet, and lips, also an alteration in taste and a ringing in your ears.  Diamox should be continued until the second or third night at altitude.  If you are concerned with acclimatizing, talk to your doctor before you leave.
  • Ibuprofen: An anti-inflammatory and pain reliever wonderful for the first few days when adjusting to altitude!
  • A decongestant: High altitude and dry air make it very easy to get a respiratory infection (a cold) that is hard to kick.  A decongestant combined with hot, steamy showers is a wonderful relief in case you happen to catch a cold while on the trip.
  • Ciprofloxacin: Common anti-biotic for traveler’s diarrhea… something unfortunately not too uncommon while bouncing around developing countries and adjusting to the local cuisine.
  • Sunscreen/repellant: Peruvian sun, especially at altitude, is intense and sunscreen can be expensive in some touristy destinations.  Repellant is also great for Manchu Picchu, although other highland areas do not have many biting insects.  Both can be purchased in country, but may be more expensive than simply bringing a bit from home.
  • And any medications you normally take, including extra contacts/glasses.

Bring your medications in your carry on luggage.  Although most medications can be purchased in Peru, it is always better to be prepared.  You may access the CDC website ( for further information about precautions for Peru and South America.

B.             Travel and Health Insurance

MEDICAL EVACUATION INSURANCE: Call your medical insurance and ensure what is covered while traveling abroad.  In some cases, your medical insurance may not be valid outside of the US.  Consequently, it is smart to purchase short-term medical insurance from an external source, such as

  • Cultural Insurance Services (CISI) (800) 303-8120 or (203) 399-5132

Although accidents are unlikely to happen, medical evacuation insurance is strongly suggested just in case.  Short term plans are easy to sign up for and can be purchased on a trip-by-trip basis by a variety of services, such as:

Medical evacuation from Peru could cost more than $50,000 without evacuation insurance.  Although it is not something many of us like to dwell on before traveling, having insurance is a good safe guard against much hardship if an emergency does unfortunately occur.

Bring all insurance information with you, and leave another copy with someone you trust at home in case of an emergency!

C.             Political Security

Before traveling to any foreign country, it is good to know a bit about the current political security of where you are headed.  Check any news reports, upcoming election dates, and any US Dept. of State warnings, which for Peru, can be found at:

D.             Personal Documentation

  1. PassportAll travelers are required to have a valid passport (http: //  If you do not have a passport, get one quickly. Check the expiration date to make sure your passport is valid at least 6 months beyond your return date to the US and that there are blank pages available for entry/departure stamps.  Be sure to have your passport with you during travel to and from Peru, although a Visa is not necessary.  Extra copies of your passport should be made prior to leaving and stored either electronically, and/or in an area separate from where your actual passport will be stored while traveling.
  2. MoneyCredit cards and ATM cards are also good to have access to funds while traveling.  Make sure you notify your bank of travels before you leave, and make a copy of all your cards to store with your passport copy while traveling.  Also, include any international numbers for the appropriate banks with this documentation in case of theft or loss of a card.  Bring an extra ATM card!  I’ve had an ATM eat my card more than once while traveling, and in many small shops/towns, credit cards are a bit harder to use and will be harder to use as a primary means of currency.Also, it is a good idea to leave copies of such important documents with someone you trust at home in case of emergency.

E.             Emergency Contacts and Itinerary

Always good to have at least one person expecting to hear from you and have a rough idea where you are, no matter where you are in the world.  Leave a rough itinerary with someone you trust at home, and keep in touch with them throughout your trip.  In addition, bring a list of emergency contacts names, phone numbers (with international calling code), emails, etc. in case someone needs to help you reach home in an emergency abroad.  Put this information in your day bag and an extra in your main pack at the start of the trip, that way it will be there if you need it.

II.             Arriving to PERU!!!

A.             Lima

Getting to Cusco can be difficult, and most travelers will first arrive in Lima, Peru in route to Cusco.  Due to flight schedules, it is likely you may spend a night, or at least several hours in this airport.  Hanging out here isn’t always fun, but Internet is available at Starbucks as well as the bar in the hotel across the street from the airport can help pass the time.  Some people chose to sleep waiting for their connection, but you are not allowed thru the security line until much closer to your flight time, so if you are solo, take care to be aware of your surroundings and keep your luggage close by.  Anyone, traveling or not, has full access to this area of the airport.

B.             Cusco and Sacred Valley

Many travel agents will be overly friendly offering tours and hotels upon arrival, sometimes rather aggressively.  Although I cannot say much for the deals they offer, know that it is extremely easy, and probably more relaxing and cheaper, to find tourists offices all around Cusco and in most tourists towns throughout Peru.  Collect your luggage and head into the parking lot to escape.  There, taxis will be waiting.  If you walk to the back of the lot, you will find bartering goes a bit further and you can get a decent price into town.  If you do not know where you are staying for the first night, the Plaza del Arms is the center of Cusco’s touristy area and an easy place to find a coffee shop with tourist’s maps that will mark several hostels and restaurants to help get you oriented for your first night.

  1. High Altitude:If you choose to fly into Cusco from Lima, the first thing most travelers will notice is the effect of the high altitude.  Cusco is situated at 11,151 feet above sea level.  High altitude sickness is characterized by a headache with associated loss of appetite, nausea or vomiting, fatigue or weakness, dizziness or light-headedness, and difficulty sleeping.  The best treatment of acute high altitude sickness is rest, fluids, and mild analgesics such as acetominophen or ibuprofen.  Symptoms will usually resolve in 1-2 days.In consideration of the effects of high altitude, please remember to take it easy, rest, and drink plenty of fluids.  It will be difficult to exercise at this altitude until you acclimate.  Normal physiologic changes in every one who goes to high altitude are hyperventilation, shortness of breath during exertion, changed breathing pattern at night, awakening frequently at night, and increased urination.  Avoid alcohol and sleeping pills (Diamox can be used as a sleeping pill, take upon arrival).Medication Options:   Diamox (acetazolamide)- Altitude sickness, Avoid alcohol and sleeping pills (Diamox can be used as a sleeping pill, take upon arrival). Coca tea or leaves: It is said that the drink helps reduce symptoms of high altitude illness.  However, please remember coca leaves are also used to make cocaine.  Ibuprofen –anti-inflammatory: Ibuprofen can be used to help reduce swelling of mucus membranes due to the altitude change.  In plane terms, it can help you regain your appetite and reduce any sinus pressure you may feel upon arrival.
  2. Food borne Illness and PrecautionsThere are many bacterial and parasitic food borne illnesses in Peru.  Please be very careful what and where you eat and drink.  DO NOT DRINK WATER FROM THE FAUCET OR SHOWER.  ONLY DRINK WATER FROM A SEALED BOTTLE OF PURIFIED/TREATED WATER.  Do not eat ice cubes.  Take precaution when brushing your teeth to not drink tap water.  The Peruvian tap water is not purified.  Keep your mouth closed when you take a shower.   Only eat food that has been cooked or boiled.  Do not eat food prepared on the street.  Also avoid vegetable and fruit salads and cold vegetables as they may have been washed in the local water.  Fruit that can be peeled is safe to eat.  Be extremely careful when eating at buffet type restaurants.  Do not eat raw seafood such as ceviche.Medications: Ciproflaxacin 500mg (#14) In case of acute gastroenteritis (fever, vomiting and diarrhea), you may want to bring a 7 day supply of Ciprofloxacin 500mg tablets #14, 1 tab orally twice daily) with you.
  3. Attire:Cusco is in the mountains and the average temperature during the daytime is 60° F and 40° F during the nighttime.  You can check for an idea of Cusco temperatures before leaving. We suggest that you bring a warm jacket or sweater for the evening.  A raincoat may be a good idea, particularly if you are there during the rainy season (November-March). If you will travel to Machu Picchu, consider bringing a short sleeve shirt and shorts or jeans.  The temperature will be warmer than Cusco with considerable humidity.   Because this region is known for warm alpaca clothes, you may want to purchase these items while in Peru.Hiking in Peru is amazing, but good quality hiking boots/clothes are a bit harder to come by if you are looking for normal US prices.  If you enjoy hiking, make sure you bring sturdy shoes and a few very warm layers in your pack along with you.
  4. Pickpockets:Although Cusco is a relatively safe part of Peru, common sense and awareness always helps keep you safe.  Be particularly cautious for theft of money, cell phones, laptops, cameras and documents.  Do not wear expensive jewelry or watches.  Be especially cautious if visiting local markets or downtown Lima.  A hidden money belt or pouch worn beneath your shirt may help prevent theft, and be sure to keep all zippers on bags securely closed, especially in crowded streets. Pickpockets: Walking around the tourist areas are rather safe during both day and night.  However, always be aware of pickpockets, especially during festivals.  Keep your bags/purses zipped up and if in crowds, in front of you so somebody cannot reach in and remove any of your valuables.San Blas: funky little artsy part of Cusco that is well worth a trip.  However, this area can get rather quiet and is known to be a bit more notorious for muggings and pickpockets.  Don’t walk around this area at night solo, and just be aware of your surroundings.
  5. Electricity:Because Peru uses 220 volts instead of 110 volts and a different electrical plug, an electrical adapter and voltage converter (transformer) will be required in Peru if you bring an electrical device from the US.  Some electrical devices, such as your laptop, have this built in and will not need an electrical adapter.
  6. Transportation:Taxis are relatively inexpensive in Cusco.  However, if traveling independently, always take secure taxis or call one if late at night.  Settle on a price to your destination before leaving or entering the taxi, most are slightly negotiable.  Locals generally are willing to tell you the appropriate price.  If taking a taxi from a hostel, ask the front desk owner to point out a secure taxi if it is late at night, and if possible, travel with a friend.  Carry bags with you instead of in the trunk if possible, a friend of mine had a taxi driver drive off before she was able to unload!If traveling to a more remote hostel/club/whatever at night, take a taxi in place of walking.  Don’t be a target for muggings, and if you talk to those that have lived in the area for a while, a traveler walking around in a quiet part of town at night is a great way to make yourself a target!Buses/collectivos: Vans and buses frequently make loops around the city.  Each one has a name on the top, and follows a set route.  Overall, they are pretty safe and cheap.  However, finding out the routes is sometimes a process of trial and error, or simply asking the locals.  Many are happy to help.If taking a bus or van to a near-by town, such as Pisac, try to find one in good repair, as these roads are rather full of twists and turns.  I often asked if I could sit in the front to avoid motion sickness and have the rare opportunity to buckle up for the journey.  However, I warn you that this is not the seat for the faint of heart- sometimes seeing the narrow mountain road can be rather, well, thrilling, by itself.  I recommend scheduling plenty of daylight on either end of the car journey to not only be safe on the road, but also allow you not to arrive in a strange new town or drop off location at night.
  7. Alcohol:Remember you are at altitude in a dry climate: this means not only will you become dehydrated quicker (think hangover), the alcohol will actually absorb faster into your bloodstream than at lower altitudes (think drunk faster).  If your choose to drink, which many do due to the wide array of nightlife offered here, go slower than you normally would at home and try to find purified water to sip in between beverages.Girls: some bars/bartenders, like in any location, are known to slip drugs in girls drinks out at clubs.  Try to always go out in groups, watch your drink being made, and never leave it unattended while you go off to dance or socialize.
  8. Drugs:Any street drugs such as cocaine and pot are offered fairly frequently on the streets of Cusco.  Remember that these drugs are illegal and penalties for foreigners can be harsh.  Use your head, and remember that staying in a foreign jail probably isn’t on the top of your to-do list.
  9. Money:You may exchange money in Peru, but it is easiest in larger cities like Lima and Cusco.  Bank ATM’s offer the best rates.  Hotels can exchange money, but the rates are generally not as good.  Credit cards can also be used in the major cities, but beware you may have to pay a fee or percentage for using the card abroad.  If traveling to rural settings, be sure to have some cash in local currency (nuevos soles).  Do not carry a large amount of cash.  Avoid changing money on the street, as there is a chance of receiving false currency.  Have CLEAN, NEW bills ($20s) for exchange only!!!!  Ripped or crumbled bills will not be accepted for exchange.
  10. Phone:Your cell phone may operate in Peru; however check with your service plan to assess charges.  Otherwise, calling cards or Skype (if you have internet) may used to call home.   Local cell phones can be purchased quite cheaply in most markets in Peru, and you simply purchase minutes, as you need them.  If staying in the country for a few weeks, this may be a great option not only for safety (sketch cab? Get lost? Dark sooner than expected? GREAT to have a phone at those moments), but also to keep in touch with friends along the way!

Last of all, have fun!  Staying safe while traveling mostly involves common sense, and building a few routines (extra document copies, making sure you have medical/evacuation insurance, keeping someone posted on your whereabouts, etc.) into your travel routine to keep you safe in case of the unexpected.