Cameroon – Sarah Sawyer (2009)

Sarah Sawyer is a doctoral student in environmental policy, and management at UC Berkeley. Sarah spent the month of January in Cameroon where she examined human-landscape interactions and their impacts on endangered species and on the sustainability of critical ecosystems, thanks to a $1500 from Sara’s Wish Foundation.

Here are Sarah’s travel safety tips:

Cameroon is a challenging country to visit, but also exciting, beautiful, and very rewarding. It helps to speak both English and French, but you can generally get by with only English. Before leaving for Cameroon, make sure to register with the embassy to get travel updates and advisories. Also, be sure to get travel insurance, which includes evacuation insurance, before traveling. Malaria is prevalent in Cameroon, so begin taking prophylaxis before you start your trip. Be sure to leave a tentative itinerary with contact people at home, but make sure they recognize that travel in Africa is unpredictable and unstructured so your plans will frequently change. Before you leave, throw away all notions of timeliness, stress, and efficiency, and try to relax into a mental state of “whatever happens happens”. Everything takes longer than expected in Cameroon, but if you embrace and enjoy this waiting time, you’ll discover things you would have otherwise missed.

When visiting the Southwest province, it is best to fly into Douala International Airport. Air France is perhaps the best carrier into Douala, although Royal Air Maroc would suffice in a bind. Ethiopian Air is also a great airline, depending on where you’re coming from. Upon arrival into the airport, getting baggage can be a bit chaotic, so I recommend immediately finding one porter or security guard to be your aid. Finding one person to support you in getting your baggage will help ensure that (1) you do not get harassed by other porters asking for more money upon exit, (2) you pass through customs smoothly, and (3) you find a reliable taxi upon exit. Give your porter a nice tip at the end. Customs officers will ask for bribes, but do not give in to them if you know that you have not done anything illegal. As soon as you can, I recommend purchasing a SIM card for your cell phone. They are cheap, and you can fill them as you go. Make sure that your cell phone is a quad-band, and has been “unlocked” for use in other countries before you leave the states, and then put in a Cameroonian SIM card upon arrival. Program emergency contacts, reliable taxi driver phone numbers, and numbers of any other people you come across who are friendly and helpful. You never know when you’ll want to be back in touch with these people. From Douala, you can get to any number of cities by bus. The buses leave from bus stations, and are usually reliably late but trustworthy. I do not recommend the small bush-taxi buses, which often cram too many people, too much cargo, and drive too fast in unsafe conditions. Go for the larger buses, for which you can reserve a seat, and which tend to follow the regulations of the road more closely.

Limbe is a beautiful but quiet city on the coast, which I recommend to anyone visiting the country. Accommodations can be found relatively inexpensively, as long as you go to one of the hotels not directly on the beach. Hotels like the Victoria Guest House, set back off the beach, are clean and well run, and can have rooms for half the price of those on the beach. Average hotel room costs run between about $10 and $40 per night, depending on if you want air conditioning or not. You will rarely find a hotel that has hot water, but you likely won’t want it. The area is very hot, and very humid, but I find that a room with only a fan is manageable. Make sure to bring cool clothes, lots of sun protection, and stay hydrated. Limbe is a relatively safe city, but make sure that if you are traveling after dark you travel in groups and keep the carrying of valuables to a minimum. When you arrive in the country, you can get the police to certify a copy of your passport front page and visa for about 5 dollars, so that you can avoid carrying around your passport. I recommend always carrying a certified copy of your passport, and leaving the original in a safe location. It is always useful to send a local friend or colleague to the police station for you, as foreign faces always inspire artificially high prices. From Limbe, you can visit Mount Cameroon, Buea, and many of the beautiful forested landscapes of Cameroon.

If you plan to travel into the bush, be sure to take appropriate precautions before you leave. First, buy treatment for amoebic dysentery, giardia, muscle pain, fever, and malaria. Medicine is inexpensive in the area, and it’s good to keep a supply of these on hand, to begin treating ailments before you can get back to a hospital. Any local pharmacy will be able to give you good instructions. Try to travel in the dry season (November through April), as bacterial and water-borne diseases tend to be worse in the rainy season (May through October). If you can afford to hire a private vehicle and driver, that is the best option, as you can get the help and expertise of a local driver. If not, go with larger bus companies, and travel with companions. When you reach destinations, try to employ local assistants with a good mastery of English (most people speak Pidgin English, but it can be very challenging to try to communicate with others without help of a good translator), to help introduce you to local people, food, and practices. Palm wine and Kola nuts are always a good way to show people that you have an open heart and are looking to learn and grow from local encounters. Be sure to wear shoes at all times, wash your hands regularly, and boil or treat all water. Diseases are rampant in this area, and it’s much more fun if you can avoid them all-together.

The people in the Southwest province sometimes have a gruff exterior, but keep your mind, eyes, and ears open, and you’ll find that many of them are kind, helpful, and excited to exchange ideas and knowledge with visitors. Notions of truth are not the same in Cameroon, so be careful of being overly trusting, but don’t be afraid to open up and engage with others. Try not to be on the roads after dark, travel with friends instead of alone, and always be aware of your surroundings, but don’t let fear keep you from getting the full experience. Cameroon is relatively safe and welcoming. Always bring some extra money, in case of emergency. Enjoy your time and experiences. Good luck, and safe travels.

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

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.

Peru – Rachel Sandler (2009)

Rachel Sandler studied for her MD/MPH at the University of Iowa. Rachel worked on a public health project in Peru for the 2009/2010 school year, a collaboration that was part of Patch Adams’ global initiative to combat childhood malnutrition. Rachel received a $1500 scholarship from Sara’s Wish Foundation.

Here are Rachel’s travel safety tips:

Undoubtedly any traveler to Peru will come to Lima as virtually every international flight lands there. Lima is a large city with lots of traffic and notably gloomy weather. However, it is also full of interesting museums, Peruvian cuisine, and nightlife. The largest city in Peru, Lima is home to many people who have come from the other areas of the country looking for work, but have been unable to find it. Because of this, crime is prevalent. When walking around Lima, one should always be aware of who is around her. Try not to carry items of value, unless absolutely necessary. If one must carry items of value, do so discretely with smaller items hidden close to the body. Certainly not everyone in Lima is a thief, but even in wealthier neighborhoods, like Miraflores, have incidents of petty crime. Especially as a foreigner, you become a target.

Getting around Lima involves either taxis or buses (locally known as combis). According to most Limeños, combis are safer than taxis. Yet understanding the combi system is often not worth the effort unless you will be in Lima for an extended stay. Phone numbers for safe taxis are available in most guide books. These taxis are a bit more costly, but are guaranteed to be safe, especially at night. Another strategy is taking street taxis and when you find a taxi driver who you like, get their phone number to call them when you need a text. This route is a bit less secure, but certainly cheaper.

Red flags for alarm when one is in a taxi include: bartering with a taxi driver that seems too easy and too cheap, when the taxi driver makes a phone call the moment you get in the car, and when the taxi seems to be taken a route through dark streets that appear off the beaten path. If these occur, get out immediately.

Travel in Iquitos is relatively safe. The primary mode of transit is the mototaxi, which may or may not be in good working order. Try to choose a mototaxi that appears newer as it will have less of a chance of breaking down along the way.

In Iquitos, the people are incredibly friendly, which is simply part of the jungle culture. However, you must always be cautious when invited to do things alone. Always go with a buddy if you can, especially at night. Moreover, while the appeal of trying jungle hallucinogens when in the jungle attracts many to Iquitos, one should always go in a group of known friends and a regarded shaman. Reports of assaults have been made from tourists who have entered this situation with locals.

Uganda – Jocelyn Cook (2009)

Jocelyn Cook has a masters degree in global studies from Northeastern University. Thanks to a $1000 scholarship from Sara’s Wish Foundation, Jocelyn spent three months in Uganda working for general health and specifically AIDS education for a non-profit foundation.

Here are Jocelyn’s travel safety tips:

Hire a private driver opposed to public transit – this may add to your cost considerably but when you consider your overall safety and well being – the cost really is nominal.

Travel with a friend on errands – I went to pick my husband up at the airport and it was 4 hours away so I recruited a local whom I had become friendly with and treated her to a nice lunch in exchange for riding with me to and from the airport. Not only did she know the drivers language, but she ensured I wouldn’t be alone for the four hour trip to pick up my husband.

Do not carry all your money on you in one place so that when you go to pay for something you have only a limited amount of cash in your pocket. This also helps when negotiating taxi fares etc., because you are pulling a set amount out of your pocket so one could assume that is all you have available.

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

West Africa – Kelly Dahl (2009)

Kelly Dahl is a registered dietician and graduate of Pepperdine University. Kelly spent a year working on Mercy Ships off of the coast of West Africa — a floating hospital that helps those who have no access to health care. Kelly received a scholarship of $1500 from Sara’s Wish Foundation.

Here are Kelly’s travel safety tips:

Being cautious about your surroundings is important. Common sense is essential. Make sure you only travel in groups when going out. Hide all valuables such as watches or jewelry, or better yet, leave them at home. You never know when someone could see that ring on your finger as an opportunity for their own advancement. Talk with the local embassies and find out what areas of town are safe and unsafe for travel. Avoid those not recommended. Avoid traveling at night if at all possible, and do not use unsafe modes of transportation, such as a motorcycle without a helmet, or a car without a seat belt. Don’t put yourself in situations that could lead to potential danger. As a female, don’t wear overly revealing clothes, as this could be an invitation to disaster. Know the culture in which you are traveling and what is expected of you. Most importantly, though, have common sense. If something doesn’t feel right or seems unsafe, it probably is.