India – Rachel Meeker (2010)

Rachel Meeker received both her bachelors and masters degrees from UC Riverside in sociology and religious studies. Rachel worked in India with the Child Leader Project, focusing on higher education for disadvantaged youth. Rachel received a $1500 scholarship from Sara’s Wish Foundation.

Here are Rachel’s travel safety tips:

When traveling with a group, the most effective safety practices are those that are habitual. Rather than relying solely on a set of safety rules as reference material, it is important that we also create a culture of safety within our traveling community. By creating cultures of safety, we ensure that all members of the group feel ownership of safety policies and a responsibility to the group to employ those policies for the good of everyone. A culture of safety should also enable member feedback on safety policies and procedures so that concerns can be shared, successes celebrated, and that ultimately the traveling community can improve and strengthen its safety guidelines. In other words, safety needs to be a cultural value in a traveling community and, as such, is an important element in daily activities, planning and decision-making processes.

Creating a Culture of Safety

How do we create a culture of safety within a traveling community, such as an education abroad cohort, a collective of international volunteers, or a group of friends or family traveling together?

One way is to create safe spaces for community dialogue, creation, and reflection. A safe space is when every member is allowed a voice in the discussion and no one is censured or judged for their contributions. Through these safe spaces, we can establish consensus on safe practices so that all community members feel ownership. This also ensures that you have the most comprehensive safety practices, expressing the concerns and wisdom of all group members. This is also an opportunity to discuss why certain practices are useful, why members may be more comfortable or uncomfortable adhering to community guidelines, and so forth. Let all voices be heard, be patient, and consensus will be reached.

Practice Safe Community Every Day

Maintaining a culture of safety is a daily endeavor. In your traveling community, there a many ways to cultivate the value of safety on a day to day basis. How you decide to make safety a daily practice is an important part of building consensus early in your journey, so remember to open the discussion before you board the plane, train, boat or bus!

Consider making the following part of your daily routine prior to and while traveling…

  • In preparation for your trip and while you are traveling, hold daily “check-ins” to discuss how we have each practiced our values, including safety as a value in relationship to other community values. This is a great forum for community members to continue the safe space created prior to your trip!
  • Staying in shared housing? Create a “Safety Net” poster in your home, connecting safe practices to your traveling goals, experiences, and memories. A Safety Net poster is an ongoing collage project contributed to by the group that allows all members to chart their travel experiences in light of safe community practices. You can use a web structure, a bubble graph, a timeline, or any other visual structure that is meaningful to your group—pick one together!
  • Think about safety in positive terms rather than negative terms (Ex: Don’t do this, don’t do that); Celebrate a positive practice every day. What do your safe community practices allow you to do in your travels? Do you have greater mobility, are you more comfortable trying new things, and so forth? Make time to celebrate the ways that safe practices liberate your journey by recognizing and exercising the freedoms that safe community ensures!
  • Maintain connection to loved ones at home. Use phone calls, emails, blogs, webcasts, or good old fashioned letters and postcards. Remember that how we define our traveling communities is not necessarily limited to those you are physically with while you travel. Involve family, friends and partners. They are our primary advocates and allies in our daily lives and this does not change when we are abroad. Their contributions and their care are an integral part of creating your safety culture. Consider this as you plan your trip and reflect on how your travel community will actively involve them in your journey.

Safe Communities Confronting the Unexpected

What happens when your travel community is confronted with a safety issue that they did not expect?

One of the benefits of creating a culture of safety in your traveling community is that when you confront a safety issue that your community could not predict in your travels, you already have the mechanisms in place within your community to deal with it. Safe space for discussion allows all voices to be heard, all wisdom and insight to be shared. We all know the adage “two heads are better than one” but how much better is it to have the heads and hearts of your whole community directed towards the group good? Daily activities highlighting safety as a value ensures that all members have practice thinking about safety or using a ‘safety lens’ to reflect on their experiences. With these mechanisms in place, your community will be better equipped to handle the unfamiliar or unexpected. Use these mechanisms to allow the group to make decisions about safe practices together and trust your community. Come together in caring and enjoy your journey!