6 Things To Know Before You Go

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There is something so refreshing about traveling without a strict plan – finding that restaurant only the locals know, getting off the beaten path, letting the day plan itself… However, too little planning can lead to easily-avoidable frustrations and delays. Learning basic information about your destination will help you avoid major travel catastrophes and ultimately allow you more freedom to explore and discover.

Here are 6 important things to know about your destination before you leave home:

Entry Requirements

Research visa and vaccination requirements well in advance. Since visa requirements change frequently, it is imperative you do thorough research and make sure you have the most up-to-date information.

Climate & Weather

Are you going during rainy season? Are you visiting a desert region that is hot during the day and cool at night? Check the local weather for your destination to help you pack accordingly and prepare for all weather conditions.

History

Studying the history of your destination can tell you so much about the social and political climate. A basic understanding of the recent history will also help you converse intelligently and respectfully with the people.

Local Laws and Customs

Knowing the local laws and customs is critical for a safe, smooth trip. Consider purchasing a travel guide specific to your destination, or asking your hosts or partnering organization if they have any helpful information.

Food

Read up on the local cuisine to see if there are any “must-try” dishes you should add to your list. Check out our post on “Eating Adventurously” for tips on exploring local cuisine with safety in mind.

Language

Language is usually something best acquired by immersion, but it is so helpful to learn a few key words and phrases before you ever depart. This will help you navigate the city and provide you with a foundation to pick up on new words!

 

Avoiding Travel Setbacks On A Group Trip

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Congratulations, 2017 Vollies Winners!

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In honor of National Volunteer Week, we hosted our second annual Vollie Awards and gave you the opportunity to honor your heroes in the volunteer world – individuals and nonprofits making a huge impact on the communities in which they serve. We are thrilled to share with you the winners of this years Vollie Awards!

Outstanding Volunteer – Richard Munson

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Richard is an incredible asset to our charity organization. He is 71 years young and has participated in 7 volunteer programs with A Broader View in the last four years. Richard enjoys spending time with young adults and has been involved in teaching programs in Cusco & Ayacucho Peru, Quito Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands, Quezeltenango Guatemala and in La Serena Chile. A Broader View is fortunate to have Richard’s support and look forward to our next adventure together.

-Sarah E.

Outstanding Volunteer Organization – Jasper House Haiti

Jasper House is an organization in Jamel Haiti that works to empower women who have been through some kind of sexual exploitation. They educate, home, counsel, teach a trait, and employ women who have been discarded and abandoned. This organization is deserving of so much. They work to not simply give hand outs which can ultimately cripple an individual, but to empower these women to stand on their own, beat the odds, and turn around to better their country.

-Amanda W.

Outstanding Volunteer Photography – Alisa Hoodikoff

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Alisa Hoodikoff is a brave and adventurous 18 years old young lady who has a passion to make the world a better place with her camera. Earlier this year, she went to the secluded villages in southern Ethiopia to share her life, photography and love to children. Alisa faced many challenges including fundraising for her trip, overcoming illness in the tribes and being homesick. She faced her fears and, through the trials, was able to bring hope and joy to many children in Africa.

-Kelly H.

The 2017 Vollies Are Here

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Here at Volunteer Card, we love to take every opportunity we can to celebrate those who make the world a better place. We are daily inspired by the ways you give and serve and it is our privilege to provide you with quality travel insurance for your short-term and long-term trips.

We are so thrilled to announce our second annual Vollie Awards! For the month of April, we will be celebrating the individuals and organizations that keep you inspired. Whether they’re feeding the hungry, teaching abroad or conserving wildlife, we want to know who your heroes are!

From April 10th – 14th we encourage you to send in your nominations for the three categories below. Our first two categories are for individual volunteers you’d like to recognize for their service or for their humanitarian travel photography, and the third for a deserving organization. The three categories up for nomination this year are:

  • Outstanding Volunteer Service
  • Outstanding Volunteer Photography
  • Outstanding Volunteer Organization

 

Join us in the celebration and submit your nomination today:

The Vollie Awards

Should Your Nonprofit Use A Travel Agent?

If you thought your nonprofit was the only one stretched thin, take heart. There are a vast number of nonprofits the world over and each has a unique mission, but there are a couple of things that most, if not all, nonprofits have in common and that is they operate on a lean budget and their employees wear many hats. Organizations are consistently searching for efficient ways to streamline their work and increase their impact. For those nonprofits that are organizing international travel for employees or volunteers, it’s a relief to find tools that can wrap the job of researching, booking, organizing, and communicating complex travel details into one nice, compact package. Have you ever considered that a travel agent might be just the “tool” you’re looking for?

Should your nonprofit use a travel agent?

If we had to wager a bet, we’d put all of our money on YES. Not only do travel agents save your nonprofit time, money, and potential frustrations, but they also have your back in the event that something goes wrong (which happens with travel from time to time, believe it or not).

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5 reasons we think your nonprofit should use a travel agent

Now, if you’re like most of America, you may hear the words “Travel Agent” and think to yourself, “Please, it’s 2017. Have you ever heard of Kayak?” We know that the appeal to hop online and book some airfare that’s advertised as the “lowest rate” without having to go through someone else is appealing, but let us offer you 5 reasons why we think it’s better for your nonprofit to use a travel agent. Maybe, just maybe we’ll convince you to give one a try.

1. Travel agents have access to airfare rates that you don’t have access to

Did you know that nonprofits can qualify for special “humanitarian” airfare rates, which often times will offer you the lowest possible ticket price plus many other benefits such as free baggage? This is the airline industry’s best-kept secret. But, you can only get access to these lower rates through qualifying travel agencies, like our sister company Fly For Good.

2. A travel agent can coordinate travel for multiple people in a group

If your nonprofit sends teams of people abroad then you could certainly benefit from the services of a travel agent. Booking and managing airfare for a group can be a real challenge. Let these industry experts coordinate and keep track of all travel details for your teams, freeing you up to accomplish other important tasks.

3. A travel agent is a travel advisor to your nonprofit

You have questions about your destination, traveling internationally, luggage, the airports, connections, what to do if a flight is missed…the list of questions is endless. A travel agent will be able to offer you expertise and personalization for your trip making it easier for you to get answers and communicate information to your teams.

4. Travel agents understand the fine print

We know you don’t want to read it, even though you should. All airlines include fine print on their rules, terms, and conditions and these are things that a travel agent will be well versed in.

5. A travel agent will advocate for you

Sometimes, it can be hard to get an answer or even get in touch with someone directly from the airline. A travel agent will typically have a direct contact at the airline which makes it possible for them to assist with your issue in a timely manner and advocate for the best possible outcome.

If none of those reasons convinced you to contact a travel agent and get a quote on flights, then perhaps this reason will: Humans are better than robots. Working with a travel agent is a human process. A real person will book your flights, rather than booking engine; You’ll build a relationship with a human who learns your frequently traveled routes and what nuances your teams have; If you have a question, concern, need to change some details to a reservation, or anything in between, you’ll be able to contact a real person, whose name you know and who knows yours.

should your nonprofit use a travel agent

 

 

 

 

Are You Prepared To Be An Expat? Get Our Checklist

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So, you are going to live abroad long term. Congratulations! The expat life can be a great one but it takes a lot of planning to make sure things go smoothly and you stay safe, healthy, and accident-free. The to-do list can begin to look quite daunting, but we’re here to help you find a method to your madness.

Let’s begin with some basic health and safety information about long term, expatriate living.

According to a recent article in the International Travel & Health Insurance Journal, 80% of expatriates are concerned about accessing quality healthcare while living abroad, but only 42% actually make a plan for healthcare.  No matter what is taking you to live abroad as an expat, be it a search for new adventure, education, volunteerism or work, you need to put the priority on preventing any travel or medical mishaps. But if an unexpected emergency does arise, you want to be able to handle it quickly and efficiently, all while keeping your financial risk low.

 

“While travel insurance isn’t a cure-all, there are many ways that it can help people during difficult, unexpected travel mishaps or emergencies.”

 

Wouldn’t it be nice to know what steps to take, or how to properly prepare yourself for settling into life as an expat? Yes, it would. Let us help you prepare for your long term trip with this checklist of things that need to be done 90, 60, and 30 days prior to departure.

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1. 90 days before becoming an expat

By now, you should have read up on your destination to learn about visa requirements, local laws, customs, and medical care in your host country. You’ll also want to begin keeping your eye on travel warnings and travel alerts. A great resource for these things is travel.state.gov.

Are you up-to-date on your vaccinations? Does your host country require any additional vaccinations? You can find out about health precautions and recommended vaccinations through the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization. Some vaccines require a series of injections so you’ll want to visit your doctor to begin this process at least 90 days prior to departing on your trip.

Do your friends and family know you’ll be moving abroad? They may want to throw you a going away party, or at least say “see you soon!”. Share your new address with them and let them know how they can get in contact with you while you’re living as an expat.

2. 60 days before becoming an expat

Notify your bank and credit card companies to let them know that you’ll be living overseas. Depending on the financial institution, you may need to cancel cards or get new ones. Check exchange rates for your destination so that you can budget properly. It’s also a good idea to do research on using cash, debit/credit cards, and ATMs abroad.

Visit your family practitioner to get an updated copy of your medical records. Keep these on file as you travel. If you are bringing any medications, you will want to get a letter from your doctor. Some countries have strict laws that effect even over-the-counter medications so read about your destination on the travel.state.gov website

Make sure you have a valid travel insurance policy. As an expat, we recommend that you purchase a supplemental travel insurance policy that will cover you up to 365 consecutive days and one that you can easily renew while living abroad. A good travel insurance policy will cover medical costs and emergency evacuation.

3. 30 days before becoming an expat

Change your address with the post office and reroute your mail. If you’re sending your mail to a friend or family member’s house, ask them to forward you any important documents to your new, international address.

Make sure you have living essentials packed in your suitcase. Document what’s packed, and in which bag, by taking photos of each suitcases contents.

Say goodbye to friends and family!

Download the full expat checklist for free!

 

 

 

 

Avoiding Identity Theft While Traveling: 7 Things To Think About

The top three identity theft risks for travelers are stolen wallets or passports, credit or debit card theft, and fraud. Protect your identity and your sanity by keeping these seven key tips in your mind before, during and after your volunteer trip. If you do experience a loss or theft of personal documents on your volunteer trip, call our claims department so we can help you get things settled. If your passport is lost or stolen while traveling abroad, call the 24/7 Emergency Assistance phone number on the back of your Volunteer Card for immediate assistance with passport replacement.

 

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Avoid identity theft

 

 

 

 

 

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Gratitude Week 2016

Gratitude Week is a time for us to reflect on the year that has been and give some thanks for all of the amazing volunteer and volunteer organizations that we work with every day. A lot of people think the travel insurance world is boring. We have to disagree. Every single day we interact with people who care deeply about the world –  its people, its natural resources, its animals, its wellbeing. We’re thankful for the sacrifices you make in order to go and volunteer, and we want you to know it! We will be celebrating Gratitude Week 2016 from Monday, November 21 – Wednesday, November 23. We’re taking three days to honor volunteers and volunteer organizations by giving you the chance to win the ultimate volunteer prize package! To enter, you simply need to scroll down and tell us why you are thankful for your volunteer experience!

 


By participating in the giveaway, you are agreeing to the official rules. Gratitude Week 2016 contest begins on Monday, November 21, 2016 and end on Wednesday, November 23, 2016. Please take a moment to view our official rules.

Words From Our Founder: The Secret To Human Happiness

Growing up, my father never took me to Disney World. Instead, he took me to refugee camps in Mozambique, Africa as a child. It so impacted me, I wanted the same for my children.

So my wife and I took our three and five-year-old children to the border of Thailand and Burma to help in War Refugee Camps. After traveling to 45 countries in my life, this was one of the most devastating sense I had ever been in; Children who lost limbs to land mines, nursing mothers who could not keep their newborn babies alive because they did not have enough food. That trip inspired us to start a relief feeding program with our friends that today feeds around 9,000 children every day. And to this day, every Volunteer Card sold gets a meal to a child in this region.

Photo: Sara Aho

Photo: Sara Aho

However, something powerful happened on our way home from that trip. The hotel we reserved made a big mistake and lost our reservation. We were staying on a layover from midnight to 4:30 AM with a three and five-year-old. The reservation desk was mortified, but my wife and I just looked at each other and told them, ‘It’s okay…It’s okay. We just came from a refugee camp. We’ll be fine, trust us, we are more than fine.’

That trip changed our entire baseline of what makes a good day. To this day in our house, we say, ‘I got to eat today, actually, I got to eat three times today…I have both of my legs…what an amazing day, regardless of what happens.’ Once you change your baseline, it takes less to make you happy. It takes fewer things, fewer accolades, fewer conveniences. It’s freeing, liberating even.

Photo: Sara Aho

Photo: Sara Aho

It’s not only one of the most important lessons we learn from volunteer travel, it is the secret to human happiness: It’s called gratefulness. I don’t know of grateful people who are unhappy, and I don’t know ungrateful people who are happy. I’ve met multi-millionaires who were not grateful and as a result not happy. I’ve met war refugees who are grateful and as a result, happy. You could, in one sense, call volunteer trips “gratefulness therapy.” In addition to the good your services do for other people, your baseline for gratefulness is changed and your life enriched forever.

This week at Volunteer Card we are all trying our best to practice gratefulness because it leads to a generous life of happiness. It’s a secret staring all of us in the face, yet so few seem to find, and fewer still remember it. Thank goodness there is at least one week a year to remind us.

We hope you all experience the beauty of gratefulness this week. 

Cheers,

Ryan Skoog

Founder & President, Volunteer Card

The Worst Advice We’ve Ever Heard About Volunteer Travel

A quick Google search for advice on volunteer travel will result in thousands of articles that leave your head spinning and maybe a bit more confused than when you started. You may read phrases like, “The world is waiting for you!” or “When in doubt, travel.” that leave you thinking, “But how?” We are big proponents for volunteer travel, and we believe that everyone can do it if they want to, but over the years we’ve heard some pretty bad advice about volunteer travel.

 

The Worst Advice We’ve Ever Heard About Volunteer Travel

 

The Worst Advice We've Ever Heard About Humanitarian Travel

“All volunteer organizations are the same, just pick one.”

We have the privilege of interacting with some of the greatest nonprofits and volunteer organizations on the planet (you know who you are!) and we know for a fact that there are vast differences between them. When you’re considering volunteer travel, don’t close your eyes and pick the first one your finger touches on a list. Do some research: Consider what your interests and passions are, what you want to get out of your volunteer trip, and what your strengths are. You should also look for a volunteer organization that fits within your budget and is affordable for your lifestyle. Don’t be afraid to ask prospective organizations what is included in your trip and how they use your donations and program fees.

“Don’t worry about the money, just travel.”

Wouldn’t that be nice? We think that volunteer travel can be a reality for many people when they determine that it’s a priority in their life. However, we would strongly advise that volunteer travelers also do their best to plan for the unexpected. That may mean that you can’t just pack up and go at your heart’s first whim, but perhaps you instead plan, set a budget and get a quality travel insurance policy to help cover unexpected travel and medical emergencies.

“You have to buy your volunteer travel experience.”

You can buy an airplane ticket. You can buy an exceptional meal. You can buy access to the best volunteer programs in the world. But what you can’t buy is a genuine experience, friendships, appreciation of different cultures and worldly insight.

“You have to drop everything in order to participate in volunteer travel.”

Some travelers choose to leave everything behind and live the nomadic volunteer lifestyle, and that is lovely, but it’s not for everyone. If you have a family, a career, schooling, or anything else that ties you to home, then you’re not automatically excluded from participating in volunteer travel. All you have to do is find the best type of program that fits your lifestyle. Here are three options that you may consider:

  • Volunteer abroad programs are perfect for those with basic savings but not enough to fund long-term travel. Trips can last from one week to several months. Find a program that fits your lifestyle and interests and you’ll be one step closer to living your volunteer travel dreams.
  • Work in exchange for housing, food, and a small living allowance is a good option for volunteer travelers who have a small travel budget but still want a unique, interpersonal experience.
  • Student travel programs are vast and you can find one in almost any field of study. If the study abroad program at your school is not an option for you, search for student travel scholarships or travel bursaries. Often times you don’t even have to be enrolled in a university or college to participate.

Have you received any “bad” volunteer travel advice? If so, how did you overcome it?