Safety & Security

Staying Secure

Our Top Priority

Travel holds inherent risks and rewards. Our programs are designed to navigate those risks effectively so that we can happily reap the many rewards. We use our 30 years of collective experience of assessing and managing risk to develop programs that incorporate risk in a thoughtful way. Here’s everything you need to know.

Safety in Numbers

Our programs are designed for groups of 6-14 participants. Each and every one of our participants is carefully screened through an interview process before being selected for a program. All groups are led by two Wilderness First Aid-certified Program Leaders (PLs) who have significant experience navigating their region’s geography, language, and services. Program Leaders undergo a rigorous 3-month training program that prepares them to deal with a variety of common incidents.

Stress-Free Sleeps

Whether it’s a hostel, a tent, a guesthouse, or a homestay; we ensure that accommodations are clean, hygienic, and secure. Our hosts understand our unique needs and host us with warmth and care. More than that, they are important teachers in our journey, always ready to show us how we can better respect our local setting. Over the years, we have formed long-term partnerships with our favourite places and our hosts have truly become our family and friends.

Never Deal with an Emergency Alone

From the travel poops to missing passports to regional instability – there are a host of trained professionals with over 30 years of collective experience ready to help all of our participants come home safely.

OG employs a three-tiered approach when responding to incidents:

  1. In the event of a minor incident (Level 1), trained Program Leaders and other first responders will develop and execute the appropriate plan of action in the field, with assistance from our Regional Director.
  2. In the event of a serious incident (Level 2), the relevant Regional Director with consultation from Program Leaders will develop and execute a plan of action.
  3. In the event of an emergency or crisis (Level 3), the Programs Director in consultation with the regional Emergency Management Team will develop and execute the appropriate plan of action.

What resources are utilized by OG when responding to incidents abroad?

We have compiled a variety of resources to help guide policies and decision making. As specific situations occur, OG staff, the Programs Director, Regional Directors and Program Leaders can select the appropriate tool to assist with any response.

  1. Program Leaders are trained in Wilderness First-Aid and equipped with a field medical-kit, which allows for the treatment of minor medical incidents in the field.
  2. OG maintains a database of manuals, communications, articles, situational checklists, key websites, and forms for tracking and monitoring events. This ever-evolving pool of resources emanates from learned experience and industry best practices. A sampling of the documents includes:
    • Preparedness – Government and non-government risk management and evaluation services
    • Planning – Previous risk assessments, incident reports, and emergency response action logs
    • Response – In-country emergency services and contacts (including medical, diplomatic, security, etc.)
    • Recovery – Health and wellness, victim assistance, and counselling services
  3. OGHQ, the Programs Director, and in-country personnel all have real-time access to the names and contacts of in-country assets, government resources, medical facilities, and emergency services that can be integrated into a coordinated response.
  4. OG’s in-country partners also serve as important resources and service providers. When appropriate, the Programs Director and in-country personnel will coordinate with local partners to assist with a given response.
  5. When appropriate, personal insurance policies carried by all Program Leaders and participants as well as other third-party services will be employed as part of a response. Although OG staff and PLs are not necessarily medical specialists, OG will use insurance providers to connect affected parties to the appropriate resources, treatments, and care.
  6. Our Incident Reports and Emergency Response Action Logs from previous incidents are also used to guide a given response if the situational elements are similar.

Who do I call in an Emergency?

You can call us! Any time. Any day. Participants will be given key phone numbers for the program so they can reach Program Leaders, OG’s emergency phone line, and local authorities. Family and friends can also report an emergency by calling 1 (888) 422-0164 at any time or day. Our maximum response time is 60 minutes.

Eating and Drinking

We love food! It’s an important way for us to truly explore a new culture. Our three meals a day are cooked with love by people we have a trusted history with and all restaurants have been vetted by our regional staff and incorporated into our risk assessment. We also advise adventurous eaters on region-specific precautions during our on-the-ground orientation. Finally, we always make sure to provide purified water 24/7 to keep our team hydrated.

Drug and Alcohol Policy

Travelling to the developing world brings an element of risk. The last thing we want to do is exacerbate risk unnecessarily. The last thing we want to do is disrespect the laws of the countries that welcome us. This means that we have a zero-tolerance drug policy. Simply put, this is a one strike situation – we just don’t tolerate it.

Alcohol, on the other hand, can be an important element of the cultures we interact with. Our participants are adults who can make their own choices on how they want to interact with alcohol abroad. PLs will encourage participants to make their own choices, free of peer pressure. If we feel that a participant is abusing alcohol, they will be given two warnings before being asked to leave the program.

Preparation is Everything

Each OG program is meticulously planned to maximize immersion and adventure while minimizing potential dangers. Using national travel advisories, in-country reconnaissance, and partner check-ins, we prepare detailed risk assessments for every place you’ll visit. Program leaders then conduct dry-runs before each program. This process includes vetting transportation routes and carriers, confirming local medical facilities and services, meeting with our community-based partners, and strategizing ways to minimize any potential risks. To view a sample risk assessment, click here.

All participants are required to meet with a travel doctor or general physician before departure. Everyone is required to have their medical information form signed by a doctor so we can properly advise participants on potential risks associated with their medical history.

Operation Groundswell prioritizes accessibility and will try to accommodate any physical or mental conditions or disability.


How did we get here?

In 2006, we boarded a flight to Accra for a visit that shattered our preconceived notions of the developing world. We also learned that countless institutions were pushing their own agendas without consulting the communities they were ‘developing.’

Since then, we have run over 300 programs in 20 countries around that world that focus on true impact through collaboration and solidarity. We have created partnerships with local non-profits, community leaders, and local governments.

We work with these partners to not just plop a volunteer into a project, but to learn about the powerful work they’re doing in their own communities and uncover the intricacies of life on the ground.

We combine community service with educational programs that teach team members the context needed to understand local challenges, and what it means to be an activist.

Our alumni community is now made up of over 2000 backpacktivists all working to make a positive impact in their everyday lives.

We have also expanded our reach to work with educational institutions like Boston University and the University of Toronto Mississauga to bring education outside the classroom, and we continue growing our network of change makers across the globe.

You can read more about where we started here, but the best part of this all is that our story has really only just begun!


The year OG hit the ground running


Number of programs we've run


Backpacktivist Alumni


Experienced program leaders all over the world

Staying in Touch

At Home

We’re here for you every step of the way! You can contact us with any questions through our main phone line at 1-888-422-0164 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday, or email us at [email protected].

Applied for a program and interested in chatting with an alum about their experience? Our OMent program can help you with that! Email our Alumni Coordinator, Allyson, at [email protected] and ask for the hookup. In the meantime, you can find past participant reviews on the third party website Go Overseas.

As you prepare for your journey, we will periodically contact you with important information about logistics, payments, safety, and more. We’re in this together!


We’ve got you covered! We have staff on-call at our headquarters and in each region while programs are running. In case of emergency while on program, family or next of kin can call OG’s main line at 1-888-422-0164, extension 5. From there, they will be connected directly to one of our 24-hour on-call coordinators.

Backpacktivists will periodically have internet access to email home, although telephone access is limited. Buying a local cell phone can be a more cost effective way of keeping in touch!

Program leaders have locally serviced cell phones for emergency use and are in regular contact with OG’s Programs Director and their Regional Director.

Take the leap

Join our growing community of backpacktivists today!