Risk Management


OG employs the World Travel and Tourism Council’s Safe Travels protocols, which are rigorous standards that help ensure the health and safety of both travellers and host destinations as we find our new normal. The standards take direction from the WHO and CDC and are updated regularly as new information becomes available about COVID-19 and the situation on the ground.

OG also adheres to the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) Health & Safety Guidelines. These measures were created specifically to tackle the risks associated with COVID-19 and adventure activities like trekking, trying local cuisine, and working with wildlife. They were made in collaboration with the adventure travel industry and the Cleveland Clinic, a world renowned healthcare provider.


Is Our Top Priority

Travel is chock-a-block full of rewards but does carry with it some inherent risks. At Operation Groundswell, programs are designed to effectively navigate those risks so that we can all happily reap the rewards. Relying on over 30 years of collective risk management experience we’ve developed programs that tackle risk in a thoughtful way. Here’s everything you need to know.

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 visit. Program Leaders even conduct a dry-run before each and every program. As part of this process we vett transportation routes and carriers, confirm the quality and availability of local healthcare services, coordinate with our community partners, and strategize 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 special needs and physical or psychological conditions.

There's Safety in Group Bubbles

Our programs are designed specifically for intimate groups of between 6-12 participants. This creates more opportunities for personal connection, grants us access to smaller, harder-to-reach places, and gives everyone a little more personal space — even before our physical distancing measures. Each and every participant is interviewed and carefully screened before being selected for a program.

All groups are led by highly-trained and Wilderness First Aid-certified Program Leaders (PLs) who have significant experience navigating the region’s geography, language, culture, and services. If you’re looking for the added confidence of travelling with your own group or bubble, you can book a custom program.


Whether on a bus, van, pick-up truck or tuktuk, we work with local operators and drivers to ensure that vehicles are registered, well-maintained, and clean. Participants will be required to wear masks and carry hand sanitizer inside vehicles at all times. Where necessary, we will also enforce reduced capacity and employ assigned seating to give everyone room to breathe.

Eat & Drink With Confidence

We love food! It’s an important way for us to learn about and immerse ourselves in a new culture. Our three meals a day are carefully prepared with love by people with whom we know well and all the restaurants we frequent have been fully vetted by our regional personnel and incorporated into our risk assessment. We also advise adventurous eaters on region-specific precautions during our in-country orientation and provide crystal clean purified water 24/7 so that we can keep hydrated.

Expect Stress-Free Sleeps

Whether it’s a hostel, a tent, a guesthouse, or a homestay; we make sure that all of our accommodations are safe, clean, and hygienic. Our hosts understand our unique needs and welcome us with tender loving care. More than that, they are important teachers in our journey, always ready to show us how we can better engage with our local surroundings. Over the years, we have formed long-term partnerships with our favourite places and our hosts have truly become our friends and family.

Never Deal with and Emergency Alone

From travel poops to missing passports and local unrest – there are a host of trained professionals with over 30 years of collective experience ready to help everyone navigate any bumps in the road and return home safe and sound. 

OG works hard to minimize all the risks but if something should happen, we employ a comprehensive 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.

Drug and Alcohol Policy

Travelling off the beaten path always carries a greater element of risk. The last thing we want to do is increase those risks unnecessarily by contravening the laws of the host country or by acting irresponsibly. That’s why we maintain a zero-tolerance drug policy on our programs. Simply put, it’s one strike and you’re out – we just don’t tolerate illegal drug use on program.

While consuming alcohol can present some of the same challenges it is widely accepted in all the countries we travel to and can even be an important part of local cultures and customs. Recognizing that participants are adults and can make their own choices on how and when they might want to consume alcohol. That said, we are committed to maintaining a safe and healthy space that is free of peer pressure for both participants and our hosts PLs will encourage participants to make their own choices, free of peer pressure. If a participant is irresponsibly consuming or abusing alcohol, up to two warnings may be given before we ask them to leave the program.

Our Experience

How did we get here?

In 2006, we boarded a flight to Accra for a visit that shattered our preconceived notions of what people called ‘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 taken over 3000 backpacktivists around the world, and they are 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.


years of international programs


programs led since 2006


backpacktivist alumni


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!