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It is a typically chilly night in Jerusalem. It is the Sabbath, and as I stand on my balcony gazing out into the city, I’m struck by the silence the Sabbath brings. Shops are closed, the streets are devoid of the weekly bustle, and there is a rare atmosphere of peace in a city shrouded in conflict.
My mind is buzzing. I am 2 weeks into leading my first OG program and I’m stuck thinking about the first program planning session I had with Jonah and David, OG’s founders. I had expected the program was going to be challenging. That it would push our participants out of their comfort zone, both physically and intellectually. I had foreseen the impact this region, our partners, and our conversations would have on the group. What I had not expected was the profound change I would personally experience.
Through our meetings with NGOs, community leaders, soldiers, freedom fighters, and faith leaders; I started to understand what that warm and tingly feeling was, working its way up my spine and into my brain. It was a truth I’ve always known, but could never quite articulate. It was stepping back from the messy mosaic of life and watching the outline of the bigger picture take shape. I came to understand that every person’s perspective has value, even those perspectives vastly different from my own.
When we move beyond the bombastic headlines and narratives that we are bombarded by, the truth can look a little messy. Instead of turning away, we must embrace that messiness. We must crave contradiction and complexity in our perspective. Most of all, we must listen even when it’s not the truth we want to hear. Even if it shakes our fundamental beliefs to our core.
Feeling alone in my thoughts, I stepped off the balcony and back into our group’s apartment. Sensing my isolation, the team greeted me with warm food, warm hugs, and warm thoughts. Looking around at a group ready to struggle together, ready to learn together, and ready to love the ‘other’ – it was that moment I realized I was a part of something special. A movement of people seeking truth, justice, and hope for a world that is very much worth fighting for.
What will be your moment? I don’t know for certain. Each program is different just as each person and place is different. Be open to it. Let it change you. I know it’s changed me.
You will need a valid passport that does not expire until at least 6 months after your departure date. If you do not have a passport or if your passport is going to expire within 6 months of your departure, you should immediately begin the process of acquiring/renewing your passport as it can take some time to process. Please check with your government’s travel agency to clarify your specific requirements.
We’re not talking about a credit card here! We’re talking about travel visas! These are handy official documents that give you permission to enter a country. So how do you get one for yourself? We will be providing more detailed information with your program package shortly, but you are personally responsible for obtaining a visa and confirming your visa requirements. Resources such as www.visahq.com may be helpful, but it is always best to consult your destination’s embassy directly.
While your program fee does not cover visa costs, we are here to answer any questions you might have if a pre-trip application is necessary. If there are any special documents required to receive a visa for your destination, let us know! While we can’t guarantee your approval, we will help out in any way we can. The sooner you let us know what you need from us, the sooner we can get back to you. Get in touch here.
Look out for an email (usually two to four months prior to your program start date) with all of your itinerary details and a link where you can fill out all of your flight details, travel medical insurance policy information, and your emergency contacts. Your flight arrival and departure information is crucial for us to arrange your airport pick-ups and drop-offs so be sure to fill it out!
Please note: The section below contains affiliate links, which means Operation Groundswell may receive compensation from any of the products or services we recommend if you choose to purchase them. We don’t recommend anything that we wouldn’t use ourselves, and there’s no extra cost to you! As a non-profit, this is one small way we can help grow our larger mission of ethical travel. If you have more questions about affiliate links, or why we use them, take a peek at our full disclosure here.
Hold your horses! We will give you the green light to book your flights when your program has reached its minimum enrollment level. Look out for our email (usually two to four months prior to your program start date) with all of your itinerary details, tips on how to find the cheapest airfare, and other relevant instructions.
If Operation Groundswell must cancel a program due to low enrollment numbers, we will be happy to relocate you to another program. If you would rather cancel than relocate, OG will reimburse your full program fee. However, OG is not responsible for refunding any flight costs or other costs you incurred in preparation for the program. It will be your decision if you’d like to insure your program and/or flight, buy a flexible ticket, or buy separate flight insurance through your airline.
If you are not able to attend your program for any reason, Operation Groundswell’s standard cancellation policy will be in effect. Flight and/or trip cancellation insurance may be able to help you avoid losses if an unexpected situation (such as a change in your health or a family emergency) compels you to cancel your trip.
OG does not require flight or trip cancellation insurance, but we do recommend it. If you decide to get insurance, please read your potential policy in full before you buy it!
Operation Groundswell requires that you to meet with a travel doctor or general physician before your departure. You must be up-to-date with all necessary vaccinations and equipped with any necessary medications for travel in your region. Your travel doctor should know what’s required and what’s advised according to the region(s) you’re traveling to.
Operation Groundswell requires your doctor’s signature on a personal medical history form stating that you are both physically and mentally cleared for participation in the program. Operation Groundswell prioritizes accessibility and will try to accommodate any physical or mental conditions or disability. We simply want to make sure that you are fully aware of the risks and challenges of the program, that we are aware of any previous medical conditions, and that we have the capacity to support you while you’re travelling with us! This form will be sent to you shortly after your deposit has been paid and should be submitted as soon as possible.
Once you’ve paid your deposit, you will receive an email with:
A completed medical history form signed by a physician is mandatory for participation in all OG programs. We require this form a month before your departure, at the latest. Once again, if you are not able to attend your program for any reason, Operation Groundswell’s standard cancellation policy will be in effect. Flight and/or trip cancellation insurance may be able to help you avoid losses if an unexpected situation compels you to cancel your trip.
Operation Groundswell requires you to be covered by emergency medical travel insurance for the duration of your OG program. You are responsible for finding and purchasing an insurance plan that meets our requirements and fits your needs. We will collect your policy information via an online form before the program begins.
At the minimum, you will need basic emergency medical travel insurance to ensure that, in the event of a medical emergency while on program, the costs of evacuation and treatment are covered.
If You Already Have Medical Insurance:
Check the terms of your existing health insurance policy to confirm that it will cover you while you’re traveling abroad with OG.
If You Do Not Have Existing Coverage:
We recommend shopping around on sites like squaremouth.com, which will list a variety of providers and packages so that you can compare their coverage. Generally short-term medical insurance is available for about less than $2 a day but you may also want to consider trip cancellation insurance. Many insurance providers also offer additional coverage for things like lost or stolen baggage. The cost of a policy will depend on the extent of the medical coverage you choose, and whether you decide to include any of these optional extras.
Travel medical insurance coverage is mandatory for participation in all OG programs. You will receive a form for you to fill out and provide your travel medical insurance policy information in case we require the information while you’re on the ground.
As a well-established and experienced international travel operator, Operation Groundswell takes active precautions to help keep you safe and secure while overseas on your program. We take travel safety very seriously.
Each OG program is meticulously planned to maximize immersion and adventure while minimizing any 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.
Program leaders are proficient in the local language(s) where required, Wilderness First-Aid certified, and trained to manage all sorts of emergency situations on the ground. They are also provided with important updates from the U.S. Department of State and Canadian Foreign Affairs regarding travel advisories.
As a matter of policy, program leaders are required to maintain regular check-ins with Operation Groundswell’s Headquarters to communicate important information and ensure the health and safety of team members. OG also maintains an emergency hotline and remains on-call 24/7 in case of emergency.
With that in mind, it is important to remember that OG likes to travel in ways that reflect everyday life in that region. We stay in backpacker hostels, take public transit and eat the finest street food on offer, all of which have certain risks attached.
OG and its local partners are familiar with these risks and will take any and all necessary precautions to ensure your health and safety before and during your program. This includes maintaining effective flows of information, projecting an inclusive, respectful, and non-partisan image as well as collaborating with local contacts, officials, and our wonderful partners.
Our extensive preparation and planning is intended to anticipate and mitigate all of the risks that accompany international travel. However, program logistics will remain under constant review and the itinerary kept flexible in case of unforeseen developments. To learn more about our Risk Management System, click here.
Safe travellers are informed travellers. Do your research about where you’re going!
Keep in mind that government advisories provide a countrywide assessment of risks and we will provide more region-specific information in the pre-program meetings that you will attend one month prior to your program start date.
Canadian participants are encouraged to register with Consular Services Canada as a “Canadian Traveling Abroad.” This will allow the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade to contact us in case of an emergency. Please make the encouraged registration for your trip here.
American citizens should register here.
For all other nationalities, please find your country’s consular services to see if there is an option to register as a traveler abroad.
In order to participate in an OG program, you’ll be required to sign a Release of Liability and Waiver. A few weeks before your program begins, your program leaders will bring your team together for an online chat to talk about the waiver and how to stay safe on the ground. You’ll be meeting your team, discussing the different types of activities you’ll be doing while you’re on program, and going through the inherent risks associated with travelling in the region.
This is also an opportunity for you to ask any health and safety-related questions you might have, and for you to get a good idea of what conditions will be like on the ground. Taking part in our safety chat is mandatory before you can sign the waiver, so keep an eye out for an email from your program leaders! After your online chat, we’ll email the waiver via Adobe Echosign for you to sign electronically. Easy Peasy.
It is mandatory for all participants to sign our Release of Liability and Waiver before participating in an OG program.
Internet will be available periodically for you to email home. Telephone access will be limited and buying a local cell phone can be a more cost effective way of keeping in touch. Additionally, program leaders have locally serviced cell phones for emergency use and will be in regular contact with OG’s Programs Director.
In case of emergency while you’re on program, please ask your family or next of kin to call OG’s main line at 1-888-422-0164. From there, they will be connected directly to one of our 24-hour on-call coordinators.
In order to participate in an OG program, you’ll be required to submit both a program fee and a community contribution. The fee covers your accommodations, transportation, meals, and activities while you’re with the group, while the community contribution supports the local organizations that your team will be partnering with on the ground. You can find more information about the distinction between the fee and community contribution here.
Program fees vary according to program destination and length. You can find your total program fee and community contribution amounts on your program’s page on the OG website, or you can view a list of all our programs with their corresponding fees here.
Your program fee will be split into three separate installments, and you’ll receive an invoice for each installment by email. The first installment will be the deposit required to reserve your spot on the program. Please note that the deposit is non-refundable.
After we’ve received your deposit and you’ve officially joined the team, we’ll split the remainder of your program fee into two equal installments and email you the invoice for the 2nd installment. This installment is the membership fee, which is used to support our organization as we prepare for your program and mobilize the greater backpacktivist community that you’ll soon be a part of! This installment will be due approximately four weeks later.
Once you’ve submitted your 2nd installment payment, we’ll email you the invoice for your 3rd and final installment, which will be due an additional four weeks after that. This final payment covers the remainder of your on-the-ground costs, and is held in trust for that purpose.
Our fee schedule has been developed in consultation with the Travel Industry Council of Ontario to protect you as a consumer and ensure that our programs remain financially accessible.
Our default payment option is PayPal, and each of our invoice emails contain a link which will allow you to pay online either by signing into your PayPal account, or by entering your credit card information. Please note that PayPal charges an additional transaction fee of 3.7% on USD payments, and 3.048% on CAD payments, which is automatically included on all of our invoices. Because the timeline to get your deposit payment in is often tight, we request that you use PayPal to submit your deposit. However, there are a couple of other payment options that we will accept for your 2nd and 3rd installment payments!
If you use one of these two non-PayPal payment options, you won’t need to include the additional PayPal fee that’s included on the invoice. If you are having a difficult time figuring out how much to pay without the fee, you can contact us and we’d be happy to help you figure it out!
If you are concerned that you won’t be able to make a payment on time, we may be able to offer a due date extension or set up a payment plan for you! If you would like to request a due date extension, or are interested in splitting your program fee into multiple smaller installments, please contact us.
OG requires that your entire fee and community contribution be paid in full before you depart for the program. Second installment payments must be submitted by 90 days prior to the program start date, and final installment payments must be submitted by 60 days prior to the program start date at the latest. We are not able to offer extensions or payment plans that extend past your program’s start date.
In addition to our program fee, we’ve set a community contribution that we require from every participant. These funds are used to support the amazing local grassroots organizations that we are partnered with on the ground. Community contributions vary according to program destination and length. You can find your total program fee and community contribution amounts on your program’s page on the OG website, or you can view a list of all our programs with their corresponding fees.
The community contribution requirement will be included in your program fee installment invoices. Keep in mind that community contributions are not refundable at any point, except in the event of a program cancellation initiated by Operation Groundswell HQ.
We encourage all participants to fundraise their community contribution as a way to share their journey with family and friends. We have a ton of resources to support you every step of the way, including a super easy-to-use online platform, a handy dandy fundraising guide, and a dedicated financial support team who will be in touch with you shortly after you pay your deposit.
Our main phone line is 1-888-422-0164. Our office hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday.
In case of emergency while you’re on program, please ask your family or next of kin to call OG’s main line at 1-888-422-0164 and follow the prompt. On-call coordinators are available 24 hours a day for emergencies related to current programs or participants.
To reach us via email for all matters, contact [email protected].
If you have any financial inquiries, contact our financial support team at [email protected].
As you prepare for your journey, OG will periodically contact you with important information about logistics, payments, safety, and more. Please check your spam folder regularly! Consider adding [email protected] and [email protected] to your contacts or approved sender list to make sure that our emails are delivered.
It is important to us at Operation Groundswell that our participants are directed to credible websites in order to purchase quality services and products to prepare for our programs. We may promote, affiliate with, or partner with other individuals or businesses whose programs, products, and services align with ours. In the spirit of transparency, we want you to be aware that Operation Groundswell may receive financial compensation or other benefits from the purchase of products or services that we recommend, which can ultimately contribute to our operations as a non-profit. We have sought out affiliate programs with reliable services and products that we already use ourselves, and while we believe that they may a great option, it is important that you still use your own judgement to decide whether a product is the right fit for you!
If you have any questions at all about this policy, please feel free to contact us.