The coronavirus has impacted communities across the world, and many people are looking to help in any way that they can. Though the intention is noble, the limitations on travel during the pandemic are making this much harder to do.

When faced with the question of how to travel safely during the pandemic you have to consider the spirit of volunteering. These efforts are focused on environmental, community, and humanitarian support. The purpose of volunteering is to help, but if you are travelling long distances, potentially exposing yourself and others to COVID-19, are you truly helping? There are ways to travel safely, and there are many opportunities to help within your country or even online.

Regardless of where you want to volunteer, awareness of travel restrictions, safety requirements, and best practices recommended by epidemiologists and biostatisticians is key. Whether you are travelling to another country or another state, make sure that you know the unique circumstances of where you are going, and be ready to potentially quarantine. Being aware is the first step in volunteering ethically.

Staying Aware

We’re currently relying on top scientists to inform us of best practices, rising cases, and any new precautions that must be taken. Knowing where to find your information is important, and top epidemiologists and biostatisticians are excellent resources for understanding what is happening in our world today. These resources will give you a high-level view of the circumstances around the world and in specific communities, but you will also need to keep an eye on legal restrictions for the specific cities and areas where you plan on volunteering. This includes researching quarantine procedures, documentation requirements, and travel restrictions.

If you intend to fly to your volunteer location, you will want to take extra precautions, including talking to the airline about their flight capacity and making sure you understand their cancellation restrictions. Find out what their current middle seat policy is, and if you do decide to fly, make sure to clean your seat and tray and wear a mask at all times. With the high risk associated with international travel, you will also need to stay aware of documentation, testing, and quarantine requirements you’ll have to adhere to both before you depart and once you arrive.

Many countries have closed their borders to international travellers, as well as those that do not have strict regulations for anyone entering or exiting the country. Many nations need you to get a negative COVID test within a particular number of days before leaving your home country and to quarantine for two weeks once you arrive to cross international borders. Therefore, before you leave California, make sure to get yourself covid tested. If overseas travel isn't a possibility for you, there are still volunteer opportunities that can help individuals who are in desperate need.

Volunteer At Home

The pandemic is affecting communities all over the world, and the US is far from immune to its impact. With many at-risk populations within our country, consider finding foundations and organizations that are outreaching small businesses and farms if you are interested in agricultural tourism. Consider supporting at-risk communities or any number of other universal humanitarian issues that are currently plaguing the country.

Volunteering within your home country comes with the benefit of being able to drive to cities or communities that need your help. While driving still has its fair share of safety concerns, it can be a much safer and cost-effective way of travelling. You will need to budget differently for this type of trip, taking into account lodging, food, and fuel costs, but some tools for staying safe can also help you stay within your budget. Consider bringing your own food, containers, and cleaners, a step that can keep you safe from food contaminants and cut down on costs. Make sure to wear a mask at all times during the trip, especially when you have to stop for a break and get out of your car.

One of the big concerns when driving is being exposed to COVID-19 while stopping for gas or in your lodging. Many hotels and companies such as Airbnb have committed themselves to provide extra clean environments for guests to stay, and Airbnb has a new label that tells you when the host has agreed to take on extra cleaning responsibilities in between guests. Make sure that wherever you stay has washers available for your clothes and reusable face masks. Trying to use as many reusable supplies as possible will make them easier to sanitize, reduce the consumption of single-use items, and can help to cut down on potential exposure.

Virtually Volunteer

If you still want to volunteer but don’t want to risk exposure while travelling, virtual volunteering is an option as well. There are many NGOs that need help from people at home, writing grants, researching, or helping them build their social media and spread their message. This option allows you to continue giving back while keeping yourself and others safe by not travelling.

With no need to leave home, you may be worried that this form of volunteering isn’t effective or truly helpful, but you can serve an essential function to these organizations. Charity and outreach organizations are always looking for grants and funding, have filing and administrative work like any organization, and need support in marketing and networking. You can help organizations find grants to apply to, write grant proposals, and build posts for their social media pages. Other organizations need assistance with research and data collection or following up with those they’ve helped in the past. There is always a way to help these organizations and support their cause.

Volunteering and helping communities is important now, more than ever, but you have to make sure that you are volunteering in a way that is safe and responsible. If you are travelling to volunteer, make sure you’re aware of travel restrictions and ways to keep yourself and those around you safe. Whether you choose virtual, local, or international aid, you can still provide support to at-risk and impacted communities.