Field Guidelines

Background

VOPO carries guided journeys around the world which comes with inherent risks for both its expedition leaders and participants. Some reasons for these risks include:

  • The politically volatile environment of some of the countries in which we operate.
  • Unpredictability of extreme weather events.
  • Laxity of laws and regulations in some countries governing accommodation, infrastructure, transport and the travel industry in general, when compared to what we would accept back home.
  • The nature of the expeditions that we run, which are adventurous in nature and often travel to remote locations.

Taking these factions in consideration, VOPO has a responsibility to ensure that all reasonable precautions are taken to provide expeditions that are safe.

The aim of this document is to provide our expedition participants and insight into the safety standards that VOPO endeavours to achieve when on an VOPO Expedition. If you have any comments about this document, or its application in the field, please contact us at info@vopo.earth.

No set of guidelines and procedures can anticipate all possible conditions that may arise in the field. VOPO asks its staff to put sound judgement ahead of hard and fast rules and to judge each situation as it arises. 

Expedition leaders will periodically and systematically do group counts to account for all participants.

Safety Guidelines

AccomModation

Even though government regulations on safety standards in the hotels and guesthouses we use in many of the countries are less stringent that those our travellers may be used in their home countries, VOPO endeavours to select accomodation that have multiple exit points in case of an emergency. 

On the expedition our participants may be staying in simple accomodation alike tribe huts or homestay that may be built on elevated platforms or in the jungle. Such accomodation is a VOPO highlight experience, and naturally subject to a different safety environment. The expedition leader will outline any potential safety concerns for you to be aware of.

Transportation

VOPO does not allow participants and staff to riding on the roof of any form of transport we use, such as buses, boats or trains.

We understand that seat belts are not readily available on all of the transport we take on an expedition, on either public vehicles or charters. Therefore, when available we expect our participants to use them.

Before taking a licensed motorbike taxi, participants should consider and be aware of the risks of such means of transport. Participants should check the terms of their comprehensive travel insurance (mandatory for all participants) before taking a motorbike taxi, as many insurance policies exclude motorbike injuries unless they are licensed riders.

Buses (Public)

Public buses may be a method of transport during a VOPO Expedition. On rare occasions, some of these buses may be incredibly crowded, however, the Expedition Leader will make sure that every participant has a seat. In the case that there is no access to a seat, the expedition leader will have to consider the length of the bus journey in order to assess whether its fine for the participant to be standing.

VOPO relies on public transport providers to maintain the vehicles we may use in a roadworthy condition, however we do not perform independent tests on public vehicles. If in the group expedition leaders opinion, the vehicle is unsafe then alternative transport arrangements will be made.

If your expedition leader believes a bus driver is driving dangerously, they will ask the driver to slow down and, if required, arrange for the group to get off the bus at the next opportunity. An alternative means of transport will then be arranged.

Charter buses

Privately chartered bus operations/drivers are required to comply with local licence and vehicle servicing standards.

Boats and Ferries

VOPO will endeavour to ensure availability of lifejackets on all boat and ferry journeys included on our expeditions. We rely on the boat operators and our expedition leaders to judge local conditions and determine whether the conditions are safe for travel. Where the expedition leader deems any risk unacceptable, they may arrange alternative transport. On smaller craft, where the risk of capsize is higher, you may be asked to wear lifejackets rather than just having them available to put on.

Activities

We ask our expedition participants to fill in a confidential health questionnaire prior to embarking on the journey. This will ask for any pre-existing medical conditions before travelling.

If the expedition leader's opinion that a group member is unsuitable for an activity during the expedition, the leader has the discretion and authority to refuse that participant from participating in the activity - for the SAFETY of themselves, the rest of the group and the leader.

Prior to commencing an activity, our expedition leader or the activity providers will conduct a short safety briefing. 

We strongly recommend that prior to selecting your comprehensive travel insurance, you ensure that your travel insurance covers all activities (included or optional) on your trip.

Canoeing/Kayaking

Canoeing or kayaking may be a part of a scheduled itinerary. Prior to the activity, the group will be given basic instructions as to paddling techniques and what to do in the case of capsize by the local guides operation the trip.

Lifejackets must be worn by all group members and leaders when doing organised canoeing or kayaking as part of the expedition activities. Helmets are not considered essential for flat-water paddling. Group members should wear trainers or sandals to protect their feet from reefs or rocks, but not interfere with their ability to swim.

Expedition participants will be discouraged to not go canoeing or kayaking if they cannot swim confidently when in water above head height.A scout and sweep system will be used when doing flat-water kayaking or canoeing. The expedition group should not be separate by more than 200 meters.

Trekking

Many of our expedition include a trekking component, whether it is a half-day hike or a strenuous overnight walk. Trekking is a highlight of some expeditions, but naturally participants will be in remote areas, therefore, it is important that participants have carefully considered their capacity to join such an expedition before booking.

Expedition leader will endeavour to make sure all participants have correct footwear and equipment for the trek.

When walking, the expedition group must stay between the designated scout and sweep. 

The expedition group can walk in pairs or small groups, but should meet up together in its entirety a minimum of every couple of hours to ensure that all participants are accounted for. 

If local conditions such as weather or landslides, and others become an issue, your leader will seek the opinion of our local guides on the safety of the conditions and risks involved in continuing. The ultimate decision on whether to continue rests with the expedition leader.

Snorkelling

For any included snorkelling activity, expedition leaders will brief the participants on safety procedures prior to departure. Participants should, however, carefully consider their experience and capability in snorkelling and swimming before joining such an activity.

First Aid

Each expedition leader is equipped with a medical kit, as well as, wilderness first aid qualifications and CPR. This medical kit contains basic first aid supplies and a small amount of common medication for exceptional circumstances. Participants will be asked to use their own medication or purchase medication locally if at all possible.