In sections below are answers to over one hundred different frequently asked questions about our programs. If you can’t find the answer to your question on this page, please contact us – we are happy to chat to you, your family, or advisor.

About Pacific Discovery

Pacific Discovery was founded in 2001 by directors Rachel Sanson and Scott Burnett with the express purpose of providing pivotal experiences for young people that would also have a positive impact on the world – life changing experiences that make the world a better place!

In 2018 the reins were handed to another kiwi, Zach Johnston. Alongside continued input from Rachel and Scott, Zach’s varied educational and leadership experience made him the perfect person to continue the focus on authentic and inspiring international travel. 

You can read more about us and our journey here.

Pacific Discovery is a small organization and is very personable. Our team takes an active interest in each student’s journey with Pacific Discovery. We deliberately use an overseas adventure travel environment to maximize the educational and life-skills potential for our students. Our programs are made up of six different but interrelated components – experiential education, service projects, cultural immersion, international travel, adventure education, and personal and leadership development. We facilitate these program elements to maximize the educational opportunities making our programs so much more than a travel or traditional study abroad experience. Please read about our points of difference.

Our programs are meticulously researched and individually designed by the Program Directors. We continually refine our programs so that they are cutting-edge in the field of experiential education. Every program is a very special and unique experience. We work directly with each individual student and family to ensure programs are a good fit and help students gain as much as they can from their program experience. The Program Directors and a small team of dedicated staff are involved in every aspect of the programs – from answering phone and email inquiries to developing and running our programs. As a small educational travel organization, we are able to offer some of the most affordable Gap Year programs while maintaining integrity and excellence. If you want to travel with a small organization offering 'real' unsantized experiences; if you want to travel with a group of like-minded people who become family;  if you want your sides to hurt from laughing; if you want a program that's like a shot of adrenaline, snapping you into the present moment, engaging you, then holding your interest through a deliberate series of challenging and rewarding experiences, facilitated to enable learning and growth...then cool, join us!

We have undergone and maintain comprehensive accreditations with the  Gap Year Association (USA), Year Out Group (UK), and OutdoorsMark (NZ). We have chosen to go through a rigorous accreditation process with these bodies to ensure that Pacific Discovery has cutting edge ‘best practice’ policies in the gap-year and outdoor education fields and to assure the students and families we work with that we maintain the highest safety and program standards in the industry.

Pacific Discovery has no religious affiliations and has no bias for or against any religion. We embrace diversity and are happy to have students of any faith join our programs and will happily accommodate religious students so long as their observances do not adversely impact their group mates.

Selecting a program

Each program varies in physical challenge, wilderness expeditions, and service-learning projects; however, they all are designed to push your comfort zones and facilitate a meaningful experience. If you are unsure of which program you want to participate in, contact us and we will help you to find the right fit. You can also check out our program specific itineraries for a day-to-day schedule for each program.

Our published age range is 17-22. We will also take participants up to 26 years of age if they are still a student or have recently graduated. In either case, we reserve the right to decline applicants outside the 17-22 age range and require those applying to contact us before registering.
Our minimum group size is 8 students and our maximum is either 12 or 14 (varies by program). Research into experiential education programs has found that the size of the group has a great deal of bearing on the success of the program. The ideal size being an interdependent peer group with between 7 - 15 participants.
Our programs are open to anyone, students and non-students, aged 17-22 years old. Anyone within this age range who meets our essential eligibility requirements may apply.
The majority of students come from North America (USA and Canada). Students regularly join us from Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. We have also had students from Bermuda, Brazil, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Hong Kong, Japan, Latvia, Mexico,  Nigeria, Norway, Portugal, Puerto Rico, South Africa and South Korea. We enjoy having students from other countries and encourage you to join us.
Our programs average 60% female students, 40% male students. Perhaps young women are more adventurous than men, or more organized? Regardless, we find that our programs have a fantastic group dynamic as our alumni attest.
To gain an understanding of what a day in our programs is like, please check out 'A Typical Day' on the for students page. We have worked hard to design program itineraries which balances structured activities, travel, service-learning and free-time. Some days you will have time to explore villages, local markets, cities, and historical sites. Other days will be spent doing outdoor or wilderness activities such as white-water rafting, surfing or canyoning.
You are expected to join the program with a positive can-do attitude; an enthusiasm for a group experience (you need to work closely with your group mates); a willingness to step outside your comfort zone and be challenged, physically and mentally; and an open mind and desire for new experiences. You also need to abide by the program rules and behavior guidelines.
We encourage you to contact program alumni or parents to hear unbiased first-hand experience of our programs. Please contact us and we will provide their contact details to you.

Yes, we regularly have participants who have dietary preferences (vegetarian, vegan etc) or food allergies on our programs. Please refer to the meals section of this travel information page for more information.

Our programs don’t require any prior language experience. In Southeast Asia and Nepal/Tibet there is a lot of English spoken and we have great local guides who join us for big portions of the program where English is not spoken. We support you to learn the basics in each language, so that you can be polite and make an effort with local language, which helps break down cultural barriers and results in you being able to connect with locals. We also have local contacts who can assist with interpretation in the event of an incident occurring. In South America if you have some Spanish it is really useful but our program leaders are fluent Spanish speakers and we’ve had plenty of participants who have never taken Spanish language classes.  
No prior experience is necessary. All activities and instruction are aimed at the novice level. However, for those experienced in particular skills, opportunities for challenge at their level are facilitated. We always have a range of students and abilities, from those who have never traveled, never swum in the ocean, never slept in a tent, never been on a day hike, to others who are experienced travelers or experienced in various outdoor pursuits. The diversity enriches the experience for all of us.
There are no specific health or fitness requirements to participate in our programs. However, to maximize your enjoyment of the program, we suggest you begin a fitness program several months before departure. As a guideline, prior to the trip, at a minimum, you should be able to comfortably hike with a day-pack for up to four hours. You can view our semester and summer program pages for a program comparison including information on required fitness levels.
We will consider participants with existing physical and medical conditions. We have had participants join us with hearing impairment, diabetes, artificial limbs, epilepsy, ADHD, asthma, anxiety, depression etc. Please contact us about your condition and note the program you are interested in, so we can discuss the feasibility of your participation to ensure you will be able to manage the program.
Yes – we have a no-smoking policy for all of our programs. If you are a smoker, you will not be allowed to smoke while on a Pacific Discovery program.
Our programs are a facilitated group experience and designed to accommodate those who have never traveled before. Most of our programs do not require previous travel experience and are intended to provide skills and experience to build each student's confidence and independence - learning the tao of travel.
We do not pay commissions for referrals, so if you've received a referral from an advisor, you can be assured that they have done so because they believe the program could be a good fit for you.

Application Process

Spaces are limited to just 12-14 students per program group. To avoid missing out on a space, we encourage you to apply once you have read through the program information booklet, discussed the program with your family and adviser (if relevant), and are sure you are able to join the program. Places are allocated on a first to register basis, and our semester and summer programs usually fill 3-4 months before departure. However, at any time, you can check availability.

Not all applications are accepted, however by presenting our programs as accurately as possible, we attract students who know what they are getting into, who are willing to be challenged, and to work together as a group throughout the program. Once you submit your application, you will be emailed by Pacific Discovery and invited to arrange a phone/skype interview. Applicants with health/medical issues should contact us prior to application to check upon the suitability of the program. We will not accept applicants who require therapeutic services while in the field. If you apply for a program and you are not accepted, we will refund your deposit in full.

Our programs are open to anyone, students and non-students, aged 17-22 years old. 55% of students are taking a gap year; 35% are at university and 10% are recent graduates. Anyone who meets our essential eligibility requirements may apply. We will also take applicants up to 26 years of age if they are still a student or have just recently graduated. In either case, we reserve the right to decline applicants outside the 17-22 age range and require those applying to contact us before submitting an application. We fill programs on a first to apply basis. We believe in making our programs accessible to anyone. Therefore we have no minimum GPA requirements. Simply complete the application form and submit it with your deposit.
We enjoy having students from other countries and encourage you to join us. The majority of students come from North America (USA and Canada) and the UK and Europe. Students have joined us from Australia, Belgium, Bermuda, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, England, France, Germany, Guatemala, Hong Kong, Ireland, Japan, Latvia, Mexico, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Spain, South Africa, South Korea and Switzerland. If you do not live in the United States, you are still able to enrol in optional academic classes offered on our programs.
We will contact you to schedule an application interview. This interview is to ensure that you have a good understanding of the program and to check that the program will be a good fit for you. This is also an opportunity to discuss any health concerns (allergies, physical or mental health conditions etc) you have and discuss how these can be managed during the program. After this interview you will be confirmed upon the program and given a log-in to the pre-departure information and checklist specific to your program.
If your first choice is not available then we will contact you with a list of options which include: wait-listed for your top choice; confirmed on another program and wait-listed for your top choice; confirmed on another program without being wait-listed; refund your program deposit and cancel your application.

We understand that plans change…

If you decide to cancel your participation in a 2021/2022 program, the following fees apply at the time (prior to departure) we receive written notice of your cancellation:

  • More than 91 days before departure – Full refund available excluding $1,500 deposit fee and $500 application fee
  • 61 to 90 days before departure – forfeit 50% of program tuition
  • 0 to 60 days before departure – forfeit 100% of program tuition
  • If you fail to join the program, join after its departure or leave prior to its completion, no refund will be given.

Students sent home early, or who choose to leave for any reason, including sickness, personal emergencies or injury, will be responsible for all medical costs, and travel costs related to their early departure.

My group

We generally take students between 17-22 years old. We will not accept anyone who has not yet graduated from high school or is younger than 17. The majority of students are 18-21. Our programs average a ratio of 60% female and 40% male students. We take students on a first to apply basis. Our students come from unique and diverse backgrounds, and all offer something different to the group. Ninety-five percent of our students are from North America and the remaining 5% come from the rest of the world. Many of our students are taking a gap year and everyone who applies is wanting an experience that will push their boundaries and challenge them.
The group dynamic is a powerful aspect to the Pacific Discovery experience. Students are usually surprised by how fast the group bonds, how supportive it is, and how much they enjoy the shared group experience. That's not to say that group bonding magically happens. You should come on the program with an open mind and be prepared to work with and support others in your group. Group skills learnt on a Pacific Discovery program are invaluable throughout life, where you often have to work as part of a group whether it's in your workplace or community.
Our program instructors are skilled facilitators and if there are any issues within the group, your program instructors will address the issue immediately and work with the group until the problem is resolved. We find that our programs have a fantastic group dynamic, attested to by past students.

Although traveling is often romanticized, the reality is that it can be bumpy, tiring, and difficult at times. These moments can be some of the most rewarding part of the experience; as your group navigates its unique challenges, you will learn to keep an open mind and come to form a tight-knit Pacific Discovery family. You will form deep friendships with every member of your group and by the end of your journey together, you will have developed invaluable personal, group, and leadership skills. Our programs are a shared group experience. We expect you to join the program with an open mind and a willingness to work together with your group mates to make the program an amazing experience for the whole group. Additionally, the program will be as much about the inner journey of personal growth and learning about yourself as it is about what you will experience in the outer physical journey. We expect you to be open to learning and challenging your ideas and assumptions. If you are interested in a party trip, an independent travel experience, or a relaxing holiday, then we are not the right program for you.

You will find that we strike a good balance between structured group activities and free time. We allow roughly one day a week as a free day. This is always in a town or city where you will have access to laundry, WiFi, etc.

If you wish to be on the same group as a friend, just indicate this in the designated space on the application form. For group dynamics reasons, we prefer to have no more than two people who know each other in the same group, however this is not a hard and fast rule, and if you are wanting to join the program with a couple of friends, please contact us to discuss this. If you join a program with a friend, please note that rooming will run on a rotation system over the course of the program, so you will spend equal amounts of time with everyone in your group.

Program Instructors

We are really proud of our Program Instructors. They are between 25-35 years old with an average age of 28. They come from a variety of backgrounds, but all have extensive international group leadership experience, a lot of experience and knowledge of the country/s they are leading in, and an ability to impart their knowledge to the group. Most importantly, they have the interpersonal skills to connect with every student and create a great group dynamic. They are organised, sensible, personable, and don't take unnecessary risks.
Our program instructors have extensive experience in the region in which they lead. They have then gone through comprehensive in-house training. They are at an age that they have extensive life experience, yet they are not so old that they can’t relate to our students. All are between 25-35 with an average age of 29. All of the program instructors hold a minimum of a B.A. in areas such as teaching and outdoor education. We require all of our program instructors to have a current Wilderness First Responder qualification (WFR). New Zealand & Australia program instructors also hold a professional bus driver license.
The program instructor’s first priority is to manage the safety of our students. We have an impeccable safety record and our program instructors are thoroughly trained on how to utilize our comprehensive safety management system. The program instructors facilitate your program, provide mentorship and support, create space for reflection, coordinate logistics, answer questions, and help you learn as much as possible from your experience. To put it simply, they keep you safe, healthy, and guide you to have the best experience possible while on the program.
We have two program instructors per program who remain with the group for the duration of the program.
Your program instructors will introduce themselves to you and your group mates around 1 month prior to program departure. You can then reach out to them to chat!

Planning a gap year

A gap year is an experiential semester or year which is can be taken either between high school and college, during college, or between college and your first job in order to deepen practical, professional, and personal awareness. A gap year can either entail a single summer or semester abroad, or it could include two full semesters overseas combined with work, internships, or volunteering.

Absolutely. You can combine summer, fall, and spring programs to create a phenomenal gap year experience. Please contact us to discuss your interests so that we can help you plan your gap year with us. Alternatively, you can work with a gap year advisor to help you plan your perfect gap year.

If you would like to volunteer, work, or study before or after a program, please discuss this with us. It is also quite common for students to choose to travel before or after the program. We do not arrange work, volunteer placements, or extended travel visas, but we can provide the necessary information that will help you organize this for yourself.

As you already know, it can be very stressful and competitive when applying to colleges and universities. Research has shown that students who take a Gap Year before starting college are:

  • More motivated and have a renewed interest to study [Birch, "The Characteristics of Gap-Year Students and Their Tertiary Academic Outcomes", Australia, 2007].
  • Confirm or discover their choice of academic major or career [Karl Haigler & Rae Nelson, The Gap Year Advantage, independent study of 300 Gap Year students between 1997 - 2006].
  • Likely to return to college; 90% of students who take a gap year during college return to school within a year [http://online.wsj.com].
  • Gain a better sense of self and are provided with additional skills and knowledge that contributes to their career and academic major [Haigler & Nelson, independent study of 280 Gap Year students].

Many Ivy League colleges such as Middlebury and Princeton now recognize the benefits and importance of taking a gap year, and encourage their applicants to do so before starting college. Many colleges will offer a semester or year deferment for those who plan to take a gap year. In short, colleges recognize the benefits and importance of taking a gap year.  Students arrive or return to their campus with renewed passion, focus, and stronger sense of self.

Safety

In all of our years of running programs (over 2,000 students and more than 100,000 student days in the field), we have an excellent safety record. Not one student has had to leave a program due to program-related illness or injury sustained on the program (we have had some students go home due to aggravating pre-existing conditions). We have had our safety management systems assessed and accredited by the US Gap Year Association, the UK's Year Out Group, and NZ's Outdoor Mark scheme.
New Zealand and Australia are as safe as the United States for travel. Travel in the developing world is not as safe as in your own country. Access to good medical care is not as immediate and there is a higher level of risk from fire, the impact of natural disasters, and road accidents. We manage this increased level of risk with careful safety planning and excellent safety systems.
We closely monitor developments in countries in which we run programs, and if we perceive an increase of risk in an area, we would not hesitate to re-route, curtail, postpone, or cancel the program. Our extensive and longstanding relationships with community partners supports us in keeping student safety and well-being at the forefront of our work.
All students take part in a comprehensive orientation when they first arrive in-country. This covers how the program will run, cultural information, personal safety and health, and healthy group dynamics. We insist upon a few simple rules to ensure student safety on the program. For example, students are required to be with at least one other group member at all times and to always carry their program instructors' mobile phone number and travel insurance card on them. Throughout the program, students are then given region and activity-specific briefings and instruction prior to relevant experiences.
Pacific Discovery has a no drugs policy that includes illegal drugs, narcotics, recreational use of prescription medications, and drugs that may not be illegal at home or in the host country, including tobacco, marijuana, and herbal highs. Consumption, purchase, or possession, of any of these will result in immediate dismissal. Recreational use of alcohol is not permitted on any grounds as it incurs high risk for student safety and is very disruptive for the group experience. Occasional social or cultural events are included in Pacific Discovery programs where participants, who are of legal age under local laws, may be permitted to consume a limited amount of alcohol in the presence of their instructors to help model safe and responsible attitudes and behaviors towards alcohol. Outside of these occasional events, consumption, purchase, or possession of alcohol is not permitted, and will result in immediate dismissal.
Pacific Discovery has an umbrella medical and political evacuation insurance policy with AIG Asia Pacific for all group members. We require all students to have a comprehensive medical/travel insurance policy to cover them in the unlikely event that they need medical attention while abroad. If anyone on a program gets sick, there are good medical facilities and doctors in most towns and cities. Our instructors also have access to 24/7 medical advice through AIG Asia Pacific. We have a comprehensive safety plan in place for each program. Our program instructors carry a cellphone and have contact information for medical evacuation and medical facilities, as well as students' travel insurance details, on them at all times.  Our program instructors and entire team work with students to ensure their health needs are met.

Academic Credit

Around 80% of participants come on our programs purely for the experience. There is no compulsion to take classes, though they are offered as an optional addition to the program to enhances the learning experience.
The classes are mostly self-directed and require motivation, maturity, and diligence on the part of the student to ensure their coursework is completed to a high standard and on time.
Students of any age, from any country, and any university can enroll in classes offered on the program. Gap year students often take credit even if they have not yet enrolled in university. However, it is your responsibility to check that credit for these classes will transfer to and be accepted by your university. You should discuss this with your academic adviser as they can better assist you with this process given the specific requirements of your university.
Print off the class outlines and take these to your academic advisor and registrar. Classes offered should easily transfer into your degree as general elective requirements.
We have had a number of students design their own field studies/internship project with a professor at their own school. This enabled those students to retain their financial aid, and earn credit that is specifically relevant to their major course of study. This is up to you to organize, but we are happy to assist you to find information, set up meetings, etc.
Yes, there is sufficient down-time during the program for you to complete schoolwork requirements.
Financial aid is usually tied to your school, meaning you can only use financial aid to pay for credit from the school in which you are enrolled. We have had a number of students design their own field studies/internship project with a professor at their own school. This enabled those students to retain their financial aid and earn credit that is specifically relevant to their major course of study. This is up to you to organize, but we are happy to assist you to find information, set up meetings, etc.

Pre-departure information

We know that getting everything organized for your overseas experience can be overwhelming so we try to keep things as simple as possible for you. We have developed an online space specific for each program departure. When you are accepted into the program, you will be sent login information and this will be your go-to place for all pre-departure information and requirements.
  • When we receive your application we will schedule a Skype chat with you to discuss the program and to check that you are clear about what you are getting yourself into.
  • Once accepted onto a program, we supply you a login to the pre-departure information for your program. This has a checklist of what you need to organize and has lots of handy information around flights, vaccinations, packing list, spending money, travel insurance, etc.
  • Prior to program departure, we schedule another Skype chat with you to discuss goals for your program experience and to answer any last minute questions you might have.
  • Upon arrival in-country, you will be met at the airport by one of your program instructors and over the first days of the program, you will complete a comprehensive orientation that covers safety and cultural information, expectations, rules, and helps you get you comfortable with your group.
Each program has an arrival day. You will meet your group mates upon arrival in Auckland, Bangkok, Lima, Sydney, Hanoi, Quito, Delhi, Cairns, etc. Upon arrival, you will commence a comprehensive program orientation where you will quickly get to know your instructors and group mates.
Yes, it is on the packing list for a reason. If there is anything you don’t understand, please contact us for clarification.
The short answer is no, please stick to the packing list. If you have specific questions please contact us. Responsible travel is about minimizing your impact on the world. The more you keep your possessions to a minimum, the smaller your environmental footprint will be.

Some gap year programs have a no-technology policy in place, however we find that this isn’t realistic in today’s connected society. We also find that using a WiFi-enabled device or cellphone is the easiest way to keep in contact with family during the program. We do, however, require all students to use their devices only during free-time in the evenings so that they can remain present and get the most out of their experience. Most students bring their phone to use as a camera and to keep in touch with friends and family over WiFi in the evenings that WiFi is available. Some students bring a laptop, particularly if they are taking credit - this is a personal choice. If bringing a laptop we recommend a protective/waterproof case. Some students have their phone set up for use abroad, our buy local SIM cards.

Vaccinations requirements vary by program. Specific requirements are outlined in the program pre-departure info in the student log-in area.

You will take responsibility for caring for your medication and administering it to yourself for the duration of the program. If loss of your medication could cause problems, your program instructors can carry a backup supply.
We try to keep rules to a minimum. Those in place are there to help ensure your and your group mates' safety. Please refer to the program rules and guidelines.
It is really important that, in the unlikely event of illness or injury, you have access to good medical care. We require all students to have insurance that covers them for medical evacuation and treatment/care while abroad and provides coverage for all of the adventure activities on the program. Travel insurance covers this in addition to other benefits like cover for lost luggage, etc.

To make things easy for you, we have partnered with The Travellist Co., a full service travel agency that can arrange everything from flights and pre/post trip accommodation to comprehensive travel insurance for our participants. Partnering with the most recognized, respected and trusted suppliers worldwide, The Travellist Co. can guide and advise you on all aspects of your travel experience. They have all the travel insurance requirements for our programs and offer 10+ years direct industry experience, enabling them to create and deliver independent and expertly cultivated journeys. Learn more about the services or send them an email to discuss your travel insurance needs.

Travel abroad requires a passport. If you don’t have one, you need to apply for one as soon as possible. To do so, please visit the US Government Passport website. If you already have a passport, it must be valid for more than 6 months after program end, otherwise you need to get a new one issued before joining the program. Please do this as soon as possible.

Visa requirements vary depending on the program. However, we typically organize all visa arrangements unless special circumstances exist (i.e. if you wanted to travel before or after the program). Once you apply for the program, you will be given the log-in details to your program's pre-departure page which will outline all visa notes and requirements.
A minimum amount would be $10-$15 per day for meals not included, laundry, Wi-Fi, snacks, etc. Of course if you buy souvenirs, do optional activities, or are not careful, it is possible to spend a lot more than this. Our instructors discuss budgeting and money-saving techniques during our program orientation.

Flights

International flights to and from the program are not included. We work closely with The Travellist Co. and suggest that you book your flights with them; they have all of the flight requirements for our programs and we will put you in touch with them when it comes time to purchase your international flights.

We do not have group flights for a number of reasons:

  • Group fares are no longer cheaper than regular fares, in fact they tend to be more expensive.
  • We have students joining our programs from all over North America (and other countries) and group flights often don’t suit every family.
  • Some families wish to use air miles.
  • Some students wish to arrive earlier or depart later to travel independently before or after the program.

We work closely with The Travellist Co. and suggest that you book your flights with them, as they have all of the flight requirements for our programs and will do their best to get students from the same region on the same flights to/from the program.

Yes, absolutely.

Costs

We work hard to keep our programs affordable. Please visit our summer or semester program pages for program tuition costs, inclusions and additional expenses you have to budget for.
The program cost includes all accommodation, all in-country transport (and depending on the program some in-program flights as well);  all meals; all expeditions, activities, excursions, entry fees and adventure travel as described in the itinerary; Service learning projects; Experiential core curriculum that pushes students to reflect and ask questions of themselves - working towards a deeper understanding of their values, identity, passions and purpose; Individual mentorship from program instructors, supporting you in your personal goals for the program; Informal lectures from resident experts on conservation, development, eco-tourism, ecology and sustainability; 1-3-week optional extension information if you wish to continue travelling independently after the program; Pre-departure web-page with all information you need in one place to prepare for the program;  Global medical rescue and political evacuation insurance; Instructors have 24/7 access to a physician and a psychologist, for advice and support; Pacific Discovery T-shirt, water bottle stickers and a buff; Online image library for your program

We keep things as simple and affordable as possible. The only additional fee you may incur is a $150 late fee for information or final payment submitted after the final deadline, however we work closely with each participant and family and can accommodate delays on a case-by-case basis.

You pay a $500 application fee by credit card when you apply. 

To confirm your position, 50% of your program tuition will be due within 30 days of acceptance. Late payments will incur a $150 late fee. The final program payment is due on the following dates:

  • Summer Programs: due May 1st
  • Fall Programs: due July 18th
  • Spring Programs: due December 1st
  • You can still apply for a program after these due dates! If you apply after the last payment date, full payment is due within 14 days of applying.

There are 3 payment options provided: Credit Card, Mail in Check, or Wire Transfer

Pacific Discovery is delighted to announce that we now offer a limited number of scholarships every year. Please view our scholarships, financial aid and fundraising page for more information about this. Additionally, through taking the optional credit, or arranging their own 'home school' credit in areas such as ‘internship' and ‘field studies' students have often been able to retain their 'home school' financial aid.

Once you embark on a program, we have already paid for all activities, accommodation, travel, and staff for the duration of the program. If you have to leave the program early, you will not be refunded the program fee as these costs are non-recoverable.

Spending money usually goes towards snacks, personal shopping, laundry, email and entertainment. The amount of spending money you bring really depends on your budget and shopping habits. We suggest budgeting $10-20/day for these expenses. Some days you'll spend more but other days you'll be on expedition and spend nothing. If you buy expensive souvenirs, do optional activities, or don't exercise restraint it is easy to spend much more than the amounts estimated above.

We recommend you bring 2 credit or debit cards (one as a back-up in case the first card is lost, stolen or eaten by an ATM machine). Cards can be used to withdraw cash in local currencies from ATM machines during the program. You don't need to buy any foreign currency before you leave home.

During the program

Our programs allow you to easily make contact with family and friends back home, however we do have guidelines around the use of technology to help you be as present and engaged as possible. There is WiFi available in most of our accommodation at times we are not on expeditions or service projects. You can go online during the evenings to catch up with friends and family. Outside of this time we expect you to only use your device to take pictures, so that you are present and engaged.
Before your program departs, we will send out our 24/7 free-call emergency contact number to students and families for the travel to program start. Once the program is underway, our phone will be answered during business hours and we regularly check voice mail and email outside of office hours and will get back to you promptly if there is an emergency. Once the program is underway, instructors have 24/7 access to PDHQ and 24/7 access to a medical doctor.
During our programs you should be able to access free Wi-Fi at least once a week. Expect the Wi-Fi to be limited; there may not be enough bandwidth for Facetime or Skype calls. Instead, we recommend that you use a messaging app for the majority of communication with family and friends.

This varies by program and is something you need to look into yourself.

We know that getting a good night’s sleep is critical when you have a busy schedule travelling the world. We ensure that all of the accommodations we utilize are comfortable, clean, and safe. Our groups do not share rooms with non-Pacific Discovery members and in many instances we book private accommodations. Whether you are staying on an exotic Chinese Junk boat in Halong Bay, Vietnam or you are staying at a Maori Marae in New Zealand, we ensure that you will be well looked after. Accommodation will vary from simple guesthouses with shared facilities to modern hotels with private bathrooms. Depending on the program, our groups also do homestays in rural villages, camp in stunning outdoor locations, and do multi-day backpacking excursions. Laundry, postal, telephone, and email facilities will be available most days except while on expeditions. There will be times where you will be staying in an accommodation that is outside of your comfort zone such as a rural village homestay. We encourage you to embrace these new experiences with an open-mind and gratitude.

Tasting different cuisines is a highlight of travelling and there are many opportunities on our programs to taste the best of what each region has to offer. Special dietary requirements and vegetarians can be accommodated. All meals are included in the program cost. On New Zealand and Australia programs, students self-cater most meals during the program. Meals will fresh, healthy, and varied.  Breakfasts include a choice of cereals, toast, fresh fruit, and coffee.  Lunches are usually sandwiches and wraps. Dinners are varied, from fresh salads and BBQ, to curries and stir-fry, to simple camping meals during expeditions. In Southeast Asia, Nepal & Tibet and South America meals will either be provided set-menu or buffet style, or you will eat out in cafés and restaurants where you can choose what to order. There will be a good mix of local and western meals. Special dietary requirements and vegetarians can be accommodated. Vegetarian or vegan – No problem, we will happily cater to your dietary needs. Food allergies – We are happy to work with students with food allergies. However, we cannot guarantee non-exposure to allergens and require students to be involved in menu-planning to ensure they are not inadvertently exposed to allergens. Picky eaters - It is easy to work with you if you don’t like tomatoes or don’t like cheese, but on occasion we have had students who basically only eat pizza, or don't eat vegetables, or only eat fried chicken the way their mom makes it. If you are one of these people, please be aware that you will need to step outside of your comfort zone and expand your diet while on our program…start practicing now ;) Paleo diets – If you are health conscious and eat a high protein diet without carbs and starches, please be aware that eating in this way is more expensive to cater for than a regular diet. Our program instructors have a meal budget they need to manage and you may be required to contribute to the additional costs for your meals.

Programs are designed to maximize comfort and safety while also giving you the opportunity to experience local transport and take part in daily life. We utilize chartered transport for long distances (typically vans or a bus), reducing the length of travel and increasing safety. Then we use a variety of public transport for shorter distances within towns and cities.

Our itinerary very rarely changes. The only reasons the published itinerary will change is if we make an improvement to the program, or we are forced to change something due to a weather event or other circumstance outside our control. Changes, and the reasons for them, will be communicated to you.
All of our programs have a volunteer/service project component. We really enjoy this aspect of our programs, and we work hard to ensure that the volunteer projects are well-structured and benefit both our partners and students. Volunteer projects are planned around the expressed needs of a range of community groups and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Volunteer projects allow our students to really immerse themselves in a place and share an experience with local people, bridging the gap that often exists between visitor and host. The work itself typically involves physical labor including planting trees, painting, beach clean-ups, trail maintenance, etc.
This varies by program and project, but 6-8 hours a day during service projects is typical.
This is something that you will need to check with your school. We are happy to write you a letter before the program stating how many service hours and what sort of service work you will do so that you can get confirmation ahead of time. We can also write you an official letter stating the number of service hours you completed at the end of the program.
We discourage families from visiting their daughter/son during our programs as this can be disruptive for the student, community, and group. Instead, we suggest that families meet their daughter/son once the program is finished.
We are happy for students to meet their families once the program has finished. We can assist with coordinating dates and logistics to this end.
Rooming runs on a roster system and every time you stay in a new accommodation you'll have a new room-mate/s, so by the end of the program you'll have roomed with all the students in the group an equal number of nights. We find this roster system works really well to develop strong bonds and a healthy group dynamic. Rooming is mixed gender and we do a lot of set-up for this during Program Orientation around how to be a good room-mate - respect, privacy, boundaries. Students may request single-sex rooming assignments from instructors, if not comfortable rooming with the other sex.

International flights

International flights are not included in the program tuition.

We work closely with The Travellist Co. and recommend that you book your flights with them. They have all of the flight requirements for our programs and we will put you in touch with them when it comes time to purchase your international flights.

The Travellist Co. is a full service travel agency that can arrange everything from flights and pre/post trip accommodation to comprehensive travel insurance for our students. They offer 10+ years direct industry experience, enabling them to create and deliver independent and expertly cultivated journeys. Learn more about the services or send them an email to discuss your flight needs.

 

Optional Extensions

Our program will give you the skills - and most likely the inclination - for future travel, and you may like to continue your adventures at the program's end, either independently or with others in your group. At the time you make your international flight bookings, it is okay to inquire about the options for extending your time or a stopover elsewhere on your way home.

Tips for purchasing international flights

If you are making your own flight arrangements, please read the following before you do:

  • Have all of your flights linked on the one ticket. We often have students purchase international flights from hub airports/cities and then purchase local connections separately. While this can sometimes be less expensive, if a flight is delayed, the airline is under no obligation to re-book you, and you may have to purchase another flight. Additionally, separate tickets can cause you to incur additional baggage costs and make your connections more complicated.
  • Allow plenty of time for connections. Make sure that you have at least two hours lay-over per connection. This layover gives you leeway to still make your next flight if the arriving flight is delayed. Allow at least 3 hours for connections where you have to clear customs (e.g. returning into Los Angeles, ahead of a connection to your home city).
  • Check the flexibility of the ticket. How much does it cost to make a date change? What is the luggage allowance?
  • Having an agent advocate for you. For example, if there is a storm in the Northeast that cancels lots of flights, there is an enormous backlog of travellers all trying to get out. If you have bought your flights through our travel provider, you will have the support of a travel agent working with the airline to get you re-booked. If you’ve purchased flights online, you will be at the mercy of the airline staff. In our experience, having an agent working on your behalf with the airline results in faster recommencement of your journey.
  • The least expensive flights available are those offered directly through airlines or online sites such as Kayak. However, in our experience saving a small amount of money by buying online is false economy. There is a lot of value in having the support of an agent if you have a problem – (missed flight, cancelled flight, overbooking, missing luggage, date change, etc).
Kerry Giaz 1
Yum! Spicy cucumber snacks

“Pacific Discovery is a young traveler's dream. You travel with like-minded people who become some of the best friends you'll ever have.” You get to do exotic things that most people only dream about like riding elephants, trekking to remote villages and home staying in floating ones, scuba diving with sharks, swimming in phosphorescence - the list goes on. You'll have a fantastic experienced, knowledgeable, and fun leader. Not to mention it's the most affordable company you'll ever travel with. You don't just feel like you're passing through - you get the chance to give back, from speaking with Burmese refugees and Cambodian high school students to improve their English, to building bio-sand water filters so people can have safe drinking water, to taking impoverished kids in Phnom Penh to a water park for a day of fun. You'll learn to appreciate your own culture more through learning about theirs and you will understand that we're all really the same. This trip has made me change the way I see the world, and has made me very thankful for everything I have in life.” Read more Kerry Gaiz, 2007
Menlo College

Passport & visas

Travel abroad requires a passport. If you don’t have one, you need to apply for one as soon as possible. US Government Passport website: http://travel.state.gov/passport/

If you already have a passport, it must be valid for 6 months after your program's end and return flight, Otherwise, you need to get a new passport issued before joining the program, please do this as soon as possible.

You will have to arrange your own visa, but we will send you clear and detailed information about how to do this.
Prior to program start, we send out comprehensive pre-departure information that clearly explains the arrival details and rendezvous procedure.

Kurtis Adams
Kurtis, ready to face the waves on a kayak, Australia

“Astonishing, breathtaking, extraordinary, and incredible are all understatements for Pacific Discovery.” It's funny to remember waking up in the morning and thinking, "What awesome thing are we doing today? This program provided an opportunity for cultural immersion, physical and mental challenges, and personal growth. Through volunteering and traveling around New Zealand and Australia, I've gained an appreciation for the environment and life itself, and I am so grateful for the experiences, memories and new friends as a result of this once-in-a-lifetime adventure.” Read more Kurtis Adams, 2013
Daemen College

Travel insurance requirements

  1. Pacific Discovery requires all students to have a comprehensive travel insurance policy for the duration of the program.
  2. Proof of travel insurance must be supplied to the Pacific Discovery office prior to program start by uploading a copy to your portal of the confirmation from the travel insurance provider showing: your name, policy number, and dates of the policy.
  3. We require your travel insurance policy to cover your medical coverage while on program, trip cancellation, and trip interruption. Please reference our refund policy and terms and conditions to make sure your insurance policy is adequate. Our Terms and Conditions are on this page- click the Terms and Conditions Tab.

 

Why do I need travel insurance?

Travel insurance provides cover in the event of medical expenses due to sickness or accident, and emergency medical evacuation abroad. Travel insurance may also include cover for loss of baggage or personal effects, personal liability, and trip cancellation or trip curtailment.

When buying your travel insurance policy, it’s important that:

  • Your policy covers you from the date you depart your home, until the date you return home, not just the Pacific Discovery program dates.
  • Your policy offers coverage for the adventure activities included in the program you are participating in.
  • Declare any medical or mental health conditions in your application and be clear what cover you have/don’t have for existing medical/mental health conditions. If you have a medical condition before your travel and do not inform the insurance company, your travel insurance is unlikely to pay for medical treatment or the costs to get you home. If you want to be insured for the condition, tell the insurance company before you go and they will advise you if they can cover the condition or not.
  • Please read any insurance policy thoroughly to become familiar with the cancellation circumstances that may be covered. These vary greatly from policy to policy.
  • Policy terms and coverage varies by state in the (USA) and by country. It is important that you check your policy carefully.

Pacific Discovery is not responsible for any travel insurance actions, exclusions or omissions.

 

How to get travel insurance?

To make things easy for you, Pacific Discovery has partnered with The Travellist Co., a full service travel agency that can arrange everything from flights and pre/post trip accommodation to comprehensive travel insurance for our students. They have all the travel insurance requirements for our programs and offer 10+ years direct industry experience, enabling them to create and deliver independent and expertly cultivated journeys. Learn more about the services or send them an email to discuss your travel insurance needs.

 

Insurance Advice

Travel insurance is easy to buy but policies can be difficult to understand. The insurance industry would like everybody to read the policy they’ve bought or are about to buy, but insurance companies know that all too often people don’t bother. If you are only going to read one thing about travel insurance, read this now and act on it; it could save you lots of money and distress.

Key considerations/things to ask when speaking with each organization:

*         What is the specified time frame for purchasing coverage (must be purchased within X days of initial 'trip' payment)?

*         What is the specified time frame for cancellation (e.g. 48 hours prior to scheduled departure)?

*         What % of non-recoverable expenses is covered? 75% reimbursement of non-recoverable expenses seems to be the standard.

*         Can the coverage be purchased as a stand-alone policy or is it only available as an add-on or upgrade as part of an overarching travel insurance plan?

*         Does the policy provide benefits for interruption for any reason (after the 'trip' or program has already begun) or only cancellation for any reason (prior to departure)?

*         Is there a cap on the dollar amount for covered expenses?

*         Does this policy apply to my state of residence? Policies can vary greatly depending on which State you are from

*         Does this policy cover the adventure travel activities listed on my itinerary?

Health

If you have a medical condition before your trip and do not inform the insurance company, your travel insurance is unlikely to pay for medical treatment or the costs to get you home. If you want to be insured for the condition, tell the insurance company before you go and they will advise you if they can cover the condition or not. Relatedly, most travel insurance does not cover claims for expenses related to mental health conditions.

Policies will often pay for you to cancel your trip or come home early if a close relative becomes ill. If you know of a relative's condition before the trip you must tell the insurance company before you travel so they may decide if they will cover this or not. Check carefully to see who the policy calls a 'close relative', as policies differ on this.

Doing something risky?

Most policies do not cover you for activities such as caving, diving, or bungee jumping unless you have told the insurance company before you go and they agree to cover you. Certain travel insurance policies, such as an AIG Travel Guard policy & World Nomad's Explorer Plan cover all included activities on our programs for example. The best thing to do is to check your policy before you leave to check that it covers all the activities you hope to experience on your travels. If you are unsure, contact the insurance company and ask.

Be careful with your possessions

Don’t rely on your insurance. They may not pay your claim if you have not taken enough care in looking after your things. Always act as though you do not have insurance, and look after your possessions. Check the limits on your policy for individual items and money. If you are planning to take expensive items such as cameras, laptops and other valuables with you then you should check the amount covered in your plan. If you cannot afford to lose an item, leave it at home! Don't leave your possessions where you couldn't act upon someone taking them, and don't leave items in a locked car.

Get proof of your loss

Always keep receipts to help you prove your claim. If something is stolen or you lose it, you need to report it to the police. When travelling independently, contact your hotel/hostel and carrier as soon as possible and get a document from them to prove that you told them about the incident. While on the program our instructors will support you in this process.

Remember the helpline

Every travel insurance policy has a 24-hour assistance helpline. The helpline can provide you with a lot of assistance, so be sure to call if you need it (and have this number on you when you travel). If you have a medical problem abroad, most policies require you to call the helpline to make sure any medical treatment is covered and will be paid.

Ethan Blonder
Let loose with a machete! Ethan chops up lunch for elephants in Northern Thailand

“As someone who very much expected to have an office job before going on PD Thailand, I am now lined up to teach English for a year in South Korea, then hopefully work on an sustainable, organic farmstead in Hawai'i. Thanks to Pacific Discovery for making all that possible.” Ethan Blonder,
College of William and Mary

Health & vaccinations

There are no specific health or fitness requirements to participate in our programs, however, our programs are physically active. If you have concerns about your physical ability please contact us to discuss this.

We recommend that you carry a personal first-aid kit as well as any personal medication with relevant prescriptions. Please be aware that for legal reasons, our program instructors are prohibited from administering any type of drug. Please ensure that you are adequately prepared.

Our program orientation will cover information on how to keep healthy – diet, rest, and education about disease vectors, mosquito borne illness and rabies.

If you have any questions regarding specific health recommendations before you travel, please contact your doctor, or a travel doctor, to discuss this.

Food Allergies

If you have food allergies we recommend that you purchase an allergy information card to carry with you from Select Wisely . Choose the card that matches your allergy and select the language you'd like on the reverse side of the card.

Vaccinations

At least 3 months prior to departure, please see your physician or a travel doctor, to discuss vaccinations and your health while on the program. This is also the time to get a prescription for anything you need for your personal first aid kit (antibiotics etc) - refer to the packing list for what you need to bring in your personal first aid kit.

Malaria, typhoid, rabies…they all sound scary but keep in mind that the risk of contracting a serious illness is low. In 15+ years of running programs we have not had a single student contract a serious illness, a mosquito borne illness, or be bitten by an animal suspected of being rabid.

We are not qualified to advise you on what vaccinations you should and shouldn't get. Doctors are also reluctant to say 'get this', 'don't get that', because often a risk is present, even if it is very, very low. Ultimately, you need to weigh the benefits of vaccination against the level of risk and the costs - this is a personal decision. What we can say, is that if you continue to travel, you will not regret investing in vaccination, as most vaccines provide years of protection and these illnesses are prevalent throughout much of the world.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) is the US government agency that all doctors refer to when they are prescribing vaccinations. The CDC have a website with clear information and it is easy to gain an overview of a destination and the risks of various illnesses to make informed decisions regarding vaccinations.

New Zealand, Australia, Pacific Islands

Check routine vaccines are up to date. No other vaccines required.

Central America (Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica)

The CDC highly recommends vaccination for Hepatitis A and Typhoid. It also recommends that your routine vaccinations are up-to-date.

There are other illnesses that you will be at a much lower risk of contracting to also discuss with your travel doctor. These include:

Malaria

As far as we can ascertain from the Center for Disease Control's online information…
Mexico: Malaria unlikely to be present
Belize: Only risk is Belize mainland, days 27-29
Guatemala: The only malaria risk area is days 29-30
Nicaragua: Malaria unlikely to be present
Costa Rica: Malaria unlikely to b present

The risk of contracting malaria on all these programs is very low but is present. Anti-malarial medication is in the form of oral pills that are taken while in malarial areas. Modern anti-malarial meds have very few side-effects.

Zika Virus

Zika virus is present throughout Central America and is now in the United States also. Zika virus is spread to people primarily by mosquitoes. The most common symptoms of Zika are flu-like - fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week after being bitten by an infected mosquito. People usually don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital. Once a person has been infected, he or she is likely to be protected from future infections. The current concern with Zika virus is the potential risk to pregnant women of the virus causing birth defects. This is only a risk if the virus is contracted during pregnancy and has no long term effect (e.g. if becoming pregnant after previously having the virus). The best prevention is insect repellent and not being bitten.

Dengue Fever

Students are probably at greatest risk of contracting dengue fever, another mosquito borne illnesses for which there is no vaccination. We recommend students bring a good insect repellent and the program instructors will brief the group on best practice to avoid bites. All of our accommodation has insect screens or mosquito nets.

Rabies

The risk of being bitten by an animal in Central America on our program is low. We brief students to stay away from dogs, monkeys and bats. If a student was bitten by an animal and had not had the rabies vaccination, this would impact their program experience, as they would have to travel urgently to a major center, for a shot of RIG (rabies immune globulin) and then a series of rabies vaccine shots over a two week period. If they have been vaccinated, they would still need a shorter series of post exposure shots (widely available) but would not need the RIG, meaning that their program experience would not be as disrupted. The benefit of vaccination for rabies has to be weighed against the cost as the vaccine is expensive.

Southeast Asia (Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia)

The CDC highly recommends vaccination for Hepatitis A and Typhoid. It also recommends that your routine vaccinations are up-to-date.

There are other illnesses that you will be at a much lower risk of contracting to also discuss with your travel doctor. These include:

Malaria

As far as we can ascertain…
Southeast Asia Semester: Students will be traveling in areas that malaria is present: In Laos and Nth Vietnam – about 15 days in total, on days 18-32 of the program; Possibly in Southern Cambodia for 8 days, days 42-50.
Thailand Summer Program: Very low malaria risk only in Khao Sok National Park portion of program for 4 days, days 21 – 25.
Vietnam & Cambodia Summer Program: Low malaria risk present

The risk of contracting malaria on these programs is very low but does exist. Anti-malarial medication is in the form of oral pills that are taken while in malarial areas. Modern anti-malarial meds have very few side-effects. As you plan your treatment, consider the windows of time before and after exposure that you need to take the medication (varies by option).

Dengue Fever

Students are probably at greater risk of contracting dengue fever or chikungunya, two other mosquito-borne illnesses for which there is no vaccination. We recommend students bring a good insect repellent and the program instructors will brief the group on best practice to avoid bites. All of our accommodation has insect screens or mosquito nets.

Japanese Encephalitis

The risk of contracting Japanese encephalitis, another mosquito borne illness is very low. There is a vaccine for this.

Rabies

The risk of being bitten by an animal in SE Asia is low - dogs are placid and we brief students to stay away from monkeys. If a student is bitten by an animal and has not had the rabies vaccination, this would effectively ruin their program experience, as they would have to travel urgently to a major center - Bangkok, Hanoi, Saigon or Phnom Penh for a shot of RIG (rabies immune globulin) and then a series of rabies vaccine shots over a two week period. If the student has been vaccinated, they would still need a shorter series of post exposure shots (widely available) but would not need the RIG, meaning that their program experience would not be as disrupted. The benefit of vaccination for rabies has to be weighed  against the cost of the vaccine.

Nepal and Tibet

The CDC highly recommends vaccination for Hepatitis A, Typhoid and Rabies. It also recommends that your routine vaccinations are up-to-date.

There are other illnesses that you will be at a much lower risk of contracting to also discuss with your travel doctor. These include:

Malaria

As far as we can ascertain, students will be traveling in areas that malaria is present for a period of 7 days in the Terai region of Nepal. The risk of contracting malaria is very low but is present. Anti-malarial medication is in the form of oral pills that are taken while in malarial areas. Modern anti-malarial meds have very few side-effects. As you plan your treatment, consider the windows of time before and after exposure that you need to take the medication (varies by option).

Dengue Fever

Students are probably at greater risk of contracting dengue fever or chikungunya, two other mosquito-borne illnesses for which there is no vaccination. We recommend students bring a good insect repellent and the program instructors will brief the group on best practice to avoid bites. All of our accommodation in lowland areas where mosquitoes are present has insect screens or mosquito nets.

Japanese Encephalitis

The risk of contracting Japanese encephalitis, another mosquito borne illness is very low. There is a vaccine for this.

Rabies

We request that students on the Nepal and Tibet Semester are vaccinated for Rabies. The risk of being bitten by an animal in Nepal (monkeys) and Tibet (dogs) is reasonably high. We brief students to stay away from monkeys and to carry trekking poles to ward off aggressive dogs in Tibet. If a student was bitten by an animal and had not had the rabies vaccination, this would effectively ruin their program experience, as they would have to travel urgently to a major center such as Beijing, Bangkok, or Singapore for a shot of RIG (rabies immune globulin), which is not reliably available in Nepal or Tibet, and then a series of rabies vaccine shots over a two-week period. If they have been vaccinated, they would still need a shorter series of post-exposure shots (widely available) but would not need the RIG. We have not had any students bitten by an animal in Nepal or Tibet.

South America (Peru & Ecuador)

The CDC highly recommends vaccination for Hepatitis A, Typhoid and Yellow Fever. It also recommends that your routine vaccinations are up-to-date.

There are other illnesses that you will be at a much lower risk of contracting to also discuss with your travel doctor. These include:

Malaria

As far as we can ascertain…
South America Semester: The only malaria risk area is the Amazon Jungle, 10 days, days 39-48.
Peru Summer Program: The only malaria risk area is the Amazon Jungle, 6 days, days 16-21.
Ecuador & Galapagos Summer Program: The only malaria risk area is the Amazon Jungle , 6 days, days 16-21.

The risk of contracting malaria on all these programs is very low but is present. Anti-malarial medication is in the form of oral pills that are taken while in malarial areas. Modern anti-malarial meds have very few side-effects.

Zika Virus

Zika virus is present in Ecuador, and is now in the United States also. Zika virus is spread to people primarily by mosquitoes. The most common symptoms of Zika are flu-like - fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week after being bitten by an infected mosquito. People usually don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital. Once a person has been infected, he or she is likely to be protected from future infections. The current concern with Zika virus is the potential risk to pregnant women of the virus causing birth defects. This is only a risk if the virus is contracted during pregnancy and has no long term effect (e.g. if becoming pregnant after previously having the virus). The best prevention is insect repellent and not being bitten.

Dengue Fever

Students are probably at greatest risk of contracting dengue fever, another mosquito borne illnesses for which there is no vaccination. We recommend students bring a good insect repellent and the program instructors will brief the group on best practice to avoid bites. All of our accommodation has insect screens or mosquito nets.

Rabies

The risk of being bitten by an animal in Peru or Ecuador is low. We brief students to stay away from dogs and monkeys. If a student was bitten by an animal and had not had the rabies vaccination, this would effectively ruin their program experience, as they would have to travel urgently to a major center - Lima or Quito, for a shot of RIG (rabies immune globulin) and then a series of rabies vaccine shots over a two week period. If they have been vaccinated, they would still need a shorter series of post exposure shots (widely available) but would not need the RIG, meaning that their program experience would not be as disrupted. The benefit of vaccination for rabies has to be weighed against the cost as the vaccine is expensive.

Meals

Local Cuisine: An essential part of any travel is to experience the local culture through cuisine, which in itself may be daunting for many students to leave their regular food comfort zone. We encourage students to understand that their regular snacks and meals may not be available in the country they’re traveling to. We encourage our students to join us with an open mind to trying new foods. Also, keep in mind that the variety of foods you’re used to eating at home might not be available in some of the areas we visit, so you might be eating the same kinds of foods each and every day. 

Student-led cooking: On some of our Pacific Discovery programs, the group will be involved in student-led cooking for a portion of their time. In small groups the students plan, budget, and cook for the others, teaching them planning and cooking skills, as well as managing a budget. Our instructors will be there to lend a hand with the planning and suggest recipes suitable for the group. We find that the student-led approach is a great step in personal growth and development, especially in preparation for college life.

All meals are included in the program cost. Special dietary requirements and vegetarians can be accommodated.

Vegetarian or vegan – No problem, we will happily cater to your dietary needs.

Food allergies – We are happy to work with students with food allergies. However, we cannot guarantee non-exposure to allergens and require students to be involved in menu planning to ensure they are not inadvertently exposed to allergens.

Picky eaters - It is easy to work with you if you don’t like tomatoes or don’t like cheese, but on occasion we have had students who basically only eat pizza, or don't eat vegetables, or only eat fried chicken the way their mom makes it. If you are one of these people, please be aware that you will need to step outside of your comfort zone and expand your diet while on our program… Start practicing now ;)

Thailand Program - cooking workshop
Tanner finding his inner chef in Chiang Mai, Thailand

“I had such a great experience growing and learning about myself. I got an in-depth view of what it’s like to live in Thailand and be apart of a new culture, especially during home stays and visiting rural villages.” Not only did I get to travel for almost 3 months and see all the beautiful things that Thailand has to offer, I have also seen the hard truth of a developing country and was able to deepen my global perspective. I was challenged and pushed out of my comfort zone and I’m so grateful I got to experience everything I did.

I would say this program was life-changing and exciting. Not only did I grow as a person, I made lifelong friendships and learned how to deal with situations in group settings. I’ve learned how to be a leader and how to adapt in a new setting, as well as how to be a global citizen and accept new cultures and values. This was a life changing experience not many people will get to have in their lives, and I’m so happy I got to be a part of the lucky few.”
Read more Tanner Barnes, 2021
Thailand Semester Program

Spending money

Spending money usually goes towards drinks and snacks, personal shopping, laundry, internet and entertainment. We recommend that you budget approximately $10/day. Some days you will spend more but other days you'll be on expedition or on a service project and won't spend anything. The amount of spending money you bring really depends on your budget and shopping habits.

We recommend that you bring US$200 cash with you, and have the rest of your spending money on two cards (it is essential to have a back-up in case your first card gets lost or damaged). Debit cards, credit cards, or prepaid travel cards can be used to withdraw local currency from an ATM.

You need to bring this money yourself. You don't need to buy any foreign currency before you leave home.

What cards to bring?

We strongly recommend that students bring two cards carried separately to access money from ATM machines in case a card is eaten by an ATM, damaged, lost or stolen.

Debit cards: If the ATM card from your home bank isn't connected to the worldwide Cirrus or PLUS networks (look on the back of the card for one of these logos), you will need to look into getting a MasterCard or Visa debit card. While they look and can be used like regular charge cards, they actually debit your checking account the same way your ATM card does.

Credit cards: Avoid American Express cards for overseas travel. They are not widely accepted.

Pre-pay travel cards from Visa or MasterCard: These may be offered through your bank and can be used to withdraw cash from ATM’s abroad. If you get one of these, set it up and try it at an ATM before you leave home.

If you are ordering a new card, make sure to allow sufficient time to get it set up, get a pin loaded and test it, prior to program departure. We have had many families rushing to arrange cards a few days ahead of program departure and many students have problems trying to use new cards that have not been properly set up.

With all cards, call the issuing bank and let them know that you’ll be abroad, so that they don’t block transactions.

Security

During program orientation our program instructors discuss budgeting with you and share advice and tips on how to be prudent with money.

They also talk about strategies for keeping money safe, avoiding pick-pocketing, checking for skimming devices inserted into ATM’s and withdrawing funds in a secure location.

In the event that a student loses their wallet, Pacific Discovery can charge a parents credit card and then have the program instructors advance cash to the student, less bank fees and currency exchange losses.

Dominick Baruffi
Dominick, living the dream on the Whanganui river, New Zealand

“The past two months have taught me more about travelling and camping and hiking and adventuring than I ever dreamed possible. However, I am ten times as grateful for the things I've learned about myself. At times I was challenged, frustrated or scared and these lessons will never leave me. Thank you for an amazing two months that I will remember for the rest of my days.” Dominick Baruffi, 2009
Eastern University

Communication

There are many ways in which you can keep in touch with your family and friends while on a program. There will be a group photo album and blog posts on Facebook that your group will post to during the program for family and friends to follow. We will provide instructions for this ahead of your departure.

Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi is available for free at many of the places we stay. During our programs you should be able to access free Wi-Fi at least once a week. You may like to consider bringing a compact Wi-Fi device, such as a smartphone or tablet. Expect the Wi-Fi to be limited – there may not be enough bandwidth for Facetime or Skype calls. Instead, we recommend you use a messaging app for most communication with family and friends.

Tip: Before you leave, go to the website of the airport that you are traveling to and look at the instructions for connecting to the airport Wi-Fi.  Most airports have Wi-Fi but some have strange or extensive login procedures  For instance, you will see the Wi-Fi link available, but it will ask for a user name and password. If you look it up before you depart and screenshot the instructions, it will be easier to access when you land.

Phone

There are two main ways to use your phone abroad. One is to sign up for a ‘global roaming’ plan with your carrier. The other option is to use a local SIM card for each country. We will look at these two options in more depth below. Note: Please look into this information ahead of travel – your program instructors do not have time to sort out phone connection issues for students in-country.

Global Roaming

Find out from your carrier:

  1. Whether your phone can be used abroad?
    If it can’t, your carrier may loan you a phone that can be used abroad.
  2. What kind of global roaming plans they have?
  3. Can they provide service in the country/s you are traveling to?
  4. What the call and data costs are?

Per minute call and per mb data usage can be VERY expensive. The Verizon Global Plan, for instance, costs $40 /month and gets you 100mb of data, 100 SMS texts and 100 minutes of voice calling. Using the ‘Pay as you go’ option, data costs are $2 per Mb and calls are $1.79/min.

Make sure that you know how to turn mobile data off and on, so that you don’t inadvertently use a lot of data. An average young adult with an iPhone will go through several gigabytes in a month at home and will have to drastically alter their device usage habits while abroad.

SIM cards

SIM cards are the link from your handset to a local carrier and take the form of a small chip that is inserted into an unlocked handset. Ask your U.S. carrier if your phone is unlocked and can take a SIM card.  Generally, Verizon is locked, T Mobile is unlocked and AT&T may or may not be.

The way SIM Cards work is that you buy a SIM package that contains a SIM card, a phone number (which will be your phone number once installed) and potentially some bundled minutes and data. Activation varies by country but most vendors can assist you to get up and running. These packages usually work on a pre-pay system and you can easily buy additional calling minutes or data from 7-11 type stores and gas stations etc.

It is very easy to buy a SIM card in New Zealand, Australia, Fiji, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia. However it is more difficult in Nepal, Tibet, Ecuador and Peru as they have to either be registered to a passport or to a local person. This can be both time consuming and impractical given how little time you spend in these countries on our programs.

If you have a locked phone, you can choose to:

  • Buy an unlocked handset – You’ll find a lot for sale on Amazon.
  • Find out if your carrier will loan an unlocked handset.
  • Buy a little unlocked hot spot on Amazon.com for about $40.  Easy to use, fits in your pocket, and connects multiple devices. The benefit to that is that you keep your phone number on your phone and you can share the connection with friends.  The drawback is that it is a little more complicated to set up and you really need to be in a place with good Wi-Fi the first time you use it.  Make sure you set it up before you leave. http://www.amazon.com/Huawei-E5330-Mobile-Hotspot-T-Mobile/dp/B00INXBW3U

(Thanks to Amie Rukenstein for her assistance in compiling this information).

Please note that your program instructors will establish clear guidelines around device-use at the program orientation. This is for safety, cultural sensitivity and group dynamics reasons. You will be discouraged from using your device during activities, service work, expeditions, meal times, and group time.

Tobi Watanabi
Tobi experiences the magic in the ordinary in Quito, Ecuador

“The Ecuador/Galapagos program was hands-down the most incredible thing I've ever experienced. When trying to pick a program, I read many reviews. They all seemed too good to be true ("life changing" "time of my life" "made lifelong friends"). I was skeptical to say the least, but I was so wrong.” I live in Hawaii and have travelled a bit, but nothing compared to what I saw, learned, and experienced on this program. From day one, everyone was hanging out in each other's rooms and getting along wonderfully. You'll be amazed at how close you become with your group in such little time. At the end of the trip, walking each other to our gates at the airport was heartbreaking. Your group members will be incredible, but so will the people you get the privilege of helping. It was so humbling and rewarding. The culture and language immersion was also something that I loved.” Read more Tobi Watanabe, 2014
University of Hawaii

Extending travel plans

An advantage of our semester programs is that they are 10 weeks rather than a full 12-13 week semester which gives students time for independent travel at the conclusion of our programs. Many students choose to continue  their own independent travel adventure once our programs finish, putting into practice travel skills, confidence, and independence learned over the course of our programs.

For each program we have an extension options document with ideas for different post-program experiences and all the information you need to arrange them. We can help with ideas about where to go, what to do, and give some suggestions if you have a particular interest or field that you would like to explore.

Students sometimes struggle to clarify their post-program travel plans ahead of program departure. What we suggest is that students have a flexible return ticket, not lock anything in, and make post-program travel plans with other group members during their Pacific Discovery program.

Emily Vicks
Emily in the glory of snow, Mt Cook, New Zealand

“This experience was a roller coaster of once-in-a-lifetime experiences and unforgettable fun. It was a perfect mix through cities and incredible discovery through the wilderness. This was truly an amazing experience I can't say enough good things about it and how it changed my life.” Emily Vicks, 2012
Middlebury College