In sections below are the answers to over one hundred different 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 our programs.
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! Our first program was our Fall 2001 Southeast Asia Semester Program. You can read more about us and our journey here.
Pacific Discovery is a small organization and is very personable. Rachel, Scott, and the team take 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 began in 2001. Our first program was our Southeast Asia Semester which ran in fall 2001. Since this time over 2500 students have joined us on a journey of discovery.
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.
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 18-24. We will consider mature 17-year olds who have graduated high school before program start. 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 18-24 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 18-24 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 organised? 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 the 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.
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 $200 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 $400 deposit by credit card when you apply. The balance of the program tuition is paid 90 days prior to program departure. If you apply after the final program payment is due, the deposit will be $950 and the balance of the program fee will be due two weeks after date of application. Making payment is simple and you can either pay by bank deposit, credit card, or cashiers check.
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/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.
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 18-24 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 consider mature 17 year old applicants who have graduated high school but have not yet turned 18. 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 18-24 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 program, the following fees apply at the time (prior to departure) we receive written notice of your cancellation: More than 91 days before departure - loss of deposit; 31 to 90 days before departure - 50% of program cost; 0 to 30 days before departure - 100% of program cost. If you fail to join the program, join after its departure or leave prior to its completion, Pacific Discovery reserves the right to set the amount of refund (if any).
If you wish to delay your program participation you can do so up till 91 days prior to departure without penalty. If you delay after 91 days prior we will have incurred costs on your behalf and we will establish the amount credited towards a future program.
If you wish to switch programs you can do so up till 91 days prior to departure without penalty.
We generally take students between 18-24 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.
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.
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.
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.
We are happy to take married/unmarried couples, and have had several join our programs over the years. Couples have to be prepared to be open to a group experience and should not expect to be treated differently to other students and should note that they will not have private accommodation.
If you join a program with a friend or as a couple, 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.
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!
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. Please see a list here.
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:
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.
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.
We try to stay in smaller, locally owned establishments so that money spent on accommodation stays within the local community and so that we remain a part of the community rather than being cut off and insulated from it.
We want our students to be able to return to their rooms and relax so that they can make the most of their time in a location. For this reason, we tend to stay in good quality accommodations; students are usually pleasantly surprised. However, there will be times when students will be staying in an accommodation which is outside of their comfort zone such as a rural village homestay. We encourage our students to embrace these new experiences with an open-mind and gratitude to their hosts for being open to having guests.
In Nepal, Tibet, and South America our groups homestay with welcoming families. We have met these families and have no safety concerns. Participants always share a room with at least one other participant in these homestays. In Southeast Asia, the group homestays in a group house within a village rather than being split between individual families.
Our programs have two instructors accompanying the group for the duration of the program. Adventure activities are typically provided by specialist operators with their own guides. We ensure that ratios of instructors to students for these activities comply with outdoor industry best practices.
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.
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.
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.
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. This is not necessary but for students and families considering this, please refer to our 'travel information page' for information.
Vaccinations requirements vary by program. Please refer to Health & Vaccinations on the Travel information page for general vaccination information. 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.
Please refer to the travel insurance information located on the Travel Information page for more information.
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 souviners, 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.
International flights to and from the program are not included. We work closely with STA Travel in the US and suggest that you book your flights with them if you live in the USA; 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. You are welcome to purchase flights independently, but we suggest you send through your itinerary for us to check before you purchase.
We do not have group flights for a number of reasons:
We work closely with STA Travel in the USA 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.
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 have detailed notes on getting cell phone access during our programs here.
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.
For more information, please refer to the accommodation page.
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.
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. For more information, please refer to our overland travel page.
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.