most asked questions
You'll hopefully find the answers to most of your questions here.
Anything else, just contact us and we'll be happy to help.
I've never heard of Quest Overseas - who are you?
Congratulations, you have now! We were established as a company on 7th June 1996 following the first successful expedition of eight students to Peru. Each year we now send in around 200 students and volunteers (and parents!) on our projects and expeditions throughout South America and Africa. We are not looking to expand any more so as to keep the personal touch, this also helps to make sure our projects are well managed and looked after.
We don't like to blow our own trumpet, and thanks to the positive feedback from our ex-volunteers, we seldom have to! We are linked to relevant websites and attend ‘gap fairs', but we rarely spend money on expensive advertising and do not get involved in mass "mailshots". Roughly 50% of our students hear of us by word of mouth, from relatives, friends etc. so if you didn't, well done for finding us!
Quest Overseas is run by a small team of full time staff together with a number of our ex-students who provide short term support in our office during their holidays from university. It's a lot of fun! You can learn more about us on our meet the team page.
What does Quest Overseas do?
A good place to start! This is the question you, your family, university application form, school careers adviser are possibly all asking. To make it easier for you to understand (and explain it to everyone else), we've put it in a two page factsheet, which you can download here, print out and show around.
Who can join a Quest Overseas team?
Our gap year adventures are available to people just finishing their secondary school or college (ie. 17-20 year olds). Our summer trips are open to the same, plus people on a summer break from university (ie. generally 17-25 year olds).
We also offer "Parents Adventures", short luxury holidays for the parents of returned volunteers - contact the office for more information about this.
We have offices in the UK, the USA and Australia but accept applications from throughout the world.
How can I apply?
We don't accept just anyone. That said, we're not looking to put together an "elite task force" either. We just want to make sure that, by joining a Quest Overseas team, you are making the right decision both for yourself and our projects (and the rest of the people on the team!). As such, the application process is as follows:
- First, we ask you to complete a Quest Overseas Application Form; you can complete our online form, or print it out and post it to us.
- We will then contact you to arrange an interview. We conduct interviews throughout the year in different parts of the UK, so will arrange the best time and place for you to meet us. If you do not live in the UK, we can arrange a telephone interview, but whenever possible will arrange to meet face to face.
- Our interviews generally take about an hour. Don't worry, it's not an evil grilling where we demand you justify your existence on this planet (!) We will however want to know why you want to join a Quest Overseas team and what you think you will gain from it. Do give this some serious thought before coming to see us. You should also think hard about what you would like to know about us, as this is a perfect chance to grill us if you want.
- Following the interview, we will contact you (within a few days) to let you know if you have a place on a team. We will take into account your preferences as well as what we think is best as to which project or expedition you should join.
- After that, we'll work together to get ready for departure!
What skills/experience do I need?
It depends on the trip you are joining. For some, language skills are a bonus, or experience working with children, or perhaps trekking experience may be a help. If you are in any doubt, just contact us before applying.
Where will we be staying?
Anywhere and everywhere. From jungle shelters and tents, to hostels and the occasional fancy surprise hotel. Project accommodation is generally quite basic, you may or may not have electricity, hot showers and flush toilets. You are not sleeping in tents for the entire expedition, there are parts where you are camping and other parts where we will be staying in hostels in towns and cities. You will learn to pack and unpack quickly! Just give us a call or contact us if you want to find out more specific details on the trip you're interested in.
How many others will be in my group?
It depends on the trip, we can answer this when we've established which team you will be joining. However, as a guide, teams are normally between 10-16 people. There is the opportunity to meet up with your team at our Pre Departure Training Days in South London a few months before departure, and following that there are usually some more informal meets planned by members of the team themselves.
What do I need to bring?
Depends on where you are going. We will provide a full recommended kit list for the places you will be visiting shortly after your place with us is confirmed. We also have training weekends where our staff will go through kit that is required and show you examples, so don't go out buying everything you think you need just yet!
Are there always showers, toilets and electricity?
In a way, yes. Facilities are often basic, for example your shower may come in the form of a bucket of water, your toilet as a hole in the ground and electricity in limited amounts from a generator. Please don't worry about this though, you soon get used to it and you will definitely have privacy for washing and going to the toilet! In most cases you will have access to better facilities on certain parts of your trip.
Will I need a visa?
In South America, as long as you have a British passport (or almost any EU passport) then there are no visa requirements for any of the countries into which you go with Quest Overseas. Other nationalities may require visas but we will help you to get them. When you enter a country, the stamp you receive from immigration allows you to stay in that country for up to 90 days. There are some countries in Africa where visas will be needed for all nationalities, we will help organise these for you.
What will I eat?
Food varies on the trip you are on - but one thing's for sure - it will become the hottest topic talked about when you're overseas! It might be traditional African or South American food - maize, vegetable sauce, chicken or goat or more western style food, such as chips, pizza, spaghetti or a BBQ. The most important thing is to have an open mind and try things - when else would you get a chance to eat guinea pig or ostrich?!! We are able to cater for most dietary needs - just let us know on your application form so we can ensure you are going to be well-fed.
Do I need any injections?
Afraid so! Quest Overseas keeps up to date with the latest recommendations on all medical considerations relating to your time with us, which we pass on to you in good time before your departure overseas.
Do you arrange flights?
We are not flight agents. We do however work closely with flight specialists in the areas of the world you will be going to, so that together we can work out the best options available to you. This also means you have the flexibility to arrange a flight which suits any other plans you may have.
Are you ATOL Bonded?
Absolutely, positively not. Why not? In short, because we are not a ‘travel agent' and so don't have to be ATOL bonded. By law, travel agents and such like must hold an ATOL license if they organise and are responsible for every aspect of a client's travel arrangements, including international flights, internal transport and accommodation. Quest Overseas does not get involved in the business of international flights - we leave that to international flight agent specialists, allowing us more time to get on and do what we do best, notably organising our operations in South America and Africa.
Other reasons why we are not ATOL bonded:
1. It is an administrative nightmare and thus time consuming and costly.
2. It only secures you for your international flight costs, something we do not actually get involved in!
3. To be granted an ATOL Bond means an organisation has to deposit a financial bond with the ATOL authorities. This would increase our costs and thus those of our participants - for something which is not needed and is unnecessary.
Our flight agents are ATOL bonded of course, meanwhile Quest does adhere to British Tour Operator regulations, which requires students' funds are kept in reserve until their trip actually takes place.
Can I stay on after the trip?
We'd be thrilled if you did! Most people do choose to stay on after their Quest Overseas to explore a little more, whether it's just for an extra week or a few more months. This is another reason we keep flexibility for your flight arrangements. Almost everyone finds travel partners in their team and you can fine tune your travel plans together with your leaders along the way. Your Quest Overseas is just the beginning.
How often will I get the chance to contact home?
This varies on which trip you are on. Generally e-mail and pay-phones are readily available in all towns in South America and Africa. However, when you are working on a project in the Amazon jungle or in rural Kenya then you might only get access every few weeks.
Will I meet the rest of my team before going away?
We hold training and preparation days a few months before you fly overseas. This is a chance to go over the trip itself, discuss possible future travel plans, check out your kit, and of course, meet your team and leaders. We will let you know in good time when these days are and you should try your best to be around for them.
Will my project work actually help?
100% yes. Quest Overseas prides ourselves in working with long-term project partners - whether they are charities, NGO's or just small community groups that we have built up relationships with. All of our project sites are well-run, year-round concerns.
Your energy and enthusiasm - whether it be building a classroom, entertaining a room full of Peruvian kids from a shanty town or constructing a dam to provide clean water for a village in Kenya - together with careful planning with the local project staff, will go a very long way. You will work alongside our local project partners to achieve your project goal together. All project aims are set out well in advance, so we (and you) know exactly what you will be doing. The project work is requested by our partners - we do not tell them what you will be doing, they ask us.
What about the project donation?
Quest Overseas leads the market in providing more financial support for our overseas projects than any other company. It is our core belief that financial support, side by side with practical volunteering, is the critical factor in making a significant, true and long lasting impact on people and places.
All the money for your project work is paid separately either to the Quest Charity, Quest4Change or to our project partner's charity so you know exactly how much you have given to help your project.
So far over the past 14 years Quest Overseas volunteers have raised over £1.4 million in direct donations for our partners which has, amongst others, funded the purchase over 4,000 acres of rainforest, built 11 classrooms in Africa, sponsored over 60 children through secondary school in Malawi, saved thousands of animals from being imprisoned or sold as pets in Bolivia, built an education centre in Swaziland, a health clinic in Malawi, a medical dispensary, library and three-floor accommodation block for students in Tanzania and so much more. Just check out our charity Quest4Change to see everything our volunteers have helped fund over the years.
Where does my money go?
It is important for you to ask any organisation exactly where your money is going and if they are unable to answer your questions then you should think twice about going with them. You will find on our website a general breakdown of how your funds are spent, but if you would like to have more detail please do ask.
Won't I be taking work away from local people?
No. We always employ local staff - in fact we fund several full-time year round staff on our project sites. On your project you will also work alongside skilled builders, ecologists or social workers, experts in the work you are helping with. They get paid a full salary for their work and having your team there just helps get the work done faster with a lot more fun involved! All our partners love having Quest teams arrive - which you'll see from the welcome you get when you arrive!
Remember along with your donation you are simply providing added man-power to get the jobs done!
Is it safe to travel to these places?
Sitting in front of the Travel Show would be the safest way to learn about Africa and South America but how DULL would your university room look next year!
Both Africa and South America have a history of violence and political instability, but in our opinion are no more dangerous than any other continent and many of the problems encountered are likely to be the same throughout the world. If you are alert to potential problems you are already half way to avoiding them - forewarned is forearmed as they say. Furthermore we always plan to be flexible with both our route and the time spent in each country we operate.
Your safety and security is of paramount importance to you, your family and us. Whilst we cannot guarantee absolute safety all of the time, the following are worth consideration -
A Team of students is a small army! There is definitely safety in numbers.
Project/Team Leader. Every Team has at least one Project Leader who is responsible for his or her team 24 hours a day for the entire three months with us. Project Leaders are graduates with experience of their own gap year, of Africa and/or South America, the type of project work the team is undertaking and of being responsible for others in foreign lands.
Support Staff. Throughout all operations we do of course have the additional support of the staff, management and directors of our colleagues and partners at our Spanish schools, our hostals and on all voluntary work projects. They are an army!
Expedition Leaders join the Team for the expedition phase of operations where you don't have the same support networks as we do on project sites, you're moving around a lot and are often alone in remote areas. Expedition Leaders are highly experienced in living and working in the countries in which we operate and are highly qualified in terms of mountain leadership and remote first aid. They have often led numerous Quest Overseas operations before and operations for other highly regarded expedition organisations.
Do I need to be super fit to take part?
You don't need to run marathons or pump iron on a daily basis to take part in our projects or expeditions, but the fitter and healthier you are in yourself, the more you are likely to get out of the experience. Most days will be physically challenging, whether digging, carrying rocks, mixing cement or trekking mountains, you're guarunteed to work up a sweat, and climates and altitudes will vary a lot from what your used to at home. We'll provide heaps of support in the run up to departure on ways to stay healthy overseas but by far the best thing you can do is be as fit as you can before you go...
If you already excercise regularly, great. If not, there is no time like the present to join a team or class or swap your car/bus for bike or walking... If your taking on one of our expeditions, get those hiking boots on and head off into your nearest hills for some practice hikes, and challenge yourself as much as possible.
If you have any concerns at all about your general fitness, or pre-existing medical conditions, drop us a line.
What if I have a pre-existing medical condition?
We have been leading teams overseas for more than 16 years and in that time, have encountered a pretty extensive range of medical conditions amongst our volunteers, including food allergies, epilepsy, diabetes, and even blindness - Callum you rock! We will always do our upmost to make our Projects and Expeditions accessible to all, and your safety and that of the rest of the team/leaders will always come first.
All students will be required to complete a detailed Medical Declaration form at the time of accepting a place and this will be checked off by our Quest GP, or for overseas student, by your own Doctor.
The best thing to do is drop us a line if your worried or not sure. We will give clear and honest advice, seeking further information from our own UK based Quest GP where necessary.
stupidly asked questions
Here is an alternative list of FAQs, the ones we can't believe how often they are asked. If you find yourself asking them, don't worry too much, you weren't the first person. We may mock you though!
Is it going to rain (asked in the rain forest)?
Will there be cloud (in the cloud forest)?
What altitude are we at (asked on the beach!)?
Will I need the toilet on this bus?
Do they speak Spanish?
Will we see Incas on the Inca Trail?
Are we here now???!?
If you blow on chilli does it get less hot?
How do I stir? (when cooking for the group)
Where's the toilet? (When on a camping safari in the middle of the African bush)
Where are the tigers? (On safari in Africa)
Will we see pandas in the jungle?
Will my waterproof get wet?
If I wear this sweater, will I be cold?
How do I pack?
So where are the lions? (when visiting the Nazca LINES in the Peruvian desert!)