Staying safe while doing good
February 20, 2006 10:01 AM   Subscribe

TravelFilter: Any advice for traveling to New Orleans over spring break with college students for a service project?

* This March I will be traveling to a Hurricane damaged suburb of New Orleans with 9 college students for a service project. I am unsure as to the exact location of where we will be working, but I know that it is definitely outside of the developed city areas (suburbs). I would love to get tips/advice/opinions from others who have participated in similar projects, live in the are, or think they have an important point. Things I'm specifically interested in are:

- Safety: We are renting two cars while down there. Any dramatic increases in Car theft/hijacking/vandalism that I should know about? Also, our group is comprised of 8 girls and 2 guys. Does this change anything?

- Money: Some in the group are thinking of bringing Travelers Checks. Good idea? Bad Idea?

- Contamination: Others in the group are concerned about being exposed to something un-healthy either via the food or while gutting houses. We are purchasing resporators to protect against mold, but issues of Carbon Monoxide and other hard to detect things are beimg raised. Are these valid concerns?

Anthing else we should be thinking of?
posted by Smarson to Travel & Transportation around New Orleans, LA (14 answers total)
Most food should be fine, but careful with the watermelons. A lot have randomly sprouted in hurricane-affected areas and may be toxic.
posted by kuperman at 10:52 AM on February 20, 2006

In terms of money, (at least back in January when I was last there), I would stick to cash and credit/debit cards. A lot of places aren't open for their pre-Katrina regular hours or just aren't open at all. For example, a physically undamaged McDonalds I saw was only open 8 hours a day.

So I'd say use cards whenever possible and save the cash for small businesses or for a place that might not be able to take credit cards.

I don't think you'll have any increased risk of violence in or around N.O.

Also, any food you're served should be just fine.
posted by turbodog at 10:55 AM on February 20, 2006

Which suburb? The answers could be affected by whether you are talking about the North Shore, Slidell, St. Bernard, etc.
posted by Carbolic at 11:06 AM on February 20, 2006

Don't worry about the food or about crime. (Sheesh, you're not going to Thunderdome.) Actually, our crime rate is WAY down since the storm. There's nobody here to rob you. Also, the New Orleans police--having had their incompetence relayed to the entire world--are overcompensating with a vengence. The city's safer than it's ever been, in a weird way.

I wouldn't recommend traveller's checks just because, as mentioned above, stores are open shorter hours. Oh, and turbodog: That McDonald's was closed for lack of workers. Tough decision: work for minimum wage at a fast food restaurant or at a $30/hr roofing job?

Do you guys have a place to stay? There are none--zero--hotel rooms available in the city, because they're all full of contractors and out-of-town workers. If worse came to worst, those 8 college-aged ladies could stay at my place, but you two dudes will have to fend for yourselves... (joke)

One request...if you make it downtown during your stay, like down to the French Quarter or the Garden District, would you please tell everyone when you get back home that the touristy parts of the city are okay? Yeah, a huge percentage of the city is pretty effed up, but our economy thrives on tourism and we need people to know that this part of the city, at least, is open for business and more or less untouched.

I drive a cab in New Orleans, so I might be able to answer any other questions you might have. Email's in the profile.

(No, everyone else reading this thread, you may not email me for my cell phone number for this upcoming weekend. Heh. Nice try!)
posted by Ian A.T. at 12:31 PM on February 20, 2006

Heh. For a second I thought you might be in my group, but I see that the dates are different. I'll be there the week before you, and I'll have my cell. If you want, you can gimme a call (email me through my profile) and I'll tell you anything that I've picked up while I'm there.
posted by klangklangston at 2:13 PM on February 20, 2006

As with any other trip to unfamiliar areas... "Don't bring anything that you will be sad to lose."
posted by drstein at 3:40 PM on February 20, 2006

For fuck's sake, we're not a third world country. COME BACK AND PARTY! We need it.

That said, you guys are fantastic for doing this. Do not do travellers checks. A lot of banks and ATMS are back in service in Metairie, the quarter, and uptown. Otherwise, don't count on someone being able to take credit or debit. Checks? No way. Bring a fair bit of cash, though there won't be anything to buy in Chalmette or Gentilly (or NO East, I'm trying to give estimations of affected suburbs where you might be). Don't keep it all on you; we still have some pretty impressive pickpockets. Grocery/convienence stores are still a little hard to find in some areas, too. It depends a lot on where you'll be. There are plenty of restaurants open in Slidell, but you won't find a damn thing in Chalmette.

Some people still have qualms about drinking the water here. I've been drinking it for months, but then, I drank the water for years and years here long before that, and we're kind of known for shitty water. You may want to stick to bottled water, but few people do these days.

Boy, I'ma tell my momma you done said something about her food. You appear to be in danger of avoiding some of the best food in the hemisphere out of unfounded fears. I can help you take steps to avoid these dangers. The first step is crawfish. The second step is to eat at any restaurant open near you. There are strict restaurant re-opening codes, and they'll display their permit proudly. Eat the food. For the love of god, eat the food and support the desperate local community. I am completely serious about this. It's good food and it's how a large portion of the community makes their living, and they are suffering drastically. It's safe and they need you to eat their gumbo. You won't regret it.

If you have athsma or breathing/immune problems, seriously consider not making the trip. Everyone in the city has been having breathing problems, and most of the time they tend to be mold-based. Bring allergy medicine and cold medicine. You run a pretty high risk of getting some version of the Katrina cough.

Bring a first aid kit. The hospitals that are open are struggling.

There were a few areas with really unbreathable air, but those were mostly the Lakeview trash dumping/burning sites. If there's a major inceneration site near you, you might want to be careful. Otherwise, from what I know, the air everywhere is at least as safe as it would be in, say, New York. Not healthy, but not deadly.

The city is a hell of a lot safer than it has been. Theft is way, way down. There still aren't that many people around. Use common sense: don't walk around drunk, don't let the girls go out alone. I say this as a girl in New Orleans. It sucks, but it's true. Crime is really down here but I wouldn't let a girl walk around alone at night in October, when there wasn't a damn soul here. Daytime and short distances are safe for girls alone if you're not in the city. I'd make the girls bring pepper spray anyway. It's a matter of what crime used to be like here, not what it is like right now. I have a few female friends who don't go outside at night without a gun. Habit, not current state, and they lived in the "bad" parts of town.

Unless you already have a plan set in stone... Consider helping out at Orleans/St Bernard Parish public schools. They're doing horribly, and can't afford to clear out the damage. They were already in debt from last year's fiasco with the school board.

Add me to the list of people you can email.
posted by honeydew at 6:11 PM on February 20, 2006

I know a couple of other people have said this already, but again: Honeydew and I can help you a lot more if we know what part of town you're going to be in. Conditions range from "There was a hurricane down here?" (the Quarter) to "holy shit!" (Lakeview) to silent sobbing (Chalmette).

Also, Honeydew reminded me of my earlier rudeness: THANK YOU for volunteering down here, and on your Spring Break nonetheless. That's super-cool. (I see free cab rides in your future.)
posted by Ian A.T. at 7:20 PM on February 20, 2006

Our group will be staying in Jefferson Parish, about seven miles outside of downtown at a Hampton Inn. (I'm still not sure what all the trip will entail, as it's being run through my journalism program. Probably a lot more writing about and taking pictures of people cleaning up than actually cleaning up, but I'm hoping we're helping). The last night, we'll be staying in Montgomery, Ala.
Should be an experience at least.
posted by klangklangston at 10:15 PM on February 20, 2006

Wow! This is better than I could have hoped for. We're still waiting to hear about where we'll actually be working (should find out tomorrow), but I know that we'll be staying in a church (no worries about hotels/motels thank goodness) in Kennner which is supposedly near the airport. How is that area in terms of grocery stores, local restuarants, and safety?
posted by Smarson at 7:31 AM on February 21, 2006

Kenner should be about as good as it gets in those terms. Or as good as unremarkable suburbia could possibly be.
posted by turbodog at 9:45 AM on February 21, 2006

That goes for you, too, klangklangston. Jefferson Parish is to the west of the city, and was--relatively!--untouched by the storm. In fact, you might not notice any difference at all if you don't know what to look for. Staying in Kenner or Jefferson Parish will be no different from staying anywhere else. You'll still keep the above stuff in mind when you travel into the city, particularly the really damaged areas.

Here, for the record:

EAST ... Slidell ... Chalmette ... Lower Ninth Ward ... New Orleans ... Jefferson Parish (aka Metairie) ... Kenner ... WEST

Does that make any sense at all?
posted by Ian A.T. at 2:08 PM on February 21, 2006

Kenner got relatively little damage. People moved back there pretty soon. Keep in mind that a lot of places are not open as late as they used to (the regularly 24/7 grocery store just started staying open till 10), but you'll be fine with banks. You may have to pay ATM fees (check online if your bank has any branches down here, for some reason we don't have any Wells Fargos or BofA!) but you'll have no problem finding ATMs. Kenner is pretty boring but safe. Most places take plastic but do have cash (especially for downtown, but watch out for pickpockets in the Quarter).
posted by radioamy at 8:11 PM on February 21, 2006

Any of you got recommendations for vegetarians down there?
posted by klangklangston at 7:01 AM on February 22, 2006

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