Tips for travel in developing countries
This article is a travel topic
Travel in developing countries can pose an added challenge to even the most experienced adventurer.
One of the illogical but undeniable truths of traveling is that the poorer, less developed and less visited the country is, the harder it will be to obtain a visa for the country.
The IATA Visa Database, provided by Delta, is an excellent place to check whether you need a visa or not. While IATA provides no guarantees of accuracy, the database is usually fairly up to date. More importantly, if you don't have a visa but their database says you need one, you will not be allowed on the plane!
If traveling by land, it is imperative to check that the border crossing you plan to use is open to foreign visitors. If the country provides a visa on arrival, make sure that the border crossing in question can supply it. If at all possible, confirm the answer from multiple sources and, if blithely promised that crossing is no problem, try to get the promise in writing in case the border guards happen to disagree.
There are two schools of thought for getting visas: one says to obtain visas as far in advance if possible, so you can buffer for unexpected delays, while the other says to obtain as close to your destination as possible, where you can get your visa rapidly and with less hassle as it's a more standard procedure. Ideally you can combine both by starting your trip at a "visa hub" city where you can get visas for nearly all neighboring countries. Some examples by region include:
You can also obtain visas for almost any country in the world in Washington D.C., London or Tokyo. You can also mail your visa application and passport to the nearest embassy or consulate (use registered mail). However, applications done this way tend to be time-consuming and expensive.
In many places any obvious tourist or newcomer will be swamped with offers of guides, hotels, and taxi services. It's important to look like you know what you're doing, and not be forced into accepting an offer just because you arrived unprepared.
In many places, it is better to avoid the people yelling "taxi?" inside the airport or train station; they are often touting for or driving unlicensed meterless taxis. You are better off taking the airport bus or going outside and looking for a real taxi with a license and often a meter.
One way to avoid the crush, especially in India, is to use a local agent for booking accommodation or internal travel in advance. When you arrive at your destination the local agent will be waiting with your name on a notice and they will have a driver to take you to your hotel. It might cost a little bit more but it beats walking out of an air terminal at midnight after a long flight, into pandemonium.
A good arrival checklist for these situations includes all the tips for Arriving in a new city plus:
Try acquiring some knowledge of the local language. Yes, you can probably get by on just English in most of the world, but even the ability to say "hello", "please", "thank you", "excuse me", and so on in the local language goes a long way. "Leave me alone" and "don't touch me" aren't far behind. Numbers and "too expensive" are also quite useful.
In several countries, especially in former British colonies, you can often get by with just English. For example, in India, nearly every educated person speaks some English and many are fluent. Even many of the less educated have some English, at least recognize some simple words and phrases. In such situations, it is possible to travel almost any region using simple English -- basic words and phrases. The key is to use just such common words and phrases, and learn to pronounce them in a more local (or locally comprehensible) accent.
For long trips in a region, consider learning a regional language if there is one. For example, Russian is widely used in Central Asia where many countries were once part of the Soviet Union. It may be better to learn a bit of Russian than to tackle all the local languages — Tajik, Uzbek, Turkoman, Uighur — and may be almost as useful. French plays a similar role for parts of Africa, Spanish and/or Portugese in Latin America. For English speakers Russian, French or Spanish may be easier to learn than the local languages.
Do not sleep on a mattress or pad on the ground in areas where you do not know the local fauna. If you are going to camp out, bring a camp cot or hammock to keep you away from snakes, scorpions and such. Use mosquito nets around your bed in countries where mosquitos carry malaria.
Your income is likely enormous in relation to that of many people in some developing countries (though not in others). The UN estimates that over a billion people live on under $1 US a day. If you wander into their territory waving around a camera whose price exceeds local annual income, expect a reaction. Even your backpack, boots and watch may each cost a few months' local income.
Reactions vary, but be prepared to deal with:
Take precautions, but do not get paranoid about it. Of course people want your money, but don't let that spoil a trip.
If travelling in a country that is currently experiencing widespread violence, such as a civil war, you need to take many extra precautions, see War zone safety.
Developing countries pose health hazards. Many have poor sanitation and/or poor health care and/or a hot climate that allows various diseases practically unknown in temperate Western countries to propagate. See a doctor with experience in travel medicine, or visit a specialist clinic, at least 8 weeks before your planned departure. This gives enough time for the vaccinations.
Contaminated drinking water is one of the leading sources of health problems for travelers. Check country listings for your destination(s) for details of hazards there, and for availability of bottled water or alternatives. Consider carrying a means of purifying water. A good filter takes out everything down to 0.2 micron, all bacteria and many viruses. Boiling or ultraviolet (UV) radiation will get everything, but those require equipment. Iodine tablets are widely used. Consult a doctor with knowledge of the area you are going to.
Carry a diarrhea medicine; you are almost certain to need it at some point. For many destinations, sun screen and/or mosquito repellent are also essential. Carrying your own anti-bacterial soap and/or hand wipes can be a useful precaution. For some journeys, a full first aid kit is advisable.
AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases are poorly controlled in many developing countries. If there is any chance you will have sex with anyone except a long-term partner, carry condoms.
Your diet will change some to suit unfamilar foods and you may lose nutrients due to various illnesses. Using one-a-day multivitamin tablets is a sensible precaution.
For travel in developing countries, you may need to carry things you would not need nearer home:
Budget travellers will also need:
You might also need:
For more suggestions, see Packing list.