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Tips for travel in developing countries

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Arriving

Travel in Third World and developing countries can pose an added challenge to even the most experienced adventurer. 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.

One way to avoid the crush, especially in India, but it will work in other countries, 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:

A plan. Know what you're going to do before you arrive. No matter how much you want to get off the stuffy bus or out of the crowded airport, you don't want to find yourself pondering your guidebook in the middle of a crowd of touts and hawkers. Everyone will insist on taking you to this guest-house or that hotel. Looking like you already have a goal and a plan (even if you don't) is your first line of defense against the rain of business cards and brochures. If traveling with friends, a good strategy is to leave the luggage with part of the group at a nearby restaurant or cafe while the other half gathers information on what's available. This gives everyone the excuse 'we are waiting for our friends' and will relieve some (but not all) of the pressure. If you are traveling alone, just insist that you are meeting a friend who already has a room for both of you. As a last resort, don't hesitate to just ignore any especially insistent 'guides' or 'friends'. They will leave you alone, eventually.

Knowledge of costs. Have some idea of what a taxi into town should cost, and enough language (or a piece of paper and pen) to negotiate it. Expect to pay over the odds, but at least this way you should get the right number of 0's!

Toilet paper. Keeping a roll of paper in your luggage and a good wad in an easily accessible spot. Public toilets -- if there are any, will almost always be extremely primitive, and most guest-houses will not provide any either. If you're short on space, remove the cardboard tube and flatten the roll. Keeping it in a large zip-lock bag is another good idea.

Water. Enough bottled water for 24 hours. Always keep an empty bottle or other container handy in case you need to purify tap water with iodine or a hand pump. Some hotels and hostels may not have drinking glasses.

Food. Power Bars or other sports snacks tend to travel well, though you might find local bread and peelable fruit a more tasty option. Don't get caught eating out of vending machines (or worse) for two days because you didn't know about a festival or strike.

A towel, sleep sheet, or sarong. Hotels and hostels can have wildly different amenities. Don't be surprised if even 'nice' hotels do not provide these things. Plus, you want to have an option if the sheets or towels are not as clean as you'd like. Sarongs are useful as a sheet, beach blanket, towel, and of course, sarong wrap. In cold weather areas, drying off quickly is much more important that on a tropical island. Making room in your pack for a good towel can keep you healthy and happy. Bath and beauty shops sell small super-absorbent towels for drying hair, but they work just as well for general use, and dry quicker than regular cotton.

A padlock. Some simple hotels don't have ordinary door locks, but give you a padlock with which to close the door of your room. Don't use it. Use your own instead. The people who work at the hotel might have double keys for the padlock they gave you. If you use your own they have to "break in" if they want to enter your room. It's not as if you make it impossible for them, but it's an extra barrier.

Basic travel tools. Sewing kit, duct tape, laundry soap and clothesline, pocket knife (only in checked baggage of course), first aid kit, sun screen, bug spray, zip lock bags, flashlight waterproof matches or a small waterproof container for normal matches (those little plastic photographic film boxes are just perfect), condoms (even if you don't need them you can always give them away or to local health workers), herbal and prescription medicines.

Some knowledge of the local language. Yes, you can probably get by on just English, but even the ability to say "hello", "please", "thank you", and so on in the local language goes a long way. "Leave me alone" and "don't touch me" aren't far behind.

  • Be very careful in giving money to beggars or children. Doing so will likely cause you to get surrounded by others wanting money. Please consider not doing this on principle as well - children especially are exploited by adults as street beggars - if you want to help, give money to a local charity that you trust, don't fuel the begging industry.

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