There's a wide world out there, and many tourists neglect to consider most of it when they are making their travel plans. If you really want to see the world, traveling through some of the globe's less developed countries will provide you with a much deeper understanding of different cultures, experiences, and locales.
Traveling to places that are not among the top destinations for tourists, though, can require a little extra preparation. Even if you are a traveling pro who has your packing and flight routine down to a science, visiting developing countries requires some extra consideration and prep work.
Here you'll find several tips — some practical and some more philosophical — to help make sure that your trip goes smoothly.
Research Customs and Expectations
One of the first concerns for traveling to developing countries is making sure that you have an understanding of the customs and cultural expectations of the place you will be visiting. Taking the time to understand the customs of the place you'll be staying helps ensure you are a gracious and respectful visitor.
It can be really jarring for tourists to arrive in a developing nation and expect that the people living there will simply abide by their wishes and behave the way they prefer. This is especially true when the tourists are from more developed countries that may have a complex history with the developing nations. As The Guardian explores in a piece on "colonial tourism," being conscious of the way you interact with and present yourself when visiting a less developed country is important.
Responsible travel should not involve objectification. Which is not to deny that positive experiences happen while traveling, and it's great to talk about those, but it's possible to do so in a way that is not offensive.
There are many customs that might be different depending on where you're traveling. As you do your research, keep an eye out for these common differences:
- Personal space, facial expressions, hand gestures, and body language - The way that we interact with one another is often culturally determined rather than innately ingrained. When you travel, you may find that facial expressions and hand gestures have different meanings than you're used to. You may also find that the idea of personal space and appropriate body language is very different.
- Time - We're not talking about time zones — we're talking about the actual concept of time. Western cultures tend to focus on punctuality and an exact schedule, but many other cultures have a looser concept of time. You may also find that the typical daily schedule (like when to wake up or eat dinner) is vastly different from what you are used to.
- Food and drink - Part of experiencing a new place is getting a (literal) taste of how the locals live. Do not expect to find cuisine that is made for a tourist's palate. Research some of the typical dishes and get ready to try something new. Take a moment to find out restaurant etiquette, too.
- Clothing - While it is not necessary (and would likely be culturally insensitive) to try to dress like the locals, you should spend a little time researching what kind of clothing is considered appropriate as cultural norms surrounding modesty may differ.
Get Medically Prepared
Access to medical treatment can vary depending on where you are traveling, so it is wise to make some preparations before you take off on your trip. There are steps you can take to prepare yourself before you leave as well as items to pack to keep you safe and healthy while you travel.
- Travel vaccinations - Depending on where you are traveling, there will likely be recommended vaccines. Check with your doctor to see which are right for your trip.
- Prescriptions - Do not assume that you will be able to fill prescriptions while abroad. Get your prescriptions filled and pack any necessary medications with you.
- Planned treatments - If you are traveling to a place that is prone to particular diseases (malaria, for instance), you may want to consider purchasing and bringing treatment with you. The expense could be well worth it.
Be Prepared to Barter for Goods
One cultural difference that can throw travelers for a loop is the bartering system. Because many developing countries depend heavily on the tourist industry for their economy to work, bartering can be a key part of your daily interactions. The individuals who prepare your food, sell you goods, and provide you services likely use up-charges on tourists to make their livelihoods. This means that tourists can expect to barter for many of their purchases.
While you should practice some bartering tips to make sure that you do not get taken advantage of, part of being a conscientious and ethical tourist to developing countries is recognizing how your money is part of the local economy. Finding a balance between protecting your own interests and helping to support the local businesses who provide for you is important.
Bring Your Own Toiletries
One place where cultural norms and access might differ is in hygiene and personal care. Toilet paper, for instance, is not always readily and freely available. Toilet practices and access to personal care items can be unpredictable.
Once again, it's important to find a balance between your own comfort and care and the expectations of the environment in which you find yourself. In some countries, over-consumption of water use by tourists is a serious problem. When your own personal hygiene habits rely on using way more water than what locals tend to use, you can create a strain on an important commodity.
You should pack toilet paper, personal cleaning wipes, and your own deodorant to help you navigate any differences between your own expectations and the conditions of your locale.
Keep an Open Mind and Ditch Assumptions
Perhaps the most important tip you can get while planning to travel to less developed countries is to keep an open mind and get rid of any assumptions you have about what you are going to experience. Yes, you should do your research and be prepared to navigate some of the practical differences. However, you should not let this limited view of your differences frame your expectations about what you will experience.
It can be easy to form an impression of a place through shallow, inaccurate depictions from pop culture and the media. Getting to actually immerse yourself in a new culture will likely show you that those impressions were incomplete, but you have to be open to the experience to fully appreciate it.
You will likely meet a lot of different people and see the world through new eyes. Be sure to make memories of your experiences through journaling to capture any eye-opening moments as they happen and to help you reflect back on all you have seen once you get back home.