I have had so many amazing, life changing experiences in developing countries that I wouldn’t change for the world. Some of these experiences were quite confronting at the time (hello Chinese squat toilets!) but they are the very reason why I travel – to challenge myself, to learn and to experience new and amazing things.
If your only idea of a holiday is plonked by the pool of an international resort, cocktail in hand, maybe this article isn’t for you. But if you’re about to discover a developing country, or have any reservations, read on!
Make sure you get the required vaccines
A quick Google is invaluable to see what you need to be protected against in the destination of your choice. I like Health Direct. Visit your doctor at least a month before you leave to get the required immunisations. For my Vietnam trip, I got an injection for Hepatitis A and Typhoid, Malaria pills that I must take everyday before I leave and during my trip, an oral Cholera immunisation that is taken twice, 2 weeks apart, and finally some antibiotics and anti-diarrhea medication “just in case”. I’d rather be safe than sorry.
Don’t give money to just anyone
It’s really tough to ignore beggars overseas, especially children. But often giving money to them causes more harm than good (this article is really helpful). If you do want to help, do your research before you leave and make a donation to a reputable charity. Or some tour groups such as Intrepid Travel will take you to various charity projects in the cities you visit – I went to a school for disabled children in China and a war victims workshop in Vietnam. I felt safe knowing that the products I was buying from these kids was going toward their futures.
Practice a few words of their language
Even just learning hello, goodbye and thank you makes a world of difference! Locals react really well to attempts at their native tongue (no matter how hilariously bad you are) and it’s a great way to break down barriers. English is scarcely spoken in a lot of developing country, so best brush up on your miming skills too!
Be aware of their customs
So you don’t come across as an ignorant tourist, I highly recommend researching your destination’s customs to avoid insulting a local or embarrassing yourself. For example, in Thailand, never touch a Thai person on their head, as this is seen as the most important part of the body and is therefore disrespectful. Also never shake hands with your left hand as this is considered the “unclean” hand (this is also the case in many SE Asian and Muslim countries). I have written a post previously on respecting other country’s culture and customs.
Try local food, but be careful
I am forever warned to avoid street food in developing countries for fear of getting extremely sick. But street food tastes amazing, it’s a great way to mingle with the locals, and you get to try dishes you’d never ever sample again at home. A few good rules to stick to include only going to vendors with a long queue (meaning it’s both popular and the high turnover will ensure the food is fresh) and sticking to cooked or preferably deep fried foods (which kills any nasties).
Leave the fancy items at home
Leave the nice jewellery, flashy clothes and handbag at home, you won’t be needing it on a holiday in a developing country. It’s basically putting a big X on your back as a target for thieves.
Adjust your expectations
Sure, at home toilets may be clean, trains turn up when they say they will and meat is sold from sanitary refrigerators. But while abroad you may encounter things that make you uncomfortable or completely blow you out of your comfort zone. Just go with the flow. It’s a new experience and hey, you’ll have a good story to tell when you get home.
Have you travelled to a developing country before? Do you have any more tips to add?
One thing I would add is to try and find locally run places/tours, particularly in countries where tourism is becoming (or already is) a big part of their local income. Often outsiders (or in some instances the government) will come in and set up ‘authentic’ experiences for tourists but very little of the money will actually go to the locals. I always try to find truly locally run things to do, even if they cost a little extra, because that way you can be sure your money is going to support that local community more directly.
That’s a great tip Liz! It’s really disappointing when a big company stages an inauthentic “experience” and you realise very little of the money is going to benefit anyone truly in need.
Fantastic tips. I have travelled very little and the thought of developing countries actually kinda scares my (white middle class bogan) brain. But I think that going somewhere a bit different is so important to really begin to understand the world.
I really like your tips on customs. Having worked in tourism in Australia I am very pleased when people say thank you to me in English.
Travelling to developing countries makes you appreciate what you have at home that much more. It really puts things in perspective! And saying thank you in the local language should be mandatory wherever you are in the world. It’s just plain manners :)