Travel is one of the most enriching experiences you can have, and visiting third world countries can expand your world view more than visiting in a developed nation. Some of these countries, however, don’t have a well-established tourism infrastructure. You need to be patient and flexible, above all.
Besides this, there are dangers when travelling outside of your comfort zone. As a Westerner, you’re acclimated to a certain level of comfort, and there are quite a few challenges to navigate before you can enjoy your once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
From thieves to contaminated water, and even culture shock, here are seven tips to help keep you safe and healthy during your visit abroad. With a little preparation, an authentic cultural experience is within your reach.
Learn to speak the language
Wherever you go, it’s always helpful to learn some expressions in the language of the country you’re visiting. You should know the basics like ‘hello’, ‘please’, and ‘thank you’, as well as the numbers one to 10. However, if you can, learn even more phrases dealing with transit. Questions such as ‘How far is it?’ and ‘Where is…?’ are extremely useful.
You may also want to know how to say ‘I’m allergic to…’ if you suffer from a food allergy or ‘Is it spicy?’ if you have a sensitivity to spicy foods. Of course, there are the ever-useful phrases of ‘Do you take credit cards?’, ‘How much?’, ‘No, thank you’, and ‘Too expensive’.
If you have difficulty picking up new languages, or you’re travelling to a country where the language is particularly difficult to learn, don’t be afraid to write translations down for yourself before you leave on your trip. In the event you only commit one phrase to memory, make it ‘Do you speak English?’. That way, if you freeze up or lose your translations, you can, at least, seek out someone who can help you communicate.
Know local traditions and taboos
As a visitor, it’s your responsibility to be respectful of the local culture, so try to research as many local traditions and taboos as you can. You don’t want to be rude, and you don’t want to put a damper on your trip by suffering through an embarrassing experience. For example, in many countries throughout Asia and the Middle East, eating food with your left hand is not only considered rude, but disgusting as well.
Watch for scams
Unfortunately, when it comes to foreign travellers, third world countries are riddled with scams. Some places have an issue with fake police — criminals who flash badges and pass themselves off as local law enforcement. If someone asks you to show them your wallet, be suspicious. If someone insists on searching your belongings, ask to be taken to a police station.
Be wary of what you eat and drink, and don’t accept anything offered to you on public transportation, especially if it’s being offered to you for free. Sometimes, food and drinks are drugged so you can be robbed.
Always be suspicious of strange or unusual behaviour. A team of scammers may be trying to distract you. As soon as your focus is elsewhere, you may be the victim of a pickpocket. It’s a good idea to have a decoy wallet as well. This way, if someone does rob you, they’ll take the wrong wallet, and your money and important documents can stay safe. The last thing you want is to lose your passport or travel visa, and you don’t want to find yourself penniless thousands of miles from home.
Be cautious of the water
The warning is so common it’s nearly a stereotype: Don’t drink the water. While the advice may be given in jest by your family and friends, the fact of the matter is that drinking unclean water can lead to serious bacterial diseases. Water can be infected with E. coli, salmonella, and cholera. It can also carry giardia or even viruses like hepatitis A. These are no joke and can make you sick for months.
The solution is obvious: Seek out bottled water when possible. If it’s not available, you can boil tap water to kill microorganisms. To play it especially safe, invest in a good portable water filter. These can be lifesavers when clean water is not available.
Some regions known to have undrinkable tap water are Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and Central America. If you’re headed to these areas, you should be prepared for the fact that it’s most likely unsafe to drink directly from the tap.
Arrange for shots and required medications
While some diseases are rare or even unheard of in developing or developed countries, they still may be common in other parts of the world. Plan ahead to get all of your necessary vaccinations by seeing your doctor at least two months before you go abroad.
Also, be sure to check if a yellow fever vaccine is required for your destination. If it is, you’ll need to get it at least 10 days before your departure. Only a registered provider can administer a yellow fever vaccine, so don’t wait until the last minute. Keep in mind that if you live in a small town or rural area, you may need to travel to a metropolitan area to get your shot.
If you require prescription medication, you’ll need to make arrangements regarding your required supply with your doctor and insurance provider. This takes time, so be sure to let your doctor know of your plans to travel well ahead of your travel date. Request more medication than you need in case your flight is cancelled or your travel plans unexpectedly change.
Mentally prepare for your arrival
Visiting a third world country for the first time? If you’re concerned that you may become overwhelmed by the culture shock, splurge on a Western-style hotel for the first few days. Eat at restaurants that are similar to what you’d find at home. While you may be gung-ho about submerging yourself in the culture as soon as you arrive, be kind to yourself. Allow yourself to acclimate.
Keep it low key
Understand that your income is most likely enormous (regardless of how much money you make) in comparison to what most locals in the country you’re visiting are earning. Don’t walk around wearing loud logos or flashy items. Wear plain, logo-less clothing to avoid becoming a target of thieves, beggars, and scammers. Trying to blend in also means not wearing an expensive and clunky camera around your neck. If you’re in a particularly vulnerable area, you may want to stick to your phone for photos and be aware of your surroundings whenever you pull it out.
On the same note, don’t be the ‘loud Westerner’ who bellows instead of laughs and who gets rowdy at the local bar. Complete immersion in a new culture is great, and having a good time is key, but always keep your head on your shoulders. The more you stand out, the more you’re at risk of becoming a target. Flying under the radar and keeping it low-key can keep you safer and happier in the long run. Happy holidaying!