While you’re reading this, I’m probably getting my butt kicked by some waves in Nicaragua. The WiFi situation is not good (i.e., third world country Internet) so sorry for my laziness/lack of photos. Also now you know why I’m not commenting on your blog. I’ll be back soon, I promise!
Can I even say Third World country? Is that politically correct? I think it’s developing nation but whatever, I majored in fashion, not poly sci. This post isn’t about how to act in a Third World country – act like a normal, respectable human being and be compassionate, duh – but rather, how to prepare so you can have an awesome, stress free trip and maximize your time doing cool things, not dying of food poisoning or getting Tom Hanks-ed at the terminal when you don’t have a visa.
I recently joked to my father while packing for Nicaragua that I couldn’t remember at what point in my life that I traveled somewhere so unprepared that it caused me such post traumatic stress disorder that I grossly over-pack every time I leave the house, let alone the country.
In college, I studied abroad in Hong Kong for 6 months, which is clearly not a third world country – it’s much cleaner and more advanced technologically than the US in many places. I literally had no idea what to expect especially since I didn’t even know where it was on the map (nerd alert: coming from a girl who competed at the State Geography Bee numerous times). So what did I do? I thought about every country in Southeast Asia I would potentially visit while there and prepared accordingly.
- Check what vaccines you need.
If bugs are bad where you are going (so, basically everywhere in Central/South America, Africa, or Asia), and you can get anti-malarial pills, do it. Something in them definitely helps keep bugs away. Also use a bug repellent with 40% DEET. I don’t care about the chemicals, I care about scratching myself to death in my sleep and how I look with shorts on.
Make sure you get booster shots. One polio shot in the US as a child is good, but in places where it hasn’t been eradicated, it’s probably a good idea to get it. Same with hepatitis A – you can get it from contaminated food/water, and last I checked, kidney transplants aren’t fun.
If you’re going to South America or Africa, you’ll need a yellow fever shot. You can also get a typhoid shot for Central/South America and Africa. Five years ago I was able to take pills for typhoid, but allegedly according to my doctor now it’s shot-only.
- Find out if you need a visa.
This should be self-explanatory – see if you need a visa in any of the countries you are traveling in. If you’re a US citizen, it’s more likely you’ll need one than your foreign pals. Take visa photos (you can get them taken at any pharmacy) for any country where you get a visa upon-arrival.
Always make sure you have at least 1-2 completely blank pages in your passport as well as at least 6 months’ validation left. If you’re traveling and about to run out, you can stop by the American Embassy (you usually have to make an appointment) and get more pages added.
- Pack snacks.
I know, I live in fear of being hungry. I pack snacks for the drive to work basically at this point in my life. You never know what the food options are going to be where you’re going – I kind of remember one Sunday in Italy where everything was closed, including the grocery store, and I was literally about to eat my arm I was so hungry. I only kind of remember because we finally found an open bar and a bottle of wine on an empty stomach with our new 80 year old friend Rocco really did me in.
I’m also a complete psychopath and pack oatmeal, nut butter packets, Kind bars, chia seeds and protein powder with me whenever I go anywhere. Then I know I at least have some nutrients in the form of fiber, protein and healthy fats. My family actually packed a suitcase full of American food for me every time they came to Hong Kong (then took back a suitcase full of crap I was over).
- Get currency before you leave.
Third world countries are great at ripping you off with fees and awful exchange rates. Some countries I’ve visited, like Cambodia, take American money – but it has to be in PRISTINE condition because counterfeiting is rampant. If you give your bank enough notice, they can order any currency for you for free – you just pay the exchange rate.
Also – tell your bank you’re leaving or they’ll cut off your card.
- Don’t flaunt your wealth.
Leave the good jewelry at home. I don’t care if you feel naked without your [insert jewelry here]. So do I, but I’d rather feel naked for a week or two rather than never see it again. There’s pickpockets everywhere, even in Pittsburgh, I’m sure, but you don’t want someone to cut off your wrist for your diamond tennis bracelet. Also it just makes you feel guilty. This tip is also especially good for Europe, especially Southern Europe. A gypsy once stole my grandmother’s wallet when we were in Barcelona (still hasn’t turned me off from My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding).
Chat with me:
Have you ever traveled to a Third World country? How did you prepare? Would you ever want to visit one?