Traveling in Developing Countries

By:  Jennifer Milano, May 2015

To me, the most enticing travel experiences have occurred either with my children, or in developing countries.  I think the reason is because it is the interactions with other people that make a trip special.  Before booking your adventure, please read the section above on "Planning your Trip", and make sure to read a lot about your contemplated destination.  Checking the CDC website for health information, and the U.S. Department of State's website for travel information are important early steps to take in the planning process.

One of the most primary concerns in a developing nation is drinking water safety.  Buy bottled water for drinking and brushing your teeth, avoid ice, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables that you can't peel yourself.  Ask your doctor to prophylactically prescribe Cipro or a similar antibiotic, and carry rehydrating mixes with you.  It is hard to avoid every drop of untreated water, but the less exposure you have the lower the risk.  In Nepal, I and nearly everyone I met had gastrointestinal issues, no matter how cautious they were.  In northern Thailand near Chiang Rai, I had to throw caution to the wind for a full day as I was with local families feeding me with delight, and I couldn't disappoint them by refusing - and my stomach was fine.

One of the biggest risks in most developing countries is car travel - road conditions are often atrocious.  In Tibet, our small van careened off the side of the road and for a few harrowing seconds we were sure we were going to topple over.  Thankfully, our driver was able to keep the van upright and get it back on the road.  And luckily, the road we veered off of didn't have a sheer drop as many did.  I heard stories of bus accidents in India and car crashes in Southeast Asia.  Unfortunately, there is little you can do.  If you want to experience the developing world, and life in general, there are risks and this is road travel is hard to avoid.  Ironically, one of the scariest-looking road experiences somehow ends up to be safe - crossing the road in Vietnam.  There are no crosswalks or traffic lights.  And there is ALWAYS a steady stream of traffic.  You just have to take a deep breath, and step out into the stream of traffic.  Keep your pace steady, and the motorists will go around you!

If you are apprehensive about traveling in the developing world, you can opt for an organized trip (which doesn't have to be a group tour), or just book your transport through a tour company or travel specialist.  You can also choose western-style hotels to make your trip more comfortable.  In my experience, though, the more you try to make your trip feel like home, the more it, well, feels like home.  Find a balance that allows you to relax, and be safe and comfortable, while taking on experiences that allow you to interact with local people and places.  The day that I was the only westerner in the back of a pick-up truck, sitting next to a sweet, elderly Thai woman who just kept smiling at me and patting my knee while we were driven throughout Chiang Rai to celebrate the Thai New Year, remains one of my happiest and most fulfilling travel memories.  And it happened because the owner of the guest house where I was staying invited me along with her family that day.  I was in the right place at the right time.  No excursion I could have signed up (and paid heavily for) at a five-star hotel would have been as authentic and thrilling!  Sometimes you just have to be lucky.