Why I Love Traveling in Emerging,Third World Countries
The greatest gift from my Fifty-Plus Nomad lifestyle is the realization that every place in the world is exciting and worthwhile.
Frequently, Fifty-Plus Nomads tell me that they travel exclusively to regions in the Developed World. Then, they list all the negative stereotypes of Emerging Countries.
I, for many years, thought that traveling to Emerging Countries was better than traveling in the Developed World. The Developed World seemed expensive, drab, and not as exciting or life-changing as Emerging Countries (previously known as Third World Countries). Then, I began to discover that each Developed Country has a unique perspective, culture, cuisine, and way of life.
Explore Both Emerging and Developed Countries
Confining yourself to one part of the world is a bad idea. Both Developed and Emerging (Third World) Countries have a lot to offer. In my mind, neither is better than the other. Each offers distinct benefits and poses different challenges.
Comparing and contrasting both parts of the world makes you appreciate that the Earth is a genuinely remarkable planet. The diversity of people, places, and natural settings are awe-inspiring and endlessly fascinating.
The more I discover about someplace; the more I realize that their way of life makes sense, given its history, geographic situation, religion, economic situation, etc.
I am confident that Fifty-Plus Nomads will come to the same conclusion.
The following discussion lists the advantages and disadvantages of traveling to both Emerging and Developed countries.
I hope it will encourage Fifty-Plus Nomads to explore parts of the world they would not otherwise visit.
The Pros and Cons of Traveling to Third World, Emerging Nations In Comparison to Developed Countries
¨The only impossible journey is the one you never begin.¨
Traveling in Third World, Emerging Countries
Emerging Countries have so much to offer. If you want to go to Western Europe and the US exclusively, investigate your motives for this decision carefully. Should you want to see the great sights of Europe or explore European culture (like food or fashion), then, by all means, go to Western Europe.
On the other hand, if you want to go to Western Europe to soak up the ambiance, someplace else may satisfy this desire as well or better than Europe.
There are stunning colonial towns throughout Latin America, for example, that feel like you are in Europe but also have elements of indigenous and Afro-American roots.
Some of my favorite colonial cities include. (Note: Several famous towns are not on this list, like Ouro Preto, Brazil, because I have never visited these cities)
- Guanajuato, Queretaro, San Miguel de Allende, San Cristobal de las Casas, Merida, and Oaxaca, Mexico;
- Antigua, Guatemala;
- Granada, Nicaragua;
- Quito, Ecuador;
- Cuzco, Peru; and
- Havana, Cuba
A Note About Eastern Europe
Throughout this text, you will note that when I refer to developed countries. I emphasize Western Europe and the US together. I deliberately do not include Eastern Europe. Most of the observations that I have made about the US and Western Europe and Emerging Countries do not apply to Eastern Europe.
For that reason, I am a huge fan of visiting Eastern Europe, particularly some of the lesser-known countries like Bosnia and Bulgaria. They are inexpensive, and their history, culture, and lifestyle are very different from Western European countries.
I would encourage any Fifty-Plus Nomads who are hesitant to visit Emerging Countries to include Eastern European countries into their itineraries. Eastern Europe has many of the advantages of traveling (compelling and accommodating people) in Emerging Countries with fewer of the disadvantages. (The sidewalks are like the ones at home, etc.), It is also a good introduction into traveling outside North America and Western Europe.
Pros of Traveling in Third World, Emerging Countries
In Emerging Countries, you can travel inexpensively without any sacrifices. Everything costs between 20% and 50% of what it costs in Developed Countries.
While traveling in Emerginc Countries, I have:
- Stayed in some of the most beautiful hotels in India for $100 a night (including a suite in Mumbai with a piano).
- Eaten incredible meals for less than $3 in much of Asia and $5 in Latin America.
- Visited some incredible sights for next to nothing. (The entrance fee to the excellent zoo in Trivandrum, India is less than ten cents).
- Hired a car and a driver to take me around for not much more than it costs to rent a car. (Especially when you account for the cost of gas, insurance, etc.). I have met some terrific people and seen some of my favorite, little-known sights by renting a car with a driver in Bolivia, Mexico, Costa Rica, and India;
- Found that the low cost of travel often makes it easier to visit Emerging Countries than the Developed World. Travelers can get clothes washed quickly and cheaply in Emerging Countries. Washing clothes at laundromats in the US and Western Europe is time-consuming and sometimes frustrating. (It can be challenging to figure out how to operate the machines, find the detergent, etc.). Taxis (and increasingly Ubers) are inexpensive and plentiful in Emerging Countries. Often, the costs of getting around by taxis in Emerging Countries is comparable to buses and metros in the US or Western Europe.
There are also some excellent, non-cost related reasons to travel in Emerging Countries, including:
- Often locals in Emerging Countries will go out of their way to help you. I am always amazed at how willing people are to help. Locals have walked me to where I need to go, made calls for me, and even provided me with food and drink just out of kindness. Besides, many people seem so genuinely happy to see you once they get to know you a little bit;
- After you’ve gained the trust of locals in Emerging Countries will eagerly tell you their life stories. I treasure these moments because their lives are very different from mine, and I appreciate their willingness to let me get to know them; and
- People in Emerging Countries are generally much more accepting of others’ faults than we are in the US and Western Europe. I am surprised at how easily Americans avoid other people for the smallest things – weight, smoking, perfumes, etc. Avoiding people for these reasons to many residents in Emerging Countries is ruder than the actual behavior.
- Tourist sites in Emerging Countries are usually less overwhelmed by tourists than in Western Europe. It is true some of the most prominent places like the Taj Mahal and Machu Picchu crowd with tourists. However, once outside of these sights, you will find that many sites are nearly empty. For example, while Chichen Itza and Tulum in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula have a lot of tourists, almost every other Mayan ruin is virtually empty. (Including some like Uxmal and Kabah that are incredibly impressive). I have even been to one amazing Mayan ruin (Santa Rosa Xtampek in Campeche) where I was the only tourist who had visited in a whole week!;
- Emerging Countries are colorful and vibrant. Many immigrants and tourists from Emerging Countries express surprise how bland the color and street life are in most developed countries. Just driving around India, in contrast, feels like being in a circus with its perpetual feast of color, smells, people, animals, etc.;
- Shopping in local marketplaces is a great joy. Most Emerging Countries have markets with an endless variety of handmade crafts and tasty, exotic foodstuffs. You can learn a lot about your new country, just by asking questions about the produce; and
- Asia, Latin America, and Africa have many of the world’s most fascinating sights. Throughout this website, you will find photos of my favorite places. Most of these places are in Emerging Countries including Machu Picchu (Peru), the Galapagos Islands (Ecuador), the Mysore Raj Palace (India), the Pyramids of Giza (Egypt), Cuzco (Peru), Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia, Brazil.
Quality of Tourist Services
- As more and more travelers visit Emerging Countries, the level of services available to take care of these travelers’ needs has grown exponentially. Visit a town like Chiang Mai, Thailand, and you’ll be amazed by the level of services available. (In fact, while Chiang Mai gets nowhere near the level of tourism as Florence, Italy, I’d say that the tourist services in Chiang Mai are better than in Florence); and
- Many tour companies offer excellent tours of Emerging Countries, usually anywhere between 20 and 50% less expensively than comparable visits to Developed Countries. These tours provide a relaxed and valuable introduction to life in Developed Countries. In my experience, the quality of food, accommodations, and guides are better than similar tours in Developed Countries. (Many of these tours have more activities and meals included in the price than trips with the same company to Developed Countries).
Life-Changing, Fascinating Experiences
- Traveling around Emerging Countries is fascinating. While many Developed Countries have a lot of regional differences, China, India, and Russia are the most diverse countries on Earth. Each state of India has its own unique language, culture, religious traditions, and cuisine. Northern and Southern Indian languages are not even from the same language family. (English is more similar to Hindi- both Indo-Aryan languages- than Hindi is to Tamil- a Dravidian language). While European countries are different from each other, Asia is the most diverse continent. Most Europeans are Christians, while Asians are Moslems, Buddhists, and Hindus. Turkey and Japan may both be Asian countries, but otherwise share almost nothing in common.
- Traveling in Emerging Countries is life–changing. Visiting Emerging Countries often makes you question many of your beliefs. Many travelers are surprised at how functional and happy people can be with meager resources. Travelers also find that many of their fundamental assumptions about how things should be done are different (but logical) in Emerging Countries; and
- Nature in Emerging Countries is more diverse overall than in Developed Countries. Even though North America and Australia are diverse, Europe has nowhere near the natural diversity as Africa, Latin America, or Asia. The Himalayas have the largest mountains on Earth. Africa is known for its incredibly diverse animal life. When anyone asks me why Bolivia is one of my favorite countries, I always wax poetic about the country’s remarkable landscapes. Within three hours of La Paz, there are arid, high plains; some of the world’s highest mountains; tundra, jungles, and deserts; and the world’s most immense salt plain.
Cons of Traveling in Third World, Emerging Countries
While I believe that Emerging Country travel is excellent, I admit that it can be trying at times. Most of the annoyances are small and easy to adapt to if you are open. However, nomads should be prepared to encounter some of the following situations in Emerging Countries:
- Emerging Countries are generally noisy and dirty. Sometimes you will stay in hotels where animals will wake you up early in the morning and hear occasional loud parties, keeping you up into the wee hours. Besides, there are also smelly and dirty places, particularly near markets and in more impoverished neighborhoods. (Nonetheless, these places can be equally as dirty in the US and Western Europe);
- Driving is costly and requires a lot of skill. Tolls, gas, and car rentals are generally cheaper in the US than in Emerging Countries. Also, driving conditions are worse, and most people drive more aggressively than at home;
- Sidewalks are often non-existent, and when they are available, they are usually very high, uneven, and full of holes. You need to get used to watching where you walk, or else you will tweak your knees and ankles and fall a lot; and
- Bathrooms can be frustrating for some people to negotiate. In many Emerging Countries, you have to put used toilet paper in a trash can. In Asia and the Middle East, many places have squat toilets that can be difficult to use at first. (Many places in Asia have both western and squat toilets. Generally, I have found that the squat toilets are usually clean, whereas western toilets are not as well-kept);
- You will see a lot of severe poverty. If it bothers you, do something to help. There are many avenues to help, and most of the recipients of your kindness will be very grateful. I also encourage you to visit these parts of the city on tour, if possible. When I participated in tours of poor communities in Rio de Janeiro and Mumbai, I was impressed by both their diversity and their residents’ resiliency. (Some of these neighborhoods have been around for decades and have a lot of infrastructure and more wealth than expected); and
- Vendors will ask you frequently to buy things. If you are interested in something, they are offering, engage in conversation, and bargain. It can be fun, and most vendors are friendly and need the business. In Southeast and East Asia and Latin America, you can avoid getting involved with merchants by indicating that you are not interested and walk away. In the Middle East and India, merchants can be very persistent. After a while on the road, however, you will find that merchants will get less and less aggressive. In Mexico, not a single vendor has talked to me for any length of time, unless I am interested in something they are selling. I have traveled there so much that it seems that the merchants intuit that it is not worth the time to talk to me;
Crime and Safety
- Crime in some Emerging Countries is becoming more and more a fact of life. (Unlike in the US and Western Europe where the crime rate is decreasing every year). Keep in mind that crime against tourists is not very widespread. Most Emerging Country governments realize that tourism is an essential economic activity and try very hard (usually successfully) to ensure that travelers are safe;
- Also, crime rates vary a lot within a country. For example, the City where I live, Merida, Mexico, is among the 100 safest large cities in the world even though some other parts of Mexico have high crime rates. (Merida is the only city in Latin America to make that list). Part of the reason why you’ll hear about crime in Emerging countries is that for many years, they had such low crime rates. (The US, in contrast, was among the world’s most dangerous countries in the 1970s); and
- If you take public transportation and taxis, you will often be very uncomfortable if you are a “backseat driver.” I found that I was able to avoid this feeling by repeating the following mantra: ¨the driver also wants to get home tonight¨. Now, I don’t pay any attention and enjoy the ride. (This can be true in Southern Europe as well).
Despite these troubles, I believe that the Emerging Countries are endlessly fascinating, and we can learn a lot from people who live in these countries. What’s more, if you travel with an open mind and use local services, you can help some deserving people.
Traveling in Developed Countries
When I first taught a course on traveling and living abroad, I quickly realized that many of my students were only interested in living and traveling in Western Europe. (Particularly Italy and France). When I would mention how much I loved Latin America and Asia, they would look at me like I was crazy.
For a long time, in retrospect, I viewed their reactions as a challenge to convince them why Asia and Latin America were better for travel than Europe.
Then, I decided that to spend time in Italy and France to keep the classes relevant to my audience.
I went to Italy and France with a bit of a chip on my shoulder but ended up falling in love with them both. When I had the chance to travel nearly full-time in 2011, I loved visiting Central Europe, Germany, and the Balkan states.
Perhaps, most surprisingly, I went to Quebec to learn French in 2011 and found that I felt incredibly comfortable and happy in Canada. (So much so, that I spent nine summers in Montreal).
I also loved seeing how other English-speaking countries, especially Australia and New Zealand, compared to the US. (There are many more differences than expected).
Pros of Traveling in Developed Countries
There are also some excellent reasons to travel in Developed Countries. Here are some more of my favorite reasons to explore Developed Countries:
- The diversity of places and people in Developed Countries is impressive. Denmark is vastly different from Italy. Each province in Italy was a different country at some point with a unique dialect, culture, and history. While many aspects of life in the US and Canada seem similar, it does not take much effort to discover significant regional differences in both countries. (On a recent trip through the Southeastern US, I discovered the richness of African American culture and history. Visiting Quebec and the Maritime Provinces, I uncovered their intriguing mixture of British, French, North American, and Indigenous cultures).
- Also, many large cities, like Sydney, Toronto, Los Angeles, and London, have restaurants and tourist sites reflecting their multicultural population. (More than half of all residents of Los Angeles County, for example, do not speak English in their home. You will hear a language other than English spoken in nearly half of all Toronto households);
- Developed Countries do an excellent job organizing their tourist sites and activities. Many tourist sites display extraordinary interpretation techniques and are very user-friendly. In the US and Canada, many guides are volunteers at places that get so few tourists that you feel like an honored guest. In Europe, almost every tourist site has extremely informative and complete audio guides.
- Developed countries have museums, tours, and attractions appealing to every type of interest. In the 2000s, I had a class and wrote a couple of magazine articles about tours in California. Among some of the trips include:
- a private, world-class Japanese art museum in the middle of a cattle farm;
- a guided visit to a tortoise sanctuary; and
- fascinating visits to a guitar factory, a windmill farm, and a castle in the middle of Death Valley; and
- Increasingly, Developed Countries have become more accessible financially. Thanks to the strong US Dollar, travel in Western Europe and Canada is anywhere from ten to forty percent less expensive than visiting the US. (When I first went to Europe and Canada regularly in 2007 they cost anywhere from ten to fifty percent more than in the US). Besides, with the burst in shared economy companies like Uber and Airbnb, it is cheaper to travel inexpensively and comfortably in Developed Countries than in the past. (Thank God, we are no longer dependent on high-cost hotels and taxis).
- Developed countries have many of the world’s most fascinating sights. Throughout this website, you will find photos of my favorite places including Frank Lloyd Wright sites in the US; dinosaur sites in Alberta, Canada; desert and mountain National Parks in the Western US, Canada, and Australia; and some of my favorite cities (Los Angeles, Chicago, Montreal, Barcelona, Berlin, Vienna, Melbourne, Washington DC, etc.); and
- The US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand have incredibly diverse natural environments. In a matter of a couple of hours of travel in many regions in these countries, you can see deserts, mountains, plains, and in a few cases, even jungles. The US and Canada have the world’s most incredible network of rivers, lakes, and other water resources. In a few hours of many cities, you can be entirely isolated from the rest of the world.
- I have met some amiable and helpful people traveling in Developed Countries. It is easy to meet people and make friends, especially if you stay in hostels or rent a room in someone’s home; and
- It is fun to learn about your ancestral homeland. I enjoyed seeing Denmark and Germany after hearing the story about my ancestors’ lives in these countries from my grandparents.
Cons of Traveling in Developed Countries
While traveling in Developed Countries is very comfortable, familiar, and enjoyable, it has some definite drawbacks including:
- Just deciding to visit Emerging Countries is an easy way to save money. Everything costs 30-70% less than in Developed Countries. Many people from Developed Countries travel to Emerging Countries because it can be cheaper than staying at home. In the US and Western Europe to travel cheaply, you have to be willing to either:
- Explore alternative travel options like volunteering, exchanging, and studying, or
- Plan your vacation so that you implement a variety of cost-saving techniques throughout your adventure.
You May Need a Car to Get Around
- Many places are not easily accessible except in a car. I have spent time without a car in many cities in the US and Canada and found it both frustrating and costly. Buses are rare and finding the right bus route can be irritating. (Even in relatively large cities like Orlando, Florida), Taxis and Ubers are expensive for long-distance travel. It can be challenging to find tours to visit many sites;
- Renting a car, however, is relatively inexpensive and easy in the US and Canada. I know many Fifty-Plus Nomads who find it easy to rent a car in Western Europe. I don’t. It is hard to get used to the small roads in Western Europe and most European rental cars have manual transmissions; and
- While overall, Western Europe lives up to its reputation for high-quality public transportation. I have been surprised by how little public transportation is available in some places, especially Southern Italy. On the other hand, I have found that traveling by bus and train between large cities in the US and Canada is often better and less expensive than depicted by the media. (Note: I had meager expectations in the first place);
- Traveling in Developing Countries can be very lonely. Large metropolitan areas can feel isolating. Generally, you need to find a common interest with people if you want to break the ice; and
- In my experience, my most frustrating experiences took place in Developed Countries (especially my own country, the USA). Many people who work in hotels and other tourist-related industries are hamstrung by strict rules that make it virtually unable to solve problems. Nowhere is this truer than with immigration and customs officials and airline personnel in the US and Canada. Sadly, twenty years ago, travel-related personnel in the US were able to be helpful and accommodating.
Despite these troubles, I love to travel in Developed Countries and look forward to exploring more of this part of the world in the future.
Want to Learn More About My Four Most Important Travel Lessons?
The above lesson comes from my class: My Four Most Important Travel Lessons. It is one of the four lessons in the class: Travel to Many Different Parts of the World.
The class discusses why I love my life as a Fifty-Plus Nomad because I travel in accordance with the four travel lessons that I learned after ten years on the road. In addition to traveling to different parts of the world, the other four lessons include:
- Mixing different types of experiences (independent, group tours, and learning and volunteering programs);
- Avoiding Travel Burnout: Church Overload and Backpacker’s Syndrome; Loneliness; Too Much Togetherness; Dealing with the Foreigner Tax: Paying More as a Foreigner and Justifying Your Lifestyle and Culture Shock
- Having a home base