¨After a lifetime of world travel, I’ve become fascinated that those in the third world don’t have the same perception of reality that we do.¨
Note: This is the first part of a two-part series. The second part is about travel to developed countries.
Introduction: Why I Have Always Loved Traveling in the Third World
The greatest gift from my Fifty-Plus Nomad lifestyle is realizing that every place in the world is exciting and worthwhile.
I, for many years, thought that traveling to Third-World Countries (which I shall refer to from now on as 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. Then, I discovered that each Developed Country is also worth visiting because each country has a unique perspective, culture, cuisine, and way of life.
On the other hand, 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.
Explore Both Third World (Emerging) and Developed Countries
Confining yourself to visiting just one part of the world is a bad idea. Both third-world and developed 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 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 Emerging countries. I have another post that outlines the pros and cons of traveling to developed countries (including the US/Canada, Australia/New Zealand, Western Europe, Japan/Singapore/South Korea, and most of the Saudi peninsula.
I hope it will encourage Fifty-Plus Nomads to explore parts of the world they would not otherwise visit.
Third World Travel: An Overview
Note: I don’t really like the term third world. The term emerging countries traditionally has referred to larger and rapidly growing third world countries (like India, Mexico, South Africa, Brazil, etc.) only. To me, the third world seems a bit pejorative and old-fashioned (the second world was the USSR and its satellites and allies); therefore, I use both third-world and emerging countries interchangeably throughout this text.
Third World travel has so much to offer. If Fifty-Plus Nomads have the time for long-term travel but only want to go to Western Europe and the US exclusively, carefully investigate your motives for this decision. If you have always dreamed of seeing the great sights of Europe or want to 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. Latin America has stunning colonial towns that feel European but also have elements of indigenous and Afro-American roots.
Some of my favorite Latin American 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
Advantages of Third World Travel
Third-world travel can save you a lot of money while allowing you to travel in comfort. Everything costs between 20% and 50% of what it costs in Developed 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.
- I found that the low cost of third world 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 are comparable to buses and metros in the US or Western Europe.
There are also some excellent, non-cost related reasons to travel in Third World (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. In addition, many people seem 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, they 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.
- 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, that some of the most prominent places like the Taj Mahal and Machu Picchu are crowded with tourists. However, once outside of these tourist sights, you will find that many other nearby attractions 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 at how bland the color and street life are in most developed countries. Just driving around India feels like seeing a 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 local produce.
- 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)
- Many tour companies offer excellent trips to Emerging Countries, usually anywhere between 20% and 50% less expensive than comparable visits to Developed Countries. These tours provide a relaxed and valuable introduction to life in Emerging 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 are radically different in almost every aspect.
- Emerging Country travel 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. They also find that many of their fundamental assumptions about how things should be done are different (but logical) in Emerging Countries.
- Emerging Country travel generally encompasses more diverse natural environments than in Developed Countries. Even though North America and Australia are diverse, Europe has nowhere near the natural diversity of 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.
Disadvantages of Third World Travel
While I believe that third-world travel is excellent, I admit that it can be trying at times. Most of the annoyances are small and easy to adapt to. However, nomads should be prepared to encounter some of the following situations in Emerging Countries:
- Third World travel can be 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 many 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. Get used to watching where you walk, or else you may twist your knees and ankles and fall.
- Negotiating bathrooms can be frustrating. 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 well established infrastructure and more wealth than expected).
Vendors will ask you frequently to buy things. If you are interested in something a vendor is offering, engage in conversation, and bargain. It can be fun, and most vendors are friendly and need the business. In East and Southeast Asia as well as 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 bother 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).
- The public transportation you use during your Emerging Country travel often may be uncomfortable if you are a “backseat driver.” 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, Emerging Country travel is 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.
A Note on Traveling in Eastern Europe
Throughout this text, you will note that I emphasize Western Europe and the US when referring to developed countries. I deliberately do not include Eastern Europe. Most of my observations about the US, 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. There are many advantages of traveling (compelling and accommodating people) in Emerging Countries with fewer disadvantages. (The sidewalks are like the ones at home, etc.), It is also a good introduction to traveling outside North America and Western Europe.
Some Additional Posts About Lessons that I Learned Traveling Around the World for Five Years
- Fifty Plus Nomad’s Exclusive Traveling and Living Abroad Seminars: Let Me Help You Put Your Dreams Into Flight (Coming Soon)Take one of my two Fifty-Plus Nomad seminars in my home in Merida, Mexico. Benefit from my sixteen years of experience traveling and living around the world. Learn how to travel around the world long-term and live in different countries.
- My Temporary Home Base in Montreal: 10 Reasons I Loved Coming Home During My Five Year Trip Around the WorldDuring my round the world travels,, I was glad to spend tree months every year at a home base in Montreal. Not only did I grow very fond of Quebec and Eastern Canada but it was fun to just do day-to-day activities with friends.
- How To Avoid Loneliness During Your TravelsWhen I was traveling around the world as a young man, I frequently got lonely. When I was able to travel around the world again long term, I deliberately participated in group tours, cruises, volunteering, and learning vacations to avoid loneliness. It worked wonders for me.
- How Too Much Togetherness May Ruin Your Long-Term TravelsWhile too much togetherness hasn’t been a serious problem during my travels. I have met couples who had problems with too much togetherness during their long-term, round the world travels.
- Justifying Your Fifty-Plus Nomad Lifestyle: An Unexpected ChallengeI was surprised how often I had to justify my existence when I traveled around the world. Here are some tips in case you find yourself in the same situation.
- Paying More than Locals As a Foreigner: How to Deal with and Avoid ProblemsWhen I was younger being charged more for things than locals used to piss me off. Now I simply acknowledge it as part of traveling in third-world countries. I find the less it bothers me the less I attract aggressive vendors, too.
- Culture Shock: The Greatest Challenge for Long-Term Travelers and Expats?By far the biggest issue I had while traveling around the world as a younger man was culture shock. It even resulted in me making some major decisions, most of which I regret in retrospect. In my experience, many people suffer from culture shock while traveling around the world or living abroad but most don’t even know they are suffering from culture shock.
- Backpacker Syndrome: Why Travel Burnout is Usually Part of a Nomadic LifestyleI think every long-term traveler regardless of the budget will occasionally suffer from backpacker’s syndrome. I deal with it by slowing down, staying in my hotel for a day or two, or scheduling some new activities.
- Church Overload Syndrome: When You Just Can’t Stand Seeing Another ChurchDuring my five years traveling around the world. I occasionally suffered from mild travel burnout. Only once did I succumb to church overload syndrome because over time I have learned how to appreciate churches. However, church overland syndrome used to bother me frequently and it seems commonplace among other long-term travelers.
- Consider Resorts, Cruises, Festivals, and Amusement Parks in Your Long-Term Travel PlansWhile many travelers pooh-pooh resorts, cruises, festivals, and amusement parks, I enjoy them in small doses. It is fun to see the creativity of the developers and event planners. It is also a nice break from more serious and intellectual activities.
- Learning Vacations and Volunteering: The Most Overlooked Travel OptionsMy favorite type of group travel is volunteering and learning vacations. No aspect of group travel has so influenced who I am as a person and how I view the world.
- Independent Travel: Advantages and DisadvantagesDuring my five years traveling around the world, I spent about half my time traveling independently and the other half on group tours, cruises, volunteering, and learning vacations. I love the freedom to explore things in depth that comes with independent travel. However, I find exclusively traveling independently to get exhausting and lonely if done for months at a time. I also love the diversity of experiences.when I mix group and independent travel.
- Don’t Avoid Group Tours and Cruises During Your Round-the-World TravelOne of my biggest surprises in traveling around the world for five years was how much I enjoyed group tours and cruises. It is nice to have other people deal with arrangements. Many of the tour guides are incredibly knowledgeable and friendly. My fellow travelers were usually kind and interested in learning.
- Traveling in Developed Countries: Why it is a Myth that Traveling to Western Europe and Other Developed Countries is Boring and ExpensiveOne of my biggest surprises when I traveled around the world for five years was how much I loved traveling in the developed world (USA/Canada, Australia/New Zealand, Western Europe, Singapore, Japan, the UAE, etc). Until I began to travel around the world for a long term, I always thought the developed world was less interesting than in the third world. Now I find both equally interesting and enjoyable.
- Advantages and Disadvantages of Third World TravelI believe that everyone who has the opportunity to travel round the world should visit countries in both the developing, third world and the developed world (Western Europe, USA/Canada, Australia/New Zealand, etc.). This post outlines the advantages and disadvantages of third-world, emerging country travels.
- Round the World Travel: My Top 4 LessonsI learned four lessons from my five-year journey around the world: 1) Mix group and independent travel; 2) Travel to varied parts of the world; 3) Avoid travel burnout, and 4) Have a home base.