“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.“
“In the developed world, hundreds of millions of us now face the bizarre problem of surfeit. Yet, our brains, instincts, and socialized behavior are still geared toward an environment of lack. The result overwhelm on an unprecedented scale“
Third World Versus First World Travel
I don’t particularly appreciate using the term Third World. Before the fall of Communism, the Third World meant countries that were not aligned with the Soviet Union (Second World) or fully developed economically (First World). Today, social scientists prefer the Global South, lesser-developed, or developing countries. I use the term “Third World” at the beginning of the article because Google’s search engines recognize it more. Throughout the rest of this article, I will refer to these countries as Developing Countries instead.
I use the term “Developed Countries” to include the US/Canada, Australia/New Zealand, Western Europe, Japan/Singapore/South Korea, and most of the Saudi peninsula. While Developed· Countries have more wealth than the so-called “Third World,” that does not mean they are necessarily more developed in any other sense. Perhaps, Developing Countries are more developed in some senses (spiritually and culturally?) than countries with Developed Economies.
Introduction: Why I Have Always Loved Developing Country Travel
The greatest gift from my Fifty Plus Nomad lifestyle is realizing that every place is exciting and worthwhile.
I thought Developing Countries were better than Developed Country travel for many years. Developed country travel seemed expensive, drab, and not as exciting or life-changing as Developing Country Travel. Then, I discovered that Developed Countries are worth visiting because each country has a unique perspective, culture, cuisine, and way of life.
Frequently, Fifty Plus Nomads tell me that they travel exclusively to regions in Developed Countries. Then, they list all the negative stereotypes of Developed Countries, and, honestly, I can’t help but feel a bit sad that they won’t experience the benefits of Developing Countries.
The Benefits of Mixing Travel to Both Developing and Developed Countries
I don’t recommend confining yourself to visiting just one part of the world. Traveling to both Developing and Developed Countries has a lot to offer. In my mind, neither is better, and 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 wonderful 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 their history, geographic situation, religion, economic situation, etc.
I am confident that most Long-Term Travelers will come to the same conclusion.
I hope this discussion will encourage Long Term Travelers to explore parts of the world they would not otherwise visit.
Developing World Travel: An Overview
If you have always dreamed of seeing the incredible 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, some developing countries may satisfy this desire better than Europe. Latin America has stunning colonial towns that feel European and 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
5 Developing Country Travel Advantages
Nearly everything in Developing countries costs between 20% and 50% of what it costs in Developed Countries. Developing Country travel can save you a lot of money while allowing you to travel comfortably. 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 Developing Country travel often makes it easier than Developed Country Travel. Travelers can get clothes washed quickly and cheaply in Developing 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.). The costs of getting around by taxis and Uber in Developing Countries are often comparable to buses and metros in the US or Western Europe.
There are also some excellent, non-cost-related reasons to travel to developing countries, including:
- I am always amazed at how willing people are to help. Often locals in Developing Countries will go out of their way to help you. 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.
- After you’ve gained the trust of Developing Country’s locals, 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 Developing 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 minor things – weight, smoking, perfumes, etc. Avoiding people for these reasons to many residents in Developing Countries is ruder than the actual behavior.
- Tourist sites in Developing Countries are usually less overwhelmed by tourists than in Western Europe. It is true that some of the developing countries most prominent places, like the Taj Mahal and Machu Picchu, are crowded with tourists. However, outside 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 further Mayan ruin is virtually empty (including some like Uxmal and Ek Balam, which are incredibly impressive). I have even been to one amazing Mayan ruin (Santa Rosa Xtampak in Campeche), where I was the only tourist who had visited in a whole week!
- Developing Countries are colorful and vibrant. Many immigrants and tourists from Asia and Latin America express surprise at how lifeless the color and street life are in the US and Europe. Driving around India feels like seeing a perpetual feast of color, smells, people, animals, etc.
- Shopping in local marketplaces is a great joy. Most Developing Countries have markets with various handmade crafts and tasty, exotic foodstuffs. You can learn much about your new country by asking about 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 Third World Countries, including Machu Picchu (Peru), the Galapagos Islands (Ecuador), the Mysore Raj Palace (India), and the Pyramids of Giza (Egypt), Cuzco (Peru), Rio de Janeiro, and Brasilia (Brazil).
Quality of Tourist Services
- As more and more travelers visit Developing Countries, the level of services available to care for these travelers’ needs has grown exponentially. Visit a town like Chiang Mai, Thailand, and you’ll be amazed by the level of services available. 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 Developing Countries, usually between 20% and 50% less expensive than comparable visits to Developed Countries. These tours provide a relaxed and valuable introduction to life in Developing Countries. In my experience, food quality, 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 large Developing 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 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, 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.
- Developing World travel is life-changing. Many travelers are surprised at how functional and happy people can be with meager resources. They also find that many fundamental assumptions about how things should be done are different (but logical) in Developing Countries. Visiting Developing Countries often makes you question many of your beliefs.
- Developing World Travel generally encompasses more diverse natural environments than Developed World Travel. Even though North America and Australia are diverse, Europe has nowhere near the biological diversity of Africa, Latin America, or Asia. The Himalayas have enormous 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 consistently 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.
3 Developing Country Travel Disadvantages
While I believe Developing Country Travel is excellent, it can sometimes be trying. Most of the annoyances are small if you are adaptable. However, Long Term Travelers should be prepared to encounter some of the following situations during Developing World Travel:
- Developing Country travel can be noisy and dirty. Sometimes you will stay in hotels where animals wake you up early in the morning and hear occasional loud parties, keeping you up into the wee hours. (Nonetheless, these places can be equally 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 Developing Countries. Also, driving conditions are worse, and many drive more aggressively than at home.
- Sidewalks are often non-existent; when they are available, they are usually very high, uneven, and full of holes. Get used to watching where you walk, or you may twist your knees and ankles and fall.
- Negotiating bathrooms can be frustrating. In many Developing Countries, you must 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, the squat toilets are 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 poorer parts of the city on tour. When I participated in tours of poor communities in Rio de Janeiro and Mumbai, I was impressed by their diversity and their residents’ resiliency. (Some of these neighborhoods have been around for decades and have a better-established infrastructure and more wealth than expected).
- Vendors will ask you frequently to buy things. If you are interested in something, a vendor offers, engage in conversation and bargain. It can be fun; most vendors are friendly and need the business. You can avoid getting involved with merchants in East and Southeast Asia and Latin America by indicating that you are not interested and walking away. In the Middle East and India, merchants can be persistent. However, after a while on the road, you will find that merchants will get less and less aggressive. In Mexico, no vendor has talked to me at any 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 Developing Countries is becoming more and more a fact of life. (Unlike in the US and Western Europe, where the crime rate usually decreases yearly). Keep in mind that crime against tourists is not very widespread. Most Third World countries realize that tourism is an important 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 globally, even though some other parts of Mexico have high crime rates. (Merida is the only city in Latin America to make that list). You’ll hear about crime in some developing countries because they have had such low crime rates for many years. (The US, in contrast, was among the world’s most dangerous countries in the 1970s).
- You may be uncomfortable if you are a “backseat driver.” in the Developing World, I avoided 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. (Drivers in Southern Europe also scare some backseat drivers, tool).
Despite these troubles, Developed World Travel is endlessly fascinating, and we can learn a lot from people who live in these countries. If you travel with an open mind and use local services, you can help some deserving people.
A Note on Eastern Europe Travel
Throughout this text, you will note that I emphasize Western Europe and the US when referring to developed countries, and I deliberately do not include Eastern Europe.
I am a huge fan of visiting Eastern Europe, particularly some 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 long-term travelers who are hesitant to visit Developing Countries to include Eastern European countries in their itineraries. There are many of the same advantages of traveling (compelling and accommodating people) in Developing Countries with fewer disadvantages. (The sidewalks are like the ones at home, etc.), Traveling in Eastern Europe is also an excellent introduction to traveling outside North America and Western Europe.
Want More Information On Third World Travel?
My Developed Country Travel Experiences
When I first taught seminars around the US on traveling and living abroad, I quickly realized that many of my students were only interested in living and traveling in Western Europe (mainly Italy and France). When I would mention how much I loved Latin America and Asia, they looked at me like I was crazy.
In retrospect, I tried too hard to convince my students that Asia and Latin America were better for travel than Europe for a long time.
Then, I decided to spend time in Italy and France to keep the classes relevant to my audience.
Over time, I came to love Developed World and Developing World travel equally well but for different reasons. Even though I went to Italy and France with a chip on my shoulder, I fell in love with both countries. When I could travel nearly full-time in 2011, I uncovered a fondness for Central Europe, Germany, and the Balkan states.
Perhaps, most surprisingly, I went to Quebec to learn French in 2011 and 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).
4 Developed Country Travel Advantages
There are also some excellent benefits of Developed Country Travel, including:
- The diversity of places and people you’ll experience traveling in Europe is impressive. Denmark is vastly different from Italy. Each province in Italy was a foreign 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 Southeast US trip, I found the richness of African American culture and history. Visiting Quebec and the Maritime Provinces, I learned so much about their intriguing mixture of British, French, North American, and Indigenous cultures).
- Many large Developed Country 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 homes. 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. Many guides are volunteers in the US and Canada at places that get so few tourists that you feel like an honored guest. In Europe, almost every tourist site has highly 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. Some of the trips include:
- A private, world-class Japanese art museum in the middle of a cattle farm (sadly now closed).
- A guided visit to a tortoise sanctuary.
- Fascinating visits to a guitar factory (closed for tours), a windmill farm, and a castle in the middle of Death Valley.
- Increasingly, Developed Travel has become more accessible financially. Thanks to the strong US Dollar, travel in Western Europe and Canada is ten to forty percent less expensive than visiting the US. (When I first went to Europe and Canada regularly in 2007, they cost around ten to fifty percent more than the US). Besides, with the burst of shared economy companies like Uber and Airbnb, first-world travel is cheaper and more comfortable than in the past. (Thank God we no longer depend on high-cost hotels and taxis).
- Developed Countries have many of the world’s most fascinating sights. Throughout this blog, 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, Madrid, Lisbon, Berlin, Vienna, Melbourne, Washington DC, Toronto, Hong Kong, Dubai, etc.).
- Developed Countries 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. You can escape from the rest of the world in many cities in a few hours.
- 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.
- It is fun to learn about your ancestral homeland. I enjoyed seeing Denmark and Germany after hearing my grandparents’ stories about my ancestors’ lives in these countries.
3 Cons of Developed Country Travel
While traveling in Developed Countries is very comfortable, familiar, and enjoyable, it has some definite drawbacks, including:
- Deciding on Developing Vs. Developed Country Travel is an easy way to save money. Everything costs 30-70% less in Developing Countries than in Developed Countries. Many “backpackers” from developed countries travel to Developing Countries because it can be cheaper than staying at home. In the US and Western Europe, to travel cheaply, you have to either:
- Explore alternative travel options like volunteering, exchanging, and studying.
- 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 Developing World places are not easily accessible except by car. I have spent time without a car in many cities in the US and Canada and found it frustrating and costly. Buses are rare, and finding the correct bus route can be irritating. (even in relatively large cities like Orlando, Florida), Taxis and Ubers are expensive for long-distance travel and may be rare in rural areas. It can be challenging to find tours to visit many sites.
- However, renting a car is relatively inexpensive and easy, especially in the US and Canada. However, it can be difficult for North Americans to get used to the small roads in Western Europe and to drive on the left in the UK and Australia/New Zealand. Besides, many European rental cars have manual transmissions.
- 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 the media depicts. (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.
- My most frustrating experiences were mostly from traveling in Developed Countries (especially my own country, the USA). Many people who work in hotels and other tourist-related industries are so obsessed with following strict rules that they are virtually unable to solve problems. (Many of these employees want to solve customer problems, they are just hidebound by their companies’ often inane policies and procedures). Nowhere is this truer than with immigration and customs officials and airline personnel in the US and Canada. (So much so that there are airports that I avoid just because of bad past experiences). This situation saddens me because travel-related personnel in the US were overwhelmingly helpful and accommodating twenty years ago.
Despite these troubles, I love to travel to Developed Countries and look forward to exploring more of this part of the world.