“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“
I wouldn’t say I like the term Third World. The Third World seems a bit derogatory and old-fashioned. (First seems superior to third. Moreover, the second world – the USSR and its satellites– doesn’t exist in the same form as in the past. I would prefer to use the term “Emerging Countries throughout this text. Yet, after a lot of retrospection I decided to keep using the term Third World¨¨ in this blog for two reasons:
- The term “Emerging Countries” commonly refers only to the biggest Third World Countries (like India, Mexico, South Africa, Brazil, etc.)
- Google search engines recognize the term “Third World” more than “Ëmerging Countries”.
I use the term “First World” to include the US/Canada, Australia/New Zealand, Western Europe, Japan/Singapore/South Korea, and most of the Saudi peninsula. Many people use the term “Developed World¨ for “First World” countries; but, while “First World· countries have more wealth than the so-called “Third World” does that mean they are necessarily more developed? A reasonable argument can be made that the ¨Third World”¨is more developed in some senses (spiritually, culturally?) than the “First World”.
Third World vs First World Travel
Introduction: Why I Have Always Loved Third World Travel
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 Third World was better than First World Travel. First World Travel seemed expensive, drab, and not as exciting or life-changing as Third World Travel. Then, I discovered that First World is also 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 the First World. Then, they list all the negative stereotypes of the Third World, and, honestly, I can’t help but feel a bit sad that they won’t experience the benefits of Third World Travel.
The Benefits of Mixing Third World Travel and First World Travel
Confining yourself to visit just one part of the world is a bad idea. Both Third-World and First-World travel has a lot to offer. In my mind, neither is better than the other, 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.
Third World Travel: An Overview
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 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, someplace else may satisfy this desire as well or 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 Third World Travel Advantages
Everything costs between 20% and 50% of what it costs in First World Countries. Third World Travel can save you a lot of money while allowing you to travel in comfort. 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 Third World Travel often makes it easier than First World Travel. Travelers can get clothes washed quickly and cheaply in Third World 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 Third World Countries. Often, the costs of getting around by taxis in Third World 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 Countries, including:
- Often locals in Third World 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 Third World 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 Third World 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 Third World Countries are usually less overwhelmed by tourists than in Western Europe. It is true, that some of the Third World’s most prominent sites 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!
- Third World Countries are colorful and vibrant. Many immigrants and tourists from Asia and Latin America 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 Third World 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 Third World 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 Third World 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 Third World Countries, usually anywhere between 20% and 50% less expensive than comparable visits to First World Countries. These tours provide a relaxed and valuable introduction to life in the Third World. 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 large Third-World Countries is fascinating. While many First World 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.
- Third World travel is life–changing. Visiting Third World 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 Third World Countries.
- Third World Travel generally encompasses more diverse natural environments than First World Travel. 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.
3 Third World Travel Disadvantages
While I believe that Third World Travel is excellent, it can be trying at times. 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 Third World Travel:
- 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 Third World 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, 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, 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 better 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 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 Third World Countries is becoming more and more a fact of life. (Unlike in the US and Western Europe where the crime rate usually decreases 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 Third World 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 Third World 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, Third World 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 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 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 log term travelers who are hesitant to visit Third World Countries to include Eastern European countries into their itineraries. There are many advantages of traveling (compelling and accommodating people) in Third World 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 First World 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 (particularly Italy and France). When I would mention how much I loved Latin America and Asia, they looked at me like 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.
Even though I went to Italy and France with a bit of a chip on my shoulder, I ended up falling 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. Over time, I came to love First World and Third World Travel equally well but for different reasons.
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 First World Travel Advantages
There are also some excellent benefits of First World 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 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 learned so much about their intriguing mixture of British, French, North American, and Indigenous cultures).
- Many large First World 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).
- First World 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.
- First World 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:
- Increasingly, First World Travel has 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 of shared economy companies like Uber and Airbnb, first world travel is cheaper and more comfortable than in the past. (Thank God, we are no longer dependent on high-cost hotels and taxis).
- First World 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, Barcelona, Berlin, Vienna, Melbourne, Washington DC, etc.).
- The First World has 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 First World 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 the story about my ancestors’ lives in these countries from my grandparents.
3 Cons of First World Travel
While traveling in First World Countries is very comfortable, familiar, and enjoyable, it has some definite drawbacks, including:
- Just deciding on Third World Vs First World Travel is an easy way to save money. Everything costs 30-70% less in Third World than in First World Countries. Many people from First World Countries travel to Third World 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 First World 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 and maybe rare in rural areas. It can be challenging to find tours to visit many sites.
- Renting a car, however, is relatively inexpensive and easy, especially in the US and Canada. Though it can be difficult for North Americans to get used to the small roads in Western Europe and to driving 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 depicted by the media. (Note: I had meager expectations in the first place).
- Traveling in First World 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.
- In my experience, my most frustrating experiences took place traveling in First World Countries (especially my own country, the USA). Many of the 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 people 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 twenty years ago, travel-related personnel in the US were overwhelmingly helpful and accommodating.
Despite these troubles, I love to travel to First World Countries and look forward to exploring more of this part of the world.
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