Traveling in a Developing Country: 3 Tips

  January 20, 2022 travel posts 🕑 6 minutes read

Chiang Mai Thailand


Traveling in a developing country feels fun but challenging sometimes.


Travelers from more developed, Western lands like the United States often make blanket assumptions based on living in such nations.


However, one trip to a country with less development quickly reveals how making assumptions may lead to some dicey situations.


For the purposes of this post, a developing nation simply means a country generally less developed than a super power like the United States. Far from being a financial definition alone, developing nations offer fewer Western creature comforts, less political stability and a different cultural viewpoint that is not better or worse than a developed nation but simply contrasting.


Hygiene standards are generally high in the USA, traffic laws are largely followed and people in the US view animal wellness in a different light than much of the developing world. Spending even an hour in a country with lower hygiene standards, lax traffic laws and a different view of animals may provide an absolute shock to your system.


Traveling in a Developing Country


I understand how me offering this advice is like a raging alcoholic suggesting what juice fast to follow for health and wellness.


I have cheated death a few times during my world travels.


I have sat with three, 400 pound tigers in their cage in Thailand.


I have been known to motorbike through hectic areas of Southeast Asia.


But after circling the globe for 11 years I learned a thing or two about developing nations.


No blanket rules exist.


You may ignore these pieces of advice to enjoy some spectacular, fun, freeing travel experiences.


On the flip side though, if you are a new international traveler, animal lover, one with a Charmin soft stomach or nervous driver, think twice before doing these things in a developing nation.


Keep these 3 things in mind when traveling in a developing country.


1: Any Show Involving Animals or Zoos


I get it; you love animals.


You may want to get your furry creature Jones in a developing land.


I am warning you though; in most cases, a zoo trip or animal show will be a depressing, heart-wrenching experience.


Sometimes, folks who struggle to make ends meet are so focused on their survival that they care little about the animals around them. Sometimes animals are seen as things, not sentient beings. Sometimes these animals are abused, either unintentionally or because folks in developing lands see animals as a lower life form without feelings or emotions.


The only animal thingee I have experienced was Tiger Kingdom in Mae Rim, Thailand. We researched the place thoroughly and got clear on the fact that a Western ex-pat worked there around the clock and never once saw any signs of abuse or the tiger drugging claim passed around on the travel blogging circuit.


The tigers were gorgeous, well-fed, relaxed and chill. In the same regard, when ice blocks or play things make appearances, these guys spring into action. I mean REALLY spring into action. Unless adrenaline is being sneakily administered, these guys ain’t drugged. Nor have I seen any travel bloggers displaying video of themselves or staff drugging tigers at Tiger Kingdom in Mae Rim, Thailand. I felt clear on going there.


Monkey Forrest Ubud Bali

Monkey Forrest Ubud Bali


In many cases though the animals will be appear to be in terrible shape, in impossibly tiny enclosures and either outright sick or depressed. You can feel it through the videos and articles I have seen online, and I recall motorbiking by an elephant riding place in Koh Lanta that ripped my heart out. I do understand how everything is a projection of the mind but seeing an elephant swinging back and forth being chained to a tree with 5 feet of slack felt horrible to me.


Skip most animal shows or zoos in developing lands guys.


2: Street Food from Stalls without Much Foot Traffic


Those with iron stomachs can chance it.


Those without iron stomachs need to skip street food in developing lands if the stalls are in low traffic areas.


Eating from a non-busy street stall can lead to a world of pain and suffering experienced through both ends; bum and boca.


The logic: busy street vendors prepare fresh food regularly to serve their customers. Nothing sits out in the sun or hot, humid conditions of the tropics because customers swiftly purchase and consume fresh food.


Less busy street food vendors see fewer customers and wanting to save money, may serve up meat today that was not consumed last night but that should have been thrown out last night.


traveling in a developing country

Burger King, Yangon Myanmar style


I vividly recall a colorful Russian restaurant owner in Sihanoukville Cambodia who served delightful, trusted fare. He joked about how his buddies bragged about eating big seafood dishes for $1 than puking and diarrhea-ing their guts out for days after.


$1 seafood dish = *sitting out in sun for a day or 2* seafood dish in most developing lands.


Street food is actually okay in most countries if the cooking and prepping turnover is high.


Visit only popular street food stalls. Increase the chances that you will be consuming fresh food.


3: Road Travel in Major Cities


I wished to strangle the man – or masses – with my bare hands.


A cat food supply snaffu meant I had to motorbike to the grocery store in the busiest section of Bali. Before you laugh, the most highly trafficked area of Bali makes Times Square look like Death Valley.


Chiang Mai Thailand


Take it from a guy who grew up in New Jersey, one of the worst places on earth for driving.


I am a chill dude. I am largely a chill dude on motorbike. But this urban driving situation drove me mad.


Cities in developing nations tend to be highly overpopulated, with quite narrow roads in many city spots.


Unless you have the poise and balance of a Buddhist monk avoid driving on these roads all together.


In 2020 I experienced the interesting roads of Panama. We rented a car to get around the country. A hefty chunk of the population drives recklessly if not outright insanely, without regard for the lives of fellow human beings who allegedly share the road.


Driving in high traffic areas in the USA is far different than driving throughout Panama for the sole reason that more Panamanians – and expats or tourists – seem to do things that put your life on the line. One habit involves driving *fast* on the opposite side of the road going in to a blind curve only to swerve back to the right side of the road at the last second before slamming into you head on. This occurred roughly 5 out of 10 times when I entered a blind curve.


Panama City is particularly frenetic as drivers routinely cut blindly across 3 lines to make the next turn. In a way, fellow drivers literally do not exist to these individuals based on their utter lack of awareness. One driver executed a U-turn in front of me on a busy highway so close to me that I can honestly say he wanted to passively commit suicide and take someone else out in the process.


At the end of the day, if you drive slowly and in the outside lane you will be fine driving in developing lands. But be prepared to see zany occurrences on the road.




Being prepared goes a long way in terms of enjoy travels to a developing nation.


Inform yourself. Be open.


Enjoy a sense of contrast.


Even though you may fall ill, see depressing animal treatment and observe some dingbats on the road you will largely love your time in developing nations.


Simply be open to all experiences to grow through your travels.


Your Turn


What tips can you add to this list?


What do you keep in mind anytime you visit a developing nation?

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