8 Travel Tips For Backpacking In Third World Countries

I’ve been to a handful of third world countries on four different continents over the past few years, and during my recent travels to South East Asia I decided to write down some universal tips that seem to be true no matter where you are. Here are a eight easy things you can do to save yourself time, money, and headaches while backpacking in third world countries.

1. Pack light and buy things as needed.
It is usually cheaper for things like clothes, sandals, and medicines. More often than not you would pack things (and in turn have to lug them around) that you won’t need. If you find yourself in need of some cold medicine, a new pair of flip flops, or some extra t-shirts, head to a local market and you’ll be surprised at how cheap you can get basic items.

I bought these flip-flops for about $2 at a market in Thailand and threw them away at the end of the trip.

2. If someone walks up to you with a smile on their face and offers to help you, turn it down.
Ask for help from someone who doesn’t have anything to gain from you. In nearly every third world country that thrives on tourism you will find people who want to take advantage of you, and they are very good at their own games. Don’t give them the chance to play! Just say no thank you and walk away.

In Bangkok, Thailand, there are hundreds of tuk-tuk drivers that will offer to drive you around all day for about a dollar. However, instead of taking you where you want to go, they make stops at jewelry and tailor shops where they earn commission for bringing you there.

3. Everything has a price, and everything that has a price is negotiable.
If you want something that isn’t offered, the right amount of money can still make it available to you, and anything that is already offered can always be bargained for a cheaper price. Get good at negotiating and haggling. Start at half the price they initially tell you.

We I were told by four different travel agencies that the city we were in did not offer bamboo raft rides down the river, but after offering one of the agencies more money than they were asking for, we got our ride. Shooting a sunset while relaxing on the Mekong River was well worth it.

4. Explore the city how the locals travel.
You will see more and have a much better experience than if you attempt to travel in a way that you are typically “comfortable” with. Just like in Los Angeles where you drive a car, and in New York where you take subways, follow this trend abroad as well.

In certain parts of Cambodia, renting a car would be a nightmare and taking a taxi would be insanely impractical. Even though I've never really driven motorcycles before, we rented one a few times, and it made our visit much easier.

5. Learn a few words of the local language.
This goes much farther than you would think! By showing the natives you are not a “typical arrogant tourist,” they will be much more friendly and helpful.

6. Bring your own toilet paper and hand sanitizer.
Other countries and cultures simply don’t live the way we do, and trust me, you’ll be glad you have this stuff.

Very few places will have the option of buying toilet paper from a vending machine, so do yourself a favor and be prepared.

7. Plan for delays in travel.
In East Africa I heard a man say “American’s count time like they count money.” In other countries staying on schedule is never a guarantee, so don’t ever expect to be on time.

Not every journey will have a five hour delay due to a bus crash mid-route, but it's still not uncommon to be tied up for several hours for some reason or another just about every time you try to get to a new destination.

8. Eat where the locals eat.
If there is a long line of local people waiting for food, it’s probably a good place. You can’t truly experience a culture without sampling their cuisine.

Don't let street vendors like this slip through the cracks. They may have some of the best food you'll eat on your entire trip.

*Bonus Tip: In Thailand, no matter how much it may like a doughnut, unless it says “Dunkin'” on the box, it is NOT a doughnut.

Yes, I know those two round pieces of dough look exactly like what you would call doughnuts. So did the other 14 round pieces of dough that I bought all over South East Asia. I promise you though…they are not doughnuts.

Here are a few helpful sites for planning international travel:
travelfish.org
lonelyplanet.com

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