High-Yield Tips for Travel in Developing Countries

We came up with these tips after extended travel through the Yucatan this past summer, but they are generally applicable to travel in many developing parts of the world.

1. Learn the basics of the language(s) of the nation(s) in which you’ll travel.  This will help in rural areas and could even help in large cities (e.g., with taxis).

2. Have a dedicated checking account for travel with an ATM/debit card that is fee-free worldwide (rebates any fees you may have been charged).  Use only bank-affiliated ATMs and make transactions during the day whenever possible to avoid identity theft.

3. Bring small packets of detergent (e.g., Woolite) to wash your clothes in the sink (because laundromats or laundering services are often unavailable or inconvenient).

4. Bring a small bottle of Febreze (the type for fabrics) to spray on and freshen up used clothing when it cannot be laundered.  (Can also use Febreze to freshen up the bathroom.)

5. Use a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees.

6. Pay with the local currency when it is weaker than your nation’s currency.  In Cozumel, we repeatedly saw vendors asking for payment in US dollars instead of pesos.  Many tourists fell for this trick and were overcharged.  The peso was much weaker than the dollar at the time, about 16:1.  Paying in dollars, when converted to pesos, was always more expensive than the peso price!

7. Bring plenty of DEET-based bug repellent and sunscreen with SPF > 50 when in tropical areas (and mosquito netting if mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria are endemic).

8. Avoid uncooked, sliced/peeled fruits and vegetables unless you rinse them yourself with purified water before eating.

9. Brush teeth, rinse mouth, and use contact lenses only with purified water.

10. Bring packets of instant oatmeal, nuts, raisins, trail mix to make delicious and healthy oatmeal breakfast and for healthy snacks on the road.  Consider bringing packets of nut butter (almond, peanut, etc.).

11. Bring a small Swiss Army knife or equivalent.  Remember to check it in with your luggage because it will not be allowed onboard the plane, no matter how small it may be.

12. Bring a journal and writing or drawing utensils.  (In my case, I often bring an ink brush pen, a fine-point Sharpie pen, a ballpoint pen, a mechanical pencil, tortillons, a mechanical rubber eraser, a kneaded eraser, watercolor pencils, and a Niji waterbrush.)

13. Bring a small point-and-shoot digital camera with a large memory card and carry it with you almost everywhere as a valuable photojournaling tool.

14. Bring your own high-quality snorkel mask and dry snorkel. Bring a small bottle of anti-fog solution.

15. If you normally wear eyeglasses, don’t forget to bring contact lenses and rewetting drops if you plan to go into the ocean or other bodies of water.

16. Bring minimal electronics (e.g., only a tablet, not a laptop).  Consider leaving that smartphone at home.

17. Buy a cheap phone with a pay-as-you-go data plan as soon as you land in the foreign country.

18. Bring tea bags because boiled water (tap) is usually safe.

19. Consider bringing a portable water purifier (very small and inexpensive; available online or at REI).

20. Bring a sleep (eye) mask (Bedtime Bliss is a nice brand that fits comfortably) and enough >30 dB-blocking foam ear plugs to be able to sleep soundly throughout the trip.

21. Bring a roll or two of toilet paper and travel packs of toilet seat covers.  Many toilets in the Yucatan and other developing areas don’t even have seats.

22. Bring wet wipes for your hands and disinfectant wipes for surfaces.

23. Try to bring mostly quick-dry shirts (both short- and long-sleeve) and easily cleaned/dried clothing in general.

24. Bring a small travel umbrella and a light poncho.

25. Bring a small flashlight (with fresh or solar-charged batteries).

26. Bring mesh travel laundry bags to hold used clothing.

27. Bring appropriate adaptors, if applicable, for the electrical outlets at the places you’ll visit.

28. Visit your local travel medicine clinic months before the trip for necessary vaccinations and prescription medications, including antibiotics for traveler’s diarrhea.  Bring Pepto-Bismol (bismuth subsalicylate), too.

29. Use TSA-approved luggage locks.

30. Carry multiple copies of your passport in different places (backpack, suitcase, money belt, etc.).

31. Carry a sheet of paper with phone numbers of immediate family, close friends, credit card companies, banks, etc., and contact information (addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, confirmation numbers) of reserved hotels and other services.

32. Use an RFID-blocking money belt.

33. Consider bringing a GoPro or other waterproof “sport” camera with you to take videos and photos during water-based activities.  Our GoPro recorded amazing underwater videos!

There are many other “high-yield” travel tips.  Which ones would you add to this list?

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