9 Tips for Traveling in Developing Countries

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For those that like to travel off the beaten path with more interest in visiting countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, it’s good to be prepared for the ways that countries are still emerging and developing economically and politically, as well as how many have unique challenges for even a seasoned backpacker. Don’t let that dissuade you, though. Some of the least modernized nations are the most fascinating, beautiful, and worthwhile — and the least recognized. A trip to Italy, while truly wonderful, is a very different experience from a trip to Vietnam or India.

1. Educate Yourself on Cultural Differences

This is a basic rule of thumb for any time you’re a guest in another country, developed or not — be polite. It seems like it should be obvious, but sometimes how to be polite turns out to be more difficult than one might initially expect. The degree to which cultural differences matter is going to differ depending on country, but that’s why a little pre-travel research is a necessity. Reading ahead can only prepare you so much, as people vary no matter where you’re from, and sometimes what you’re told to expect is simply not your experience at all. But it doesn’t hurt to have a little background knowledge of general practices.

For example, in Nepal, head nods and shake gestures referring to yes and no in the United States do not retain their meaning, something that can be eternally confusing. In parts of India — and a lot of Asian countries — saying a direct “no” is not common or comfortable, meaning you have to be prepared to read between the lines more often.

In Japan, there’s an expectation that one will refuse the offer of someone else to pay for something, sometimes multiple times, before consenting to the gift. There are simpler items, such as greetings, bowing, palms pressed together, and prayer wheel etiquette — all easy things to look up ahead of time to feel that much more prepared.

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