traveling to the third world

Traveling to the Third World: What to Expect and Prepare For

 Although the term ‘third world’ is often disputed as a racist term, as it “obscures all parts of a country’s culture apart from those which are to be pitied or improved,” it is more or less the best popular nomenclature we have right now.  To describe the disparity between economic and political climates of countries halfway across the world from each other is difficult, as they don’t necessarily have the same goals or values and might not think of themselves as developing nations in the way that the West does. That being said, Westerners traveling to the third world are likely to have certain expectations about what may or may not be available. As someone who has done quite a bit of traveling , here are my recommendations for setting up your expectations when traveling to the third world.

You Can’t Drink the Water and You Might Get Sick

traveler's diarrhea

If you’ve ever planned a trip to Mexico, you’ve likely heard vague warning of Monetzuma’s Revenge (yes, the tourist version is misspelled) which refers to Moctezuma II, the ruler of the Aztec civilization. He was slaughtered and his people obliterated by Hernán Cortés, the infamous Spanish conquistador. As the story goes, the ghost of Moctezuma II is responsible for interlopers in Mexico getting the stomach flu as a petty form of revenge.

What this story really refers to is traveler’s diarrhea, which is very real, and which on my return trip from Morocco have contracted a minor case of. This is usually caused by E.Coli that your body may not be used to, and can easily be contracted from water or street food. If you see anything questionable, it’s best not to eat or drink it, or traveling to the third world will not be something you want to repeat.

You Don’t Have Absolute Freedom of Movement

In most Western nations you expect that you can go anywhere you want. You may not want to visit most of the country you live in, but you are not restricted from doing so. That’s not the case when traveling to the third world, as governments tend to be a bit more authoritarian and have closed off certain non-essential obscure areas to tourism.

For example, on a recent trip to Egypt Alex and I attempted to go to Al Menya. For context, Al Menya is the ancient (and brief) capital city that Akhenaton established when he unsuccessfully attempted to convert ancient Egyptians to monotheism. For anyone who knows me, I am a little obsessed with Akehnaten and he is one on the principal subjects of my upcoming graphic novel, so I was excited by the prospect to see such sites as the Tomb of Ay.

However, as we asked around how to get there, Egyptian nationals were shocked we wanted to go there in the first place, and we ultimately found out that if we were to have gone, we would have been immediately detained without an approved guide. While I was disappointed that we did not get to see those sites, it is a more obscure region and when traveling to the third world you can’t expect that areas not explicitly geared toward tourism will be open to you.

Minor Amenities Are Not Guaranteed

toilet paper

Toilet paper. Soap. Bath towels. Reliable internet. One would expect all of these amenities at any hotel in the United States or even a hostel in Western Europe (although you may have to pay extra for some of these). But depending on where you are staying, you might not have immediate or even any access to these types of amenities. There’s only so much you can do to prepare for this, like bringing your own roll of toilet paper and an extra bar of soap, but adjusting your expectations when traveling to the third world will go a long way in ensuring that you enjoy the experience for what it is, not despite it.

There Are ‘Hidden Costs’ Everywhere


It might seem like you will get a huge bargain when traveling to the ‘third world,’ but this is not always the case.  Because capitalism is a relatively new system in these countries, many enterprising people will try to rip you off or will not be upfront with costs. Sometimes you might even be aware this is happening but have no other option. Still, you need to make sure that you are prepared to spend a bit more than the costs are on paper. Fees will often be tacked on to activities that were not clear or upfront when you booked them. This has actually happened almost every time that I’ve gone traveling to the third world.

Rather than get angry about this, I usually take it in stride, and understand the economic disparity between myself and the people in the country I’m visiting. That’s not to say I have the coin to start giving away money, far from it, but I can afford to understand that this is the reality of the situation. If you cannot or will not do this, I don’t recommend that you start traveling to the third world anytime soon.

Still, traveling to the third world can open you p to some amazing cultures and enriching experiences. This will not only give you perspective, but allow you to see some of the great sites of the world, including the Luxor Temple in Egypt, Tikal in Guatemala and Angkor Wat in Cambodia, all of which I’ve visited recently Keep all of this in mind when traveling to the third world and you’ll be sure to have a great time.





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