Actually, it’s better known as travelling in a developing country, but it’s not as catchy as a title. It doesn’t matter if it’s Africa, India, Indonesia or any other place in the world that isn’t as ‘flashy’ as yours.
Losing your passport in New York is one thing, but to do it on Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania is a whole other story. Here’s some key things I’ve learned over the past 20 years of global trotting.
1. Your Passport
You lose this and you’re in serious trouble. Before you leave home scan a copy and email it to yourself. Remember to take at least 2 recent headshots of yourself.
Carry your passport with you, but not in your back pocket. Forget the bag, and scrub off your list a bum/fanny bag. Any decent thief can strip you of these in seconds.
If you’re an Australian, register your travel plans with DFAT just in case anything happens to you. If you are from another country, register with your agency. If you can’t find anywhere, at least email the high commission in the country you will be visiting.
3. Make a Conversion List
This is really handy as it’s sometimes difficult to remember how much an item is in your national currency. Make a list in Excel, starting at 50c (for example), the next line $1 and then up to $100. In the next column put the conversion in the country you are travelling to. A good conversion rate can be found at xe.com. If you are travelling to multiple countries then put in multiple columns. Print it off, cut it out and put it in an A5 book or on your phone for easy reference.
4. Mobile Phone
Global roaming is a killer on the wallet. You are much better off paying $20 for a mobile in the country you’re visiting and putting up the number on your social network site. At least if you lose your phone or it’s stolen, you’re not losing an iPhone or Blackberry worth much more. Don’t forget to put autolock on your phone.
5. Safe Transport
Safe transport is a bit of an oxymoron in lots of countries in Africa. Ferries are always overloaded, you don’t always need a helmet on a motorbike and minivans made for 14 may have 30 people packed into them. On buses from one part of the country to another you may end up sitting on a bag of maize or share your seat with a chicken.
However, there are some things you do have control over.
– Always negotiate the price of a taxi ride before the car takes off.
– If at all possible don’t travel a long distance after dark.
– Travel in pairs.
– Ask for a receipt.
– Keep your bag with you, attached to your front not your bag.
– Wear minimal jewellery.
– Don’t hitchhike.
6. Who is your Toilet Buddy
We had an ex-SAS officer train our team before their first visit to East Africa. His opening line was ‘Don’t worry if you get kidnapped, they only want your money’. However, he did give some good pointers:
– Don’t wear pj’s to bed, if you get kidnapped, that’s what you’ll be wearing for a while.
– Nominate a toilet buddy. This is the person who has to come with you if you have to get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. It’s also the person who goes with you if you need to go to the shops or for a walk up the road. Even now our grown kids still say ‘whose my toilet buddy?’
– Don’t act like a tourist. Take off the camera, expensive jewellery and anything else that says ‘Come steal from me’.
– Don’t be the hero. In a conflict situation forget wrestling the man with the gun. Your life is more important than your belongings. Many people have been killed trying to protect their stuff. Stuff can be replaced, you can’t.
7. Food & Water
Never, ever get ice in your drink, specifically ask for none. Get the waiter to open your bottle of drink in front of you. Only drink bottled water. There are very few who travel to a developing nation who don’t get an upset stomach, but you can minimise the risk.
We tend to shy away from salads as they’re great disease carriers from not being washed properly, even in good hotels. If you end up out in some far flung village, you’re going to be pretty sure that your meat is overcooked. Nothing like barbequed meat that’s like charcoal!
8. Baby Wipes
These are my best friend when travelling. It doesn’t take much to pick up a bug, but you can reduce it with baby wipes and hand sanitizer. You need to get into the habit of sanitizing your hands after every handshake, greeting, before meals and afterwards. Great hosts offer hand washing facilities, but there’s nothing quite like the assurance of hand sanitizers and baby wipes. Just remember to take a clip lock bag to take away your rubbish.
You can have an absolute bast if your trip is well planned and you are flexible when things change. Life in Africa is complex and basic at the same time. There aren’t all the conveniences of the West, but there sure are some wonderfully unique things that you’ll only find in the developing world.
Feel free to ad your suggestions in the comment box.