How to Survive a Trip to a Developing Country

So you decided to embark on an overseas trip, and this time it is not to Italy, France or the Bahamas, but instead to a developing nation, sometimes called a Third World nation. An estimated 50 million people from industrialized nations travel to the developing world every year.

The difference between industrialized and developing nations is the reduced availability, even total absence, of certain essential goods and services like medicine, food, security, housing and education.  While these services and necessities may be present, the quality and consistency may be lacking, antiquated or erratic.

While years of travelling experience may have taught us First Worlders a thing or two about mishaps during a trip, travelling to a developing nation is a whole new adventure (or misadventure) entirely.

Below we have collected the tips and tricks you need to know to survive and prosper in developing countries, and placed them into this article.

As a bonus, and to aid you in developing the right mindset to survive in such faraway places, we’ve included a section called “What Would The President Do?” with tips and considerations from a veteran U.S. Secret Service agent. Your trip awaits, read on.

Medical and Health Preparation

Your body, and how it adjusts to unusual surroundings, is definitely  on the agenda when it comes to preparation. As our most valuable asset, the body needs to be cared for and maintained. What is the best way to accomplish this?

Visit Your Doctor or a Travel Clinic

A travel clinic will prepare you with information that you need to be able to travel to another country, along with all the preventative immunizations and vaccinations that you may require.

Ensure that you tell the clinic of the exact itinerary of all countries you are visiting. A common mistake, that may have severe consequences, is to confuse two similar sounding countries, like Guyana and Ghana.

Ensure You Have All Necessary Medication

Ensure you have sufficient medication, according to your prescriptions, for the time you are away plus no less than 3 additional days. Any medical conditions and allergies should be recorded on your person. Properly labeling medication and repacking it into waterproof, rugged containers is also crucial.

Doctors Letters, Authorizations and Translations

Ensure that you have a letter from your doctor authorizing you for your medication in the recommended doses.  Another important factor often overlooked is the importance of translating all this information into the native language of your destination.

Imagine a situation where you are depending on a medical doctor, or explaining your bottle of pills to a customs agent. It’s bad enough that you have no patient history in that country, it could be worse if your prescription medication is mistaken for contraband illicit drugs.


The Devil is in the details: make sure that your insurance policy covers any illness or incident while abroad is essential.

Normally, insurance companies will have partners in the countries you may be traveling to, or you may need to add a simple rider or additional coverage. If you need extra coverage, take out a specific travel policy and understand exactly its restrictions and limitations.

There are three important factors to remember about your travel insurance:

  • Notify the insurance company of any medical condition.
  • Restrict your activities to what’s covered in the policy.
  • Behave responsibly- injury or illness resulting from drunken or illicit behavior is not covered.

Do not forget to add the following to your Packing List:

  • Copy of your medical records and doctor’s letter (preferably translated).
  • Medicine, labeled and packed in plastic containers.
  • Insurance policy & emergency contact number.
  • World’s Thinnest DIY Survival Pack.

Traveler’s Survival Kit

A traveler’s survival kit should be able to address some of the most common mishaps that might happen. The most common are:

  • Loss or stolen documents and valuables
  • Falling ill or being involved in an accident
  • Miscommunication incidents and language barrier issues

The biggest issue encountered with bug-out bags is storing or carrying without causing inconvenience or drawing attention, yet still remaining easily accessible.

Arriving in a new place tired and jet lagged can cause disorientation. It is easy to lose documents, equipment and your valuables. International visitors are easy prey for both petty and professional criminals in many developing countries.

Your shoes are a good hiding place for cash and smaller, flat items.  If you are pick-pocketed, mugged or kidnapped, the last place your assailant will probably look is your shoes.

In a tiny space barely a few millimeters thick, we will create the world’s most compact survival kit. Consider packing all these items below and add a few others if you have enough room while remaining comfortable.

Pre-paid SIM card- Most pre-paid SIM cards will work if you notify your carrier of your destination and the duration you will be staying. Ensure that you have call minutes and mobile data already pre-loaded on the card. Store important emergency numbers on it also.

Cash, American dollars and local currency– A reasonable amount should do. Think in practical terms. One thing you would want to do in an emergency is pay for transport and be able to buy a smart phone with internet access. The almighty U.S. greenback is accepted nearly anywhere.

Memory Card/Flash Drive– Store electronic copies of your passport, medical records, credit card details, airline tickets, vital emergency contact information and everything else you may need to know.

Paper Copy of Vital Info – Your name, nationality, emergency contact number, passport number, allergies, embassy location and phone number and any other information you consider important. On the other side of this piece of paper photocopy and certify your passport and probably a copy of your visa.

Band Aids– A few band aids on hand will help deal with nicks and scrapes, through which your body will be very vulnerable to the novel germs in the country you are visiting.

Medicine, powdered– Use tiny zip lock bags to crush and store your meds into powder. You may also choose the pre-made packets of travel medicines.

Credit Card– Preferably a less valuable card with a limit on it. Several prepaid cards allow you to have a few hundred dollars. Visa or Master Card backing will allow you to use ATMs around the world. Remember to notify your bank of your travel itinerary prevent your card being locked down.

Ziploc Bag– This will store all the above contents. In a desperate situation, it can be used to hold potable water.

Take all the above and wrap it in a piece of paper, preferably the certified copy of your passport. Do not stack anything, and ensure that the contents are spread out. Take out the insoles of your shoes, set the bags inside, and replace the insoles. Try the shoe on for comfort and ensure you can walk without any pain or discomfort.

Remember: install this kit in your shoes after you arrive at your destination to avoid problems with airport security.

Another neat trick is to take electrical or duct tape and tape one end to the survival kit and the other on your socks right up the heel of your foot.

If you are unconscious; when medical personnel try to take of your shoes, they see your kit. If it is labeled “please read me” in the local language they will find your pertinent medical info and adjust treatment accordingly.

WWPD? -What Would The President Do?

When it comes to best practices in foreign countries, the Secret Service is the outfit to beat. Keeping the most powerful man in the world safe in any locale takes a tremendous amount of skill, preparation and good tradecraft.

Long time serving secret service agent Dan Emmet writes about his 21 years of service protecting four US presidents.  His book is titled “Within Arm’s Length: The Extraordinary Life and Career of a Special Agent in the United States Secret Service“.  Below I have summarized the most important points for you.

He equates preparing for a foreign trip to preparing for a domestic one, only a dozen times more complicated. Assignment to the presidential detail requires an agent to distinguish himself among others. You have to rise up the ranks starting with smaller, less prestigious assignments and responsibilities.

Several trips to less risky areas can work well for you as good preparation to the main show. Do not throw yourself into the deep-end immediately. Assessing your skills in areas like major domestic  cities before going into the wild or foreign countries will help you prepare for your time abroad.

Advance Party preparation begins many weeks ahead of the President’s visit. Begin planning for your own trip many weeks in advance. Reliance on local resources, research and intel is vital to success. Try to find and join local expatriate groups and forums online.

Make acquaintances with someone who has firsthand experience of what is happening on the ground and review your plans with them. Checking their advice against other credible sources and authorities is also essential; not all sources are created equal.

Avoid known hostile destinations, regions and local areas as much as possible. No matter how prepared you are certain places are no-go zones for Westerners! Do not put yourself in unnecessary danger. Ensure that you do not leave a weak spot back home. While you are away, be sure that you have not created an opportunity for your property or home to be vandalized.

Effective and clear communication is vital. If travelling with others establish redundant rendezvous points and methods of communication.

Double-check all your correspondence to ensure you have clearly understood the message and vice versa. Seek clarification where not clear. Email your embassy in advance of your arrival and keep in contact with friends and family back home. Ensure they have a copy of your itinerary.

Having a secret distress signal that only you and companions know is important. Establish a distress signal  and use it in case of an emergency. America, and Americans, are not as popular as you may think. While you may think we are the most loved nation in the world, a great many of Earth’s dwellers do not.

Don’t be obnoxious. Don’t play a stereotypical, swaggering American. You’ll be obvious no matter what you do, so just pay attention to local customs and culture. Be as respectful and as discreet as possible.

Cheap can be costly. While you may have a budget, ensure that in your quest  for savings you do not compromise your trip by using unreliable or sketchy goods and services. Hotels for instance will normally use old photos of when facilities were still new.

What About Weapons?

It is engraved deeply in some survivalists’ brains that they need a little extra defense against unforeseen circumstances. By defense I mean a weapon.

Acquiring one in a developing country can be tricky and a somewhat grey legal area. Typically visitors will have extremely curtailed or no weapons rights or legal protection. Here are a few things you should consider.

Acquiring a firearm in a developing country will likely not be as simple as getting one in America. Firearms being sold by private sellers mandate you be very careful; you will not know that you are dealing with someone trustworthy.

Some countries will have cheap handguns and rifles, or even heavy weaponry. Don’t let the price fool you: Many of these countries have been through a war or some serious civil unrest in the recent past. Assume any firearms are contraband.

Consider purchasing a knife as opposed to a gun; a knife is not only an invaluable tool but very handy in self-defense, and far less likely to attract serious heat from law enforcement.

The written law can differ from the law in practice. Often times in developing country the law can easily change at the enforcer’s discretion. Check with your local guide what the attitude on weapons is like in the area you are visiting.

While the law may allow certain things, it does not mean it is socially accepted or necessary. Remember that even carrying a mere pocket knife could be illegal. The locals may do it but that does not mean foreigners are allowed to.


Fool’s Gold is Exactly That

Developing countries are also rife with scam artists and con men. Someone is normally trying to sell you something “amazing” or “top quality” for an unbelievably low price.

It is unfortunate that harsh living conditions make for such desperate “salesmen”. In extremely poverty stricken areas, some people live on less than a dollar a day. Imagine what they are prepared to say for 20, 50 or 100 American bucks.

Here are a few common tricks and scams that you should not fall prey to:

Wondrous Medicines or Natural Cures Desperation and poverty leave people searching for solutions and remedies, even dangerous ones. Witch doctors, charlatans and faith healers are abundant and normally exploit a population’s desperation while they live in luxury.  Avoid being drawn in.

Precious Metals- It is not rare to be offered gold, diamonds and other precious stones at suspiciously low prices.

If you have heard of the blood diamond trade, or forced mining of gold, you might easily think this is your big break. It is possible it will be a big break, but it is probable you are going to be fleeced, and the only thing you will be breaking is your bank account.

Ensure all your agreements with people are written and signed- A simple handshake may not do the trick. Verify all information and document it.

Never pay for anything in advance- Even from seemingly credible places. Some international businesses will not know what is going on halfway around the world, even global brands.

If it seems too good to be true it normally is. Certain things are genuinely cheap but remember this as a rule, if you are not a native you are probably being charged double or quadruple for something in an informal market place or setting.  Check with your local guide for what the actual price for something is before you pay.

A Last Word to the Wise

The medical, technical and travel advice given here is a guide for your own preparations. Emphasis on preparation in areas like health and documentation need to be taken seriously.

Travelling can be an exciting experience, but you need to ensure that this potential once-in-a-lifetime expedition does not turn into a waking nightmare.  Preparation is what it all boils down to.

A professional prepper should always think about having a primary, alternate and contingency solution to conceivable emergencies. A more aware and prepared person makes for a better trip, and a safer journey!

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