Dos and Don’ts in the developing world

We’ve been talking a lot here on Gadling about travel safety. Travelers should be aware of potential dangers no matter where they are, but what do you do when you’re obviously the richest person within sight? Here are some tips about what to do and what not to do when your monthly salary is higher than the average annual wage of the country you’re visiting.

Don’t let fear ruin your vacation
First off, most developing countries are as safe or even safer than the U.S. or Western Europe. In two decades of traveling in 26 countries, including places such as Iran, India, and Egypt, the only time someone tried to mug me was in a shopping mall in Danbury, Connecticut! That said, you do need to keep your wits about you.

Do wear a money belt
Yes, they’re dorky looking, but a money belt will foil most pickpockets if you keep it under your clothing. Even though criminals know tourists wear money belts, they’d rather go after easier prey. Developing countries tend to have harsh penalties for crime and scary prisons, so criminals don’t want to take unnecessary risks. Keep the day’s cash in your pocket so you don’t have to pull out your money belt in the marketplace. Stuff something bulky in the opposite pocket so the pickpockets go for your inviting bulge. Toilet paper is a good option, and may come in handy in case of a sudden onset of Montezuma’s revenge.

Do be aware of local scams
Scam artists employ different tactics in different countries. Often they take the form of a young man with good English approaching you wanting to invite you someplace, where you’ll be shaken down. Or they might give you a friendly tour of their neighborhood and then demand payment, getting increasingly threatening if you refuse. Your best source for the latest scams is an up-to-date guidebook and locals working in the tourism industry, such as hotel managers. They’ve heard plenty of stories.

Don’t flash your valuables
Why tempt fate? Leave the iPod Touch and the gold watch at home.

Don’t pretend to be poor
There’s nothing sillier than seeing some American backpackers trying to convince someone in Peru or Ethiopia that they’re really not that rich. Nonsense. You may be a struggling student back home, but you’re still living a life most Third Worlders can only dream of. You were able to afford an international flight, after all. Trying to pretend you’re just as poor as the locals is unconvincing and more than a little patronizing.

Do back up your photos
The most common item to be stolen is a camera. It’s easily snatchable and has a high resale value. Don’t run the rick of losing your travel memories. An inexpensive 4 GB thumb drive (also called a flash drive) can hold hundreds of photos. Transfer your pictures regularly at an Internet cafe and keep the thumb drive in a different location than your camera.

Do stay open to personal interaction
The best part of any journey is the people you meet. The majority of people of all nations are honest, so don’t worry too much. Most folks who approach you are simply curious or want to practice their English. Trust your gut and have a great time. Bon Voyage!

[Photo credit: Almudena Alonso-Herrero]