The first time I went to a third world country I was sixteen years old, had no clue what to expect, and subsequently, was hardly prepared. I learned quickly, however, what I should have brought, and the next time I went to a third world country, I was much more prepared! Here are some must-have items if you are planning on going to a third world country any time soon.
I’ll never forget the scene: We had just landed in one of the major “cities” of Papua New Guinea. We were shocked to find just how decrepit the main airport terminal was in this “major city”. Even more disheartening was to find the toilet facilities (we had not had them on the flight and were anxious for relief). We walked in to a bathroom, if it could be called that, to find all three toilets overflowing on the floor, with no toilet paper to be found.
With total ingenuity that only teens can find, we pulled out plastic bags from our carry-ons that some toiletries were in, slipped those on our feet, and did what we had to do (talk about squatting talents!).
Thankfully, our team leader, a seasoned missionary, had a roll of toilet paper in her luggage that we were able to use. Lesson number 1 for third world country travel: Always have a small roll of toilet paper with you, or at the very least, tissues!
Sanitizing Hand Products
Running water is not always an option in third world countries. For germ-a-phobes like me, this can be traumatic. Having something like hand sanitizer or sanitizing lotion can help redeem some of the grossness of the situation.
Once you are established at your final destination, it may be time to bring out your real camera, but if you are in the city or towns of a third world country, a disposable camera is safer to carry with you. In Port au Prince, Haiti, I wasn’t out of the airport and on the street for more than two minutes when one of the street children ran up to me and tried to steal my camera. It’s much better to have a disposable camera stolen and lose a few pictures than have a digital camera stolen, and with it your entire picture card.
Portable Water Filters
Drinking water is going to be hard to find in a lot of these places. Camping stores and Internet sites offer filtered water bottles and portable water filters that can help make even the worst water drinkable (though there are always some viruses so small that they will even slip through the best of water filters — always keep that in mind). Don’t forget replacement cartridges, depending on the length of your stay.
Depending on where you are, electricity will either be completely non-existent or sporadic. It’s amazing how dark “dark” can be, when there is not one city light to be found.
Battery-operated Alarm Clock
Because electricity is not a guarantee, but you will more than likely have a schedule to keep, battery-powered alarm clocks are a must.
High Protein Sqnacks
When I was in Haiti, we arrived at the camp where we would be working with Haitian kids and teens. We arrived at about a 1:00 in the afternoon, and were fully expecting lunch to be presented when we got there. 2:00 passed, 3:00, 4:00… finally, it was 6:30 and we were told supper was ready. It consisted of goat and rice.
We were told later that during our stay at the camp we would be having that same meal every day, only one time a day. “You guys are lucky,” the missionaries told us. “Some of the kids don’t even get that kind of food one time a week!”
Snacks like beef jerky and nuts can provide needed energy and protein when food is hard to come by during third-world country travel.
Reading Material or Puzzle Books
Expect to do a lot of waiting while in third-world countries. National time schedules are not like Western time schedules. Often, nationals will get around to things when they get around to things. This may mean you can wait up to half a day for your “bus” to come pick you up.
Hat or Bandanna
Hair can start looking and feeling pretty nasty after so many days without a shower. Hats and bandannas can cover up the worst of it and make you feel half-way presentable.
We used to douse ourselves in what we called “powder baths”. Both third world countries I was in were hot countries, which meant sweaty bodies. Without shower privileges, this resulted in some pretty smelly people. Baby powder helped eliminate some of the perspiration (at least for a few minutes) and made us feel like we had done something, as far as staying half-way clean went.
In hot countries that often carry their own distinct (unpleasant) smells with them, body spray can be refreshing to the senses.
Again, because third-world countries are often on, or near the equator, the sun shines much brighter than it does in our hemisphere. When I was in Papua New Guinea three of our team members got sun poisoning from being burnt by the sun so badly, and the rest of us had sunburns that went so deep we peeled two layers. Buy the highest SPF you can and forget about trying to get a tan. Chances are, you will still get some color, even with the sunscreen on.
Money Pouch or Belt
Carry all your important papers and money in an under-the-clothes money pouch or belt. Never show those papers or cash in public if you can help it.
If you are traveling apart from a team that has been specifically put together for a third-world trip, it might be in your best interest to have emergency contact numbers in your pouch, and other important numbers, including the U.S. Embassy in that particular country. (You can register your trip with the U.S. Department of State. This is wise to do in case you need to be contacted for any reason, including possible emergency evacuation.)
Remember important medications and have them readily and easily accessible at all times.
Traveling to third world countries can be elightening and educational and can result in some of the best memories of an individual’s life. Being adequately prepared can make those memories even better!