Tips for travelling smart in developing countries

Posted Date: 16 June 2017
Travel developing countries

What do Panama, Bosnia and Tajikistan have in common? They’re some of the fastest-growing countries for international tourism, according to the World Tourism Organisation, and they’re also considered developing countries on the Human Development Index.

International travel has never been more affordable, more popular, or more diverse. Travellers are now going beyond well-worn tourist hotspots and exploring the remote villages of Asia, the untouched beaches of Central America, and the historic towns of Eastern Europe.

These destinations offer a unique overseas experience (often at a fraction of the price), but they also present unique risks to travellers. Just ask the Kiwi tourist who was detained in Kazakhstan when immigration officials refused to believe that New Zealand was a country!

In this article, we explore the areas that are booming in popularity and provide practical advice for travelling in developing countries.

What is a developing country?

The Human Development Index (HDI) is a ranking system developed by the United Nations, which accounts for life expectancies, education and standard of living. There are three core categories in the system: undeveloped; developing and developed.

The term ‘developing country’ is vague and sometimes controversial. However, the HDI considers a developing country one where life expectancies, education and living conditions have not yet achieved the same standard as in ‘developed’ countries, like New Zealand.

What does this all mean for travellers?

Developing countries are some of the most culturally exciting and naturally beautiful destinations in the world. However, a lower standard of living goes hand in hand with health and safety concerns. If you’re travelling to a developing nation, it’s your responsibility to prepare for greater risks than other countries.

We list a few simple strategies to stay safe in developing countries further on in this article, but now let’s look into the areas that are becoming more popular for travellers.

What developing countries are popular for travel?

Recent figures from the World Tourism Organisation show that tourist arrivals are increasing in areas of South-East Asia, Central and South America and Africa. What do these four regions have to offer for international travellers?

1. South-East Asia

From the secluded beaches of Thailand to the ornate temples of Vietnam, it’s no surprise that South-East Asia has built a strong reputation as an attractive holiday destination. While Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam are the tourism heavyweights in the region, South-East Asia is also home to emerging favourites like Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and the Philippines. 

Things to consider:

Every country in South-East Asia (except Singapore) is considered a developing country on the HDI, meaning travellers should prepare their holiday carefully. For example, staying safe in Thailand can be a matter of researching local laws, dodging scammers and protecting yourself from drink spiking. 

2. Central America

Home to tropical bliss on its Caribbean coast, authentic Latin villages in its mountainous centre, and lively beach towns on its Pacific shoreline, Central America is another emerging favourite for international visitors. Central America encompasses Panama, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Belize, which each offer a diversity of attractions to adventurous travellers.

Things to consider:

Unfortunately, Central America is home to some of the most dangerous cities in the world. For example, Honduras’ capital San Pedro Sula is regarded as the ‘murder capital of the world’, and neighbouring El Salvador is a stronghold of organised crime. One of our most troubling claims came from an unlucky couple who were robbed at gunpoint and left tied up in a Guatemalan jungle. 

3. South America

Machu Picchu, Christ the Redeemer, the Salar de Uyuni salt flat in Bolivia - South America has no shortage of attractions. But travellers are venturing further than these longstanding tourist hotspots, visiting Colombia’s vibrant cities, Chile’s rugged coastline and Paraguay’s colonial architecture. In fact, Paraguay’s tourism grew by 97% in 2015!

Things to consider:

Like in Central America, there are a number of dangerous areas in South America, where drug and gang-related crime is common. Colombia, Peru, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela are regarded as particularly high-risk areas for tourists. Always follow travel warnings on Safe Travel if you’re visiting South America.

4. Africa

Travellers to Africa are lured by the promise of raw desert landscapes and extreme wildlife, however safari tours are no longer the only option for tourists. Destinations like the Seychelles archipelago are rising in popularity as infrastructure improves, with the region experiencing massive tourism growth.

Things to consider:

As one look at the Safe Travel advice will tell you, much of Africa remains incredibly dangerous - travel is officially advised against in 25 African countries! Remember, our policy won’t cover you in destinations with a risk rating of “High” or “Extreme” on Safe Travel.

How to travel safe in developing countries

Travelling to developing nations can be a thrilling experience, however it’s an unfortunate reality that health and safety concerns go hand-in-hand with poverty. Some of the most exciting destinations can also be some of the poorest, where the standard of living is worlds away from what we enjoy at home. Here are five essential considerations for travellers to developing countries.

1. Know your travel advisory ratings

Safe Travel should be your go-to resource for travel advice no matter where in the world you’re heading, but this is especially important for developing countries where health and safety concerns are greater.

2. Know the risks

As you research your destination, keep an eye out for common themes. For example, you may uncover that a particular market in Thailand is renowned for petty theft, that an Indonesian eatery is notorious for poor hygiene, or that India is a hotspot for taxi scams.

Identifying these risks is the first step in trying to overcome them.

3. Know what you’re in for

No matter how many articles you read, how many videos you watch, or how many stories you hear from friends, culture shock can still land on you like a tonne of bricks. Poverty, crime and unimaginable living conditions can be confronting, so ensure you know what you’re in for when booking travel to a developing country. 

4. Know your place

If you’re visiting a poor nation, your mobile phone may be worth more than a local family’s annual income. Travellers should be self-aware about how their wealth appears to local residents. Leave your jewellery at home and avoid unnecessary haggling at markets and in taxis.

It can be tempting to give away your valuables to locals, however travellers should consider whether this will encourage begging habits, particularly in children.

5. Know your cover

Comprehensive travel insurance is absolutely essential if you’re visiting a developing country, and understanding the terms of your cover is a good way to avoid being stung with unexpected costs. You can read all of the details of your cover under our TravelCare policy in our PDS.

Travelling off the beaten track can be an unforgettable and even life-changing experience, but it requires careful research and planning.

If you have any questions about how the TravelCare policy might cover you when travelling to a developing country, please feel free to give our friendly team a call for clarification on 0800 800 571 or email us at

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