Most independent travelers headed for developing countries know to bring a money belt, invest in a pair of durable shoes and abide by simple food rules: boil it, peel it, cook it or forget it.
Here’s some less common advice, tips I wish someone had told me before my trip to Africa.
Love your mozzie net.
If you need a mosquito net, buy one that includes poles and sets up like a tent. (I use this Skeeter Defeater from Long Road Travel Supplies.) Hangable nets are useless when there’s nowhere to hang them.
Learn to Skype.
Skype, a free service that allows you to make calls over the Internet, is the cheapest way to call home. The drawback: for it to work well, you’ll need a solid Internet connection, which can be hard to find in some developing countries. If you plan to Skype often, you may want to bring your own headset.
Be your own office assistant.
Create sticky labels with addresses of anyone who deserves to get a postcard. You won’t have to carry an address book, and you’ll know you sent all required postcards when the labels are gone.
Buy visas along the way.
It take s a little planning, but buying a visa in the country adjacent to where you’re going is usually cheaper than buying it from home and requires less paperwork. Just make sure there’s an embassy for country #2 in country #1, lest you get stuck without one. Remember to ask about multi-country visas, which also can save you money.
Cipro for the sicko.
Convince your doctor to prescribe several doses of Cipro, or Ciprofloxacin, an antibiotic that treats bacterial infections — pretty much anything that forces you to spend your entire day squatting over the toilet. Since travelers often suffer from stomach bugs in developing countries, it’s smart to have this drug handy. Bring Bacitracin ointment, too, and use it; even small cuts become easily infected in developing countries.
Make room for music.
Ditch something in your pack so you can bring lightweight, portable speakers for your iPod. You’ll use them.
Wear your torch.
Bring a headlamp and an extra set of batteries. You’ll use it on dark, unlit streets when the power goes out and in hostel dorm rooms when you want to read late at night.
Ask for the cheapest room.
When checking into a hotel, ask if there’s a cheaper room. When they show it to you, ask if there’s anything cheaper. Since hotels make more money booking expensive rooms, they’ll sometimes place guests in, say, a double when all the client really needs is a single. Remember to ask whether there’s a dorm, too.
Look for books.
Ask hostels whether they have a book exchange, where you can leave a book you’ve already read and take one left there by another traveler. If you’re always on the lookout for book swaps, you’ll never need to carry more than one book at a time.
Pack a pillow.
No, not the huge, fluffy one you normally sleep with. I’m talking about a small, portable pillow. (I like this Equinox Headrest sold at Eastern Mountain Sports.) The cheaper the accommodation, the less comfortable the pillow, if you get one at all. And let’s face it: Do you really want to put your head on those hostel pillows anyhow?
Seek out alternative power.
If you’re bringing electronics that need to be recharged but wonder whether you’ll have electricity, invest in a small solar recharge system. For an iPod, consider bringing an extra battery. Don’t forget that rechargeable batteries, though environmentally friendly, are useless if you’re staying in a mud hut without an outlet. For this reason, I use a digital camera that runs off old-school throw-away batteries.
Pack as little as possible.
You’ve heard this a zillion times. You’ve dumped half of what you packed to lighten your load. Now lighten it even more. Can you walk around the block carrying all your stuff, and free a hand to shoo away strange men? Now you’re set to go.