Today’s travel tip for adventuring into third world locales is being pulled from the arsenal as one of our true fundamentals.
First, since the title contains the word “Intel”; a crash course in terms (from a once intel-gathering bubba long bereft of lethality):
• Intel is shorthand for intelligence.
• Intelligence is not information.
• Information is what is inferred through an observer’s five senses.
• Intelligence is information that has been filtered by a qualified third party to some degree of legitimacy and/or objective use.
Why the lesson? Because when diving into wild foreign lands, it’s important to realize there are potentially two stages to your planning. When it comes to traveling abroad, Tapping into Local Intel needs to be at the very top of your rucksack. Locals are the greatest information filter—the ultimate qualified third party, not Yelp, not LonelyPlanet.
Unfortunately, traveling types don’t always leverage on this. In fact, as much as the weathered vacationer will swear up and down they punched out into the brave unknown, anyone who has ever stayed at a resort in a developing country can attest: the pods of “curious” and “multicultural” tourists clinging to the resort’s imported sand on its sad designated beach.
People overwhelmingly do not like gettin’ down n’ dirty with the natives. This can be for a number of reasons; concerns over crime, language barrier, unsanitary streets and bathrooms, they don’t want to look stupid asking for directions in a straw hat, and perhaps worst of all—thinking the best times to be had are in the resorts themselves.
Gawwwd, how that last ones the lie of the brochure. But, the underlying instinct keeping those resort-hermits—and perhaps you—stuck between the bar and the cover band busily butchering “Cheeseburger in Paradise” is as understandable as it is universal: the fear of the unknown.
And though we’re aware our readers are prone to jumping out of planes, badge-sanctioned brawls, and volunteering for gunfights in dubious world conflicts, let’s also be honest with ourselves here—such ambitions can make our ilk a tad reluctant to venture out amongst certain groups, and at points on the map that the media swears are fetid and rife with unrest.
But come on . . . fuck it, gloves off . . . if you can drive down crowded interstates every day, or increase your odds of cancer with every puff, or just suffer the basic existential horror of being a soft creature in a hard-edged world, you are qualified to take that bus ride from Nairobi to Arusha.
Along the way, knowledge that took a local a lifetime to accrue can be given to a polite and curious traveler in the stretch of an hour. Knowledge of where to go, where not to, where the hidden trails are, where the drinks are the coldest and the cheapest—when coming from someone who was born and will die a yellow-fever-card’s toss from your hostel—will always, we say again—will always— be more accurate than what some starry-eyed or ripped off tourist wrote on TripAdvisor.
And remember too, all you app-waving, tech-savvy millennials with the best hashtags… not everything makes its way onto the screen of a smart phone. Been my experience a lot of good stuff in the third world enjoys a sort of off-the-grid anointing.
One big reason you run into this off-the-grid phenomenon is simply usage. While it’s true a lot of people in developing countries harness the power of the internet to do more than follow Kendra Lust and eagerly DM iNfluEnCers—many merchants don’t advertise online.
So we’ll leave it at that. Make contact with the indigenous. Boots on the ground is always best.
But, one thing you should know about making contact is, in many places, Currency is Courtesy.
I once asked a guard in Dar es Salaam to help me find a cab. After emerging from his aluminum shack and consulting an ancient Nokia, a taxi wheeled up to greet us. The guard’s hand came out alright, palm facing up. My “thank you” handshake ended up being met, but not warmly. His face said it all and the lesson was learned.
How we are perceived is an important takeaway here. If you can afford to whisk off to these exotic places, you know, the ones with the gorgeous beaches, majestic mountains, and the occasional, entertaining military coup (let’s face it, most of us can’t afford it but we go anyway) the people who live there peg you as someone who is able to let go of some cash. I’d argue that’s not entirely unjustified, either. Someone who earns two dollars a day may not be working for a smile. Throw some paper love their way and suddenly a whole new world of opportunities can open wide; from illegal paths up volcanos to where the weed man proudly awaits thee. And besides, a few dollars in local hands is still far cheaper than the aforementioned resort with the aforementioned designated beach.
Welp, that about does it. Just remember, below the surface of all the western headlines about Why You Shouldn’t Leave Your Home, Let Alone Your Country is a world as fun as it is inviting. Yes, yes, still have a plan to kill them, and don’t abandon sound judgement, but approach foreign faces—even the mangled, toothless ones. Chances are they won’t be strangers for long.