24 hours and a gnarly border crossing in small town Ukraine

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As the army fatigue and Ushanka-wearing officer scrutinized my passport his gun brushed my arm. I wondered what we had gotten ourselves into…

Whenever we visit somewhere we always look for wider exploration possibilities if the time allows. With 7 days in Krakow, my partner and I felt we had plenty of time to see the city along with Auschwitz and the Wieliczka Saltmines. But after pondering the map for a while we noticed the Ukrainian city of Lviv was withing striking distance from Krakow. It felt like a great opportunity to check the reality at ground level (versus how the Ukraine is portrayed in the media).

Travelling from Poland to Ukraine — from Krakow to Lviv (and back) — turned out to be just as much of an experience as our time in Lviv itself. This article is both a guide for others wishing to take the same route/trip and also a report on the strange, wonderful and sometimes scary journey we had into the unknown and the thoughts it left us with.


For a while the internet proved little help. The distance on the map wasn’t much more than DC to New York or Manchester to London. But this was Eastern Europe.

As the region is so cheap, my initial thought was to look for trains instead of coaches. To my astonishment, the train and the coach appeared to take the same amount of time. The price was also quite expensive, an overnight sleeper train in shared compartment would set us back over £120 (roundtrip), which we couldn’t justify for one day; add that to the fact the time tabling wasn’t really looking great for us.

Booking the tickets

All photos by the author.

Looking for alternatives in the form of a coach/bus brought up many fruitless searches. Most of the coach companies operating out of Poland only traveled either west out of the country or internally.

I thought perhaps this was a sign we should steer clear of the route, but we were bullishly determined to see this misunderstood and mysterious country.

I happened upon a Ukrainian travel website, Tickets.ua. In the end it was pretty straightforward to use and book tickets. The website was in Russian, but the Google Chrome translation was close enough for us to figure it out. But the ticket-buying page, on the other hand, couldn’t be translated at all — the essential information was in Cyrillic.

We ended up paying £60 for two round-trip tickets. For an adventure of this magnitude, you can’t get much cheaper.

It was a strange feeling, standing in the Krakow bus station knowing that in just 24 hours we would be back in the same spot, but not knowing at all what those 24 hours had in store for us. We were nervous and excited say the least, having heard a mixture of horror stories and glowing recommendations. It really makes you think about what most people do in an average 24 hours and how fast that time normally goes.

Before the trip, most of the people we spoke to in Krakow were cagey — to say the least — about our trip. Our attempts to get currency also ended up being a saga in itself. The Ukrainian Hryvnia is pretty much worthless and most countries don’t stock it at all. It was impossible to find back home, so we waited until Poland. Here again, it was in short supply. After visiting a tiny and not-all-together legitimate bureau de change, the little old woman behind the counter managed to cobble together a grand total of £30 after spending almost an hour in and out of the other nearby booth.

The bus station

When we got to Krakow bus station there were no signs for our coach on any of the information screens or above the stalls. I began questioning the legitimacy of the Ukrainian website when no one seemed to even recognize the company or the route, even a policeman.

We came across a Ukrainian couple with the same tickets as us. In broken English, she managed to explain that the bus was late and should be here in a little while. In the end, the bus was 30 minutes late which given the distance it had covered (it is on the Kiev-Warsaw route), I guess isn’t all that bad. Apparently it is rare that is does actually turn up on time and pretty much operates outside of the official channels.

The coach was a “regabus” (the return being a “Sinbad”) and was actually quite comfortable, although it didn’t have a toilet and we only stopped once during the whole 9 hours! (We weren’t allowed out at the 4 hours border crossing.) It was no “Greyhound” or “National Express,” but it was better than what we expected.

The border crossing

Perhaps we should have done some reading up beforehand as it turns out this particular border is quite notorious, but I guess the adventure is in not knowing! I’d checked the visa situation before and holders of UK passports are allowed into Ukraine without a visa; this is also true for US passports and the majority of Europe (Australian and New Zealand passport holders do need a visa).

The crossing into Ukraine took around 3.5 hours and involved a lot of nervous waiting time and not really knowing what was going on at all combined with armed guards taking our passports. It turns out this border crossing on average takes around 3 hours…so that explained why the bus journey was scheduled to take so long. Although 9 hours is 9 hours whether moving or not.

First up was the rather young and keen Polish officer with his massive peaked hat who stamped the visas. Sounds simple but my passport has seen better days and took a while to swipe, all the while the officer was looking at me with increasing suspicion. I do have a Russian visa in my passport and got interrogated at JFK because they were convinced I was Russian. The guy didn’t speak a word the entire time he was on the coach, only to ask me if I had ever been to the Ukraine in a thick Polish accent after many attempts to scan my passport!

When we actually entered Ukraine, a huge man in army fatigues with a rather large automatic rifle and obligatory fur hat came on to collect our passports. I got the feeling this route didn’t see many British passports and he made sure to thoroughly inspect ours… and the various visas and stamps they contained. With a bundle of passports, our standing out against all the Ukrainian and Polish ones, he took our passports off at gunpoint.

At this point it was 4am and we were tired and beginning to feel a little nervous. Would our Russian and US stamps make us suspicious given the political climate in Ukraine? Would our lesser seen British passports make us a target?

Two other officers proceeded to pull a couple of men off the coach with some force; who they were or why we have no idea, but we they never returned to the bus. At this point everyone but us received our passports back and we expected to be the next to be pulled off the bus…maybe this was one adventure too far? Another anxious wait ensued as several people seemed to be coming in and out of the room they were holding our passports in. I knew my passport wasn’t in the best of conditions being almost 10 years old and wondered if it looked suspicious to them as it has in Moscow. Thankfully the guard eventually handed our passports back over–his gun grazing my arm. The coach pulled away and our passports were stamped…we were in!

First impressions of Ukraine and the drive to Lviv

I wasn’t prepared for the sights outside of the bus windows. I had been told Lviv was very similar to Krakow, but really, outside of the city, this was far from the truth. I wondered, looking out across the foggy and dusty landscape, if we had made the right choice coming here. It all seemed so desolate and in all honesty, a little sketchy especially after what felt like a close call at the border! The roads went from multilane motorways with hi tech lights and signs to crumbling through-ways which seemed to be the only “tarmacked” surface for miles.

The houses and farms we came across all seemed self-built and more resembled shanty towns than the grand polish country houses we had left behind. Packs of dogs, Chickens and Goats roamed these dotted settlements, it felt like a step back in time to the time of the Soviet Empire. From the modern cars of Poland to the dusty relics of Ukraine. Inexplicably dotted between the soviet blocks and rural settlements where grand gold domed churches and soviet era Gagarin sculptures which seemed vastly out of sync with the lives of the locals.

It was approaching 8am as the light finally came up and all signs turned to Cyrillic. People lined the streets waiting for the local bus. Everything looked grey and dusty; the fog didn’t help, even the their clothes looked washed out and faded. I had expected to see another developed and confident eastern European country as we had experience with Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. But instead, this resembled the sparse decaying remains of an ex-soviet state still battling to overcome its oppressor and thrive on its own.

The recent political event and Russian’s insistence on controlling this country then seemed to come even more into focus. How could such a large and sprawling country with such poverty and a weak economy overcome the powerhouse that is Russia?

There were also great dense forests made up of the same tall white birch I had seen on our long train journey from the airport to Moscow centre a few years earlier, dotted with random people standing by themselves and staring into the traffic seemingly miles away from any form of civilization. I spotted an older man who had removed both his shoes and shirt and stood by the edge of the woods, all alone, stretching up and down. It reminded me of the people I saw from the train in Russia, who sat by themselves in the woods drinking vodka by a fire. At times this country seemed wild, barren, and desolate filled with people who existed in a world away from where we came from.

Pulling into the bus station it was clear we were not actually in the centre of Lviv, or at least we really hoped we weren’t. The big soviet monstrosity of a bus station was pitched a good few miles out in a rough looking district composed mainly of tower blocks and run down social housing. Communicating with anyone here was a real challenge with most people having little or no understanding of English and even less willingness to assist, we even had someone wave in our faces whilst shouting “немає” or in other words, NO! That we could understand. For a moment we thought we were stranded in the bus station, surrounded by an intimidating group of people with our foreignness becoming increasingly evident.

The rusting buses were quite disorganized and with no way to tell where they were headed or how to buy tickets we opted for a taxi. We ended up paying 60 UAH…which worked out to be around £2.50.

The drivers thought were haggling with them when in reality we just weren’t sure what they said and increasingly seemed annoyed by our presence. We inadvertently drove them down from 80 to 60 which we eventually settled by writing into the dust on the, at least 30 year old, taxi window. We soon learnt on this 40-minute journey that there seems to be no actual rules on the roads in Ukraine.

Arriving in Lviv we were greeted by one of the most beautiful cities we have ever visited, honestly it felt like other country to that of the border, rural and bus station regions. We still got some funny looks when we spoke and it still felt quite alien and frankly odd to be in Ukraine given all we had read and seen, but this was the place I had been promised when we booked those tickets. A grand old historic city with sights aplenty and almost no other tourists in sight… and the cheapest place we have ever visited. If really felt like Krakow or Prague before the tourist boom, an authentic and honest look into these ex-soviet states of Eastern Europe and their fascinating, proud and intense culture.

The thing about travelling to these places and seeing them first hand is that the propaganda surrounding travel seems to unravel. Travel is about experiencing new feelings and having your preconceptions blown out of the water. It’s about opening your mind to new cultures and new perspectives, stepping out of your normality and embracing someone else’s.

The return journey

After an exhausting day getting about Lviv we headed back to the bus station, and hailed a taxi not far from the main Rynok square. This time the driver was much more approachable and tried his best to converse with us in a mixture of broken English and German whilst explaining to us that he had only been taught Russian in school as he put it, “for political reasons.”

Shorty and the taxi driver with his little Ukrainian flag, these guys are very proud of their country in Lviv.

What was refreshing when we spoke this guy is that he had no idea where we were from, you get used to being easily identifiable as “British Tourists” and it’s hard to be anonymous, but to him we could have been from anywhere. He seemed fascinated by the fact we were from Manchester, how strange that you are here he remarked whilst reeling off the names of Manchester United players…we didn’t have the heart to tell him we support Liverpool and Arsenal.

It’s funny, he was trying to explain what the specialty of the military academy we passed was using his limited English and German, struggling to find one that fit, eventually coming up with the Polish for umbrella which is Parasol… Oh Parachute we said, to which he laughed and said, oh, it’s the same in Ukrainian and Russian! “парашут” (parashut).

The driver was fiercely proud to be Ukrainian and his little blue and yellow flag was a clear sign of his allegiances. His son, he explained, was over in Donetsk “defending the name of his people.” Here the personal realities of this country at war really hit us.

On the way back, the border crossing took over 3 hours. The border going back into Poland was much more controlled as it is also the border of the EU and notorious for smuggling. I had expected our return to the EU to be a simple process of stamping us back into what was our territory without question given our British passports.

However, once again they would come under scrutiny, this time from a large and intimidating woman who we could see from the partially transparent window scanning and stamping each passport out of Ukraine…until it came to ours, which she left on one side for further inspection.

I could see it was my passport she was holding up to the light for another look. When the armed guard returned and the driver handed back our passports but mine wasn’t on the pile, again! Now would my Russian visa in this tatty passport cause a problem for my exit from this country? Did they want to keep me and question us why we had been to Ukraine after Russia?

Around 90% on the bus were Ukrainian and required a visa, and they didn’t just scan them! The bus driver had checked everyone’s passports before we got on and when he came to us it was another curious incident where we tried to explain that we didn’t need visas as we have EU passports. He didn’t understand a word we said and all he saw was a passport he didn’t recognize with no visa. He walked off with them and found a passenger who uttered something to him in Ukrainian the only word of which I understood was something that sounded vaguely like “Britannia.” We had hoped the polish border guards would be a little more familiar with them.

This time two polish guards, along with their guns, got on board to check and stamp visas and passports. And of course when it came to us instead of just scanning and saying OK as we expected, they took them away AGAIN; we didn’t see them again for another two hours.

Several people were being dragged off the bus at this point by the guards, along with their belongings, most returned after a couple of hours but some didn’t! Apparently one was a Turkish national who it seemed would be interrogated before being allowed into the EU. Every inch of the bus was searched this time, under the wheels, the overhead lockers and between the seats for stowaways. It certainly isn’t easy to make this crossing unofficially.

Finally over the border and it was another four hours to Krakow and time to relax and reflect on a country most will never see, a beautiful and surprising city and a border crossing we won’t forget in a long time.

Final thoughts

If you are in Krakow and feel the need for extra adventure or are just traveling across Eastern Europe, I would wholly recommend this trip. Take the bus and experience this wonderfully different county for yourself. Its experiences and memories like make travel so special.

It felt like we had been in a time warp when we got back to the station; we could have been gone for days or just seconds. It’s that sense of the fluidity of time which travel gives you which I really love, because I honestly didn’t care what time or day it was, just that we had had one of the most memorable experiences of our lives and with each experience you gain you get the confidence to explore further and further.

Europe could have COVID-19 vaccine passports by summer

On February 25, European Union leaders met to discuss a number of issues related to the pandemic, including the possibility of creating a digital COVID-19 vaccine certificate.

Following the meeting, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that “everyone agreed that we need a digital vaccination certificate,” according to a Reuters report. Merkel added that the European Commission would need about three months to establish the framework for such digital documents, meaning they could be up and running by the summer.

The creation of such certificates “does not mean that only those who have a vaccination passport are allowed to travel,” the German leader said.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen told the Wall Street Journal in a March 3 report that “the aim is to gradually enable them [EU citizens] to move safely in the European Union or abroad—for work or tourism.”

In their February 25 meeting, European Council members called for efforts to continue on a common approach to vaccine certificates and said that they plan to revisit the issue.

But they also stated that for the time being, nonessential travel must remain restricted.

The members noted that the public health situation in Europe is still “serious, and the new variants pose additional challenges. We must therefore uphold tight restrictions while stepping up efforts to accelerate the provision of vaccines.”

Beaches – socially distanced sun-bathing?

The beach season has ended now, so there are no life guards or monitoring in place. Below are the restrictions from last summer, I’ll leave them here incase they are the same next year and this f*!&ing thing is still going on.

The general rules and systems in place are as follows:

– An app, which shows occupancy rates for participating beaches in advance so you can see the best beach near you to visit (search Info Praia app)
– This is dictated by a traffic light system, green, yellow and red – and in some case, as you’ll see below, even physical traffic lights!
– Guarded beaches with lifeguards will see the life guars monitoring and enforcing social distancing
– The social distancing of 1.5metres between beachgoers, more on parasols
– Sports of more than two people are banned, excluding water sports
– Parking is prohibited on roads to beaches outside of the car park, they have quite quickly started putting down new double yellows too.
– More rules are on an infographic here: https://www.visitportugal.com/en/node/421175

  • The Parque Natural da Arrábida provides Amalfi Coast style high roads, or beaches almost Caribbean likem


Ukraine shares international borders with Belarus, Russia, Poland, Slovakia, Moldova, Hungary and Romania. The country is over 600,000 square kilometres big and has around 45 million inhabitants, although this number is declining (48 million in 2001!). The Ukraine is the largest country whose area is completely situated within Europe (unlike Russia). It is the second country in Europe by its territory after Russia. The territory of Ukraine stretches for 900 km (560 miles) from the north to the south and for 1,316 km (818 miles) from the west to the east.

The Ukrainian landscape mainly consists of fertile plains (steppes) and plateaus, bisected by rivers such like the Dnipro. There are thousands of big and small rivers and streams (they say there are 22,400 of them overall), as well as hundreds of lakes and ponds. The Dnipro is the biggest of the Ukrainian rivers and is the third largest river in Europe that runs almost through the middle of Ukraine dividing the country into two parts: Left bank and Right bank territories. Most of the streams, tributaries and rivers empty into the few main rivers and flow southward into the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. To the southwest, the delta of the Danube River forms the border with Romania.

Only small part of the territory of the republic is mountainous. The highest elevation in Ukraine is in the Carpathian Mountain range in the southwest of the country. Greatly beloved by the Ukrainian people, the Carpathians are extremely picturesque. The highest peak in the Ukrainian Carpathians is Mount Hoverla that reaches the height of 2,061 meters (6,762 feet).

  • 1 Preparation
    • 1.1 Money
    • 1.2 Electricity
    • 1.3 Vaccines and medications
    • 1.4 Travel insurance
  • 2 Get in
    • 2.1 Visas
    • 2.2 Mental preparation
    • 2.3 Immigration troubles
    • 2.4 Arrival
    • 2.5 Get a local data SIM card
  • 3 Get around
  • 4 Talk
  • 5 Sleep
  • 6 Stay safe
    • 6.1 Police
  • 7 Stay healthy
  • 8 Cope
    • 8.1 Packing
  • 9 See also

Travel in low-income countries can be challenging even to the most seasoned globetrotter.

Infrastructure for transport, electricity, water, communication and money transfer might be deficient, and there may be problems with food safety, health care, and sanitation. Poverty might induce begging, scams and crime. In some places corruption is also a problem.

—Hans Rosling, Professor of International Health

Money Edit

The concern regarding exchange rates and that (hard) cash is the preferred and sometimes only option of payment is especially true for developing countries. In some less-developed countries, the local currency may be so weak or so inflated that foreign currency (such as U.S. dollars) is used in larger transactions.

Many poor countries are high-fraud areas, don't be surprised if an attempt to use a payment card, make a VoIP call or access a password-protected website which always worked fine in your own country suddenly gets flagged as suspicious by your home providers just because you tried to get access while travelling to somewhere like Nigeria. Countries with widespread poverty, weak enforcement of criminal laws or ongoing corruption attract all manner of fraud. Contact your card issuers and the operators of any service you intend to rely upon while abroad, so that they know that you are travelling and can tell you if certain countries are blocked due to fraud and abuse.

Electricity Edit

Research the voltage and plug configuration before travelling with plug-in devices. It is rather frustrating to arrive and find that your most expensive item, some piece of electronics, cannot be recharged or used. "Universal" adapters with plugs for every conceivable outlet on earth are handy, but they tend to be heavy and expensive so if you know where you're going they're overkill – and adapters are not enough when voltage or frequency do not match your device.

Developing countries tend to have power failures more often than high income places. While Germany on the one hand has 15 minutes of power outage per year, some less developed places may have at least an hour without electricity per week. Also when there is power, there may be brownouts (lower voltage) and power spikes. Don't count on electricity "just working", bring patience and a flashlight. In some places, power is even switched on only for certain periods of time, check before you go, and in such locations, consider accommodation with their own generator or solar panels (usually equipped with batteries for the night but don't count on it), if available.

The quality of power supply can vary widely within a country. While an outage of a few hours in the capital may make headlines, more rural dwellers can only laugh as they read the ridiculously capital-centric newspaper's coverage by candlelight, themselves having such outages weekly.

For some places, it would be a fine idea to get a surge protector to keep your electronics safe from voltage fluctuations.

Vaccines and medications Edit

Many countries will deny entry without proof of appropriate vaccinations. In particular, a number of Central African countries and French Guiana require all incoming tourists to be vaccinated with yellow fever vaccination. Refer to Yellow fever for more information.

Ideally, visit a travel clinic at least two months before departure to plan any vaccinations or prescriptions you may need (see Stay healthy below for more info). These doctors specialize in travel medicine and can give you advice that is more specific to your travels than a generalist physician, who will likely know little more about local conditions than what's on the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention's website. Still, any doctor is better than none.

As of January 2021, no countries require vaccination against COVID-19, but it seems likely that many will once those vaccines become widespread. See our article on the COVID-19 pandemic for general information, and consult the governments of destination countries for specifics. Also, some airlines — such as the largest Australian carrier, Qantas — have said that they will require vaccinations for international passengers.

Travel insurance Edit

Although travel insurance should be purchased regardless of where you travel, it is especially important when travelling to developing countries, especially since the cost of dealing with emergencies can add up quickly, In particular, since medical facilities in developing countries are often not up to the standards of more developed ones, you can likely get a better standard of care by being evacuated home, or at the very least to a more developed country by air. As medical evacuation flights are very costly, you should definitely ensure that your travel insurance policy covers this.

Visas Edit

The availability of visas ranges from "no visa needed" or "visa on arrival for (almost) all high-income countries" to "basically tourists are a nuisance to our glorious leader". While much has improved since the fall of the Soviet Union, there are still corners of the world where letters of invitation are needed or an arm and a leg are charged just for the application and visas are routinely denied for no other reason than "We don't like your face" (which is how third-world citizens are often treated in the western world). Some developing countries may also be in different stages of conflict with other countries in the region or developed countries far away, resulting in visa trouble.

IATA (the International Air Transport Association) provides a database which is usually up to date and is the way most airlines judge whether you need a visa prior to boarding. If you lack a visa the database says you need, you will be denied boarding. You cannot directly access that database, but IATA have a travel information web page which covers vaccination requirements and customs rules as well as visas.

Many airlines and some travel agents can also provide visa information, often based on the IATA database. Sites such as Project Visa or Visa Hunter also have databases of visa information for each country. However - mostly for legal reasons - none of these sources including IATA provide any guarantee for their information, so double checking with the embassy or embassies in question is a good idea if there is any doubt.

Not all overland or river border crossings are open or intended for citizens of third countries (i.e. a crossing between two countries may be able to handle citizens of those countries, but not citizens of any other country) and even those that are may not routinely provide visas on arrival, which may make your trip needlessly complicated. If you can, find out in advance what's the case and ask multiple sources. Try to get the answer in writing from as official a source as you can, which not only ensures smooth travel but will reduce the risk of being asked for a bribe.

There are two schools of thought for getting visas: one says to obtain visas as far in advance if possible, so you can buffer for unexpected delays, while the other says to obtain as close to your destination as possible, where you can get your visa rapidly and with less hassle as it's a more standard procedure. Ideally you can combine them by starting your trip at a "visa hub" city where you can get visas for nearly all neighboring countries (but some countries insist you get the visa at some specific place, depending on your home country). Some examples by region include:

You can also obtain visas for almost any country in the world in Washington D.C., Tokyo, Beijing, Moscow and Western European capitals including London, Brussels, Berlin and Paris. You can also mail your visa application and passport to the nearest embassy or consulate (use registered mail). However, applications done this way tend to be time-consuming and expensive.

Mental preparation Edit

If traveling in a developing country for the first time – or in a new part of the world – don't underestimate the potential culture shock. Many a stable, capable traveler has been overcome by the newness of developing world travel, where many little cultural adjustments can add up quickly. Especially in your initial days, consider splurging on Western-style and -quality hotels, food, and services to help acclimatize.

It may help to think in terms of "rupees" and "whoopies". The terms originated with a two-year-old who could not pronounce the Indian currency, rupees, and called them "whoopies". The parents decided that their travel budget included some of each, and that the distinction was important. When the tourist restaurant has an expensive lunch and you walk down the street to a cafe full of locals and eat basically the same meal for a third the price, you are saving rupees. Good move. However, when it is hot, noisy, dusty, and there are beggars everywhere, and you take refuge in an air-conditioned restaurant even though it serves bad lamb-burgers for twice the cost of the tourist restaurant's lunch, you are spending whoopies. Enjoy the cool and don't worry much about the cost.

Often a good escape is the buffet breakfast or lunch at a good hotel. Many of these are very good and some superb. These are generally outrageously priced by local standards, but often quite reasonable by Western standards.

Immigration troubles Edit

If you are arriving at an international border, immigration officials may actively solicit bribes, particularly preying on tourists from richer countries. Southeast Asian countries like Cambodia, Indonesia and Vietnam are such hot-spots. Use of violence against tourists who refuse to pay for bribe is not unheard of.

The following advice may be useful:

  • Make sure that you are aware of legitimate charges that border crossing entails (either at exit or entry) and get a receipt for them if possible.
  • Make sure you bring all required documents when crossing the border, as it is a common pretext for immigration officials to claim that there are problems with your documents before they solicit a bribe.
  • Consider using major border crossings (such as the capital's airport) instead of small border crossings.
  • Avoid entering at night, as sleepy tourists are better prey of corrupt officials, and fewer people passing through means fewer witnesses.
  • If the officials insist for a bribe:
    • Pretend that you cannot understand their request, as some officials may soon realize that it is too time-consuming.
    • Arguing with the officials based on law is largely futile, and may probably provoke the officials. Threatening to lodge a complaint to your country's diplomatic missions may depend on situation, make the situation better or worse.
    • If you are brought to another separate room, be prepared that the officials may be at best preparing for a protracted war, and at worst, preparing for physical violence. Observe the officials, and prepare for the fact that you may be forced to pay a bribe.
  • If possible, memorize the name and/or staff number of the official, as it helps filing complaint to your country's diplomatic missions and/or local anti-corruption agencies.
  • Lastly, if you are not demanded a bribe, don't try to actively bribe the officials. Not only your act may encourage further corruption and cause more trouble to future tourists, but you may also commit an offense in both your country and the destination — most countries have universal-jurisdiction law to prosecute those who are involved in corruption.

Arrival Edit

Some of the following is also advisable in some high income countries, but is often doubly valid in developing countries.

In many places any obvious tourist or newcomer will be swamped with offers of guides, hotels, and taxi services. It's important to look like you know what you're doing, and not be forced into accepting an offer just because you arrived unprepared.

In many places, it is better to avoid the people yelling "taxi?" inside the airport or train station, they are often touting for or driving unlicensed meter-less taxis. Furthermore, they often make their money by taking you to specific hotels, which give them a referral fee. You are better off taking the airport bus or going outside and looking for a real taxi with a license and often a meter. In some countries (Peru, Mexico, Colombia, etc) the real licensed taxis are only allowed to wait within a certain taxi rank, with a ticket seller or dispatcher there or inside the terminal building. You buy a ticket from the dispatcher or ticket seller and then hand the ticket to the driver at the taxi rank. If there is safe reliable public transit, it's often worth it to familiarize yourself with it and avoid the taxi altogether.

One way to avoid the crush, especially in India, is to use a local agent for booking accommodation or internal travel in advance. When you arrive at your destination the local agent will be waiting with your name on a notice and they will have a driver to take you to your hotel. It might cost a little bit more but it beats walking out of an air terminal at midnight after a long flight, into pandemonium.

A good arrival checklist for these situations includes all the tips for Arriving in a new city plus:

  • A plan. Know what you're going to do before you arrive. No matter how much you want to get off the stuffy bus or out of the crowded airport, you don't want to find yourself pondering your guidebook in the middle of a crowd of touts and hawkers. Everyone will insist on taking you to this guest-house or that hotel. Looking like you already have a goal and a plan (even if you don't) is your first line of defense against the rain of business cards and brochures. If traveling with friends, a good strategy is to leave the luggage with part of the group at a nearby restaurant or cafe while the other half gathers information on what's available. This gives everyone the excuse 'we are waiting for our friends' and will relieve some (but not all) of the pressure. If you are traveling alone, just insist that you are meeting a friend who already has a room for both of you. As a last resort, don't hesitate to just ignore any especially insistent 'guides' or 'friends'. They will leave you alone, eventually. Sometimes just briskly walking through the crowd like you know where you are going, will do the trick. That is of course especially helpful if you do.
  • Knowledge of costs. Have some idea of what a taxi into town should cost (in the local currency), and enough language (or a piece of paper and pen) to negotiate it. Expect to be charged more than the locals, but at least this way you should get the right number of 0's. If arriving by plane, just ask someone on the flight. And of course, always negotiate the price ahead of time, before entering the vehicle.
  • Knowledge of alternatives While some developing countries don't have much public transport to speak of and taking it is usually not advisable for all but the most daring travellers, there are other places (especially big cities) with remarkably good public transport, especially to/from the main airport and/or bus or train station connecting to the city center respectively. Some public transport systems are a bit complicated or require a card or coupons for payment. Familiarize yourself with the local quirks and get a map of the system as soon as possible (they are sometimes available online, but even a city as big as Managua has none whatsoever). Be sure to have an idea of the situation on the ground before heading out. If public transport isn't an option or you just prefer a cab, familiarize yourself with the look of official cabs and modes of payment. Sometimes an airport taxi has to be paid with a voucher that you can only buy in the airport, sometimes there are "city" and "airport" taxis, both legal official and safe but only the airport taxis allowed into the immediate airport area and thus much more expensive. In general "unofficial" taxis are best avoided and you should have at least a general idea what a legitimate taxi looks like. (e.g. license in the windshield, a specific color, the word "taxi" on the roof or a variety of other markers)

Get a local data SIM card Edit

Many low income countries "skipped" landline telephones, but readily embraced mobile phones, meaning mobile networks are often surprisingly reliable. When traveling a developing country, get at least one local SIM card with data allowance. In most cases, this should be the first task after arrival. Almost all international airports have options available. Websites like the Prepaid Data SIM Card Wiki have an abundance of information for almost all countries. Sometimes it is less hassle (and also reduces the chance of theft) to just buy a cheap "burner" phone with a pre existing SIM card built in.

Always having access to the internet is vital tool for comfort and safety. You can communicate your location and information in seconds, have map and translation access, and a huge amount of information from other travelers which came before you. Wikivoyage is the best example.

If you or one of your travel partners want to omit mobile internet out of conviction, think twice if this is a good idea. You can always put your phone in flight mode if you desire "to be free from all that technical stuff". If you find yourself in need of urgent help, your GPS location on google maps and a broadcast message might make a difference.

Infrastructure in developing countries is generally not up to the standards of more developed countries. Visitors should plan more time to cover the same distance. Safety can also be an issue, particularly if air or sea travel is involved. Rail travel might be slower than buses or entirely unavailable if a network built in the colonial era was not properly maintained or updated since then.

Some remote inland locations may only be feasibly reachable by boat or air travel (possibly bush planes), with a corresponding increase in cost, hassle and time to get there.

Do some research before you go.

While sometimes the government subsidizes surface (and even air) transport, lack of competition can drive prices significantly.

Why is the one-hour hop on a Cessna $200 one-way? Perhaps the alternative is an old bus that takes at least 24 hours and may or may not break down on the dirt roads that get you there. In places like Cuba there are essentially two travel networks, one for people with hard currency and one for those without. While the former is often outrageously priced by local standards, the price may be reasonable to a western wallet if the perks (air conditioning, faster travel speeds, newer vehicles) are worth the extra cost.

On the other hand, you will most likely interact less with locals and get less of a feel for what living in one of these countries is actually like.

In some cities, such as Shanghai or Ho Chi Minh City, there are large and well-known taxi companies which are generally reliable, and with drivers that are more likely to be honest, it is worth doing some research to find out what those companies are, and to only take taxis from those companies when you are there. Other cities, such as Bangkok or Beijing, may not have those large taxi companies, but you can minimise your risk of getting scammed by avoiding the taxis parked outside hotels or tourist attractions, and instead flagging down a taxi cruising down the street, or catching one at a taxi stand used mainly by locals.

Try acquiring some knowledge of the local language. Yes, you can probably get by on just English in most of the world, but even the ability to say "hello", "please", "thank you", "excuse me", and so on in the local language goes a long way. "Leave me alone" and "don't touch me" aren't far behind. Numbers, "how much does it cost," and "too expensive" are also quite useful.

In several countries, especially in former British or American colonies, you can often get by with just English. For example in India or the Philippines, nearly every educated person speaks some English and many are fluent. Even many of the less educated have some English, at least recognize some simple words and phrases. In such situations, it is possible to travel using simple English – basic words and phrases. The key is to use just such common words and phrases, and learn to pronounce them in a more local (or locally comprehensible) accent.

For long trips in a region, consider learning a regional language if there is one. For example, Russian is widely used in Central Asia where many countries were once part of the Soviet Union. It is easier to learn a bit of Russian than to tackle all the local languages — Tajik, Uzbek, Turkmen, Uyghur — and may be almost as useful. French plays a similar role for parts of Africa, Spanish and/or Portuguese in Latin America. For very basic communication a pidgin of Spanish and Portuguese is often understood by native speakers of both languages if you speak slow enough and use simple, clearly enunciated sentences. Your chances are better when using Spanish with Portuguese-speakers than the other way round. For English speakers Russian, French or Spanish may be easier to learn than the local languages.

All other things being equal, the age of a person (young adults often speak foreign languages better than old people), the urban or rural character of a destination and its general economic situation are good predictors of foreign language proficiency. For example, many young people in Costa Rica speak some English, whereas only a small subsection of the urban youth does in Western Nicaragua, a much poorer region.

Do not sleep on a mattress or pad on the ground in areas where you do not know the local fauna. If you are going to camp out, bring a camp cot or hammock to keep you away from snakes, scorpions and such. Use mosquito nets around your bed in countries where mosquitoes carry malaria, dengue or yellow fever.

In some countries there is more or less explicitly a distinction between hotels aimed at locals and hotels aimed at foreigners. While sometimes the distinction is mostly price, location and the ability of staff to speak English, in some cases you really should avoid the hotels aimed at locals, especially if they rent rooms by the hour.

If you are from the developed world, your income is likely enormous in relation to that of many people in some developing countries (though not in others). The UN estimates that over a billion people live on under US$1 a day. If you wander into their territory waving around a camera whose price exceeds local annual income, expect a reaction. Even your backpack, boots, watch and clothes may each cost a few months' local income, sometimes even more than a year's income for the poorer locals. If you insist on using these items, consider altering them to (1) make them look dirty or rusted, and (2) reduce their potential resale value.

Reactions vary, but be prepared to deal with:

  • aggressive sales tactics and being charged more than locals. See Bargaining for more.
  • police and other government officers requesting bribes. See Authority trouble.
  • various scams aimed at tourists. See Common scams.
  • thieves. See Pickpockets.
  • beggars, including children being exploited by adults as street beggars. See Begging.
  • violent crimes such as armed robbery and snatch theft, particularly in big cities like Caracas, Johannesburg and São Paulo.

Take precautions, but do not get paranoid about it. Of course people want your money, but don't let that spoil a trip.

In parts of Asia and Latin America, aggressive dogs are another concern.

If travelling in a country that is experiencing widespread violence, such as a civil war, you need to take many extra precautions, see War zone safety.

Police Edit

One unfortunate fact of life is that police corruption is likely to be more of an issue the less developed a country is. As such, you should not expect much help from the police if you have been a victim of crime, as criminals often bribe police officers to avoid arrest. You should still make a police report as the police report would generally be required for you to make an insurance claim on the value of any items stolen.

It is also not uncommon for police officers in developing countries to ask for bribes, especially with regards to traffic offenses and the like. Although this may be somewhat unethical, your best option would generally be to try to negotiate with them as best as you can, and eventually pay them the money agreed upon. Unfortunately, refusing to pay them can often bring you more trouble than is worth, especially if the officer involved is one of significant clout. Reporting the incident to higher authorities often proves futile, as in many poorer countries, even the top echelons of the government and police can be more interested in collecting bribes than actually keeping the country safe.

Developing countries pose health hazards. Many have poor sanitation and/or poor health care and/or a hot climate that allows various diseases practically unknown in temperate Western countries to propagate. Quite a few have stray or feral dogs and cats, and some have exceptional numbers of rats, so rabies vaccine may be a wise precaution.

See a doctor with experience in travel medicine, or visit a specialist clinic, at least 8 weeks before your planned departure. This gives enough time for the vaccinations. It is also a good idea to ensure you do not have any major ailments before travelling, as access to good medical care in the event of an emergency is often limited in developing countries.

Contaminated drinking water is one of the leading sources of health problems for travelers. Check country listings for your destinations for details of hazards there, and for availability of bottled water or alternatives. Consider carrying a means of purifying water. A good filter takes out everything down to 0.2 micron, all bacteria and many viruses. Boiling or ultraviolet (UV) radiation may be even more effective, depending on what you want to get rid of, but those require equipment. Iodine tablets are widely used. Consult a doctor with knowledge of the area you are going to.

Inorganic water contaminants, such as insecticides or heavy metals, are a different problem and cannot be dealt with by the usual sterilization methods. Check our destination articles and government health warnings to see if these will be a problem.

Malaria existed in Europe until at least World War II, so mosquitoes may carry malaria even in relatively cold climates. Generally the best prevention against the most common mosquito transmitted diseases — malaria (mosquitoes active mostly at night, various types of treatment available), yellow fever (vaccine available) and dengue (day-active mosquitoes, no treatment, experimental vaccine not yet widely available) — is not getting bitten by mosquitoes in the first place. Covered skin will be bitten less often, so wear long trousers and covering shirts or pullovers if you can. Mosquito nets are an effective and cheap way to protect yourself at night. Consider using permethrin-treated fabrics for both clothing and gear.

Carry a diarrhea medicine, you are almost certain to need it at some point. For many destinations, sun screen and mosquito repellent are also essential. Carrying your own anti-bacterial soap and hand wipes can be a useful precaution. For some journeys, a full first aid kit is advisable.

AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases are poorly controlled in many developing countries. If there is any chance you will have sex with anyone except a long-term partner, carry condoms.

Your diet will change somewhat to suit unfamiliar foods and you may lose nutrients due to various illnesses. Using one-a-day multivitamin tablets is a sensible precaution. To greatly reduce your risk of food-related problems remember this rule for fruits and vegetables: peel it, wash it, boil it or reject it (though be careful, too, about the safety of any water used to wash a vegetable).

Packing Edit

For travel in developing countries, you may need to carry things you would not need nearer home:

  • A sarong is useful as a sheet, beach blanket, towel, and of course, sarong wrap.
  • A luggage lock: expedition shops and airports sell these. Or if backpacking, consider a 3D flexible lock that wraps around your entire pack.
  • Money belt or passport pouch for your valuables. See pickpockets for more detail.
  • A little flashlight designed to hang on a keychain
  • Guidebook, phrasebook or Wikivoyage printouts (and a memory stick with the pages you did not print): these can be very helpful, and the more unfamiliar your destination is, the more useful they are. Don't count on finding consistent Internet access once you arrive.
  • Map: often these can be bought cheaply in the destination country, but you should bring your own for countries such as China where you cannot expect to read the locally-printed map.
  • Toilet paper: keep a roll or wad of paper in your luggage and a good wad in an easily accessible spot. Public toilets and guest-house toilets will often not provide any. If you're short on space, remove the cardboard tube and flatten the roll. Keeping it in a large zip-lock bag is another good idea.
  • Food: trail mix, granola bars or other sports snacks travel well. They can be very handy when airport food is ridiculously expensive, when nothing nearby looks sanitary, or when everything is closed for two days because of some festival or strike.
  • Medication, including personal supplies of medications that you are taking

Budget travellers will also need:

  • A sleep sheet (sheet sewn into a bag): the cheaper hostels do not provide bedding .
  • A towel: Hotels and hostels may not provide one, or not clean ones. In cold weather areas, drying off quickly is much more important than on a tropical island. Making room in your pack for a good towel can keep you healthy and happy. Bath and beauty shops sell small super-absorbent towels for drying hair, but they work just as well for general use, and dry quicker than regular cotton. To save space, go with the smallest size you're comfortable with.
  • A padlock: some hotels don't have door locks, but give you a padlock with which to close the door of your room. People who work at the hotel almost certainly have duplicate keys for that lock. Using your own lock is more secure.
  • A rubber doorstop: works wonders if you don't have a padlock.
  • A universal rubber plug, for use in sinks and tubs where no plug is provided.
  • A clothesline

  • Sewing kit
  • duct tape (to save space, consider wrapping a few feet around a large marker or Sharpie, instead of bringing a whole roll)
  • pocket knife (only in checked baggage of course)
  • lighter or a waterproof container with matches (plastic photographic film boxes are perfect) (most airport restrictions prohibit the carrying of matches onboard)

Watch the video: Trip to Ukraine Border. Kozinka- Last Russian Village near Ukraine border


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  4. Kolichiyaw

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