When people talk about the poorest countries of the world, they often refer to them with the general term Third World, and they think everybody knows what they are talking about. But when you ask them if there is a Third World, what about a Second or a First World, you almost always get an evasive answer.
Third World countries are found in Asia, Africa and the Americas, and on the archipelagos and islands in the oceans among the continents. These countries also tend to have high rates of illiteracy, disease, and population growth and unstable governments. In spite of this everyone who has been to some of these places has become enchanted by them, entranced by their customs, enthralled by their histories, and beguiled by their beauty.
Squeezed between China and India, Nepal is a land-locked Himalayan kingdom of spectacular mountains, rushing rivers, and hardy but gentle people. The Indonesian island of Bali has a unique culture that combines Hinduism and animism into a calm beauty that has traveled little changed through the centuries. In Kenya, farmers work their small plots 6,000 feet above the sea, while nearby wildebeest, lions, and zebra roam the East Africa savannas. The Galapagos Islands, isolated in the great expanse of the Pacific Ocean 600 miles from the coast of Ecuador, have a diversity of birds and reptiles unique in the world.
But, while most Third World countries are fascinating, they are usually not free. People in most poor countries have few of the rights to which we are accustomed. In some cases, they have no freedom at all. In much of Asia, Africa, and Central and South America, people have little say about who rules them; elections are either not free and fair or they do not exist at all. Rulers are usually military officers or representatives of the country's wealthy elite, supported by the military. Criticism of the government is commonly forbidden, and people may be imprisoned, tortured, and killed for having political beliefs in opposition to those of the rulers. For most of the people in poor countries, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is only a dream.
The thought of vacationing in countries with low standard of living repels some travelers. These travelers avoid visiting countries that violate the rights of their citizens in order to deny the repressive governments the hard currency that tourist dollars provide. This means not going to countries that are not free. But, if travelers stay home, they will never know the country. If they do not see the people, they will not understand their values.
Traveling to the Third world forces us to understand that our vacation destination is another person's home. Traveling responsibly requires that we make an effort to know more about a country than the location of its monuments and the bargains in its bazaars; it charges us to have a better understanding of the reality of peoples' lives. And after such travel we can tell others about the people, cultures, and governments of Third World countries. We can describe a travel philosophy that values Third World people not as objects of curiosity, but as individuals with feelings and values similar to our own, who need to tell the people of the First World about their lives and their hopes for a better world. We try to explain to the people of the First World how the policies of their governments and their corporations affect the lives of Third World peoples.