4 Tips for Surviving the Most Dangerous Part of 3rd World Country Travel

When I travel to “scary” third-world countries, my parents worry. They envision me kidnapped by Jihadists, murdered by drug lords or held captive by a rogue government and forced to pay a ransom for my release.

Little do they know, the real danger in traveling to third-world countries is not the disease, peasant uprisings, military coups, terrorist attacks, pickpockets, thieves, or bandits. Easily the biggest threat while traveling in a scary 3rd world country is crossing the street.

In many countries traffic is anarchy. Drivers do not follow any recognizable rules and no one dreams of yielding to a pedestrian. Getting from one side of the road to the other is like a game of Frogger with real life consequences, like death. If you loose, you get run down. Then smashed flat by the next car. Then pounded into something unidentifiable by the remainder of the traffic. Game over.

Here is my survival guide for crossing the street in countries with chaotic traffic 

Tip #1 – Find an elderly person to cross with (read: use them as a human shield)

It is safe to assume that if a person lives to be in their 60’s or 70’s, then they have survived thousands upon thousands of street crossings and have the skill and wisdom to do it again. It is also safe to assume that you can move faster than them in the event that running becomes necessary.

pedestrain gang paint street5

As you can see from the above photographs taken of me in Cairo, the proper technique is to stand on the down-traffic side, using the elderly couple as a human shield.  Cross keeping them between you and the oncoming cars.

Tip #2 – Form a Pedestrian Gang

Sometimes enough people will amass at an intersection that it becomes more practical for a car to stop than to take out a large group of pedestrians. One or two people will not do too much damage to a car and the driver can reasonably assume that two or three people can dodge his speeding car.

But when the number reaches a critical mass, say, over a dozen people, the damage to the car may be severe enough that it won’t run. The driver will stop for a large enough crowd. The pedestrian gang can then overtake the street and cross with safety.

See the illustration below for the proper technique to form a pedestrian gang.

pedestrain gang2

Not Large Enough Yet…

pedestrain gang3

Ok, now you are getting there…

pedestrain gang4

Now Go For It!

pedestrain gang5

Note to Reader: I would not recommend dawdling at the end of the group like the man in the above photo. He is a prime target to get run down by an impatient driver.

Note to Reader #2: As you can see in the above photo, I am as far from the traffic as I can be. However, when we hit the middle of the road and the traffic starts coming from the other direction, it is necessary to fall back into the group. We don’t want the locals relying on us to start the crossing and if you learned anything from lesson 1, it is to always have a human shield.

pedestrain gang6

Clearly the above driver should have stopped. There will be significant damage to his car and the 5-10 minutes it will take to fill out the paperwork with the police will put him behind schedule.

Tips #3 – Find a speed bump

speedbump

Many drivers will not stop for a pedestrian. Most, however, will at least slow down for a speed bump, which will give you a chance to dart across the road. At the very least,  the traffic will be slow enough that a collision would not be fatal. It might maim you yes, but kill you, no.

speedbump3

Should have crossed at a speed bump.

If the speed bump is large enough, the car may actually get airborne and soar over the pedestrians. I have actually witnessed this a few times in my travels.

speedbump5

Tip #4 – “Hanoi it”

In Hanoi, crossing the street is an art form, a ballet between metal and flesh. To cross the street there, simply wade into the rushing river of motorcycles and continue on at exactly the same pace. The buzzing motorcyclists will avoid you, often veering away at the last second.

If you slow down, you die. If you stop, you die. If you run, you die. Slow and steady is the key.

Hanoi2

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Hanoi4

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 Hanoi5

It may look daunting, but just walk out into the chaos. Or hail a taxi and have them drive you across the road.

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So there you have it. Next time your friends and family are worried about you going off to Nicaragua or Nigeria, Vietnam or Venezuela, let them know that you are armed with the most important information needed for survival. You know how to cross the street and they should have no fear.

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19 Comments on “4 Tips for Surviving the Most Dangerous Part of 3rd World Country Travel

  1. I recently had the same experience with a few travelers from overseas. We were in Jaipur and had to cross the street. We had used your Tip Number 2. Unfortunately, being the tour leader, I was the first one to face the traffic!!! But it did work.

  2. I know it’s not third world but the traffic was insane in Rome. The only way they stopped or let you past was at zebra crossings. If you weren’t on a zebra crossing, you were fair game it seemed!

    • Italy does have terrible driving. It was strange to go from Germany where everything is so orderly over to Rome where it is more chaotic. I’m glad you survived crossing the road there.

  3. Thanks for sharing great tips about crossing streets, around the world. Love the illustrations .. they can be understood in any language. 🙂

  4. Love the cartoons Jeff! I find you also gotta watch out for those damn side mirrors, especially when walking down narrow streets. Got slapped by two dirty mirrors a couple of weeks ago in India, which was probably something to do with photo taking… Maybe you might be able to add a cartoon of the ‘carefree’ photographer? Keep up the good work.

    • I don’t think I’ve whacked by a side mirror, but I’ve come very close in those narrow streets of India.

      I am sure someday my carefree photo taking will get me run over by a motorcycle or bus or something. If I live I will draw a cartoon of it. Thanks for reading.

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    • That was one of my first blog posts. I am glad you liked it. Now that I’m living in Bangkok I use these methods to cross the street all the time. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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