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How did the backpacker cross the road? Care, Caution and Confidence are key. Follow the tips in this traveler’s guide to pedestrian safety and you’ll get to the other side in one piece.

CROSSING STREETS in foreign countries is often a daunting task. In big cities like Bangkok or Delhi, it can seem as if stop signs, red lights and crosswalks all mean GO FASTER!

“If I could change one thing about the world, it would be disabling all car horns,” my husband said to me as we were walking in downtown Cairo. Not solving world peace or world hunger – disabling car horns.

Once, I was almost annihilated by a taxi while trying to cross the street.

During our stroll in Cairo I was acutely more aware of the sweet smells of shisha coming from sidewalk cafes to pay much attention to the traffic, let alone the honking cars, but getting distracted by the scenery can be dangerous.

Once, I was almost annihilated by a taxi while trying to cross the street (at a crosswalk mind you) to get back to our hotel.

In a western country we are used to hearing the horn as an outburst of anger or road rage, a scream that means: “Get out of my way!,” or “Hurry up!”

This is not as true in many countries, especially in Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa where a horn can simply be a taxi asking if you want a lift, or a car letting you know they are about to pass, or even just a simple, “I’m here,” from a smaller car to a bigger one.

Of course, horns can also shout out rage from time to time, but although the street can sound crazy, not every honk is an expression of anger – or danger.

Guide to Crossing The Road

Horns aside, when crossing the street look both ways. There’s a reason your parents and teachers told you this 10,000 times – it’s important.

You will probably find yourself looking both ways out of confusion anyway, at least until you get a grip on the directional change of traffic, let alone some of the other unknown traffic “laws”.

Here are 6 more practical tips will help you cross traffic and noisy streets, but also give you a sense of accomplishment at the troublesome (and often intimidating) feat:

1. Follow The Leader

Wait for a local, or better – a group of locals – to cross the street and then follow their lead. However, remember to remain several steps down traffic so that they take the first blow if the car doesn’t slow down or stop.

If you do not feel ready to make the crossing yet, simply watch the way locals go about street dodging will benefit you until you are ready to start dodging on your own.

2. The Fake Out

Hail a taxi, sounds easy enough, but here’s the catch – don’t catch it.

The cab will usually pull over for you (with a large fare in mind,) even if it means crossing three lanes. The key here is to not get into the cab, just simply cross in front of it. The cabbie will not be cross with you, more likely just confused.

Even if it only pulls over one lane, it gives you a one lane head start to the opposite curb.

3. Look Official

Hold out an ID and hand, or passport if you dare, look very important and march right on through.

Hold out an ID and hand – or passport if you dare – look very important and determined and march right on through.

If the car does not stop, give the hood or trunk a nice hard rap with your knuckles. It will scare them a bit and they will often stop to make sure they didn’t hit you, but just keep on going.

A business suit or some sort of military-ish get up would increase the odds of this dodging technique. If you lack a suit or any sort of ID or badge, a strong hand and eye contact should do the trick.

4. Easy Does It

Walk slowly and at a steady pace, make eye contact with the drivers crossing one lane at a time. Having cars fly by you at a fast pace is an adventure in itself and may take some getting used to.

Just keep in mind that the drivers really don’t want to hit you. If traffic is stopped or moving slowly enough just go for it, but weave through thoughtfully.

5. The Boy (or Girl) Scout Effect

Find an elderly lady or young child to “help” across the street, whilst actually using them as a blocker/safety net; and if you both make it across the street together – congratulations, more good karma for you!

Be considerate of culture with this tip, it may not be customary for a male to touch or speak with an unknown female. To stay on the safe side, women should not approach an unknown man.

6. Scare Them Into Submission

When I was just a little girl walking to school I used to jump down off the sidewalk to “scare” the oncoming cars into thinking they would hit me. In reality I only just barely moved from the edge of the curb, but the sudden movement certainly caught the drivers attention and got me a honk or a dirty look.

This tip may or may not work abroad, and is not strongly recommended, but…I must admit – it is kind of fun.


These six simple tips will hopefully help you get one step, or street, closer to seeing that museum, art gallery, church, mall, temple or shine.

Just remember to stay calm, use caution and keep your wits about you. No matter how overwhelming the traffic seems at first, crossing the road in foreign countries will become like second nature sooner than you think.  

Travel Safety


About The Author

Laura Wilcox Ambrey

Laura Wilcox Ambrey, from Seattle, WA, holds a Journalism degree from WSU. On May 5, 2007 she married the boy next door and left for Singapore the next day. She and her husband have been traveling ever since (with no plans yet to head stateside).

  • Chris

    good list…just one thing…

    Tip #3 – Not exactly practical to dress up in a “business suit or some sort of military-ish get up”.

    I realize it’s extra advice, but for whatever reason reading this compelled me to reply.


  • Ian MacKenzie

    I’m personally all about Tip #1 – following the leader. You wait for someone else to jump into traffic, making sure to leave enough space to dive out of the way if they take one for the team. Sometimes this can take a while if no one else is willing to be the leader…. I think I waited on the side of a Bangkok street for 35 minutes one afternoon…

  • Amanda

    I remember discovering in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City that it’s all about confidence. I couldn’t cross the roads at all on the first days (20 “lanes” of motorbikes and mopeds coming at me) but I soon learned that if I just walked out they would all magically go around me.

  • Mike Pugh

    Tip #7: Brush up on your Frogger skills before leaving home.

  • pam

    What Amanda said about HCM city. We talked to some friends before we went to Vietnam in Feb who said this: Don’t hesitate. Don’t make eye contact. Just go. We were FREAKING out.

    I definitely did Follow the Leader until I was brave/stupid enough to do it on my own.

  • Elizabeth

    I keep reading about thefts that can occur in traffic (in some countries), so I would be hesitant to hold out my passport. I like that idea though. I wonder if my library card would fool anyone? ;)

  • Lynnsey

    Amanda’s comment-(20 “lanes” of motorbikes and mopeds coming at me) but I soon learned that if I just walked out they would all magically go around me.

    Couldnt have said it better! However this approach does not work in other countries where they are in cars rather than on motorbikes. I also was almost annihilated by a taxi while trying to cross the street in China.

    Thanks for the tips!

  • Charlie

    Take care when slapping or hitting anyone’s car, some people get more than a little defensive when their ‘baby’ is touched by anybody. Hitting the side or hood of a car may voice your displeasure or may help you not get hit, but it could get you into an altercation you hadn’t planned on.

  • Cindi

    I used #5 in Hanoi! (The Boy Scout Technique) I too was initially daunted by the undless stream of motorbikes. After engaging in conversation with one of the students selling books on a corner, I told him I really wasn’t interested in the books, but would gladly pay him the same if he could just get me across the street. He immediately grabbed my arm, led the way, and somehow made it look almost easy – much to my relief!

  • Kristina

    Great tips on what to do! Here is a don’t: DON’T CHANGE YOUR MIND. Once you commit to crossing, you must cross. The driver’s anticipate your movement, they will pass in front of you and behind you immediately before or after you take your next step. Hesitating on the step will cause you to get hit! Trust me, this works everywhere. I saw a lady in downtown Paris hesitate (and she was actually local) and the next second she was rolling over the top of the hood of a car. That step she hesitated on would have steared her clear of danger.

  • Lars Martin Poverud

    I actually had #5 reversed on me. Me and my better half was trying to cross the road to get into Djeema el Fna in Marrakesh. The missus was a bit faster than me and followed some local guy in a djelaba. Shortly after an old man, witch a cane and everything, grabbed ahold of me, holding me back. He then took my arm in his, raised his cane, and walked confidently over this very very busy road. I didn’t even have the time to thank him, before he disappeared into the massed.

    Thanks for a nice list! Crossing the street in some countries can be quite daunting. Never really had a problem in India, as the traffic moves so slow a lot of places, you won’t really have any issues even when hit by a car.

    • Lars Martin Poverud

      Sorry for the typos.

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