Photo: Artit Wongpradu/Shutterstock

How Did the Backpacker Cross the Road?

Travel Safety
by Laura Wilcox Ambrey Feb 27, 2008
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.

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