Transportation in and around your destination country is, by far, the most dangerous activity during travel abroad.
Travelers must understand the various risks and plan their itinerary accordingly. In many non-western and mountainous countries, travel between urban areas is strongly discouraged after dark, even using local drivers and/or public transportation. Roads may be poorly marked, in poor condition, frequented by large species of wildlife or domestic animals, and generally subject to the presence of disabled vehicles or other obstacles.
If moving between urban areas upon arrival, travelers should plan conservatively (leave extra time) to complete any ground transportation before darkness. If this is not possible, travelers need to research safety and security in the arrival city and arrange for safe accommodation.
Research companies that you will use for transportation. If you or the program have never used these companies before, ask for international references and/or consult other programs that visit the locations. Hire reputable companies; while travelers often seek to limit costs and have “authentic” experiences, the use of reputable tourist operations to support travel cannot be overemphasized.
We recommend that travelers do not drive while abroad. Significant differences in laws and customary practice increase susceptibility to accidents. Instead of driving, we strongly encourage travelers to hire local, responsible transportation through a reputable agency.
- If you decide to drive, verify that you have the appropriate driving permits for your destination country. Visit the International Driving Permits website for country-specific information.
- Make a conscious effort to learn both the laws and unwritten local practices. For example, in some countries, a small branch or can placed in the road may serve as “warning triangle” for a broken-down vehicle.
- If renting, check the condition of the vehicle and demand a vehicle that is properly maintained with operating lights, seat belts, wipers, and tires in good shape.
- Be careful of pedestrians. Local culture may have a different expectation regarding personal or safe space, with pedestrians crowding the roadside. They will expect you to drive like a local; when you deviate, the chances for an accident increases.
- Make sure you know where you are going. Consider investing in some form of GPS for use in country. Eliminate all sources of distraction when first learning to drive abroad.
- Carry a mobile phone and key contact information for emergencies.
- Use seatbelts and moderate your speed; use defensive driving techniques.
Being a Pedestrian or Bicyclist
- Do not hitchhike.
- Similar to driving, learn the rules and customs for pedestrians or bicycles. This is especially true related to observing the right of way.
- Pay attention to local traffic patterns, to include whether driving is performed on the right or left side of the road. Make sure to look in the proper direction when crossing the road.
- When possible, walk on the sidewalk or trails to the side of the road. If necessary, walk on the side of the road, facing oncoming traffic. Follow local conventions for cycling.
- Wear appropriately colored clothing, ensuring that you are easily visible. Particularly avoid wearing dark colors at night.
- Review Department of State Travel Advisories and OSAC Country Reports to better understand safety and security related to public transportation.
- Understand which bus and taxi companies are the safest or recommended and how to recognize or find them. In many countries, hailing a cab from the side of the road is not recommended unless you can identify the cab is legitimate.
- Unless a functioning meter is present and used, negotiate the price before getting in. In some countries, it is customary for taxis to pick up additional passengers during transport; the driver should agree not to pick up others (this will probably cost you more).
- If using public transportation, keep an eye on your belongings.
- Avoid vehicles in poor condition. (This is advice is relative, but if all the public transportation appears poorly maintained, make other arrangements.) Select vehicles that have functioning seat belts.
- Sit in the back of taxis, keep the doors locked and roll the windows up or barely open. If you have a bag, place it in the floor between your feet. Do not open the door or window for anyone.
- Verify the “condition” of the driver before agreeing to ride in a vehicle. If the driver appears intoxicated or overly aggressive, select another vehicle.
- Be prepared to leave the vehicle if the driver is overly aggressive, speeding, or otherwise dangerous. Make your concerns known, but if the driver does not respond, disembark at the first “safe” opportunity. If driving on a dark road in the middle of nowhere, assess the relative danger of remaining in the vehicle versus being stranded.