Having read the excellent article by The Bear about some lesser-known international travel tips, I figured I’d add one of my own: how to deal with traffic abroad. Traffic conditions in different countries, especially the developing world, can seem like pure chaos at first, and it’s downright unsettling if it’s your first time riding outside the Western regions. It’s doable, however, and in fact, it can even improve your riding skills – as long as you stay zen and remain alert.
Here’s how to navigate traffic abroad like a boss:
Forget What You Know
In most Western countries, if you’re a pedestrian crossing a road or if you came to an unmarked intersection as a rider, car drivers might blink their lights to tell you you can pass. A nice road courtesy – but it’s not necessarily an international one. In Ecuador, for example, an oncoming car blinking their lights means the exact opposite – it’s saying “stop, I’m going ahead”.
In most European – especially Eastern Europan – countries, cars driving in the opposite direction will quickly blink their lights on and off to warn you there’s police up ahead, watch the speed limit. In other parts of the world, however, this may mean something entirely different.
So if you’re riding abroad for the first time, forget what you know and observe local riders and drivers to figure out what the courtesies are and how are people using them. Better yet, just ask – and join the chaos.
Look at The Tires
In places like Mexico, Bolivia, and Peru, turn signals aren’t really turn signals. If a car in front of you has their left turn signal on, it may mean that they will indeed be turning left; but it may also mean they’re indicating you can overtake them, or it may mean they forgot to turn the signal off, or that they’re considering turning left but might turn right instead. When dealing with traffic abroad, don’t trust car drivers’ turn signals and look at their tires instead (if it’s oncoming traffic, try to look at the driver’s face and make eye contact).
While traffic in different places around the world may seem like total mayhem, notice how it somehow still works. That’s because most drivers are acutely aware of the size of their vehicle, the size of other vehicles around them, and the behavior of other drivers, and it all just flows in one semi-controlled frenzy. Stay alert, watch your surroundings, and join the mayhem – in the end, it’ll make you a better rider!