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Driving in a Foreign Country

Updated on February 8, 2016
Typical intersection mess with no traffic signal
Typical intersection mess with no traffic signal
Lots of tricycles
Lots of tricycles
The Jeepney
The Jeepney

For many travelers, the best way to see a new country is to rent a car and drive it. Experience everything about the country you are in with the added convenience of avoiding buses and taxis. Driving in most countries is a similar experience to a degree, I mean, the basic traffic laws and signage are generally universal. Traffic lights follow the same meanings across most of the globe, but driving in Third World countries, or even 2nd World countries can be a real lesson when compared to driving in First World countries (USA, Europe, and Australia). Of course, once you understand the drivers in a Third World and adapt, driving is actually fun.

In many Third World nations, there is minimum police and traffic control in rural and urban environments. A driver from the USA is generally taught to yield to oncoming traffic, to give the pedestrian the right of way, be a defensive driver more than an aggressive driver (of course, this varies), not to pass when oncoming cars are approaching and so on. Most speed signage is in metric or kilometers.

After driving in the Philippines, the courteous driver methods are discarded. If you do not toss these habits out, you will be stuck in a quagmire of traffic consisting of tricycles ( a motorcycle with a passenger side car, Jeepney’s (a large pickup truck with a long bed that carries 20 people enclosed), taxis and personal cars and trucks.

Early on, First World drivers must convert their driving to one of being a bully and be willing to play the game of “chicken” with your car, otherwise, you will go nowhere fast and everyone will be taking advantage of your politeness.

Driving in Cebu City and Davao, two of the Philippines largest urban areas, teaches you that if you want to cross a four-way intersection with no traffic lights or stop signs, the only way is to slowly move your car into the sea of mess to make your turn. All kinds of vehicles will be coming at you from many directions making you a bit nervous about collision, yet at the last moment, when the other drivers know you are dead set of crossing, they yield and stop. If you do not act like a bully, traffic will just pass you. Nobody wants to get into accident so the game of chicken works at the last moment. Motorcycles and tricycles litter the roads and Jeepney’s are road hogs just like buses, they their drivers basically do whatever it takes to go from point A to B. As a driver, you have to adopt the same attitude.

Because of the tricycles and Jeeps, the road is much more congested and challenges your attention all the time. Roads merge with no warning, traffic lights are infrequent, lanes suddenly vanish or are only for turns. Pedestrians also cause sudden problems, yet, unlike in the USA, where they have the right of way, in many Asian countries, they have no right of way. So, as a driver, you do not stop for them, they stop for you.

Another tactic is to allow the vehicle in front of you, create a path for you to follow by tailgating it as you inch forward across the chaotic intersection. The larger the vehicle the better, because size does matter. Tricycles will usually pull to the side when they see a car behind them, Jeeps will also because like a bus, their route has many stops. Regular size buses simply challenge anyone to take them on.

Most of the “highways” are really just two lane roads. There are a few four lane highways. The two lanes forces you to pass whenever possible, especially if the road is lined with tricycles, then step on the gas and pass on their left even if there are oncoming cars because what happens is that the oncoming cars will also pull to their right side of the road, allowing for more space. So, for a brief hectic moment, it looks like a head-on collision. Yet, it never happens. Once you are out of the urban areas, driving is much more relaxed.

Another skill needed that is not used much is reverse driving. There were so many times while in the city that my reverse driving skills were tested because there is little room for parking, narrow single lane roads. In one case, I drove down a very narrow one lane road to an apartment only unable to figure out how to get out. Luckily, a local guided me out.

Lastly, another lesson is that you cannot trust Google maps all the time. We used it most of the time in the Philippines and it was a great help, but not always. Google may know a road from point A to B is the most direct and fastest, but it does not know its condition! The road may start out as a nice two lane paved road and an hour later, turn into a rocky, dirt, pothole, one land road, that is better for an off road vehicle! True, it is a road, though!


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    • perrya profile image

      perrya 2 years ago

      As the old saying goes, "when in Rome, do as the Romans do". Just adapt, don't fight it, join it.

    • emge profile image

      Madan 2 years ago from Abu Dhabi

      Interesting hub. I drive a lot at other places and reading this is handy