Safety on the Project

Advisors and volunteers on international projects often find themselves outside of major cities and resorts. You may find that you are somewhat more exposed and at a higher risk than the average traveler. However, if you are informed and use common sense, we believe that you can significantly lower the risk.

We have heard that the greatest serious risk you face as a volunteer or advisor is not from disease or terrorism or crime, but automotive accidents.

Should I Drive?

This may sound like a decision more based on cost, convenience, or culture. However, we feel that the decision of whether to drive is one of the most important safety decisions you will make.

We are comfortable driving in most countries, and we are used to driving on either side of the road. On our trip to Turkey we assumed that we would be driving, until we read the travel advisory. Turkey was considered reasonably safe, except for the driving customs. They were portrayed as very dangerous if one were not familiar with them. So we hired a taxi driver, who navigated around wrong-way drivers, cars stopping in the middle lane of high-speed highways (!), and one bizarre scene that found us driving down a railroad track (“only after 6PM”). Our driver appreciated our very generous tip.

First, read the Travel Warnings & Consular Information Sheets maintained by the U.S. State Department. These often have specific comments on driving conditions and safety.

Second, if you will be driving on the “wrong side of the road,” realize that you will need quite some time to adjust. We needed to chant the mantra of “stay left” for weeks in South Africa, and we still do whenever we get to a traffic circle. Strangely, the problems of a month or two on the “wrong side” are sometimes worse when we return. After a week or two back at home, we have pulled out on the wrong side of the road. After some distance without seeing other cars, we have been very surprised by headlights in our lane!

Third, when you arrive, consider the other traffic that you will be competing with. When we arrived in Calcutta, we saw the traffic and said “no way!.” The sheer volume of cars, people, goats, taxis, rickshaws, buses, cows, mopeds, dogs, and bicycles made the thought of driving absurd.

If you decide to drive, you will have to learn the subtleties of the local rules of the road. You will have to decipher and memorize foreign road signs to determine whether you or the cow has the right of way.

On Foot

As a pedestrian, you will need to observe the rules of the street. Keep well away from traffic by walking on sidewalks or as far to the side of the road as possible. The assumption of drivers with respect to pedestrians and cyclists may be completely different than in your home country!

The Basics

Here is some standard advice for travelers in general:

  • Don't leave your luggage unattended in public areas.
  • Don't accept packages from strangers.
  • Don't wear conspicuous clothing or expensive jewelry.
  • Don't carry excessive amounts of currency or unnecessary credit cards.
  • Don't use unauthorized agents when you exchange money.


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