Driving Abroad – Driving Under The Influence of Culture Shock

Honking, swerving, braking, signalling, tires screeching, cows crossing, dogs chasing, motorbikes zooming, strange traffic signs, no speed limits, hairpin turns, cliff-edge roads without guardrails, breathtaking landscapes, black smoke, broken mufflers, children driving scooters…oh, how much fun it is to drive in a foreign land.

Outside of Canada and the United States, I have driven cars across Sicily and around the Greek Island of Santorini. I also drove motorbikes in Thailand, Indonesia, Tunisia and India. Driving any type of motorized vehicle is a big risk for a foreigner on a number of levels. First of all, I needed to throw out everything I knew about the road rules in Canada, and I had to drive as the locals do or I would be killed by them.

In Sicily, I had to drive a standard vehicle, which I had very little previous experience with. My first turn out of the parking lot turned into a life or death situation.  All my years of playing driving video games had prepared me for driving in Italy. Nobody does the speed limit, signals, wears a seatbelt and every driver is an offence, but it works! I see accidents nearly every week in Canada, and it’s the cause of aggressive drivers on the road mixed with defensive drivers. This makes every single driver unpredictable. However, if every driver is driving at the exact same level of insanity, it makes everyone’s move predictable thus, safer.

If you really want a rush, then drive a motorbike in South-East Asia. Hair raising, heart-throbbing and excitement just about sums up the experience.  I have never had such a test of my patience, control and driving capabilities. When you pull up to a red light with 200 other motorbikes, there’s a cow, goat or horse passing by on the road ahead and people walking all over trying to sell you fruits and souvenirs.  There’s so much noise that you can’t even hear your own engine.  There are fumes in your face from the wall of motorized vehicles in front of you and if you look to your left, you’ll most likely see a 7 year-old with his little sister on a bike bigger than yours.  You can’t help but wonder what planet you’ve landed on?

A friend and I driving across the island of Lombok in Indonesia.

Riding motorbikes was the most memorable part of my travels. It’s adventure, exploration, thrills all wrapped up into one amazing adventure.  You end up in places you wouldn’t have otherwise gone and there is no feeling more free than with the wind in your face and the beautiful landscapes in front of your eyes. Oh, how I miss the wide open road.

Driving in Santorini, Greece.

Siya Zarrabi began his travel lifestyle at the age of 16, embarking on a four month solo trip to Paraguay. Since then, he has filled passports with stamps of foreign borders.
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5 Comments

  1. April 14, 2016 / 6:40 pm

    Great story, thanks for sharing!
    Yes, Italian drivers are aggressive. See, they know the rules of the road—both the meanings of all the road signs and official regulations, and the unwritten rules of how people drive in Italy (like how you should slow down and drive a bit on the shoulder to let a larger, faster car pass you, even if he insists on doing this on a blind curve of a meandering, two-lane country road). So, the chaos on the road is actually under control (sort of).
    Rentong a car in Italy could also cause troubles. It is really cheaper and easier to rent from home. You can check and compare the offers by various car rental companies and puck up the best one at https://rental24h.com/italy

  2. June 6, 2012 / 8:32 am

    Great post – totally agree about the motorbike thing too; you see SO much more! xxx

  3. DriverAbroad
    May 8, 2012 / 11:53 am

    Good article- check out http://www.DriverAbroad.com for info on driving abroad in every country of the world. Also includes road trip tales with anecdotes and stories on driving across the globe.

  4. Ryan McCoy
    May 7, 2012 / 5:44 pm

    Sounds like a great experience, although I would crash one of these things in a second. For now I’ll stick to my bicycle haha.

    • Anonymous
      May 7, 2012 / 6:01 pm

      Siya and I actually did crash once and it was bad but definitely could have been worse.  We crashed and nearly went flying over a cliff but luckily there was a guardrail about 8 feet long right where we crashed.  There were no other guardrails anywhere else along this road.  We were able to grab onto the guardrail and catch the bike as well to pull it back up over the side of the cliff.  It all happened so quick that I dont even know how we managed to do all of that in seconds.  I walked away with a massive muffler burn on my leg and an awesome story. 

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