Driving in Sri Lanka is nothing like driving in the States. They drive on the left side of the road and pass on the right, like the British. They are fond of traffic circles with no directional signs. Most rural Sri Lankan roads are one lane wide for two-way travel, and most aren’t paved. It’s a free-for-all. After spending a week there, I managed to absorb a few important rules of the road.

parade of cars in Sri Lanka

1. Drive defensively at all times. People will pull out in front of you. You must be ready to slam on the brakes, swerve out of the way, honk your horn, or all of the above.

2. When passing, tap the horn at least once to let the person you’re passing know that you are passing. Otherwise, they might try to pass and slam into you.

3. Related to #2, if someone behind you honks, it isn’t road rage or a threat. It’s a message intended to prevent you from swerving into them. Move over a little and slow down in case oncoming traffic is passing too and they need to swerve back into your lane without warning.

4. Following a vehicle longer than ten seconds before passing is lame and unpatriotic. It mustn’t be done.

5. Drive down the center of the road whenever possible. The whole road is fair game for anyone going any direction. Most people drive right down the center unless they are passing or another car is headed for them.

6. Watch for bicycles, tuk-tuks (three-wheeled taxis), mopeds, trucks, buses, and wagons or carts being pulled by what looks like the bastard child of a tractor and a tiller.

7. Stop and pull over before crossing a bridge. I have no idea why. Maybe to make sure your foreign friends are suitably grossed out by the enormous trees loaded with bats.

8. Stop and have long spirited conversations with others in any caravan at random intersections, preferably next to a religious shrine.

9. When pulling out onto a main road, look for someone who looks like they might slow down for you and just go for it. If you wait for a big opening, you’ll grow old waiting.

10. Own the road. But don’t kill anyone.

I shot this video out the window of our van in Columbo on the last day we were in the city. That’s how it was every day.

Have you ever driven in another country? What was it like? 

Disclosure: Thank you to World Vision USA for inviting me to join the Sri Lanka bloggers trip this year and for paying my travel expenses.