Most of us do a little sleuthing before traveling to a new country. One of the first things I always do is email a friend who lives in that country to ask for their driver’s phone number. No, my friends do not all have private drivers. But we all have that one taxi driver that we’ve been using for months who is always reliable and drives so safely that you won’t let anyone else drive your mother when she comes to visit. He’s the guy you know would come in the middle of the night if you found yourself stranded without a way to get home. He’s the guy you know will get you to the airport on time no matter how bad traffic is. Often, he has become one of your closest friends. When you finally leave the country, you make sure every single person who might ever step foot in that country knows your driver’s phone number because you know he deserves all the business the country has to offer.

The My Driver Project was birthed out of this notion. There are some great resources out there about road safety, but when you finally do step foot in a new country, that intimate local knowledge is critical. The State Department might say you shouldn’t get onto a motorcycle taxi, but if you’re working on a budget and all your friends are hopping on motorcycle taxis, it’s sometimes difficult to say, “sorry guys, I’m going to get in a car taxi, pay five times as much money, and show up a half hour after you.”

As adults we make our own risk assessments in every situation. This project is geared to help you make those choices. I, for example, know that there’s inherent risk getting on a motorcycle. But in Rwanda the motorcycle taxis are regulated, they all have helmets to give you, the roads are fabulously well kept, and drivers are used to motorcycles on the road. When I go to Kampala, Uganda though, you couldn’t pay me a million dollars to get onto a motorcycle taxi (called boda bodas there). Some of my friends feel similarly while others use a boda to get to work in Kampala every day.

This project is not intended to give you “this is safe, this is not safe” doctrine for traveling. It’s giving you the voices of people who’ve lived and traveled extensively in countries where road safety is a serious issue. We’ll give you our first hand stories, reflections, and advice (some of which I’m sure will be contradictory). But it’s intended to give you a little heads-up picture of a country you may be traveling to so that you can feel more confident about making informed decisions about your safety. None of these blogs are official endorsements by ASIRT or any road safety organization. We’re just regular people who value our lives but still need to get from point A to point B.

Posted in: My Driver Project


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About the Authors

Bobby Gondola
Debra Bokur

Globe Tripper
At Grand Central Station when she was 9 years old, Debra Bokur decided that a different train from the one her parents were boarding looked as though it might be going someplace more interesting, so she took that one instead. She still loves trains, and has since traveled the world as an award-winning journalist, magazine editor and filmmaker. A member of the Society of American Travel Writers, Debra contributes regularly to Global Traveler Magazine, and serves as the magazine website’s daily feature writer.

Debra is a contributing author to Spreading the Word: Editors on Poetry (The Bench Press, 2001). She holds degrees in both Theater and English Literature, and has been the poetry editor of the nationally acclaimed literary journal Many Mountains Moving since 2002. She has also been the travel editor at national publications including Healing Lifestyles & Spas Magazine, American Cowboy Magazine, and Fit Yoga Magazine, and has been a frequent guest on Wine Country Network’s national radio program discussing the topic of international travel.

Debra once lived a double life training horses professionally in the disciplines of dressage and three-day eventing while serving as an editor and writer at several equestrian-themed publications. Her current favorite places to wander are Iceland, Switzerland, the U.K., Israel and Italy. In her new blog, Globe Tripper, Debra will bring us along on her adventures.

Bobby Gondola
Bobby Gondola

World Wanderings
Bobby Gondola serves as Director of Operations & Development at Year Up, a nationally recognized workforce development and higher education program for urban young adults. He leads both the internal operations and external relations. Previously, he was Director of External Relations at Opus 118 Harlem School of Music in New York City, the Harlem-based violin program made famous by Meryl Streep in Music of the Heart. He also worked as a community development consultant in the townships of Cape Town, South Africa.  

Bobby earned a B.A. in painting and politics from Salve Regina University and studied abroad in Rome, Italy. He also holds an M.P.P. in Political Advocacy and Leadership from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, where he was a Public Service Fellow. Bobby lives in Providence, Rhode Island and serves on theWaterFire Providence Board, College Leadership Rhode Island Program Committee, and the Providence Public School Board. He has traveled to all continents, except Antarctica and Australia, which he’ll get to. Eventually.

Aaron Shapiro
Aaron Shapiro

My Driver Project
Aaron Shapiro is a 2011 alumnus of University of Maryland, College Park, where he received a B.S. in Global Health and completed a minor in International Development and Conflict Management. After graduating, he joined the Global Health Corps as a program manager for Gardens for Health International in Kigali, Rwanda. Aaron has interned for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Bureau for Food Security, the Social Justice Coalition in Cape Town, South Africa, and volunteered at St. Lucia Hospice and Orphanage in Arusha, Tanzania. Aaron has also traveled in Congo, Burundi, Uganda, and Zambia. He is currently working in Washington, D.C. and applying to medical school.

Photo of Natalia Jaffee
Natalia Jaffee

Traffic Lights are Optional in Hanoi
Natalia Jaffee is a 10th grade student at the United Nations International School of Hanoi. She grew up in Potomac, MD and attended Cold Spring Elementary School and Cabin John Middle School. While visiting Maryland in the summer of 2011, she interned at ASIRT and published a personal account of the road situations in Vietnam. Natalia enjoys traveling and has traveled throughout East Asia. In her free time, she enjoys running, playing soccer, cooking, and reading.

Photo of Laura Blanar
Laura Blanar

From A to B Safely: A Transportation Travel Blog
Laura Blanar traveled through Asia, Africa and Oceania with her husband, Adam, for 14 months. Prior to her travels, she worked at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety as a research scientist, and in injury and violence at PAHO/WHO as a contractor. Laura holds a Masters of Health Science from the Department of International Health at the Johns Hopkins University, Bloomberg School of Public Health, with a specialization in health systems, and also obtained the B.A. in public health from the Johns Hopkins University. She has been published in several professional journals relating to injury and public health. In September 2011, Laura entered a PhD program at the University of Washington in public health, with a focus on injury. When not traveling, Laura enjoys running, wood carving and reading non-fiction and mystery books.