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Driving Abroad

For anyone who has ever driven a car abroad I commend you. Although I’ve been driving since I was 16, when it comes to vacations, cars are generally not a form of transportation we use. We did have a rental car while on Maui, but that was due to the fact that with the exception of the capital of Honolulu, one needs to get a car if they want to go anywhere on any of the Hawaiian islands. I didn’t fly all that way to simply remain at our hotel the entire time. I wanted to go out and see Maui, which we did thanks to our brand new Mazda 6 rental car that we lucked into with an upgrade. (We were the first people in it and the car had only 20 miles at the car rental lot.) D did all the driving while we were there but that was because two drivers on a rental car costs more.

A couple of years ago I had to fly down to Houston, Texas for a couple of days and being the Lone Star State, a rental car was in order. Although nothing traumatic happened to me while driving around the country’s fourth largest city, I still endured plenty of wrong turns, missed exists, and highways  so large and with so many different traffic patterns, I would break out in a cold sweat were I ever to see them again.

We’re still trying to decide on a destination for this year’s “big trip” and a couple of ideas revolved around locations in Europe that would require a rental car. Although automatic rental cars can be had when abroad, since most of the world’s population drives a manual, automatics are obviously not as readily available and cost more. I know how to drive a manual so we wouldn’t have to worry about car rental places being sold out of automatics or spending more of our budget on a car; the problem is I am extremely scared to drive in a foreign country. I’m aware that with the exception of the British Isles, driving patterns are the same. It has more to do with driving in the “unknown” where I don’t speak the language and where I’m not familiar with what certain signs mean. Anything can happen when you get behind the wheel of car whether you are at home or abroad; however, the major difference is that were something to happen, the consequences could potentially be a lot more difficult and time consuming to contend with.

When D and I drove to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls a couple of years ago, the signage was still in English as we were in Ontario, an English speaking province, and yet because of America’s need to be different from the rest of the global community, speed limits were not in miles per hour, but kilometers per hour. Not being entirely familiar with the metric system, it is slightly disconcerting not knowing immediately what the posted speed limit is and whether you’re obeying or going extremely over it.

Although there is so much of the world that I would like to see that is not in a major city, I almost feel that I’ll see it when I’m traveling with a group so I wouldn’t be required to do the driving. I know not driving somewhere severely limits what you can see and experience but this is one travel phobia I have yet to overcome.

For those of you that drive when abroad, does it ever frighten you? Are there major differences between drivers of your native country and the drivers of those in the country you’re visiting?


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  • Reply
    Wanderlust Traveler
    February 23, 2012 at 4:01 am

    I’ve rented a car while traveling in 11 different countries. For the most part, I find it to be fairly straightforward and easy, as I have always used GPS (huge lifesaver). However, it has always been stressful when driving into a large city. I’ve been lost in London, Birmingham, Sevilla, and Cordoba to name a few. Even with the added stress of driving, I find that having the ability to get off of the beaten path more than makes up for the stress. I have been able to see so many cool things and places I wouldn’t have normally been able to see had I used public transportation or even been on a tour. It gives you such a feeling of freedom. I haven’t really noticed any major differences between drivers in the US and drivers in the countries I have been to. Try it out! I don’t think you will be disappointed! What countries in Europe are you thinking of driving in?

  • Reply
    the red headed traveler
    February 23, 2012 at 1:28 pm

    You’re absolutely right that driving is the only way to get off the beaten path when traveling abroad and I think when push comes to shove, I will one day do it (or make a reservation a year in advance to ensure an automatic rental for my husband to drive instead :). There are still so many cities I want to see but probably when I’ve exhausted that list, I’ll move onto the countryside (finally!). I have immense respect for you for having driven in so many countries!

    Portugal was the country we were mainly considering, as in driving to the Algarve from Lisbon. I read that Portuguese drivers can be crazy but I suppose in all countries, there are tons of crazy drivers.

  • Reply
    Driving Instructor Franchise
    March 5, 2012 at 2:37 pm

    Some great points here πŸ™‚ One thing I find very helpful when driving abroad is to always drive with somebody else in the car and that you and that person (s) work as a team.

    Focusing on the traffic and different road layouts in a foreign country (especially when they drive on a different side of the road) in itself is tough enough, without having to work out where to go at the same time!

    So try to ensure the passenger takes most of the responsibility for sorting out the directions, which leaves you to focus on the road and feeling more in control of the situation.

    All this IMHO of course πŸ™‚

  • Reply
    the red headed traveler
    March 6, 2012 at 12:57 am

    Terrific advice, thanks for commenting!

  • Reply
    Sameday Courier
    March 17, 2012 at 8:44 pm

    Driving Instructor has nailed it. Where possible, it’s all about teamwork. If you know you’ll have a wing person with you, you know you’ll be ok. A lapse of concentration when driving in foreign lands, is often so much more dangerous than when driving in familiar territory.

    Do whatever you can to make sure your concentration stays 100% for as long as it can.

    Thanks Red-Headed Traveller – some great info on this blog.

    Keep it up! πŸ™‚

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