Getting behind the wheel for the first time in a foreign country can be a daunting experience — from being on the opposite side of the road (and car) to the different rules and regulations, there’s a lot to contend with.
But driving abroad needn’t be scary: simply follow our 10 handy tips and you’ll be driving confidently in no time.
Take time to get used to the car
Driving on the opposite side to what you’re used to can be stressful, so before setting off, get used to the feel of being sat on the ‘wrong’ side and changing gears with the ‘wrong’ hand. To build up your confidence, spend some time driving around a quiet car park — this is a great way to familiarize yourself with the car and practice using the auxiliary controls (like wipers, indicators, and headlights).
Consider hiring an automatic car
Automatic cars are great for nervous drivers since they are almost impossible to stall. With no clutch or gear-changing to worry about, you can relax and focus on the road ahead. Not only that, but your left leg can rest at all times.
If you’ve not driven an automatic before, you could always hire one for a couple of days in your own country before you travel. Taking a ‘test drive’ and getting used to the different transmission on home turf will help you adjust quickly when you arrive at your destination.
Know the speed limits and driving laws in the country you’re visiting
Laws differ from country to country, so it’s worth doing your research before you go.
Make sure you check which side of your road you need to drive on if there’s any essential equipment or documents you need to carry in the car, child seat regulations and the drink-drive limit (although it’s best to avoid alcohol altogether when driving). Our useful round-up of driving laws from some of our most popular destinations will help you get clued up.
Stay in the slow lane until you feel confident
It’s natural to feel anxious when driving on foreign motorways and dual carriageways for the first time, but going at your own pace is a good way to help you feel relaxed behind the wheel.
Simply stay in the slow lane until you feel ready to move into one of the faster lanes; and if you’re really nervous, wait for a big gap in the traffic before changing lanes.
Don’t be put off by other motorists and their driving habits
Depending on where you’re visiting, you might find the locals’ driving style is more aggressive than back home. Try not to let other drivers intimidate you, and don’t respond to any gestures (no matter how tempting it may be!).
If you feel flustered, take a deep breath and move back over to the slow lane (or pull over altogether if it’s safe to do so) until you regain your composure. Just remember to stay focused at all times.
Request a GPS
Getting lost is a common cause for concern when driving abroad — a survey we conducted last year with 548 Tots100 bloggers revealed 29% worried about losing their way.
Why not request a GPS from the rental company (or bring your own) to help you get around? Not only will a GPS help you find all those must-see attractions, it should hopefully prevent arguments over directions!
Don’t be over-ambitious with your schedule
If possible, try not to plan long drives for your first time behind the wheel abroad: instead, drive for shorter distances until you feel confident enough to take on lengthier road trips. You might also want to avoid city driving, as busy areas require lots of extra concentration — and can be overwhelming for novice drivers.
If you do want to venture into a city, consider driving to the suburbs (or a quieter town in the area) and using public transport to get into the center instead.
Avoid driving when tired
Staying alert while driving is crucial at any time, but it’s even more important when you’re driving an unfamiliar car in an unfamiliar country.
Avoid driving straight after a long flight, and always take a break if you feel your concentration lapsing — even if you're only making a short journey. A cup of coffee and a quick nap at a roadside service station will help you feel more awake.
Choose a small car
If you don’t need a lot of space for your luggage or other passengers, book a ‘mini’ or ‘economy’ car: these cars are easy to drive, park and maneuver. If you do require more space, try and select the smallest vehicle for your needs.
Consider taking an Advanced Driving Course
An Advanced Driving Course is designed to help you improve your control, speed and position based on the road conditions and the amount of traffic — helping you to be a confident, defensive driver. If you have plenty of time before for your trip, one of these courses could help you feel better prepared for driving abroad.
Follow our site to get more information about driving directions