You’ve got your confirmations in order and reservations booked, but you’re visiting a country where you have to drive … on the other side of the road? Truth be told, around 25 percent of the world drives on the left (or “opposite”) side of the road, so you’re bound to bump into this situation at some point.
Now, I’m not much of a driver, but I lived in the United Kingdom for 5 years and took enough road trips that I can give you pretty good advice on the topic. Here are my top 5 tips for driving on the left side of the road.
1. Read up on driving rules before you go
Don’t just scan the 30-word introduction from your Lonely Planet guide that cheerfully tells you to stay to the left. Do a little homework on driving in your vacation dreamland — nobody wants to become a traffic statistic.
For example, did you know that there are still some single track roads in the UK? (Yes. They are not fun.) And would you know what to do on a single lane bridge in New Zealand?
Given today’s era of blogs and online newspapers, you won’t have trouble finding out what you need to know, so do yourself a favor and google it.
2. Don’t get a manual transmission rental car
You might drive a manual transmission at home, but cars are a little different in each country, no matter how similar they might look. Go for the automatic — even if it costs more, even if it’s a slight bruise to your ego. As a tourist, you’ve got enough to think about without having to retrain yourself to shift with your left hand.
3. Do a parking-lot test first
When you get into your rental car for the first time, ask the attendant if there’s somewhere you can sit and get your bearings. If you’ve landed at an airport, space might be at a premium, so look for something like a large airport hotel. You’ll want to take a minute, calm your nerves, and familiarize yourself with your car and where everything is. This also gives you the time to make sure you’ve got your directions sorted so you can focus on the road.
4. Cities are not your friend
It’s a universal fact that cities can be intimidating, especially if you are driving on the left side of the road, so sometimes it’s best to just avoid driving there altogether if you can. Park the car and take public transportation. Or, if it all seems too much, find a tour guide to take you instead. (We won’t judge. Promise.)
5. Slow down and smell those roses
Don’t overschedule the trip. You don’t know how long drives will take or whether you’ll encounter traffic jams. Rushing also leaves you less time to recover from mistakes if your mind wanders, so slow down. Instead, factor in some breathing room to pull off and take a photo or explore a small town that’s begging for attention.
Above all, remember: it’s not a vacation if you’ve spent a week in an adrenaline-fueled road rage. Enjoy the experience of driving on the left and laugh off any goofs as part of the story you can tell when you get home. And please, get home safely!
For more tips, check out our driving abroad page.
Check out Andy’s website, Plum Deluxe.