Thoughts on driving abroad (on the left)

Amused that they gave me an American car in the UK.
The most important thing about driving abroad is to know what kind of driver you are. Do you easily get turned around? Do you freak out easily? Are you calm as a cucumber? Do you have an awesome sense of direction? Are written directions or a GPS better for your brain? These are important for obvious reasons but also because you can prepare for a lot of these things. This all becomes especially important if you have never driven on the opposite side of the road and the idea of it freaks you out. Preparation can take a lot of the anxiety out of it. Me, I’m great with directions and a map and I can usually find myself out of most places. I’m not quite sure why it is, but my brain just seems to have a good sense of direction. Driving on both sides of the road in the same day however is a bit tricky. It can be done, I’ve survived it a few times now, but it is best, if possible, to give your brain some time to adjust.

If you are not an aware driver in your home country, let’s say, the States for example, be honest with yourself about it. Take some time to really consider if you should drive in a foreign country, any foreign country, but especially if it is on the left side and your home country is on the right. Most people will be just fine, but if you are not a good driver in your own country, and you know who you are, please do everyone a favor and let a companion drive, or take a bus or train.  For people who are good drivers, the transition is not that bad at all, and once you stop over thinking it, it is just normal driving.

Roundabouts are tricky no matter which way you are driving them, especially if you are also trying to read signs. Hopefully you have a buddy to read them for you, but if you don’t, master the slow turn on the roundabout while you read. You can always drive the full circle of the roundabout if need be. Just go slow and try not to cut anyone off doing it.

There are some things you won’t get used to especially if it’s a short trip, passing on the right, people tailing you until you let them pass, windshield wipers and arrow lights on the opposite sides (mostly NZ). Knowing which way to turn if there are no other cars and you are in the middle of nowhere at a stop sign. The speeds people drive.

There are some places that I have been that I would probably never attempt to drive, for example, Kathmandu, Tehran, and Cairo.  I’m sure there are plenty of other places I will visit that will be added to that list.

The best advice I can give about driving abroad is to be careful, map out your route in advance (Google, GPS, and a map, really see the route), don’t hesitate and go slow. I know it seems like common sense but you would be surprised at what I see tourists doing abroad. The truth is most deaths abroad occur in traffic accidents.

Left Side Driving Observations

New Zealand Specific - No matter how wide the road is for miles and miles on the south island, you will eventually and abruptly find yourself at a one lane bridge.  All roads in NZ will take you longer than you expect due to the beauty factor. You will pull over to take photographs; it’s just a fact, so build in some extra time.
They have tolls on the North Island that you have to pay online. Try notating that website at 60 mph. (Note: I forgot about five minutes after I passed it so the rental company paid, which they obviously passed onto me, with a $25 surcharge. If you have a passenger, have them write down a reminder immediately.

Ireland Specific – Even though some of the lanes are small, people do not drive slower on them. When in doubt just slow down and pull to the side to let the other side pass. You’ll get a friendly wave and be happier than if they had taken your mirror off. Enjoy the little lanes, once you get used to them, they are fabulously fun to drive. You will get scratches from bushes on the side of the road, either from pulling to the side to let someone by abruptly or taking a curve a bit too closely as another car passes. Automatic cars are pretty rare here. Near Dublin, on the motorway, they have electronic tolls overhead that you have to pay online, just like New Zealand.

UK Specific – No one travels in the passing lane unless there is a super duper amount of traffic. The passing lane really IS for passing. In this case that is the far right lane. People will be up your tail so fast you can’t believe it. If you have passed someone get back over to the left in front of them.  You will pay more for an automatic rental car as opposed to a manual.

 I have now had 5,000+ miles of driving on the left side of the road. Sure it’s not a lifetime, but it’s a pretty solid start of miles. Conclusion, I really like driving on the left especially manual because it is the same side of the body for the clutch and the shift aka, same side of the brain controlling it. It seems to flow better than the opposite hand, opposite foot thing. That’s just my humble opinion. I love to drive in general, but driving in a foreign country is thrilling to me, especially on the left. 

Winding road and furry friend, Ireland.