Self-Drive Holidays: Surviving a Road Trip on the Other Side

Committing to a self-drive holiday where you need to drive on the other side of the road can be a nerve wracking experience.  Here are some tips to help you to adjust quickly and safely.
Arc de Triomphe Traffic

Do Your Homework

Before committing to doing a self driving holiday make sure you do your research to develop an achievable and interesting itinerary.  there are some great articles out there to help you plan your trip like this comprehensive driving holiday Italy example, and many more.

Before You Depart

If you are taking a long haul flight and will be in transit for 12 or more hours consider whether you will be in a safe state to drive in an unfamiliar environment on arrival.  It is better to take the conservative option and use a taxi, shuttle bus or public transport to your accommodation and pick up your hire vehicle a day or two later once you are recovered.

Consider where you intend to pick up the car.  If it is your first time driving on the other side of the road try to select a hire car location which is not in a high traffic area.

Decide whether you intend to use a map or GPS to navigate.  If you intend to use a GPS then decide whether to download the destination map to your existing GPS in advance, or whether you will purchase a local GPS on arrival.

Look up the road signs and rules for your destination.  If a foreign language is spoken, also try to memorise specific traffic words.

Car Pick Up

Picking up the car is the first hurdle, particularly if it is a make with which you are unfamiliar.  It is important to familiarise yourself with the vehicle before you attempt to drive in traffic.  This includes the following:

  • Check the location of the indicator and windscreen wipers.
  • Check you can find and operate the parking brakes and lights.
  • Ask how to open the fuel tank and confirm which type of fuel is required for your vehicle.
  • Adjust the radio and air conditioning systems so you understand how they work.

Also confirm with the vehicle hire personnel if there are any roads or areas where you are not allowed to drive the car.

For example you may not be aware that car insurance does not cover drivers who attempt to use the unmarked six lane and approximately 12 street roundabout around the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.  When we visited we climbed to the top of the Arc de Triomphe.  We watched the traffic and saw two accidents in only 5 minutes.

Starting Driving

Pulling out into traffic is the next challenge.  In my personal experience pulling into a moderate stream of traffic is mostly achievable.  The situation with the highest risk is when you start driving onto a street with no traffic – it is in this situation that you are most likely to pull onto the wrong side of the road.

The first time you drive on the other side of the road it may take approximately two days of driving to adjust.  In this period you will have to maintain constant driving focus, and you will notice that when you lose focus you will have a tendency to drift to the edge of the lane.  After two days your brain should adjust and you will be able to relax more while you drive.

The good news is that after you have made the first switch then any subsequent trips where you need to drive on the other side of the road will not require the same period of intense adjustment. Usually you will readjust within only 1-2 hours.

Each country is different so it is fun getting to know the road system as you explore.  For example, France has a great number of roundabouts.  Italy has only relatively few roundabouts but there are many speeding drivers.  Melbourne, Australia has trams in the centre of the road so you have to learn how to do a hook turn to make a right hand turn.  The USA has intersections with stop signs in every direction and you have to work out who gets to go first.

GPS Navigation Hazards

It is tempting to blindly follow the directions of your GPS, but in my experience a GPS can often try to take you on a route which does not make sense.  It is worthwhile to acquire a large scale map so you can cross check GPS directions with your intended route.

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