Driving Abroad Like a Local: Travel & Auto Experts Share Their Top Tips


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Driving in a foreign country can be daunting. There are different road laws and speed limits, and you might even find yourself on the wrong side of the road.

Nothing will ruin a fun trip like a speeding fine or a car accident, so it’s good to be prepared to drive an unfamiliar vehicle in a new country.

So, we’ve spoken to three travel and auto experts to share their top tips for driving abroad like a local.

Driving on the Left

In the US, we drive on the right-hand side, but many countries drive on the left. Make sure you know if you’ll be driving on the opposite side you’re used to so you can get prepared.

It can take some getting used to driving on the left, so here are some quick tips:

  • All your controls will be on opposite sides (e.g., blinkers, wiper blades, etc.). Before you set off, take some time to get used to the controls so you don’t panic when on the road.
  • In the UK and other parts of the world, roundabouts (traffic circles) are common. Always give way to the right and drive very slowly to avoid accidents. You might frustrate other drivers, but at least you’re keeping safe.
  • Don’t forget to look to your left for pedestrians stepping out into the street – your instinct will be to look to the right.
  • Take a co-pilot to help reassure you of road signs, travel laws, and potential traffic issues.

If you’re anxious about driving on the left, avoid rush hour traffic and travel at quieter times of the day.

Book an Automatic

In Europe and other parts of the world, most rental cars have a manual transmission (AKA a stick shift). Automatic cars are harder to find and more expensive to rent, but it’s worth it.

It’s tough driving a stick shift if you’re used to an automatic, and you don’t want to learn how to use a clutch and gears while in a different country. Stick to automatic transmissions when driving abroad to make your life a little easier.” – Jason Farell from Mechanic’s Diary

If you have no other choice but to drive a manual transmission while abroad, give yourself plenty of time to learn the ropes. It’s worth getting someone at the car rental place to give you a walkthrough before you head off.

Get Familiar with the Laws & Limits

In Germany, the autobahn has unrestricted sections, which means there are no speed limits. But there are parts with variable speed restrictions, so you need to know what to look for.

“Madrid has one of the best public transport systems in the world, so it’s always best to use it if possible. If you have to drive, there are low emissions areas that carry fees for certain types of vehicles. Do you research before you head out to avoid restrictions wherever possible.” – Sara Rodriguez from Madrid Traveling

Every country has its own speed restrictions and driving laws, so do your homework before your trip to prepare. The last thing you want is a hefty speeding fine or emissions fee you weren’t expecting.

What if You’re Stopped By the Police?

Always carry your documents with you while driving abroad, including your license, rental agreement, and any other legal documents you’re required to have in your chosen destination.

If a police officer pulls you over, they’ll want to see all the necessary evidence that you’re driving legally.

If a police car tries to pull you over, but you’re in a remote area, drive until you find a more populated place to stop. You can also call the country’s emergency services to double-check that the car is legitimate.

Stay in your vehicle with the windows rolled up and the doors locked until you check their badge. A real officer will immediately show proof of who they are.

Know Where You’re Going

Getting lost is a sinking feeling at the best of times, but it’s much worse when you’re in an unfamiliar country. Rather than relying on maps or listed directions, take your SatNav with you and ensure it’s set to your new location.

Before you set off on any road trip, plan your route so you know exactly where you’re going, whether there are toll roads, and what your approximate travel time will be.

“Driving around New England is great because the roads are usually quiet and peaceful. However, if you end up in Boston, the roads are manic, and drivers can be pushy, so I always advise avoiding the city.” – Michael Donovan from Stay New England

Don’t Forget Parking

Is there a car park wherever you’re going? Do you need to pay for parking, or will you need to find nearby street parking?

It’s good to know in advance so you won’t have to worry about driving around looking for a place to park. If you can’t find parking advice online, call ahead to wherever you’re staying and ask for tips.

Many major cities and tourist destinations have parking apps that allow you to book a specific space in advance. These are usually cheaper than mass car park fees and give you the peace of mind that you’ll definitely have somewhere safe to park.

Get Comprehensive Insurance

Most car rentals have insurance policies that are included in the rental cost. However, it’s worth checking the level of coverage you’ll get. If you’re unhappy with it, you’ll have to book additional insurance to cover any discrepancies.

Many insurance providers offer coverage when driving abroad, but again, it’s important to check how much coverage you’ll get. Just because you have a fully comprehensive policy in your country doesn’t mean that’s what you’ll get abroad.

No matter what policy you get, keep a copy of your documents in the car at all times just in case you get pulled over or in a car accident.

Enjoy the Ride!

The calmer you are when driving abroad, the safer you’ll be. Getting used to driving in a foreign country won’t take long, and you’ll quickly learn that the road trip is part of your vacation experience.

Take it slow, research the road laws in advance, and give yourself plenty of time to practice getting used to your new surroundings. And most of all, enjoy the journey!

This article originally appeared on TheRoamWild and was syndicated by MediaFeed.

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