Hiring a car when you're overseas is a great way of exploring a country. It gives you the freedom to travel where you want, be on your own schedule and visit places that are difficult to reach on public transport.
However, driving in a foreign country isn't without its fair share of challenges. From having to manoeuvre on the opposite side of the road to understanding new rules and regulations, it can feel overwhelming and daunting especially if you're by yourself. I've hired a car in Australia, Anguilla, St Martin, Greece and Croatia and each country and island feels very different when driving there.
If you're unsure if you can drive abroad, below I share my tips for driving abroad as a solo traveller to help you feel more at ease.
1. Get Acquainted With Your Car
As a British driver accustomed to the left-hand side of the road, stepping into a world where most countries drive on the right was quite a shift. Adapting to driving on the “wrong” side and embracing unfamiliar driving norms can initially feel disorienting. You can make this a smoother transition by familiarising yourself with your rental car. Spend time getting used to its controls, practice using turn signals, and embrace the challenge of driving on the opposite side. Confidence is key and gaining confidence through practice will make navigating foreign roads feel less daunting.
2. Rent an Automatic Car
If you're like me and experience anxiety while driving, renting an automatic transmission vehicle can be a better option. Automatic cars eliminate the need for constant gear shifting and clutch operation, so you don't have to think about changing gears up or down and can just focus on what your feet are doing instead. Automatics are much easier but if you're unsure if you can drive one, you can always familiarise yourself with one at home before you can abroad. Even just taking a driving lesson in one for an hour will help you gain proficiency before driving abroad. Just don’t forget to take out direct car excess insurance for added peace of mind.
3. Read Up On Driving Laws
When travelling abroad, it's important to make yourself aware of the different laws and regulations pertaining to driving. This includes understanding the different speed limits, knowing which side of the road to drive on, the types of documentation necessary, and how much alcohol is okay to drink. Reading up on the laws before you go will ensure that you feel more confident in a foreign country.
4. Don't Forget Your International Driving Permit
Before you head off on your driving adventures abroad make sure you have an International Driving Permit (IDP) to take with you. Having the right documentation is as crucial as mastering driving skills. An IDP is often recognised worldwide, serves as an official translation of your home country's driver's license and allows you to drive legally in many countries.
It's important to note that whilst you may need an international driving license, it doesn't replace your original driver's license. So both documents should be carried together. Armed with an international driving license, you'll be well-prepared to explore foreign landscapes confidently and legally.
Make sure to check the specific requirements for obtaining an international driving license in your home country before you go.
5. Drive in The Slow Lane
Until you feel confident enough to drive the required speed limit on foreign soil, consider staying in the slow lane. You can always move into the fast lane later on when you feel more comfortable. You may pick it up really quickly but until you're fully confident in your driving abilities, this allows you to adapt more gradually to the new environment. When changing lanes, wait for a large gap to reduce your anxiety.
6. Ignore Road Rage
Some countries are notorious for having aggressive drivers or drivers that don't seem to stick to the rules. It's easy to feel flustered and anxious when seemingly angry drivers are honking and trying to get past you and it may seem tempting to answer back or somehow defend yourself, but try to stay in your own zone and ignore angry drivers. Maintain your composure and concentrate on driving. They'll soon overtake you.
7. Have A GPS Handy
Apparently, up to 29% of tourists fear getting lost, so it's important to have GPS on hand when driving on foreign roads. Some hire companies hand out maps but you can request a GPS from your car rental company, or simply make sure that your smartphone comes with an app you can connect to. Google Maps is a great tool for navigating your way around and you attach your phone to the windscreen with a car phone holder.
8. Don't Overbook Your Itinerary
When you're first learning the ropes of driving abroad, don't get too ambitious with your itinerary. Avoid cramming too much in as long hours of driving each day can not only add to your anxiety levels but it drains you and takes the joy out of travelling (unless you love driving obviously).
Try planning shorter drives until you feel more confident in your abilities on the road or drive in towns or rural suburbs away from bustling cities for a slower pace and a more comfortable drive. You can also find public transportation in most areas if you prefer to stay off the road in a certain area.
9. Always Stay Alert
Never get behind the wheel when you're tired. This may seem like common sense, but driving when you're drained can make things difficult for you in a foreign country. Though it may make financial sense to rent a car straight from the airport, if you've just come straight off an overnight flight, driving will be the last thing you want to do.
It's stressful and exhausting to drive to your accommodation straight from the airport, especially when you have no prior driving experience in the country.
Consider arranging a transfer with your accommodation instead and either get your car delivered to you or head back to the airport the following day to pick it up. If you do need to drive, take a brief rest or enjoy a cup of coffee before setting off on your trip.
10. Go Small
Selecting a compact or economy car for your first rental abroad has several advantages. These smaller vehicles are easier to park and maneuver, offering a smoother introduction to foreign roads. Consider your luggage needs when choosing a car size.
11. Get Practice Before
Participating in advanced driving courses can significantly boost your confidence on foreign roads. These courses offer opportunities to refine defensive driving skills, making you better prepared for the challenges of driving in any country.
I hope that these tips have given you some confidence for hiring a car abroad. It just takes a bit of adjusting to local driving laws and the correct side of the road, but with practice and preparation, you can confidently tackle the roads in any corner of the globe. If I can, anyone can!