When travelling around the world, there are many options for transport and getting to your destination. One of the most popular choices for getting around is by car, as it provides the traveller with independence; and when you are in a group it can often work out quite cheap to hire a car abroad – which in my book is always a bonus.
Being British, I learnt to drive on the left-hand side of the road, on the right-hand side of the car; and this has proven to be a small disadvantage when wanting to use the roads abroad.
Due to a long and political history mainly involving British colonies, only a handful of countries nowadays have opted to drive on the left-hand side of the road. I can tell you, driving an extremely heavy machine in a strange place is daunting enough, let alone having to constantly think about where exactly on the road you need to place it, and in which direction you need to go. This article discusses possible issues experienced when driving in a new place and how you can overcome any fears or doubts.
I begin with my story of driving on the other side of the road…
Let me set the scene: Réunion Island, a small volcanic island in the Indian Ocean, which is also a French overseas department. This is where I was to drive on THE OTHER SIDE for the first time. The fear was tremendous. I arrived at the airport at 1 am in the pitch black to a new place with new smells, new people, and a French accent that I didn’t quite understand.
Once I embarrassed myself at the hire car counter with my terribly tired French, I was presented with the keys to my vehicle. It’s important to know, as well, that Réunion doesn’t have many roads; there is one that goes around the island and a few little ones in the middle, and that is about it. Nevertheless, 20 minutes into my journey I found myself on the road that led to a gate, and that gate read: ‘Live Volcano, do not pass!’.
Impressive, I know. I was too terrified to go above second gear, and yet I managed to drive halfway up a volcano? Will your first time driving abroad be like that? I doubt it. I hope this gives you confidence. I reached my Airbnb at 3am (I did a 20-minute journey in 2 hours), and looked forward to the next 6 weeks of such mishaps…
Can you really make driving easier for yourself?
After the volcano incident, I tried to be a bit more cautious with signs and navigation. In all honesty, I’m not very good at that when I drive on the left, so maybe that will never change. There were however a few things I would like to share which did get easier.
Roundabouts and exits
Now this one I actually thought would be the worst because everyone knows that roundabouts are hellish nightmares even on a good day, but what you forget is that they’re designed in a way which simply won’t let you go the wrong way. You’d have to actually be trying to go around a roundabout the wrong way or enter a highway or whatever other road on the other side. Another way of avoiding this is just to follow the traffic. Be a sheep.
Gears and changing speed
For my American friends, you’ll probably hire an automatic anyway, so you won’t have to worry about this one. But, for anyone who drives manual, you will find that reaching for the gearstick and accidentally winding down your window may become a regular occurrence. The amount of times I went to change gear and was instead just blasted with a load of cold air, and then in fact slowed down, annoyed all the other drivers behind me, got beeped at, cried, etc… We’ve all been there (or probably just me). The gearstick being on the side you’re not used to is also SUCH an inconvenience. WHY CAN’T WE ALL JUST DRIVE ON THE SAME SIDE?!
But Lauren, how am I going to overcome all these fears?
Do not despair my friend, driving on the other side really isn’t that bad at all. This article is not meant to scare you but prepare you, and not make you feel like the only one in the world who has these problems. Once you do it once or twice, you’ve got it! It has been a year now and I have driven on the right far more than the left, and it seems natural to me. The key is practise, if you feel confident enough, practise whenever you can, and it will get easier! Driving abroad opens so many opportunities and you can often see so many more things than with public transport. Good luck in your journey and be safe!
P.S stay away from volcanoes if it’s your first time driving.