“The only problem with Spain is all these foreign drivers” Those were the words of a naïve tourist (the “foreigners” he was refering to were the local Spanish) reporting on his Spanish holiday in an obscure 1980’s documentary. Whilst some may chuckle at his clear lack of perspective it must be noted that for many, driving abroad can be a harrowing and deeply alarming sensation and without adequate planning it can all go horribly wrong. This week I explore some of the big thinking points when one is preparing for an overseas driving visit.
Firstly and most importantly research what side of the road people drive on! Once this is done you can do what I call shadow driving; this involves sitting and pulling a phantom handbrake, pressing a phantom accelerator as they would appear on a left hand drive vehicle. While this may look ridiculous it can emotionally prepare you for the very unusual sensation which will invariably come to you as you start up in some far flung airport carpark.
While left hand driving can be deeply disorientating, it cannot and should not be used as an excuse for not paying attention to local traffic rules and road signs. Right turning at a red light (some regions of the USA), red and orange lights flashing together (UK) and many other local rules and signs can confuse newbies, so it's best to do at least some research into the most significantly different aspects prior to landing at your destination.
Letting other drivers in, use of horns, use of signals and other driving nuances and techniques vary the world over, so in this area research can help you to prepare for an otherwise disturbing driving culture shock. The best advice here would be to read up from a number of different sources as styles and customs are not fixed and online opinions car vary widely, and overly negative ones can put you off the entire enterprise of driving in your destination country.
Your first few drives are very important, observe and take note of patterns and differences and note how locals handle specific circumstances. A degree of these delicate customs and norms are not discussed in books or online (largely because they are not uniform). With this in mind, attentiveness and defensive driving (slower movements and taking fewer risks) are important for your first day or two until you really get the hang of the roads and road behaviour.
Diving overseas is a truly magnificent thing to do; discovering new landscapes, cities and scenery on your own terms is a deeply enjoyable element of a fulfilled individuals experience in another country or city. With the right amount of research and preparation you should be capable of quality relaxed driving in any desitnation, so give the research a little time and your adventure will feel all the richer with the relevant knowlege by your side.