Driving Cars in Other Countries
If you are planning on traveling to another country, or even another state, you may have thought that renting a car and driving around to see things would be the best way to handle sightseeing. This is usually the first choice that Americans consider when weighing their transportation options, because in many areas of the United States, a car is a necessity rather than a luxury. However, depending on where you’re going, the situation can be different from what you’re used to when you get to your destination, and you may find that renting a car was not the smartest choice.
The first thing you have to take into account is the basic logistics of driving in different areas. When I first went to the UK, everyone warned me about having to drive on the left side of the road, but that turned out not to be an issue — it is, after all, just like driving in the left-hand lane of any multi-lane road. The difficult part was actually dealing with driving on the right-hand side of the car. It is a very strange feeling to have three feet of vehicle to the left of where you’re sitting, when you’re used to only having a few inches there to clear. Within a couple of days, I’d managed to scrape up the left side of my car, because it stuck out a lot further than I expected it to. Staying in the middle of your lane is also difficult when you’re sitting on the other side of the car from where you’re used to. The first time you come to a set of traffic lights and you want to turn right, it’s very hard to convince yourself to get out in the middle of the road to turn, and to turn into the left side of the road.
You might think that these situations are easy to avoid if you’re not going to England, but there are actually more than 70 countries in the world where they drive on the left-hand side of the road and right-hand side of the car. This can be quite a shock if you’re not aware of it ahead of time. Add in the factors of differing traffic laws, road signs you don’t understand, and drivers who expect you to keep up with their level of aggression, and you can find that driving a car on vacation is more of a headache than an adventure.
Many countries are also much more flexible about traffic rules than we are, and this can be daunting if you’re not used to seeing people making up their own game as they go along. You may find that people drive four or five cars across on a three-lane road, occasionally bumping into other cars and continuing as if nothing happened. You may also notice that it’s “normal” in some places for people to disregard red lights or one-way signs. If these things are likely to send you into a panic, it might be better to reconsider how you will get around. Sometimes the subway is a much safer place to be than the street.
It’s also useful to be aware of whether driving a car is even advisable in the area you’ll be visiting. Many places are so compact and have such ubiquitous public transportation, that it simply doesn’t make any sense to be spending money on a car when it’s unnecessary. Also, in congested urban areas, it’s likely you’ll travel faster without a car than with one. Do some research before you book a car reservation, and make sure that driving is your best option for getting around. It could be that most things you want to see are within walking distance of your hotel, or that the metro is so cheap and easy to use that it wouldn’t be worth it to have to pay for gas and parking everywhere you go.
Renting a car when you travel may be an automatic reflex, but in many places it’s not the best course of action. It doesn’t take much to do a bit of online detective work before you go, and the hassle and expense it might save you is well worth the minimal effort of finding out what you’re up against ahead of time.