There’s nothing quite like hitting the tarmac. Grabbing freedom with both hands and driving wherever you want, whenever you want, is what makes road trip holidays so appealing. But sometimes that feeling of liberation can be limited by a fear of the unknown. What’s it like to drive on the other side of the road? Are there different road rules? Is that road sign important? How do I get to the airport? Getting behind the wheel abroad throws up quite a bit of uncertainty but, if you’re prepared, it can also give you the chance to discover the best of your destination under your own steam.
Follow these 11 tips for driving on holiday before putting pedal to the metal:
Learn the rules of the road
…and stick to them. This isn’t just what side of the road you drive on, but the speed limits, different signage, drink-driving laws and what documentation is required for you to drive in your destination. For example, in the USA it’s worth noting that undertaking isn’t illegal, you can turn right on a red light if no one else is coming, and the first person to arrive at a crossroads gets priority.
Make sure you’re old enough
…and have held your licence for long enough. Most car hire companies will charge a premium for drivers under the age of 25, or may even refuse to rent to them at all. The same applies if you’ve held your licence for less than a year.
Get a credit card
This was the biggest lesson I learnt – my partner and I panic-applied for a credit card a week before we went to Iceland, not realising our debit card wasn’t enough. Luckily we got approved and it arrived in time, as most hire firms require you to hand over a credit card when you pick up your rental. This allows them to ring fence any excess charges, just in case you’re in an accident or there’s any damage to the car.
Keep some loose change in the car
To cover any tolls on your route, to grab a drink or a sandwich from a rest-stop that doesn’t take card, or to pay any National Park entrance fees – to name a few.
Consider an International Driving Permit
In some countries, a separate permit, in addition to your driving licence, is required or recommended. This International Driving Permit (IDP) can be applied for via the Post Office, the RAC or the AA for just £5.50 and is valid for 12 months. To find out whether an IDP is required or recommended in your destination of choice, see the AA list here.
Let people know where you’re going
Particularly if you’re driving in an offbeat location. In Iceland for example – a region prone to adverse weather – you can log your journey with Safetravel so that, on the offchance something goes wrong, someone will come looking for you.
Split the driving
Assuming you’re travelling with your partner, family, friends, or all of the above, try and spread the driving between several people. This alleviates any stress, gives you a chance to take a break from being behind the wheel (thus reducing fatigue), and also gives each driver and passenger a chance to soak up the scenery.
Map out your route
Sat navs can be a Godsend, but let’s face it, they don’t always function quite how you want them to. ‘Make a u-turn where possible’ repeated over and over again is enough to send the calmest of drivers into a hot rage. But if you have back-up, there’s no need to worry if technology fails you. Take maps, print directions and, if your phone has the capability, download offline Google maps too. That way, you’ve got extra security if the sat nav battery dies, or if the ruddy thing just drives you so crazy that you have to turn it off.
Expect the unexpected
Like driving past bears. In Canada, we drove past several black bears while travelling through Jasper National Park – that definitely wasn’t something we were expecting! It was a more than pleasant surprise, but it meant we drove even more cautiously after that.
And wildlife isn’t the only issue; you could find there’s road works on your route or that a certain turn-off is closed, to name a few. Whatever the problem: just breathe, don’t panic, and seek an alternative route if necessary. Don’t be afraid to stop, pull over and ask for directions.
Stow your valuables
Just because you’re driving a car that isn’t yours, that doesn’t mean that all responsibility goes out of the window. In fact, you should be even more alert in a hire car – that goes for your driving style, where you park and also ensuring your expensive camera, money wallet or phone isn’t left on display while you go for a scenic hike through the woods.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember when driving on holiday: don’t forget you’re on holiday. Slow down, take in your undoubtedly beautiful surroundings, and remember to get out of the car. If there’s a sign indicating an attraction, a waterfall, or a short hike – stop and look at it. Don’t rush through the drive and risk missing a route highlight.