Road-Tripping Abroad? Tips for Driving in a Foreign Country

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When it comes to going on vacation, a car should be as essential as your sunscreen! So many people limit themselves to staying in one small area – a resort or the local city centre – but aside from not discovering those hidden gems a little further away, prices of everything from hotels to restaurants are wildly inflated in tourist hot-spots.

Taking a taxi when you want to go a little further off-field doesn’t do much to reduce your costs. You could try public transport of course, but then you’re limited to the bus and train routes and lugging your suitcases around on a packed bus is no fun when you’re travelling from one hotel to the next!

So why not hire a car (or even a campervan!), grab a map and just start exploring?

Driving abroad is a great idea, but you should do a little pre-vacation planning to ensure that everything goes smoothly. A little research back home can save you money, avoid legal trouble and generally lead to a more stress-free, fun vacation.

Here are some general tips to bear in mind when planning to hire a car abroad:

Check the laws

First and foremost, check you can drive in the country you’re going to – for example, if the minimum driving age is 21, the fact that you’re 18 and can drive in your home country won’t  make a difference.

Brush up on your knowledge of general driving laws in the local area too, such as speed limits, allowed alcohol blood level limits and whether you need to have anything in particular (like a breathalyzer in France and snow tires in some parts of Canada).

Remember that the punishments for breaking these laws vary from country to country – what is seen as a minor offence back home could land you in prison somewhere stricter!

Carry the right documents

It should go without saying that you need to take your driving license with you! The car hire  company will certainly ask to see it before they loan you anything. If you’re taking your own car abroad, make sure you have your vehicle registration certificate on you too.

You may also need to be in possession of an International Driving Permit, depending on where you’re going to. Applications might take some days or even weeks, so leave plenty of time to get one.

Get insurance

Obviously we’d all like to avoid car accidents, but they’re never more likely to happen than when you’re driving an unfamiliar car in a place with unfamiliar roads and driving laws.

So it’s crucial you ensure you have insurance, or you risk paying a fortune in fees and/or medical car should the worst happen. Check if your current insurance policies cover you abroad too, as they may not.

If you’re hiring a car, car hire excess insurance protects you against a hefty bill if the car gets  damaged. However, this is often much cheaper if you buy it in advance rather than at the car  rental station!

Know where you’re going

A Sat Nav is great but a good old-fashioned map will do the trick, though make sure you’ve got an up-to-date one – I once found myself out of gas in a desert at a town that showed up on my map, but had been long abandoned!

Although a free-spirited attitude is great, you don’t want to find yourself in the middle of  nowhere with no gas, food, water or phone signal, so plan your trip at least a day in advance. In Australia, there are stretches of 100's of miles with no gas station or mobile signal, and in other countries rainy season can make certain roads impassable for months on end.

So that’s the boring but essential part out of the way. Now it’s time to research the more quirky parts of driving abroad – the unwritten or little-known laws that come naturally to the locals but confuse unwitting tourists!

Check out The Traveller’s Guide to Driving Etiquette to see if it lists rules and tips for driving in the country you’re going to. Did you know for example that:

  • In France, children under 10 can’t sit in the front seat without a special restraint
  • In Thailand, when a vehicle flashes its lights at you it doesn’t mean ‘go’, it means ‘get out of my way!’
  • In India, cows are sacred – they’ll regularly be on the roads but driving into one can cost you 7 years of prison time
  • In Singapore, your headlamps must be turned on from 7pm to 7am, regardless of light levels
  • In Chile, it’s illegal to listen to music with earphones whilst driving In Germany, your vehicle is considered parked if you’ve left it for over 3 minutes – so ensure you’re not in a no-parking zone even if you’re just nipping out to grab a coffee!

If you’ve ever hired a car abroad, did you find it stressful or stress-free? Do you have any tips or anecdotes to share?

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