When travelling in another country, driving offers a lot of freedom; you are not tied down to the unusual transit system and you don’t have to worry about haggling with the local cab drivers. You can just simply get into your heavily insured Volkswagen Passat and head off to the next part of your adventure.
Still, before you get too excited about exploring the parts unknown, make sure you address a few important aspects of driving abroad. While some countries follow the same codes as we do in North America, many other places operate by the theory of natural selection: survival of the fittest. Different terrains, different laws and different styles of driving can often stress newcomers, so ask yourself some key questions before you step behind the wheel.
Do you need an international driving permit?
Depending on the country you are visiting you might need to apply for an international driving permit before you depart. As a Canadian driver, you may find that many countries will honour your licence, but be aware that language barriers, amongst other legal reasons, may cause it to be invalid. An international driving permit is available in 10 different languages and it should accompany your native licence in addition to your passport when you rent a car abroad. Should an accident occur or if a local officer pulls you over, having an international driving permit may save you from a lot of trouble. You can learn more about this here.
Is the car a right-hand or a left-hand drive?
The classic problem that arises for globetrotting drivers is the reversal of the road pattern and the driver seat. In North America our steering wheels are on the left-hand side of the car and we drive on the right-hand side of the road. But if you are visiting Britain, Thailand, Australia or 71 other nations, you must adjust to their mirrored standard. The common mistake for drivers new to those countries occurs when they are making left-hand and right-hand turns. Because a right turn will result in the car being in the left lane and left turn in the right, many accidents happen in that moment of misremembering and relying on old habits.
Are there any dangerous road conditions to be aware about?
High mountain ranges, recent flooding and lack of maintenance may lead a lot of dangerous stretches of roads. If you are choosing to drive in Africa, the Middle East or Latin America, be cautious not only of narrow mountain passes, large pot holes, but also of bandits and local criminals impersonating law enforcements. Night-time driving through rural areas should be avoided, simply due to the nature of being in a developing country where medical response is limited and vulnerability to illegal activity is much higher than at home. Simply maintain a safe speed so you can see possible obstructions and avoid hazardous scenarios due to the lack of safety features.
Are there any tolls?
Toll roads are very common abroad; it’s a necessary means of sustaining the integrity of the road and reducing congestion. There isn’t much to them, expect that you should always be prepared to pay. Some countries have automatic tolling technology, but many still require the old-fashioned method. Don’t hesitate to ask ahead about tolling charges when you head onto a highway – being prepared will buy you some time.
Will you be driving through a restricted area?
In Europe, restricted driving areas are quite common and driving through them may result in a fine. The reason for this is often to reduce traffic and pollution. But other restrictions may also be unfamiliar to foreigners as well, including no honking zones, no driving lanes and also unmarked private properties. To avoid ending up where you don’t want to, plan out your trip and the route you intend to take beforehand.
Do the locals have bad habits?
We might criticize those bad drivers at home for signaling too early or not at all, but in other countries the lawlessness and bad habits of the local drivers is the cause of utter pandemonium. When it’s a free-for-all on the road, driving becomes quite different—and if you are brave enough to operate a vehicle on some of those dangerous roads, then you should definitely be conscious of the cultural driving habits. You can learn which countries have the worst drivers in this article.
Should you be aware of suicidal wildlife?
Jaywalking animals are a danger that many drivers should be aware of regardless of the country. When crossing national parks, nature reserves or simply far-from-urban places keep an eye out for animals that may jump out at you without warning. Hitting an animal may damage your vehicle, cause severe injuries and it may even be illegal, depending on the animal.
Are you driving across a border?
Every border is unique, but the experience is usually always unnerving. Be sure to do some research into the border in which you intend to cross. Understanding the norm will help you avoid time-consuming measures and the risk of being charged unnecessary fees. There are multiple variabilities when crossing an unfamiliar border, so it should not be something done haphazardly. Consider travel visas, materials in your possessions and the purpose of your travel. The penalty for breaking any rules upon approaching a border can be rejection of entry or imprisonment.