Seven Tips on Driving Internationally

An activity we do every day can quickly become a whole different beast when abroad—road signs are illegible, laws are undecipherable, and local customs are perplexing. To see the world safely via four wheels, follow our seven tips for driving internationally.
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Driving with a GPS

International travel can be daunting enough without additional car-related stresses. When driving abroad, you’ll have to tackle confusing rental contracts, local driving customs, convoluted parking rules, and driving on the left-hand side of the road with a steering wheel on the “wrong” side of the car. However, the experience of driving through the French Alps, across a Scottish moor, or up the cliffs of the Amalfi coast can be one of the most memorable parts of any trip. Just follow these driving tips for a stress-free road trip abroad.

Don’t Get Stressed Out
This is easily the most important tip of all—possibly as important as all the other driving tips put together. No matter where you go on Earth, all cars operate on the same principal: gas pedal, brake pedal, steering wheel. Unless your car is missing one of these items, chances are you can operate it without too much difficulty. Over the past several years, automatic (i.e. non stick-shift) cars have slowly become more common abroad, although you’ll likely have to pay more for one. If a stick-shift is all that’s available and you’re not comfortable driving, skip the challenge of learning on the fly on, say, the back roads of Thailand.

Research the Rules of the Road
What are the local speed limits and are they posted in kilometers or miles? What does a stop sign look like? Which side of the road do you drive on? What are the local laws on seat belts and child seats? Know all the answers to these questions before you rent. Of equal importance is checking what documents or permits, including an International Driver’s Permit (IDP), your destination country requires. While more countries now only require a photo-based U.S. driver’s license, an IDP is relatively easy to obtain at any AAA office nationwide, and, at $15, won’t break your budget. The permit is also available through the National Automobile Club. Finally, make sure that your rental company provides insurance coverage that you’re comfortable with; if not, you might want to contact your U.S.-based insurance company regarding purchasing additional international insurance.

Avoid City-Center Driving
While driving around the Tuscan countryside can be utterly sublime, figuring out how to get around even a small city like Florence can be the exact opposite experience. Many cities abroad either have excellent mass transit systems or fleets of cheap taxis (or both) to shuttle locals and visitors around. These transit networks are generally much cheaper than your rental car and offer good opportunities for everyone in your party to see more of the city. Save the car rental for when you want to explore between cities or tour the countryside, coastline, or mountains of a particular region.

Published: 21 Sep 2012 | Last Updated: 20 Nov 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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