If you’re planning a trip abroad and you’re going to be driving, you may be a little nervous - particularly if you haven’t driven overseas before.
So, what can you do to ensure that your holiday is as relaxing as possible, even if you are behind the wheel?
Do your homework
The first step should be to read up on how the laws on driving differ in the country you’re heading to. The rules of the road can vary quite significantly across Europe, and not just when it comes to speed limits.
For example, in France you need to carry a breathalyser in your vehicle at all times, while in Spain, if you normally wear glasses, you’re obliged to carry a spare pair with you.
In certain countries, you need to have your headlights on at all times, even in the middle of the day when the sun is beating down.
Checking exactly what rules you’ll be subject to well in advance is a really good way to calm those nerves, and ensure you don’t have any difficult conversations with the police during your stay.
Which side am I driving on?
Whether you’re heading over to the continent or renting a car while driving in the US, remembering to stick to driving on the right-hand side may be a big challenge.
This may feel peculiar – for example, the overtaking lane will be on the left rather than the right on motorways and dual carriageways, while you’ll be giving way to the left on roundabouts.
The AA suggests that leaving a greater distance than you normally would between you and the car in front is a useful step, as it gives you more space and more time to react.
It also notes that after completing a familiar task, like filling the car up, it’s easy to slip back into your usual mode of driving as if you’re back in the UK. So, those are the exact moments when it’s important to be extra vigilant.
What do I need?
You’ll definitely need to take your driving licence with you, but you may also need to bring an international driving permit.
If you hold a photocard driving licence, you will not need an IDP to drive in any of the 27 EU member states, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland or Liechtenstein. However, if you do not have a photocard licence, you will need to carry an IDP with you.
Different countries require a different version of the permit, which you can purchase over the counter at your local Post Office. This will cost you £5.50 and, depending on the sort of permit you need, it will either last for 12 months or up to three years.
More information about these requirements can be found on the Government’s website.
Working out your routes ahead of time is an excellent idea. If you’re using a satnav, make sure that it’s fully updated and that you have the charger easily to hand.
It’s worth remembering that some countries have different rules when it comes to satnavs, particularly if yours warns you of upcoming speed cameras. You may need to disable that feature before setting off on your trip.
By planning your likely routes in advance, you can also prepare for any toll roads that you might need to pay to use. While some will allow you to pay with a credit or debit card, it’s worth keeping some cash to hand as an alternative payment method. Other countries require you to pay in advance on some roads, such as Portugal with its DEM card.
It’s one thing to be confident driving around roads and areas that you know, but driving abroad will mean you’re exposed to roads - and driving styles - that will be somewhat alien to you.
That’s why the government advises driving ‘defensively’ and taking extra care, when out on foreign roads. Be as prepared as possible for the unexpected.
Where can I park?
The AA suggests that it’s a good idea to do a bit of forward planning about precisely where you’re going to park on your stay, as in some cities it is both easier and cheaper to park outside the centre and then catch public transport into the city itself.
In fact, in some cities, vehicles aren’t actually allowed in the centre, at all.
Speak to your insurer
It’s worth remembering that, while your insurance policy might cover you overseas, it is often only third-party cover, if it is included at all.
So, if you’re driving with your own vehicle, speak to your insurer to inform them of your plans and discuss what it would cost to get more comprehensive cover. The same goes for your breakdown policy.