Driving on the opposite side of the road was not something I had worried about before moving to the US.
For many of us, driving is something that we just do. Like riding a bike, it’s something that we do on “autopilot”. Many of us do it every day without even thinking.
When I first started travelling, I avoided hiring cars in countries where I would be driving on the opposite side of the road. I was worried that I would get confused and get into an accident. This meant that I missed out on exploring places I had always wanted to go.
This attitude changed when we moved to the US.
If we didn’t learn how to drive here, we’d miss out on opportunities to see more of this beautiful country. Now, we’ve been on countless road trips and are planning more for this year!
Have you put off travelling because you were worried about driving on the opposite side of the road?
Regardless of whether you drive on the left or the right, read on. This guide is for you!
Make sure you do your research
Before you even leave home, make sure you check which side of the road you’ll be driving on. In addition to a quick google search, this website is a good start.
You’ll also want to check whether you’ve rented a standard or automatic drive. You don’t want to pick up your keys and realise that you’ve accidentally rented a standard (manual).
Are you driving in a country where people don’t speak English? How will you read street names? Will you rely on Google Maps?
Some countries have English street signs in addition to the local language, but don’t rely on it!
For example, when driving in Japan, we could read street signs as they were in were in Romaji (romanised Japanese).
Do you need an International Drivers License?
This rule varies depending on the country and can even vary state to state (like in the US)!
Often, this is needed in countries where the spoken language differs from your own. For example, in Japan, we needed an International Drivers License in addition to our Australian driver’s licence.
In the state of Massachusetts where we live, we don’t need an International Drivers Licence (our Australian License is sufficient). But for other US states like New Hampshire or Maine, we’ve needed to have one.
If you’re driving on the opposite side of the road, you don’t want to have to worry about licence requirements too.
Make sure before you leave home to look this up. You may need to apply for an International Drivers Licence before you leave your home country.
Are there any state or country specific road rules?
You’re probably thinking “dude, I know how to drive, is this all really necessary??”
Yes and no. Chances are, the road rules of where you’re from aren’t going to be too different to where you’re travelling to.
But… There are occasional quirks that are unique to a country or a particular state.
For example, in Florida, if you give way, you can turn right onto a road, even if the traffic light is red.
When I first saw this, I couldn’t figure out why cars were running red lights! After some research, we realised this was a road rule specific to Florida, which we hadn’t experienced yet elsewhere.
Every country or state has its own driving style
Similar to different rules in different states, every country or region can have a different style to driving.
Driving in Boston was very similar to driving back at home in Melbourne. The traffic can be busy, but people are mostly patient and polite when giving way.
Contrast this with Miami, where drivers are a combination of tourists, locals and residents who have learnt to drive elsewhere. People rarely signalled when changing lanes, making driving there more hectic.
It’s worth looking this up before you leave home. You don’t want to be signalling forever and wondering why no one has given you way when it’s the norm to be more assertive on the road!
Plan your car pick up
Don’t start driving for the first time in peak hour
Your sense of perception will be off; you may not even be able to stay in your lane properly.
Maybe you’ve just gotten off a long flight – you’re tired, you’re hungry. Maybe you’re balancing google maps at the same time. To add to this, your signal is in a different spot, and you can’t figure out who you’re supposed to give way to.
Doesn’t sound like a fun experience, does it?
Your first time driving will be less stressful if there is less traffic. You’re already driving on the opposite side of the road. You don’t want to have to deal with peak hour traffic too!
If possible, time your car pick up to avoid the early morning or after work rush.
Alternatively, if your flight arrives during peak hour, it might be worth picking up your car at a later time or at a different location.
Drive a few loops of the car park or some residential streets
The very first day I got behind the wheel of a car, my dad took me to a nearby carpark so I could get my bearings.
I know this sounds silly, because hey – you already know how to drive!
But remember, your seat is in a different spot. The indicator may even be in a different place. The side of the road you’ll be driving on will be different.
Going easy on yourself will give you time to adjust to the changes instead of rushing to your destination.
WARNING: Any passenger seat drivers who are used to “the other side of the road” may start freaking out
This was me.
When my husband started driving in the US, I was convinced he was going to drive us off the side of the road. Every time he drove the slightest bit too close to my side of the road, I would freak out massively.
The freaking out may help you (hey, you might actually be too close to the other side of the road!)
Or… Your passenger might be a little too sensitive. Make sure your passengers know that this might happen in advance.
Driving on the opposite side of the road is stressful enough!
Talk to yourself
Yes, you read that correctly.
*Hands up* I know I’m weird sometimes, but there’s a legitimate reason why you’ll want to do this!
This sounds silly but is super effective when you’re starting to drive on the opposite side of the road.
Your perception may be completely off, or you may get confused mid-turn.
When turning, it helped me to say out loud “turn right into the right lane”. Or, when going through a round-a-bout (or rotary) “give way to the left”.
You can even turn it into a little game with your passengers!
Driving in a foreign country can be daunting. It can be especially stressful if you’re driving on the opposite side of the road. But it can be enjoyable with some preparation and research!
Don’t let your fear get in the way of seeing a country you’ve always wanted to explore. Road trips are not only a budget-friendly way to travel but they also lots of fun! They allow you to see more of a country that you originally wouldn’t be able to experience.
Do your research and enjoy yourself!
So what do you think? Have you driven in a foreign country before?
Are there any tips or advice you’d add?