Please note this post contains an affiliate link and any sales made through such links will reward me a small commission – at no extra cost to you. All opinions remain my own.
For Americans traveling overseas, an issue that strikes deep fear into many is driving on the left side of the road. It’s a topic we didn’t really touch on in the Dream Chasing 101 book, so let’s look into it a bit.
First of all, and briefly, while concerns concentrate on the act of driving, it affects you even as a passenger and pedestrian.
Simply riding in a vehicle is strange. It is a little disturbing just to watch. Your instincts tell you the car should be going this way instead of that.
Also, walking around streets can be downright dangerous.
While laying over a couple of days in New Zealand en route to work the summer in Antarctica, I made friends with a fellow near my age and we roamed around a bit. He’s the one who gave me the warning, “Death comes from the right.”
Picture yourself crossing a downtown street in the U.S. or some other right-side-driving nation. Sure, you look both ways, but you concentrate on looking to the left because that’s where vehicles will be coming from in that lane.
The tendency, when visiting elsewhere, is to do the same thing, simply out of habit.
However, in a left-lane-driving country, traffic in that lane is coming from the right … death comes from the right.
Similarly, when walking on the shoulder of a road, we’ve learned to walk on the right side in order to face oncoming traffic, the opposite as we do at home.
Behind the wheel
I believe taking the wheel in the right front seat and driving on the left side of the highway requires, more than anything else, a great deal of concentration. We were in Australia six days, and it did become slightly more comfortable, but habits are tough to break.
This was June 2008 and I had never used – maybe not even seen operated – a navigation device. Getting around in Australia, I figured, wouldn’t be too challenging, given the similarities of our languages (please laugh here), but I decided to rent a GPS along with our car simply because it would give us a thing or two less to worry about while concentrating on not getting into a head-on collision.
It was worth every penny. Today, your cell phone can probably help you out fine if you have a signal wherever you’re visiting. Even so, a GPS might be a good idea if you’re driving in another country, regardless which side of the road you’re on.
Keeping on the left side of the road was made simpler for me by having a personal reminder device … my wife. Leah chimed in every time we approached a turn or roundabout, reminding me to stay to the left, watching the GPS, looking for signs and landmarks.
Turns, of course, are the greatest danger. You’re accustomed to turning right by hugging that corner. Doing so by crossing a lane of traffic and hitting the other side of the median doesn’t feel natural. But, like I said, it’s more a matter of concentration. Sure, you’re concentrating all the time while driving, though we know an experienced driver can lose a bit of attention at non-critical times without significantly jeopardizing anyone. Driving on the left side, though, is where you do not have enough familiarity.
So, plan frequent breaks because it will be more stressful.
If possible, find a parking lot or some other space where you can practice those turns. I should have done more of that before leaving the airport. For me, quite inexplicably, the right turn, which I could see best, was the worst … I tended to cut it too sharply. Leaving a parking lot, once, turning right onto a one-way street, I ran over the curb.
Wherever you’re turning, allow a little more space than you think necessary.
Get familiar with roundabouts –called circles by some – if you’re not already. I believe they’re becoming more popular in the United States (rightfully so, in my opinion), but you’ll find them to be much more common in many other countries. I say to get familiar with them now so you will have less of a learning curve when you’re trying to drive them in a counterclockwise direction.
Entering a roundabout to the left and then exiting to the left was one of the most challenging things I did in Australia, especially the first few times.
You will probably be driving in a country that uses the metric system, since more than 90 percent of the world does, which means the distance to your destination will be given in kilometers and speed limits in kph (kilometers per hour).
This really shouldn’t affect you much. Just keep in mind the speed limits are not as fast as they sound. A speed of 50 kph is equivalent to only 31 mph.
OK, that didn’t hurt, did it? That’s the idea. If you wish to drive in another country, do your research. Find out about licensing and insurance. Can you read road signs well enough? Do you have access to directions? Check for rules of the road that might be strange to you. Is there anything you should know about being stopped by police?
In other words, do your homework and then decide if you want to drive. If not, plan to take local transport, relax and enjoy it.