Driving Overseas - Travel Tips and Advice

by Lissie

Driving overseas can be very different from driving at home! Here are some practical tips and advice that may save your vacation or even your life.

Many holiday makers under estimate the risk of driving in an unfamiliar or overseas cities and countries. In Australia and New Zealand is a fairly common news story that a tourist has driven off the road and killed themselves, or even more tragically pulled to the wrong side of the road and had a head on accident with someone coming the other way. I wrote this article as a frequent traveller and experienced driver to make you think before you drive abroad.

Driving Tip for Hanoi?

Don't!

Driving Overseas Advice

Before you book your next trip do some research. Not every destination is good option for a self-drive. Some places just have whole different set of (unwritten) rules, and also very different vehicles on the road than you are used to. Not convinced? Watch the video - its not my video - but I've crossed some of those roads, this is typical traffic in Vietnam (and Cambodia!)

Big overseas cities are often not a great place to drive in - you will see more and enjoy a much less stressful stay if you stick with public transport or hire a taxi for the day. If you need the vehicle to tour arrange the hire to start after you've explored your first destination.

Driving Overseas Tips:

  • Don't drive jet-lagged. It can get days to get your body clock aligned with your destination's time zone - not push your luck and drive when you are still struggling to stay awake. In fact don't drive tired period. You are already dealing with an unfamiliar car in a strange town, don't make it any more difficult.
  • Driving on the "wrong" side of the road is not too bad in towns and cities where there are road marking and traffic to keep you on the correct side. However it's a lot more difficult if the car is not designed for the "wrong" side.
  • Don't hire a car right-hand drive car in the UK and then drive it on the continent - cars are designed to have the driver in the middle of the road for a reason!
  • Be particularly careful if hiring a motorbike or scooter to drive on the "wrong" side of the road. There is no indication on the bike which side you should be on and its a lot more dangerous on bike to be on the wrong side.

Overseas Driving Permit

overseas driving permitIf I haven't put you off entirely - and you still intend to drive, then do some research. Many countries will require you to hold an International Driving Permit - which will look similar to this one. They are issued by your home motoring association (AAA for Americans, AA for UK, your state organisation for Australians).

Overseas permits don't replace your local license, which you should carry as well, and will cost you about $10 and a photo.

Make sure you get your permit endorsed for all the the types of vehicle you are licensed for: typically this will be "B" for cars and "A" for motorbikes.  

Overseas Driving Insurance

overseas driving tipsMake sure you understand what your travel insurance will and will not cover you for. For example many foreigners will hire a motorbike to get around in Thailand. However, Thai law states that you need a full motorbike license to hire ANY motorbike in the Kingdom. If you hire the bike and then have an accident (very common by the way) - you will not only find that you are responbile for a few thousands dollars worth of damage to the bike, but you may also find that your travel insurance will decline to cover your medical bills. That's because most travel insurance doesn't cover you when you are breaking the local laws. 

Often in Australia and New Zealand - you will see very low rental car rates advertised, the fine print will tell you there is a $2000 deductible for any damage, and you will be offered a policy to reduce this down to something more reasonable. No problem you think, my travel insurance covers rental car damage. Well many of them only cover you, if you take any policies from the rental agency that you are offered, so no you will be paying the $2000 for the damage for the time you forgot to keep left. 

Overseas Travel Safety

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About the Author

I'm Elisabeth Sowerbutts, I took my first trip when I was about 3 years old, and I haven't really stopped travelling since. I've been to every continent, except Antarctica, and done everything from backpacking to being a business traveller. I spent six months solo travelling through South America and another six months backpacking through India, Nepal and SE Asia. 

My partner didn't used to travel much but I've passed the bug onto him now. Our more recent adventures include Europe in the middle of winter, Thailand, and 35,000km's through Australia's outback. 

I've lived in England, Scotland, Canada and Australia, and currently I'm back home in New Zealand 

I write a popular travel tips blog called: Lis's Travel Tips

I've also published my first book on Vacation Packing: Save Your Back, Time and Money

Updated: 02/19/2012, Lissie
 
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Have You Driven Overseas? Tell Us About it?


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Jimmie on 01/17/2012

Horrors, no! I don't love driving in my own country. I only do it to get from point a to b. If someone else wants to drive, I'm more than willing to ride.
We lived in Asia for over 8 years and I never drove, not even once. I was petrified! The scariest thing for me is the mix of pedestrians, bicycles, motorcycles, autos, and even HUGE trucks all in the same space. Way too scary. I am terrified I'll run over someone on foot or on a bike.
My husband got his Chinese driver's license, however, and did drive in China. He was a professional limo driver in USA, though, in his youth, so he naturally has more confidence as a driver.

Lissie on 01/17/2012

@Sam - LOL I never saw your car - you'd parked it up because of the several feet of snow! Apparently Myanmar is going to be interesting - they swapped from the left to the right in the 70s - to be different from the Brits - but most of the cars in the country either a) date from the 70s or b) are cheap right-hand-drive imports!

@Shaz - I've not driven in Europe - the public transport is so good - but I have in Canada and the US and it was fine - except sometimes in the carparks I got confused!

Shaz on 01/17/2012

I haven't actually driven on the 'wrong' side of the road when overseas myself, but I have some vivid memories of some hair raising events when my Dad was driving us around Europe. Very scary stuff! I think I'd rather take a tour these days and leave the driving to the locals.

Sam on 01/17/2012

Lol Lis, remember our car? But in general I agree, it is a really bad idea to drive a car with the steering wheel on the right where nearly everybody else drives one with the steering wheel on the left and vice versa ;-) I also hate driving anything on what for me is the 'wrong side' of the road, even a push bike. Great article and great advice ;-)

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