Anyone can make a car go forward – it’s road sense that you really need. None more so than when you’re driving on foreign roads, as you never know what might hit you – literally! Almost every country in the world is different when it comes to motoring, varying wildly from anything to the side of the road they drive on, to the condition of the tarmac, to whether or not the locals have actually passed a recognized driving test!
And generally speaking, the less developed a country is, the more you’re going to have your work cut out for you in staying safe on the highways and byways. Lucky for you, we’ve put together some tips for keeping yourself and your vehicle intact when you’re driving in an alien land! Do remember to get a proper license first!
Since we’re on the subject of licenses, please make sure you have one! It might seem like an obvious point to make, but you’d be surprised how many people drive without actually having completed a driving test. And don’t get us started on the rules and regulations for passing a test around the world! In Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia for example, many locals simply BUY their license. This might explain why they’re so bad at driving! And they’re not alone – just because your country might have a legitimate system for passing the required test, doesn’t mean the country you’re going to visit does! Always protect yourself and make sure you have a full driving license.
Check to see if you need any further documentation too – sometimes you’ll need an international driving permit to be allowed to use the roads.
The Rules of the Road
The number one rule here is – make sure you know which side you’re meant to be driving on! Again this might seem simple enough, but accidents do happen. A friend of ours once drove a hire car for quite a few kilometers on the wrong side of the road while traveling in France! What was the wrong side to him wasn’t the wrong side to locals, so don’t make his mistake and ensure you’re on the correct side. It’s pretty easy to check which side of the road the country you’re visiting drives on, so there is no excuse! Familiarize yourself with the individual laws of the country, because it could be different from one place to the next. For example, there’s no right turn on a red light in Europe – this can confuse our American friends! And don’t drive with your shirt off in Thailand – you’ll get arrested!
Just as the driving laws can vary from country to country, so can the road conditions. There are many places around the world where you couldn’t even call it a road! Driving conditions can play a huge factor in your safety when behind the wheel, so make sure you plan well in advance for anything that could be thrown at you.
Potholes, landslides, weather, elephants crossing, volcanic eruptions – the list is endless for what could potentially cause you problems in getting from A to B. Check your route before you depart and it could save you a big headache.
Don’t forget about the condition of you horseless carriage either! You’ll most likely rent a car, so make sure you give it a good check up to ensure it’s roadworthy. Check tyre tread and pressure, lights, brakes, oil, mirrors, bodywork, wipers, the kitchen sink, the whole caboodle! Make sure you’ve taken a note with the hire company of any scratches or dents in the vehicle – as you don’t want to be blamed and charged for any damage that you didn’t do. Another good idea is to make sure the vehicle is equipped with emergency gear. This can include jump leads, spare tyre (obviously), hazard triangle, tow rope, fire extinguisher and first aid kit. In some countries, it’s illegal not to have these items – so better to be safe than sorry. Also, consider a GPS navigation system.
Chances are you’re not going to be too familiar with the roads and this device will be extremely handy.
Driving can be stressful at the best of times, but add to that an unfamiliar situation and unfamiliar drivers, and you’ve got a recipe for a blood pressure disaster! Road rage can be a very real thing, and it can get you into a lot of trouble, so do whatever it takes to remain calm. Drive at your own pace and take things easy – and make sure you get plenty of rest. Driving while tired is a serious problem.
Not only can it make you more irritable, you’re more likely to fall asleep at the wheel. Don’t rely on energy drinks either – apart from being seriously bad for you, they’re no substitute for a good night’s sleep. In short – make sure you’re in a fit state to drive. Do we even need to mention alcohol anymore?!
Dealing with Traffic Police
If there’s one thing that is guaranteed to get your back up while driving abroad it’s the local traffic police. Now they’re not all THAT bad, but generally speaking, they’re world renowned for being corrupt and infuriating to deal with. In certain countries they don’t even bother chasing you down – they’ll just stand at the side of a road and wave a little baton that looks like a mini lightsaber, and expect you to pay a cash fine – even if you’ve done nothing wrong! Some will even try to pin a false ticket on you – so make sure you know your rights and stick to your guns. Hopefully, you don’t actually have any real guns as they wouldn’t like that either. It goes without saying that you should be obeying the speed limit too – as this is what they will invariably try and collar you for. Don’t give them any excuse to pull you over – be prepared!
With the best will in the world, accidents do happen. It might not be your fault, but that’s a moot point if you’re dealing with a smashed up car – or worse. Make sure you take out comprehensive insurance covering all aspects of your motoring trip abroad. Ensure no stone is left unturned and you account for any eventuality – you never know what the road is going to throw at you. You might not have to get cover for hitting an alligator at home, but the world is a different place!
Armed with a bit of common sense, a lot of preparation and planning, and this guide, and we’re sure you’ll have a trouble-free road trip – wherever you are. Oh – and don’t forget to stock up on water and supplies for those long hauls. If you breakdown trying to negotiate the Pamir Highway in winter – you’ll thank us later!
Now was there anything we’ve forgotten? Do you have some awesome advice for driving abroad? Apart from making sure the gas tank is full?! Drop us a line in the comments below!