When You Get There
Taking your car on holiday can be an enjoyable and liberating experience – no crowded airport terminals, long taxi queues or wasting valuable time waiting for local buses. But British motorists beware – driving abroad is not without its challenges, ask anyone who has experienced rush hour in Rome, been grid-locked in Greece or tackled the Arc de Triomphe in Paris!
Always bear in mind that driving in unfamiliar places can bring unexpected problems. Make sure you are as prepared as possible and haven’t bitten off more than you can chew. Follow our handy 11-point advice guidelines for when you get there.
1. Get on the right track – remember most European countries drive on the right-hand side of the road (the exceptions are: the UK, Irish Republic, Cyprus and Malta). This means that typically, you’ll be negotiating roundabouts in an anti-clockwise direction rather than clockwise! If you find you have to overtake, exercise extra caution as it is not easy in a left-hand drive car and may be safer when you reach a stretch of dual carriageway.
2. Don’t get caught out in the headlights – it is a legal requirement not to dazzle oncoming drivers. Make sure you adjust your headlamps ready for driving on the right-hand side of the road. Headlamp converters (stickers you put on your headlights) are widely available and you can buy them from the RAC shop.
3. Map out your travel plans –Sat-navs are invaluable, but it’s worth double-checking your route with a detailed map of the area. Remember to bear in mind that sat-nav requirements may differ from country to country – for example, in France, it is illegal to use sat-nav equipment with radar detection indicating where fixed speed cameras are located.
4. Keep the loose change – many European countries operate toll roads, so make sure you have plenty of loose change in the correct currency to cover the cost of tolls. It is also worthwhile keeping some spare money to cover any unexpected costs that crop up along the way.
5. Expect the unexpected – drive carefully and cautiously, taking extra care to be really observant. Remember the local driving style may be very different to that of the UK. The advice from the Foreign Office is to drive defensively when abroad and to expect the unexpected at all times.
6. Stick to the rules – make sure you obey the rules and regulations of the road. This means sticking to all the speed limits and observing what we as UK drivers may think are rather obscure rules – e.g. in Spain and Switzerland, if you wear prescription glasses, always carry a spare set; and in Spain, never wear flip flops while driving and in Italy only park in the direction of the flow of traffic. Observing the local rules will make your holiday go much smoother - attempting to discuss a driving offence with a police officer in a foreign language or using broken English and sign language is never easy!
7. Take a break – driving is tiring at the best of times but if you are driving overseas in unfamiliar areas, concentrating on driving on the right hand side of the road and reading different road signs it can be even more exhausting. Ensure you take frequent breaks and stop in a safe place for a rest if you are feeling tired.
8. Use your commonsense – just because you’re on holiday doesn’t mean you throw all your commonsense out of the window! Wear your seatbelt at all times and make sure your passengers are wearing theirs, don’t use your mobile phone while driving and make sure you don’t get distracted by your satnav.
9. Beware ‘wear and tear’ – any driving holiday when you are using your car for long periods of time may increase wear and tear on your vehicle. It’s worth checking your tyres, windscreen, mirrors and lights throughout your holiday to be on the safe side.
10. Watch out, thieves about – protect your car from being broken into by exercising vigilance. Don’t leave valuables in sight, check your vehicle is locked and park in safe, well-lit areas.
11. Accidents happen – if you are unfortunate enough to be involved in an accident, contact your insurer immediately and call the police. Obtain the other driver’s full details together with the names and contact details of any witnesses. Remember to take photographs of the damage to your vehicle.
With plenty of preparation and taking extra care and caution, driving holidays in Europe can be rewarding and enjoyable giving you the opportunity to really get off the beaten track and experience for yourself the real, authentic country.