Driving in a foreign country on unfamiliar roads can take your breath away in more ways than one; not only because of the scenery around you but because of the roads ahead of you. If you’re planning on taking to the road on your next vacation, these 10 tips will help ensure a safe, stress-free journey.
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1. Make sure you’ve got what it takes to drive legally
Depending on where you go, your driver’s licence may not be automatically accepted as a permit to drive. If travelling overseas, you’ll likely need to pair it with an International Driving Permit (IDP). An IDP is a special driver’s licence that allows licensed motorists to drive in other countries. It is proof that you possess a valid driver’s licence in Canada and includes a multilingual translation of your licence’s details. To find out if you need an IDP, visit the Government of Canada’s Travel Advice and Advisories for your destination’s requirements.
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2. Familiarize yourself, in advance, of road rules and conditions
What side of the road will you be driving on? How do you navigate a roundabout? What are the local speed limits? If you’re going abroad and plan to drive, do your research before getting behind the wheel; it will make for less confusion and a safer ride.
3. Rent a vehicle you’re comfortable driving
Travelling abroad is not the time to learn how to drive a vehicle with a manual transmission; you’ll be busy enough navigating unfamiliar territory. If you’re not comfortable driving a car with a manual transmission, spend the extra money (because there’s often a surcharge) for an automatic vehicle.
4. Choose the smallest vehicle that will meet your needs
Bigger is not better, especially if you’ll be driving narrow, winding, congested or unfamiliar roads. Rent the smallest vehicle that will still meet your passenger and luggage needs as smaller vehicles are usually easier to park, drive and manoeuvre.
5. Make sure you’re covered
No matter where you are, you should make sure that you have the car insurance coverage you’ll need. Typically, if you have rental car coverage on your personal auto insurance policy, it is only valid on rentals in Canada or the United States. So when renting a car abroad, you may have to explore other options. Your credit card for example, may offer some coverage. Alternatively, you may have to purchase coverage from the car rental company. The cost for this coverage can add up quickly, so make sure you check to see what’s available through your credit card first before signing up.
6. Use a GPS as well as traditional maps
A GPS and a good ol’ fashioned paper map, can help keep you on track. Use both to cross-reference that you’re going the right way! Most car rental companies offer a GPS add-on to your rental, or you can bring your own with the maps pre-loaded. Avoid using your smartphone’s GPS though, as roaming charges can be expensive. Also, let your passengers navigate so you can focus on driving.
7. Have local change and currency on hand for tolls
Toll roads, tunnels and bridges are common abroad; make sure you have a variety of cash on hand so that you’re not left scrambling on the road for loose change.
8. Don’t drink and drive
This is a no brainer, whether at home or abroad. Play it safe because many countries have a much lower legal limit than Canada. Some countries even have a zero-tolerance policy; for example, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia.
9. Don’t drive distracted
Laws against distracted driving are not a North American phenomenon; most countries in Europe and elsewhere ban the use of hand-held mobile phones while driving.
10. Avoid driving in city centres
Public transportation, especially in many European cities, is exceptional; you can get to anywhere you want to go in no time. In places where the streets are narrow and heavily congested, it may be the preferred way to go. Leave the car for times when you want to explore areas where public transportation is unavailable or unreliable.
On the road and on holiday
Driving at home is tricky enough, and it’s even more of a challenge in unfamiliar territory. With a little advance preparation, however, you’ll feel more confident behind the wheel giving you the chance to enjoy your time away.