A Traveler's Guide to Driving on the "Other" Side of the Road

trees and windy road driving on the other side of the road

Exploring a new country often means embracing unfamiliar customs, and for many travelers, driving on the left side of the road can be one of the most intriguing yet intimidating experiences.

If you’re planning a road trip in a destination where left-side driving is the norm, there are some essential things to know before you hit the road.

In this guide, I’ll walk you through the key tips and considerations to ensure a smooth and safe transition to driving on the “other” side.

Table of Contents

Familiarize Yourself with Local Driving Laws

Familiarize Yourself with Local Driving Laws

Familiarizing yourself with local driving laws is crucial when driving on the left side of the road in a foreign country.

While some rules may be similar to those in the United States, there are notable differences in road laws that vary across countries.

Here are some common road laws you might encounter in other nations:

  • Roundabout Priority: In many countries, roundabouts are much more common at intersections than traffic lights or stop signs.

    If you’re driving somewhere with roundabouts, keep in mind that traffic already inside a roundabout has the right of way.

    You must yield to vehicles already in the roundabout when entering, and unless there’s an emergency, you should never stop in the middle of a roundabout.

  • Priority to the Right: In some countries, if you approach an uncontrolled intersection, you must yield to vehicles coming from your right, even if you’re on the main road.

  • Speed Limits: Speed limits can differ significantly from those in the U.S., and they may vary based on road conditions and vehicle types.

  • Traffic Signals for Pedestrians: In certain countries, pedestrians may have the right of way when they activate a traffic signal at a pedestrian crosswalk, no matter what color the streetlights are.

  • No Right Turn on Red: Unlike the U.S., some countries prohibit right turns on red lights, even if there is no oncoming traffic.

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Don't Rent a Stick Shift

Don't Rent a Stick Shift

Even if you’re comfortable driving stick, it may not be the best choice when driving on the opposite side of the road from what you’re used to.

If you’re not accustomed to left-side driving, I definitely recommend opting for a rental car with an automatic transmission.

This eliminates the need to shift gears with your non-dominant hand, allowing you to focus on navigating the road and adjusting to the different driving orientation.

Practice in a Controlled Area

Practice in a Controlled Area

Before venturing into traffic, spend some time practicing left-side driving in a controlled and less congested area. This could be an empty parking lot or a quiet side street.

Get a feel for the car’s position on the road and practice turning, changing lanes, windshield wipers, and using mirrors.

One of my biggest struggles while trying to get used to driving on the left side of the road in Australia was using my turning signals. Like everything else, they were on the opposite side of the car from what I was used to.

That meant that muscle memory had me hitting my windshield wipers instead of the turning signals for the first few days, which made for some interesting looks from native drivers around me.

Stay Alert and Mind Your Lane Position

Stay Alert and Mind Your Lane Position

When driving on a side of the road you’re not used to, staying alert and minding your lane position is paramount.

The unfamiliarity of driving on the opposite side can be disorienting, especially during turns and lane changes. Pay close attention to road markings, signs, and the flow of traffic, and avoid drifting into the wrong lane. When making turns, remember to take a wider angle to ensure you remain in your lane.

Stay focused on your lane position, especially on multi-lane highways, to minimize the risk of unintentional drifting or merging into the wrong lane.

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Take It Slow

Take It Slow

When adapting to driving on the “other” side of the road, one of the most effective strategies is to take it slow.

Rushing or feeling pressured to match the speed of local traffic can lead to mistakes and heightened anxiety. Instead, drive at a comfortable, moderate pace, allowing yourself ample time to react to unfamiliar traffic patterns, signs, and intersections.

This cautious approach not only promotes safety but also boosts your confidence as you gradually become more accustomed to the new driving environment.

Remember, it’s better to arrive at your destination a bit later than to risk making errors due to haste, ensuring a smoother and more enjoyable journey on foreign roads.

Be Patient and Stay Calm

Be Patient and Stay Calm

When driving on the “other” side of the road in a foreign country, patience and a calm demeanor can be your best allies. It’s normal to feel a bit disoriented or stressed, especially in the initial stages of adapting to a new driving environment.

However, keeping your cool and remaining patient is crucial. Avoid getting flustered by the differences in traffic flow, road signs, or local driving habits. Take a deep breath, stay focused on the road ahead, and remember that it’s okay to make adjustments as you go.

By maintaining your composure and being patient with yourself and other drivers, you’ll not only reduce stress but also increase your chances of safe and enjoyable travels on unfamiliar roads.

Ready to Drive on the Other Side of the Road?

To wrap it up, getting behind the wheel on the “other” side of the road in a foreign land is all about adventure and exploration.

It might feel a bit intimidating at first, but with the right know-how and a willingness to go with the flow, you’ll be road-tripping like a pro in no time. Just remember the basics, do your homework on local road rules, stay sharp, watch your lane, and take it easy.

These simple tips will not only keep you safe but also make your journey all the more enjoyable. So, don’t sweat it, soak in the scenery, and embrace the cultural quirks that come with driving on the “other” side.

Happy travels!

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