United Kingdom

United Kingdom

Foreign Driver Rating: !! not too bad but they drive on the wrong side If it’s your first time driving on the wrong side, the UK is a good place to try it (although Australia is probably even easier). The maintenance condition of the roads is generally excellent, hazards are well-signed, and drivers are ridiculously polite. Indeed when you make a signal to change lanes people will often go to alarming lengths to allow you to get where you wish to go. The main challenges arise from the pre-car roads – probably more, as a proportion of total roads, than in any other European country. The English love to keep things as they are, which is charming but one often longs for a proper highway with decent visibility. The motorways are much better: on UK expressways, which are usually in lovely condition, everyone goes about 80mph although technically the speed limit is 70mph. Speed traps on expressways are rare. In town people generally follow the speed limits scrupulously even when they are very low (20mph is common). Perhaps it is politeness. It might also have something to do with the traffic cameras (usually in large yellow boxes) that automatically ticket you if you speed. Note that there is a camera-based congestion charge system in London, so if you drive into London you must pay in advance (or at least on the day) online. –> Back to the guide Parking in Wales. The UK’s drivers are perhaps the world’s most courteous, usually. Photo by the...
Chile

Chile

Foreign Driver Rating: ! easy-peasy; except in Patagonia which is !! not too bad There wasn’t much development in Chile before the automobile, which, the point of view of drivers, is a good thing; outside of a few towns (like Valparaiso), it’s a country made for the motorcar. Chile is also rich, so there are very few third world vehicles to contend with. Roads are well-maintained, the expressways are excellent, and people obey traffic laws. The underground expressway system in Santiago is a wonder of the (driving) world. Hence, while public transport is surprisingly good for such a sparsely populated country (a boon for backpackers) lots of people choose to drive – so the “catch” is that car hire in Chile is expensive. The exception to all these rules is Patagonia, in the far south of Chile (which you can’t get to by car unless you go via Argentina). Most of the public spending in Chile has been sucked into Santiago; so although there is lots of traffic in Patagonia, many of the roads are dirt. And lots of traffic + dirt roads = enormous, car-sucking ruts and potholes – potholes that are a challenge even in a 4-wheel drive. Google Maps says it will take two hours to go 30 miles? Believe it. –> Back to the guide Valparaiso, Chile: one of the few Chilean towns to feature lots of pre-car roads. Photo by the...
Car travel bag

Car travel bag

I suggest keeping a car travel bag packed that includes the items you need when hiring a car overseas. Some of these items may duplicate things you use in your car at home; I advise getting duplicates and keeping them in the bag because otherwise you will forget to bring them. My bag has: A tire pressure gauge (see a few tips) A USB charger that plugs into the car’s cigarette lighter (for instance: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00M6QODH2/) USB charging cables for cell phone, iPad, Kindle, etc. (a bit longer than usual, so your devices don’t need to be right next to the plug-in) A window mount for your phone, or whatever you’re using for navigation An audio cable, for connecting your phone or iPad in those rare cases when the car doesn’t have a USB plug-in (or Bluetooth). I used to have an RCA audio cable as well (for French cars) but these days a USB or standard headphone jack is usually available My international driver’s license A lucky charm, because, you never know –> Back to the guide Driving in France. French cars used to use RCA audio cables, but these days you can usually get by with a USB. Photo by the author....
Third world vehicles

Third world vehicles

In general, there isn’t a Third World anymore, now that mobile phones and Chinese investment are catapulting countries from everywhere into a higher stage of development. Want to see the world’s most modern airport? Visit Doha. Want to see a Third World airport? There aren’t many left. Well, maybe JFK. That said, in quite a few countries there are still lots of Third World Vehicles on the roads – contraptions, ranging from massively overloaded pickup trucks to farm tractors to lorries that have open cabs and tiny engines, that are on the highways despite being incapable of achieving highway speeds. That means you are going to have to engage in a lot of exciting overtaking. And worse yet: it means that vehicles that do not generally overtake other vehicles – such as tour buses and semi-trailers – are going to be doing a lot of overtaking. You really haven’t lived until you’ve experienced overtaking a Third World Vehicle while a bus is simultaneously overtaking another Third World Vehicle coming towards you. If it’s any consolation, it’s probably even more stressful for the driver of the bus. –> Back to the guide Third-world vehicles are fine in town; but when they go on the highway, they inspire buses and semi-trailers to attempt feats of overtaking, which makes driving exciting. Photo by the...
Thailand

Thailand

Foreign Driver Rating: !!! clearly you enjoy a driving challenge; also drives on the wrong side Thailand has a reputation as a difficult place to drive. That reputation is overstated. In general, the road conditions are good (aside from in the impoverished east of the country) and people generally do not blow through red lights (unlike, say, in India). While there are indeed crazy traffic jams in Bangkok, they are not worse than New York – and you see fewer of New York’s random “2am traffic jams,” which never cease to amaze me. Also, the roadside food at Thai highway rest areas is among the world’s best (although spiciest). Thailand is generally a rich enough country that you are in most cases fairly safe eating in roadside stalls. That said, if it’s your first time driving on the wrong side of the road, I wouldn’t pick Thailand as your place to try it out. You will usually want to have a Road Obstruction Canary, unless you are on a major expressway, and you will find a fair number of Third World Vehicles on the roads. Also, because a lot of the cars in Thailand are made for the Japanese market, you’ll find the windshield wiper and turning signal levers reversed. There are some pre-car roads, but not as many as you would expect. Thailand has an old civilization, but outside of a few areas along rivers, the country was largely unsettled up to the 20th century. Hence much of the country was made for the motorcar, although often with some very bad urban planning. Note that so few people rent...