General tips on overseas driving

A few lessons I have learned over the years, mostly the hard way:

  • In developing countries take a tire pressure gauge. The car rental agencies cannot be relied upon to fill the tires properly, and hydroplaning on a mountain road is no fun. Usually a quick Google is all it takes to find the proper tire pressure for whatever you’re driving.
  • Watch out for shrubbery beside the roads, it is tougher than it looks. Any plant that is right beside the road has probably been hit by a car, and the plant won.
  • It’s not a bad idea to take an International Driver’s License, even if you don’t need it. Sometimes, police will use the absence of such a license as an excuse to harass you or car rental agencies will use it to deny you an advantageous rate you have pre-booked/pre-paid.
  • Take pre-packed car travel bag.
  • If you are at a half tank or below, fill it up at the first service station you see. You never know when the next National Park with no service stations is going to turn up; or when you’ll be on an expressway that has no exits for 60 miles.
  • Often, you can save money on car rental by opting for a manual shift car (or pickup truck), because those are aimed at locals. Price-insensitive foreign drivers tend to go for automatic sedans or sport-utility vehicles.
  • But – when driving manual, try out the reverse before leaving the rental car lot. Manual shift levers have lots of tricks. Sometimes you need to push down on the shift lever to go into reverse; other times there is a collar that needs to be lifted up with a couple fingers.
  • Check out my guides to insurance when driving overseas, navigating when driving abroad, driving on sand, driving in rain, and driving on the wrong side of the road.
  • It is often easier than you think to find free street parking in city centers on Sunday, especially if you get in early (because the meters are on holiday). In London or New York, try the financial districts; in Boston, try the streets that circle Boston Common; in Rome, the roads beside the Tiber River. Most people like to sleep in on Sunday. I get that. But I prefer to do my sleeping in on weekdays and on Sunday get out and see the world.

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Havana’s Malecon at dusk. Photo by the author.