Love a road trip but a little unsure what to do when you arrive at a country that doesn’t drive on the same side of the road as your own?
Having learned to drive in Australia and now living in Britain, I’ve always driven on the left side of road (or the wrong side, for most of the world out there!) that I’ve never really had the chance to practice what it would be like to drive on the other side.
On our recent visit to France, I had this chance for our little road trip between Nice and Avignon, and let me tell you, as scary as it can sound, it really isn’t that hard to switch from which ever side you are used to driving.
It’s all about learning relative positioning.
No, I am not quoting Doctor Who (although, the theory fits) but the way we have all learned to drive in the first place.
How to use relative positioning
As a learner, I was taught to look at relativity to the markings of the car windows to measure how far away the car is from surrounding objects, as well as road lines.
I know, for example, if the lines of the lane evenly cuts away at the bottom corners of my windscreen, then I know I am in the middle of the lane and don’t need to worry.
And such is the way I approached switching sides. By checking out the road markings in my side windows first, knowing exactly where the tyres are and then look at where the lines are positioned visually on my windscreen.
And as you continue, apply this theory to curbside and lane markings and Bob’s your uncle!
Follow the crowd
Once you know and are comfortable of where the car is, you then need to get used to the turns.
And the easiest way to get used to turning left and right, is to follow the crowd. If everyone is going the full circle to turn left, then follow. Once again, it is about understanding how to compare where you are to where you are going.
If you are turning left, and you’ve just come from the right hand side of the road, then you need to match this information to your eventual destination, the road you turn into and make sure you end up still on the right hand side of the road.
If you had started on the left side of the road, and turning left, you need to make sure you also turn into the lane that is on the left side of the road.
Learn the roads prior to driving
I do this anyway, whenever I am driving to somewhere new. I check out the maps, learn the surrounding road names before I set off.
This is a habit that became more important when I stepped into the car from the other side.
Without having to worry about more than getting used to driving on the other side of the road, learning the roads prior to driving will help reduce the stress once you hit the road. Knowing at least the distance you need to cover and to which general direction will help, even better if you can try to learn the road names that you need to turn into so that you have one less thing to worry about.
GPS helps only if you are comfortable with the controls. Sometimes I find that the GPS system isn’t all that helpful if you are stressed and can’t process spoken instructions as fast as you normally can.
Hire an automatic car
You already have to worry about sitting in the wrong end of the car to drive, so don’t add to your stress by having to use a different hand for the gear.
Instead of going to my usual manual hires, we made sure the car was an automatic. It isn’t that great to drive but at least, there’s less to think about, allowing me more thought power to get used to the sides of the road I am on.
When it doubt, stop
Pull over and breath. And then start again. A bit of mental re-adjustment can help calm your nerves and drive on to enjoy your road trip!
Make sense? Probably not. But after a couple of days it’ll become second nature, I promise!
Or, just take the train. It’s so much more pleasurable :)