So I got in my rented car. It was busy on the streets but, for the first time entering the street it went surprisingly well. And then I entered the first big roundabout. I had a feeling everybody was crossing over and around the roundabout without any actual plan. But looking at them, I saw that they were managing it. So I started to try, slowly, to enter the roundabout myself. It seemed that nobody would let me in. So I tried it on the way I saw everybody else doing it. I just stepped on the gas when I saw a small space and –yes!!– the traffic slowed down for just a fraction of a second but it was enough to get through! And that’s how you find your way.. I thought it was pretty exciting! Space between me and my follower was sometimes one inch, but it went great!!
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Driving in hectic Marrakesh was a challenge
Driving in the city of Marrakesh, Morocco was a challenge, but eventually it went well. When you get used to the way they are driving you match their style. You go ahead and slide into spaces in the traffic you’d never try at home. It might even be a punishable offense if you drive like that at home.
How can you prepare yourself for driving in a strange country? What are simple but easy tips to follow if drive in a foreign country? I have had some extra training in careful driving for my work as a police officer, mostly to be prepared for drivers who don’t react the way we would when we, with or without the siren and lights, drive to a crime scene. I write these tips based on this experience and background. How you interact with the traffic is always situation bound and personal and every situation needs a different approach.
Here are my top 5 tips for foreign and sometimes hectic traffic.
Traffic Rules, Signs and License
1. Read about the traffic rules in a specific country
* Most of the time the rules are more or less the same, but it is nice to know what the speed limit will be on certain highways. If you travel with your own car it’s good to know that Germany wants you to have special tires for the wintertime, for instance. Every country has its own specific rules.
* Traffic signs are universal most of the time. I haven’t seen that many different signs. There are of course signs you will never see in tour home country. These are fun to get a picture of. What do you think of the crossing sign for elephants I saw in India?
* Do you need a special Driver’s License? In some countries your license isn’t valid. For a Dutch citizen you don’t need anything within the EU, but if you go somewhere else you need to buy a National Drivers License. You can buy this for €18,95 and it’s valid for a year. For US citizens it also necessary to buy a National Driver’s Permit, same as the License. You can buy that one at the American Automobile Association and will cost you $20.
* Do they drive on the right or left side? I noticed that for me it is good tobe consious of how to take a turn. Make sure to stay on the other side, since you tend to go back to the side of the road you’re used to. So when turning left, I told myself to take a small turn, and turning right, a big turn. At those turning points you have the most risk on going back to your old habit, especially when nobody is driving that road at that time.
* Is the steering wheel on the other side? I surprised myself at this one: I got used to it in a second. For shifting gears, my hand apparently knew what my other hand had been doing for years. If you do have a problem with that, you can always consider renting a automatic car. Your attention has to be at driving on the other side of the road, especially in a foreign country so it is maybe a good idea. So for the British, Australian and several other countries this has to be read the other way around 😉
2 Keep your focus far ahead!
* To be prepared on situations, you need to look far ahead. You will know that a intersection is coming up if you have already seen traffic on the intersecting roads. You can also search the traffic signs for directions. I think this tip will also help you in your own country to drive more safely. It is common that drivers will look at the car in front of them or maybe a bit in front of that. If you look as far as you can, you see also what is near 🙂
Tip: Often you can see on the landscape when a road is going to cross your road. For example, a line of trees will implicate a road. In a city higher lampposts are situated at intersections or, on more important roads, the lamppost are higher than on secondary roads. Also the colour of those lights might change from white light to yellow light. All kinds of things you might have never noticed that have to do with the designs of roads. Planners have done it for us to make it easier. Maybe you will never use it consciously but knowing that this exists is good.
* Read the signs and instructions right. Traffic signs may appear a bit different. But I’ve noticed one thing is the same: they will show exactly when they’re talking about a city or an attraction, whether it is in or outside the city. For attractions they will highlight the word, so you can see from a distance where to go. This will give you time to decide on taking a lane and looking ahead 🙂
Read the Signs correctly, know the Meaning
Have you missed a sign? You can always turn at the next exit. Don’t rush into a lane or don’t slow down at points where you should be speeding up. I’ll go into this on my next point.
You can see what a attraction is, the name of the road
* Highway have names, as do exits. A code to look for is so much easier then a difficult name you can’t remember in the first place. If you know which exit you should take, it is so much easier to look for that number on the traffic signs. Exits are always on the right upper side on a traffic sign. That will make reading a traffic sign so much easier and less stressful.
* To navigate, I use Google Maps. When I’m on the internet I search for my destination and plan the route. When my telephone or tablet goes offline it will continue to give me directions on the route already loaded. They only problem is you have to stay on the blue line. If there is a detour it can not redirect; it hasn’t got any other roads loaded. But you will see where the blue line is and can navigate back to it until it starts giving directions again. I think it is great!! I also use this walking or cycling in a city 🙂
3 Don’t take any hasty desicions
* When you do miss an exit, don’t go and make a hasty turn. Never do strange unpredictable things in traffic. There will be a next exit and a possibility to make things right again. Go back or take another route to the destination. My experience has taught me that it is probably for a reason because I did see some pretty nice and great spots by roaming and wandering around.
* If you are on a wrong lane, try to be clear to the other traffic where you want to go. If you can make eye contact that would be the best thing. Other drivers will help you, they are prepared to give you that spot if they see you made a mistake. Making eye contact is always important, knowing that they saw you. You can always use that to your benefit.
* I often see people are driving slowly to read signs and/or bein doubtful about their actions. This will cause unsafe situations. The other traffic members will expect you to drive normally. If you go too slow or even almost come to a halt, it can be dangerous.
4 Keep an eye on the locals
* How are they using the road? How fast do they drive? This is a tip for specific countries. In the chaotic traffic of Asia or Africa, you should sometimes just go. Steer your car onto a road and you will get the right of way. The other traffic will move with you. They depend on you going where you are going. As long as you go, it’s good. If you stop, everything will fall apart.
* Stop for a red light. Of course, you should, if everybody does. If they don’t, you shouldn’t either!
* Pedestrian crosswalk? In some countries they are sacred: in others, they are not. In some countries you can expect anything on a highway, from cycles to even horse and carriage, but I think that is part of the charm of driving in another country.
5 Can you stop to take a picture?
* We travel to see, to feel, to wander and to be amazed! But I want to share that too!! I want to show my family and will use it on my blog, of course. Always go for a safe spot along the road. When spots are known for their publicity or photogenic appeal, the local authority has planned a spot for you.
Perfect Spot for a Picture
In some countries, it’s normal just to stop along the road or highway. They do it too and it is considered normal and safe. Looking back we could’ve stopped here easily, still sorry we didn’t! (Morocco)
Still I would like to give you these two tips if you stop along the highway:
– Don’t go standing in front of your car. If you have parked your car, just walk back a few meters down the road.
– Turn your tires so they point to the verge of the road.
You might ask yourself why I’m advising you to go stand a couple of meters before your car? What if someone crashes into your car? The car will shoot forward and if you are standing there, it might hit you too. And then the advice about the tires? If the car rolls, it will not go onto the street but into the verge of the road. So it will no do further harm to other drivers.
I didn’t drive here myself 🙂 (Old Delhi, India)
I wrote these tips with my experience of driving through a couple of different countries. As I am a police officer, I took some extra lessons on driving “with exemption”. For us, in The Netherlands, that means I can ignore most of the traffic rules. I, of course, need to do this safely! For some incidents you use your siren and light signals, but not all the time. So I know how to deal with drivers that are willing to give me space but are nervous and don’t always know how to do it in a safe manner.
I do hope some of these tips will help you when you go driving in a strange and possibly chaotic country. It certainly is a challenge and so worth the effort!!