Driving abroad for the first time: Four tips for nervous drivers

Let me start by saying that despite being nearly 30, I passed my driving test only three years ago, having had lessons, on and off, for the best part of seven years. It wasn’t so much that I was horribly bad at driving, I just kept putting it off. For seven years.

The reason? I used to insist that it was because I lived in London, so just didn’t need a car, actually, thank you very much. Or I’d wax ecological, “why add more fumes and congestion to the roads?”.


Driving in London can be a nightmare. Another reason to delay my test!

I convinced myself that, once you get a seat, and they arrive on time, and as long as you don’t have far to go at the other end, trains are a far superior way to travel anyway. And all of that’s true to a degree

But the real, hand to my heart reason I put off taking my test for so long is because I am – or should say was – an excruciatingly nervous driver. I’d come back from lessons shaking, practically intelligible, sweat pouring off me in gallons. After 10 minutes on the road the windows used to steam up. I started bringing along a little towel to lessons to discretely mop.

moreenBasically I was the sort of gibbering wreck they make cruel television programmes about on Channel 4 (Maureen released a single too). I couldn’t really tell you why, either. Driving just freaked me out. A lot.

Anyway, long story short - one fateful morning in 2014 I finally mustered up the courage and took my test. And I passed. And it’s great. Three years on, I now love pootling about in my Yaris. Nipping to Ikea, road trips with mates, great.

But until very recently, the idea of driving abroad was a whole different story

To me, it was basically like learning how to drive all over again: signs I couldn’t understand, the side of the road I wasn’t used to, roundabouts the opposite way around…  and all in a car that’s backwards!

The very thought of it conjured up every single one of those first lesson sweats. ARGH. No thanks mate, I’ll stick to my hire bike.

But, as with most things in life, to make the most of it sometimes you just need to get a grip. And on a recent trip to Sardinia, faced with the choice of either hiring a car or staying in our hotel room for a week waiting for the rain to stop, I decided to take the plunge.

We hired a little Toyota Wigo for five days and took it around the island. And you know what? Day one was fine. Then from day two, it was great. Scenic drives around Sardinia are a complete, bucket list fulfilling joy. To think I could have missed out on it because of fear makes me sad inside.

So if, like me, you’re a nervous driver dreading the prospect of driving in a foreign country,

Here are my 4 tips to make driving in a foreign country a doddle

  1. Get an automatic

My number one tip for anyone driving abroad for the first time. It’s a bit more expensive but I can’t tell you how much easier it made things. It means you can concentrate on the road, rather than stress about remembering to change gear backwards, and eased 80% of the mental effort. It was the first time I’d driven an automatic too, but after 5 minutes up and down the road I’d gotten the hang of it, so don’t let that put you off either.

  1. A satnav or a designated navigator is very helpful

Try to designate a passenger whose sole job it is to navigate so you don’t have to, or failing that, a Satnav. Again, it’s all about easing the mental effort so you can concentrate on the road. After a day or two I was able to help with the navigation but on that first day it was a relief to have one less thing to worry about.

  1. Read up a little bit on some of the road rules beforehand
stop sign

Some signs can be tricky! FYI: This says "stop"

The day before we hired the car I googled some of the road rules and mentally made a note of some of the more unusual signs. Don’t stress out about this or try to learn everything by rote, it’s more about getting a little bit of familiarity so you feel more in control.

  1. If in doubt, follow other drivers.

You’ll probably get a bit confused or have a mental “which side do I go on” block at one point or another. It happens. If in doubt, just follow other drivers - even if it means taking the wrong turning.

After all, you never know where you might end up.

Have you driven abroad for the first time recently? Any tips to share with other drivers? Leave them in the comments below.


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