I recently returned from a trip to Scotland, which involved driving over 1,000 miles on the other side of the road, starting at the Edinburgh airport. I’m not going to lie when I say I was having pre-trip nightmares about driving on the other side. I’m happy to report that driving on the left was easier than expected and I only scared my husband a couple of times.
If you want to rent a car in the UK, Ireland, Australia or a number of other countries, you’ll need to adjust to driving on the left side. In Scotland in particular, renting a car gives you the most flexibility to visit the highlands, islands and other rural areas.
Here are a few helpful tips for driving on the other side of the road:
Don’t plan on driving as soon as you arrive at your destination. You’ll likely be jet-lagged and the last thing you want to do is drive in an unfamiliar place with different road rules. Wait until you’re well-rested to pick up your car and begin your driving journey.
Don’t drive in big cities. City roads in the UK can be very confusing, with multi-lane roundabouts and one-way roads. For those of us used to roads laid out in a grid, their curvy roads don’t make a lot of sense. It’s also expensive to park in big cities. Wait until you’re leaving the city to pick up your car, preferably at an airport. The Edinburgh airport, for example, is located several miles outside of the city and located right next to a highway.
Rent a GPS. Sure, it costs extra to rent a GPS but you don’t want to be fumbling with road maps while you’re concentrating on the road. You also don’t want to rely on using your cell phone for navigation since downloading the maps will eat into your international data plan and you can’t rely on cell phone service in rural destinations. I rarely had cell phone service on the Isle of Mull and Isle of Skye and was very thankful that I paid the extra $15 per day for the GPS.
Keep left. It sounds simple but when you’re tired and there aren’t any other drivers on the road at night, it’s easy to veer back to the right, especially when turning at an intersection. Do whatever it takes to stay on the left, even if it means putting a post it note on the left side of the windshield that says ‘keep left.’
Avoid distractions. For the first few times you head out on the road, you may want to drive with the radio off and ask other passengers to keep quiet. You’ll get the hang of driving soon enough but you’ll want to stay focused until you get the hang of driving on the other side. You may also need to tell your passenger to stop freaking out every time they see an oncoming car (in the case of my husband).
Automatic vs. manual. Most cars in the UK and Ireland available for hire are manual transmission. If you’re not confident in your ability to drive a manual car, pay the extra rental fee and get an automatic.
Remember to look both ways. It’s really easy to forget which direction you need to look before turning onto a road. To be safe, check both sides of the road before turning.
Have you driven on the other side of the road? If so, share your favorite tips in the comments section.