Imagine yourself, windows rolled down, fresh air and a cool breeze coming through the window as you wind your way along a scenic byway. Tall, majestic mountains on one side and pure white sandy beaches on the other with crystal blue waters inviting you in for a swim. It’s that same old debate, mountains or beach. But why choose? When you plan the perfect road trip you can almost have it all. Taking a road trip can be the best way to see and experience a new locale. The key, of course, is good planning and preparations, and with just a little effort, you can plan the perfect road trip and have the best vacation ever!
Self Drive or Chauffeur
As we have made it one of our goals to do all the best road trips in the world, one of the first decisions you will need to make will be whether to drive yourself or hire a car with a driver. You might be thinking, “What? How can you have a road trip if you’re not driving yourself?” It’s very simple really, there are some places in the world that the added cost of including a driver for your rental car is more than made up for by the extreme driving conditions. Even though I have driven in more than 45 countries, there are certainly a few places where I would recommend having a driver. India, Egypt, and Mongolia are countries with high risk, challenging driving conditions where having a personal driver is both affordable and highly recommended.
Hiring a driver isn’t always the best answer, however. It might seem easier to sit back and have someone else do the driving for you, but this will remove you from the experience. Some countries that might seem dangerous are surprisingly easy to navigate. When we talked about self driving in Albania, Armenia, Georgia, Jordan, and Uganda our friends and family were worried for us and thought we must be crazy. But if you are careful, take the necessary precautions and plan the road trip properly, you will have an enjoyable experience and memories to last a lifetime.
Apps or Maps
There really isn’t a question here. You need both. One or the other by itself just doesn’t work. If you only rely on a map, you’ll spend too much time in the car with your nose in the map. You’ll end up missing all of the scenery and drive by sightings that make a road trip so rewarding. Likewise, if you just use an app or GPS you’ll never know where you’ve been or what possibilities are around you. Your smart phone is great for helping you drive right up to your hotel in the middle of the medina, but just think of how many possibilities are sitting off to the sides of that solid purple line. You really need both a reliable GPS or phone app and a good, detailed road map.
For your electronic device I recommend a smart phone. It doesn’t really matter if it’s an iPhone or an android. In fact, we have both and they both work equally well for traveling. Using a phone means you have a computer, camera, camcorder, translator, currency converter, telephone, and GPS all in one tiny piece of equipment. Bring your phone, even if you are traveling overseas. In most countries, outside the USA, you can get a cheap, pay as you go sim card at a grocery store or cell phone kiosk. Even if you decide not to get a sim car for traveling, you can still use your phone, just be sure and switch to airplane mode. Look for future articles featuring recommended apps and offline tips and tricks.
Planning your route before you go is sometimes critical. In less developed areas without much infrastructure you should really know where you will be ending up at the end of each day.In other places you can be spontaneous and have the luxury of choosing your hotel when you arrive. Either way, it’s always a good idea to spend some time researching your route and planning on stopping points along the way. Look for an upcoming article telling how to create your own map in Google.
Left or Right
Which side of the road do you drive on? Does the idea of driving on the “wrong” side of the road scare you? Don’t let this tiny detail keep you from hitting the road in some far away country. I know it sounds impossible, but the simple truth is there are millions of drivers around the world driving on the opposite side of the road than you. And they do it safely and without incident everyday. You can too! Really, you can. All of the other drivers you’ll be sharing the road with will be leading the way. One thing I do recommend, however, for first time wrong side drivers, is to hire a rental car designed for the road system you’ll be driving. If you are planning a driving trip in the UK, leave your car at home (for those of our friends living in Europe) and pick up a rental car in country.
Having the steering wheel and the stick shift on the right side of the car while driving on the left side of the road will make the process much more natural. You’ll be surprised and amazed to find that you can do it. And don’t worry about the windshield wipers streaking across the glass on your first few left and right turns. It does take some time to make the switch in your mind as these two controls are swapped as well.
Rules of the Road
It is possible to just drive across a border without any prior preparation. Most countries have informational signs on the road just outside of airports, ferry harbors, and border crossings indicating normal speed limits. However, you shouldn’t count on it. Additionally, some countries don’t post speed limits very well. You might drive for miles (or kilometers) without seeing a speed sign. You’re just supposed to know the limits in the different types of roads. Therefore, part of your planning should include getting this crucial information. Find the speed limit for highway, city, and rural roads and write them down on your map. Also, be sure you know the difference between a highway and a rural road and how those differences are indicated on your map. One thing you don’t want is a speeding ticket issued simply because you were driving on a secondary road you mistook for a highway, freeway, autobahn, or motorway.
Another piece of the puzzle to plan the perfect road trip is knowing the signs. The road signs being used might be different than those in your own country. Most of the world does use one of two sets of internationally recognized signs and learning which system and knowing a minimal set of warning and advisory signs is in your best interest. One good resource for signs and which ones are in used in a specific country is wikipedia. Check this page to find our which road signs are used in the Americas and parts of Asia, and use this page for road signs in Europe and other parts of Asia and some of Africa. As a minimum you should recognize signs pertaining to parking, passing, right of way, and speed limits.
Safety and Security
It’s true, driving in a new place can be dangerous. There are road hazards and driving conditions that even I haven’t experienced, yet. However, The unknown can be learned and those unexpected dangers can be identified. Knowing what to expect before you go can help allay those fears and prepare you for a safe and secure road trip. One of the best places to start when tackling the safety and security aspects of a road trip is Travel.gov, just be aware, this site tends to give accurate, though worst case information, and from my experience things aren’t as bad as they make it sound. The key hazards you’ll find, in our experience, are livestock, vehicles, and pedestrians on the road in places you wouldn’t normally expect to find them. Expect the unexpected and drive defensively and you should be okay.
At some point in time, you will be confronted by a government official while you are behind the wheel. Be ready, polite, friendly, and helpful. Know what documentation is required for driving in the country before you go and be sure you have it in the car with you. Some countries require an international driver’s license which can be easily and cheaply acquired at a local driving club like AAA. Ask your rental agency what papers you will need to show and ensure they are with the vehicle before you leave the parking lot. Here are some rules to use when you plan your road trip that will keep you safe and secure:
Ten Simple Rules To Keep You Safe and Secure on a Road Trip
- Don’t drink and drive. Ever. It is illegal in most countries to drive with any alcohol in your system. Even if it’s not, you don’t need to make driving in an unknown area any harder for yourself.
- Don’t drive at night. You might make modifications to this rule in some locations after you’ve been driving there, but try never to put yourself in the situation where you need to drive somewhere new at night. And in most third world and developing countries just don’t do it, ever.
- Drive slightly slower than traffic. It’s ok to let them pass you, the other drivers are used to driving in the conditions that are new to you. However, don’t impede the flow of traffic forcing people to pass you in unsafe areas.
- Know the rules of the road like speed limits, right of way, and passing/overtaking rules.
- Understand the most common hazards. It might be road conditions, obstacles on the road, or unskilled drivers but a little research before you go will go a long way.
- Practice common sense and courtesy. Leave your aggression and road rage at home. You are the visitor here and you will, at some point, be frustrating to other drivers around you. Smile and try to be friendly.
- Don’t be scared when someone in uniform flags you down. Be friendly and apologetic right from the start while not admitting to guilt. Have your documentation ready.
- Park your vehicle in legal, well lit parking areas. Know how to pay for parking and pay the proper amount.
- Never leave anything visible in the car. We always try to rent a car with a trunk, but even with a hatchback you can usually pull a cover over the back end so that luggage and other items are not visible.
- Never leave anything of value in the car. They can’t steal it if it’s not there. Bring along a small backpack or carry all for your irreplaceable items and always take them out of the car with you.
Getting out on the open road is the best way to see and experience a new country. With a little advance planning and preparation you can remove most of the stress, fear, and road blocks that might hold you back or spoil your trip. Stay flexible, maintain awareness, and most of all, pull over occasionally to smell the roses!
What tips can you add to help plan the perfect road trip?
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