When you start planning a holiday abroad, there are three major things to think about; 1/How you are going to get to your destination.
2/ Your accommodation.
3/ How you are going to get about when you get there.
The first two are different topics for a different day and will depend on your family’s wants and needs, but when you are thinking about the third, you will almost certainly consider the self-drive option at some point.
One of the wonderful things about living in the UK is, that if you are going to holiday in Europe, then it’s often possible to combine points 1 and 3 by driving yourself to your destination in your own car. Taking your car on holiday with you has many advantages; you know what you are driving, you can be sure you have all space for your luggage you are carrying, you can avoid any car seat fitting issues you may have and even with ferry/ eurotunnel and fuel costs, you will probably save money.
A quick Google will throw up dozens of car ferry routes and there is always the Eurotunnel option if you are heading into, or through France.
At this time of the year, the forums are full of people fretting about driving in France and other European countried. ‘How hard is it?’, is the most common question. People worry how they will cope on the motorways, how they will pay tolls and how they will find their way around a foreign country. I worried about all these things and more when we booked our first self drive holiday in France.
I probably had more reason than most to worry, as when we booked to go to the Alps, I was the only one with a Driving Licence. As far as I was concerned, I was going to be doing all the driving. DH had never learnt to drive, and after 9 years of marriage I had pretty much given up hope of him ever learning. He had been having lessons off and on over the years, but I had stopped thinking they would amount to anything. Then on my 39th birthday he went out, and sat and passed his test. I think that might have been my favourite birthday present ever!
So the poor man had had his licence for about a month when I put him behind the wheel on a French Toll road. He wasn’t happy, but he did it and we’ve shared the driving in Europe ever since.
Driving on French motorways is an absolute doddle, even in a right hand drive car on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. A helpful passenger can tell you when it’s safe to pull out and can hand money to the toll person if you don’t want to queue up with all the other Brits to pay from the RHS of the car, but they are quite used to us foreigners on the continent and nothing is made very difficult.
It does feel a bit odd being on the ‘wrong side’ of the road at first, but after 5-10 minutes it feels quite normal. However, the first few roundabouts can be a challenge.
The cities can be slightly more challenging. I recommend an up-to-date satnav and a paper map as back up if it all goes pear shaped. It’s probably more important to have a good navigator in the passenger seat than a good driver behind the wheel in cities, so for this reason I usually drive and take directions from DH. I’m terrible with maps. While you are navigating, you want quiet children. I recommend breaking out the Nintendos or DVD’s at this point.
Try and keep calm even if you end up travelling the wrong direction up a one way street or somehow driving through a pedestrianised area and keep an eye out for height restrictions, especially if you are carrying a roof box.
Apart from the odd ‘incident’ alluded to in the previous paragraph, we’ve had no problems driving our own car in France, Switzerland and Italy. We’ve also hired a car and driven in Portugal and Spain.
Away from Europe, I’ve obviously driven back home in NZ, and also in Australia. Later this year we have holidays booked, and plan to drive, in Namibia and South Africa. I’m expecting that to be quite an interesting experience.
Places we’ve travelled to, but have decided NOT to drive are Sri Lanka, Dubai and Jordan. We hired drivers in these places, as a little online research suggested that the driving style in these countries can be very different to what we are used to.
Next year we are going to Norway for a week in February, and we’re having to decide whether we should hire a car or a driver to get around Tromso in the winter. We could do with some advice, so if anyone has any experience of driving in Norway in the snow, especially if they aren’t used to winter driving, then it would be appreciated.
In fact I’d love to hear about any countries you have driven in, and whether you’d recommend driving as a way of getting around there. We are thinking of travelling to Florida and Canada at some point in the future as well, and although we assume driving in the States is pretty straightforward, I’d love to hear about your experiences.