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Home > frequently asked questions > Top seven tips for driving abroad

Top seven tips for driving abroad

Driving abroad is seen as a daunting prospect by many Brits. You'll be travelling on unfamiliar roads, you don't know the rules, you can't speak the local language and you have to face driving on the 'wrong' side of the road. Almost a quarter of all Brits are so afraid to drive abroad, they'd rather leave it to their partner.

It needn't be such a scary task though; as long as you've done your research and remembered to take the right things, you shouldn't be fearful of clashing with the locals or accidentally breaking the law. So if you're thinking of having a foreign road trip soon, here are our top seven tips for driving abroad.


Take the right documents

Your documents can be asked for at any time, so it's important to know which ones to take. If you fail to produce all the paperwork needed, you could be given an on-the-spot fine. Worst case scenario, you might even lose your car!

It may seem obvious, but remember to take a full valid driving licence and its paper counterpart if you have a photocard licence. In certain countries an international driving permit (IDP) is also needed. This needs to be applied for way in advance to your holiday, so double-check to see if you need one once you've decided where you're going. Pack your original vehicle registration document, motor insurance certificate and travel insurance documents too. When driving, you should also carry your, and; every one of your passenger's, passports with you, as these will likely be asked for should you be pulled over.


Pack the right equipment

Depending on what country you're going to, you may be required to carry certain items in your car that aren't compulsory in the UK. Many countries state that at least one reflective jacket must be in your car at all times and the same goes for warning triangles. If you wear prescription glasses and are planning on driving in Spain or the Canary Islands, you must carry a spare pair. Not only is it a legal requirement in these countries, but it's a sensible idea, as you won't be able to drive safely if you somehow end up breaking or losing your only pair on holiday.


Make your car abroad-ready

You may think that driving on the right-side of the road is wrong, but to the majority of the world us Brits are the ones in the wrong. If you are planning on driving in a country that drives on the opposite side to what you're normally used to, you'll need to make a few adjustments to your car. Your headlamps are designed for left-hand driving, so when you switch sides you'll probably end up blinding the poor oncoming locals. It is illegal to dazzle oncoming drivers, so you need to have your headlamps adjusted.

If you know how, you may be able to do this yourself, but you may find you need a dealer to help you out, depending on what type of lights your car has. You can also buy beam converter kits, which are essentially stickers that go over the top of your headlamps. These are suitable for most modern cars, but if you have an older vehicle you may need to do things the old fashioned way.

You'll also need to affix a GB sticker or plate to your car, especially if your licence plates don't show you're from Great Britain. It's always a good idea to have one anyway, as countries outside the EU may not accept your licence plates as a clear enough indication of where you're from.


Service your car before you go

You wouldn't go on holiday if you felt lousy and unwell, so why take a car that's a little worse for wear? The kids certainly won't forgive you if they spend half their trip stuck on a roadside rather than the beach. For this reason, it's a good idea to get the car serviced beforehand. Remember to check you have enough water and oil and that your tyre tread is deep enough before setting off.


Plan your journeys in advance

Do you know where your hotel is? The nearest petrol station? The beach? If you don't, why not? It's not a good idea to completely trust your sat-nav, especially as countries like France aren't too keen on you using the devices anyway, as they can be used to detect speed cameras. The best thing to do is to plan all your difficult journeys in advance. Think about what you want to do each day and use maps to figure out which routes to take. That way you hopefully won't end up having a shouting match with your partner because you took a wrong turn and got the two of you completely lost.


Look into breakdown cover

Breaking down abroad can be a nightmare. You might not be able to speak the local language, you don't know where the best garages are and it can be difficult to find parts for a right-hand-drive car in a left-hand-drive country. If your insurance doesn't cover breakdowns abroad, you'll have to deal with all of this yourself and if you can't get your car fixed, you're left with the hefty cost of transporting your car back to the UK.

It's easy enough to purchase European breakdown cover if your current policy doesn't already cover you. If you drive in the EU a lot, it's a good idea to take out an annual policy, as it works out cheaper that way.


Don't leave all the driving to one person

It may be tempting to try and persuade your partner to do all the driving, particularly if you're fearful of making a motoring faux pas, but if you're doing a lot of driving it's best to share the responsibility. That way, one person won't end up constantly stressed or tired. Of course, this can't be helped if you're going it alone, so instead you should take regular breaks from driving. Remember you don't have to spend every day behind the wheel.

Preparation is key to making driving abroad an easy experience. Unfortunately, some 36 per cent of Brits don't bother to research the road laws of the country they're going to be driving in, and ignorance is not an excuse for getting something wrong. You will be fined if you break the law and you could lose your car. Don't throw away your spending money on silly fines, do your research and make sure you're following all the rules. Once you're ready and set to go, our final piece of advice; is to relax and enjoy that well-earned holiday.

Laura Varley