After hours of searching the Scottish bus and rail schedules, it was clear that there was no way I was going to see the Pictish stones and get back to the Isle of Skye on this trip if I stuck to public transportation.
While I normally make a concerted effort to use public transportation, there are times when logistically it makes more sense or is just plain easier to get your own set of wheels and be in control of your vacation destiny.
With great power comes great responsibility
In renting a vehicle overseas, you will contend with a bevy of unfamiliar situations and potential hiccups.
Among them are…
- Potentially driving a stick shift if you’re used to an automatic,
- Driving on the left-hand side of the road in a car where the wheel is on the right
- Law enforcement rules that differ from our own (see my Driving in Morocco Confession article)
- Additional traffic laws that vary from our own – for example, the last time I drove in Guinea, drivers ENTERING the roundabout had the right of way, not the drivers already in the roundabouts – wrap your head around that one.
Let’s first talk safety and protecting ourselves while we expand our range.
Before you leave the lot
Check the car for dents or scratches and be sure to verify you list them on the receipt you have from the rental counter. There will almost always be scratches on the trunk, often referred to as luggage or loading damage.
Check the spare tire – is there one? If so, is it inflated? If not, get one or have the rental inflate it or put you in another car.
Adjust the seats and mirrors.
Locate the door handles. Any time you get into an unfamiliar vehicle, you should find the handles. If you need to make a quick exit, you don’t want to fumble around and waste time getting out.
Insurance is a big one, especially when we are operating a vehicle in unfamiliar conditions. I have never had to use rental insurance overseas (thankfully), but I always have it, and I almost never purchase the rental car insurance from the rental agency.
Typically, your vehicle insurance back home will not cover you in a rental overseas, though it is worth the call to verify this.
Nadia from our recent story on Ireland says to NOT/NOT include the rental car in a travel package. If you’re in an accident and use the insurance, it’s difficult to tell which part of the bill is insurance because the car insurance gets rolled up in the total cost.
How to get insurance:
Include it in your travel insurance package. You did get travel insurance, didn’t you? (If not, read this article on travel insurance and how it can save your ass).
Your credit card may provide rental insurance if you use it for the rental; again, worth the call, this is my normal option.
I have used TravelGuard insurance for years with great success. You can find TravelGuard here.
Laws and rules:
The International Driving Permit
Some countries require an IDP and will fine you if you do not have one while operating a vehicle in their country. Here’s an article on how to get one, it’s a pretty simple process provided you have an AAA office nearby and is 100% worth the effort.
There are other various rules to be aware of, be sure to visit the State Department travel site and run a quick Internet search to double check.
Know what to do in an accident
In some countries, if you are in an accident, authorities can issue a ticket if you move the car from the scene. Know what the proper procedure is before you get behind the wheel.
I’m thinking of Iceland, Alaska (and Nebraska) and the intense wintry conditions you may encounter while visiting. Intense winter conditions mean the potential for cars not starting, sliding off the road and the possibility of being stranded in the car. Have enough essentials in the car with you to get by until help can get to you; water, blankets, food, spare batteries or charger for the phone, small gas can, etc. If you are in an isolated area and decide to get out and make a break for it, Les Stroud (of Survivorman fame) suggests making use of everything in the vehicle to ensure your survival. It’s better to tear up the seats and use the cushion foam as footwear insulation and fabric/seat-belts for straps to hold it on than to not make it back home.
While I’ve chosen to write this part specific to winter, thinking outside the box and being prepared also applies to driving in tropical conditions – make sure you have the appropriate provisions on hand in case you can’t make it back.
Driving it home
One final piece of advice before you get behind the wheel in a foreign country: The best thing you can do is get your mind right. Expect the unexpected and to be outside of your comfort zone. You will be uncomfortable; you will likely get lost, make a local angry with your driving and maybe even drive on the wrong side of the road.
Driving overseas is never perfect, but if you’re okay with making a few mistakes, it takes the pressure off before you even put the pedal down and opens a world of possibilities and experiences that lie outside of the scheduled bus and train routes.
Oh, and despite what the guidebook says, the Pictish stones that started this whole thing still had their protective winter coverings on when I showed up… So much for planning. 🙂