Rights and wrongs of driving abroad

Car next to golden gate bridge

I’m a confident driver – when I’m in the UK, that is. Actually, you can add South Africa to the list – along with Japan, Hong Kong and Australia and a few other places. As long as I’m on the left-hand side of the road, I’m absolutely fine. But if I’m driving in a country on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, sitting on the left and trying to change gear with the door handle, it’s a completely different matter.

Keys to the highway

So you’ll appreciate that, when it came to contemplating a trip to the Florida Keys with my boyfriend Steve, the thought of hiring a car to get from island to island filled me with dread, even though it was clearly the best transport option for our holiday.


The coward’s way out would have been to get Steve to do all the driving. But, I convinced myself, that wouldn’t have been fair or particularly empowering, would it? So I determined to conquer my terror of driving on the right hand side of the road. Oh, and did I mention I’ve never driven an automatic – vehicle of choice in any US rental shop?

Baby steps

Steve had driven in the States before and was confident I could handle it, especially if I eased myself into things on quieter roads. He agreed to tackle the city streets while I’d do the straights. So we booked our car and planned a route from Orlando to Key West and back, via Miami. You know how you spend the weeks before a holiday fizzing with anticipation and excitement? Not this time. I’d get a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach when I contemplated giant US highways, bewildering junctions, intimidating level-crossings, turning left across the oncoming traffic, turning right on a red light… the stuff of several sleepless nights!

Female gender fears fender benders

According to a survey by MoneySuperMarket’s sister company, TravelSupermarket, 73% of women have never driven a hire car abroad and 47% say they never will – so I’m clearly far from alone in worrying about driving on the right. Drilling deeper into the results, women who haven’t driven a hire car overseas are 133% more “terrified” of overseas driving than men. Almost every woman asked – that’s 93% of the survey – is more likely than a man to find driving abroad “stressful”. But here’s the funny thing: women driving overseas are safer behind the wheel. Only 44% have had a car accident compared to 57% of men. They’re also less likely to get a fine in their hire vehicle, less likely to cause damage to their hire car and much less likely to break the rules of the road in the country they’re visiting.

State of play

When we actually got to Florida, things almost took a turn for the worse. Steve leapt at the chance to upgrade our Corolla to a luminous yellow Chevrolet Camero – quickly dubbed the giant banana – that was much more of a powerful, sporty option than I had considered, even in the depths of a sleepless night back home.


But I was hardly going to object, was I? It’s a beautiful car, and we were going to be cruising the Keys, after all! So, with a few turns around a giant ‘parking lot’ under my belt, off we went. And yes, there were a few slightly anxious moments, and yes, I did find my left hand reaching for a non-existent gearstick a couple of times (in an automatic as well!), but it was generally fine. No bumps, scratches or tickets to report.

Confidence trick

I’ll let Steve give his side of the story: “At first I was a tad nervous, albeit mainly because Emma was apprehensive herself – not least because we were driving a 3.6L Camaro muscle car on the ‘wrong’ side of the road! But she soon got to grips with it after a few subtle reminders about drifting and ‘giving it some gas.’ “From then on I was much more relaxed. In the end she drove more miles than I did, and grew fond of the big old machine. She became much more confident as time went on. In fact, she seemed to enjoy giving the Camaro the beans on our way back to the airport. “Whisper it quietly, but she even crept up to 80mph…”

Cruise control

Of course, now I’ve got all the passion of a convert and I’m eager to get back out on the wrong side of the road, either in the States or in Europe. I might quaver a bit outside Paris or Rome, but with a bit of practice and a lot of determination, I’m sure I could handle it. As for Steve: “Now that Emma has driven on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, I'm sure she’ll be much more confident when she comes to do it again – although roundabouts still need to be tackled! But I’d have no qualms about being Emma’s passenger if we hire a car overseas in the future.”

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