A guide to driving abroad
This article originally appeared in the Telegraph International Edition
There is a lot more to consider than simply what side of the road you drive on when you go abroad. We asked expats for their tips on what to look out for on foreign highways and byways.
Great Ocean Road, Victoria, Australia
Australia is one of the most popular locations for expats and one of the most popular places to drive in, too.
The Great Ocean Road is up there as one of the world’s great drives, but for Brits it can all feel a bit surreal as you head east to west alongside the 150 miles of ocean-hugging, soldier-built highway that hangs over the Shipwreck coast. Your journey starts in Torquay, from here you’ll travel through Anglesea and end up in Peterborough.
Try and make a stop at Grey River, a blink and you miss it place along the way. Here you’ll definitely know you’re in Oz when you see koala bears waddling along the road, stopping to make sure they don’t get run over. Take a look in the trees and you’ll spot scores of the trusting animals lolling about in the trees; they’re all drunk, you see, after eating eucalyptus leaves… Enchanting.
One of the sexiest drives in the world is through the Florida Keys. Take a rental (preferably a convertible) out of Miami and head south to the string of islands which are now connected by road bridges.
The temptation is to stay too long in any one of the Keys, which stud the beautiful, sub-tropical 150-mile archipelago. Many are seduced by the lure of Key Largo, immortalised by the hurricane disaster film starring Humphrey Bogart, as well as the added attraction of another movie star: The African Queen (actually built in not so exotic Brimscombe, Gloucestershire). Though you should, it’s difficult to move on.
“Aim for Key West, the US’ gay capital and drinking home of Ernest Hemingway, just 90 miles from Cuba,” says travel writer Roger Tavener. “Here I got mugged outside his former home. Which was shut. A double whammy.” – But don’t let that put you off!
If it’s a challenge you’re after, expats warn that Russia is one the most difficult places to drive on the planet: “The whole of Moscow is a 24-hour traffic jam,” said Mr Tavener. “Trapped at lights I pointed out a dead (or near dead) jaywalker alongside us in the road. ‘I see nothing,’ said my guide.
I asked whether we should call whatever the Russian equivalent is to 999? Apparently not.”
A culture shock, no doubt, this experience offered Mr Tavener “an illuminating insight into how the millions of poor in the country are regarded as road kill.”
The Gibb River Road, WA, Australia
For a real taste of what Australia has to offer you have to head to the outback. The Gibb River Road crosses over 400 miles of the stunningly beautiful Kimberley region of the northern corner of the country’s largest state, Western Australia.
You’ll need to kit yourselves out with the right gear, this is no road to tackle in a rented hatch back. There’s little tarmac, it’s mostly a dusty highway that requires four wheel drive, a bit of bravery and a few spare parts – but what you get in return is a sense of the ‘real’ Australia.
Take a bit of a detour north, admittedly a round trip of a couple of hundred miles, to pay a visit to the Mitchell River National Park. Here you can swim in the spectacular cascading pools of Mitchell Falls – possibly the most remote tourist attraction in the country.
Back on The Gibb River you’ll have to undertake a couple of river crossings, keeping your eyes peeled for kangaroos, whilst also trying take in the stunning views, not least of The Cockburn Ranges. These sheer orange cliffs dramatically jut out of the ground at the eastern end of the road and can be seen from many miles away. As drives go, this is true escapism.
Puerto Banus, Marbella
Plenty of Brits retire to the golden sands of Marbella and Puerto Banus’s famous harbour is filled will supercars, parked up while their owners enjoy the restaurants and bars.
But one expat, who lived in Marbella for more than seven years and wishes to remain anonymous, says the area definitely deserves its nickname as the Costa del Crime, among civilians and authority: “One of my clients had a rather nice black BMW X5 giving the air of someone with perhaps a bit of wealth,” she said. “Police did a daytime ‘routine’ stop and check just at the back of Puerto Banús.
“Working as a pair they went through his papers then asked him to step out of the car whilst one put him through some, to be quite frank, embarrassing and unnecessary exercises to prove he wasn’t drunk. They let him go without charge, he reached for his mobile to call a mate and say what idiots the cops had been and – bingo – it was gone, a nice expensive smart phone vanished.
“Seems one had kept him occupied whilst the other rifled through the car. He drove back to confront the police, but guess what? Their ‘routine’ stop and check point had gone in a flash… You can’t report that crime can you!”
You wouldn’t think Belgium would offer as many driving challenges as it does, but one expat gave an insight in to why it does.
“There is no lane discipline – everyone swerves from one lane to another, constantly cutting people up,” said Harold Davies.
“No one seems to indicate where they are going, so you really have to have your wits about you. This can be especially dangerous when you enter a roundabout in the correct lane for going straight ahead only to be cut up by someone as they attempt to leave on the furthest exit round!
Dangerous driving, reckless driving, speeding, tail-gating, weaving in and out of lanes, drivers driving while BBM-ing and talking on the phone are all common misdemeanors in Dubai, according to our expat blogger Annabel Kantaria.
“Driving in Dubai – wow – not a day goes by without that being in the news somehow!” said Annabel. “Generally there are wide, smooth roads populated by fast cars, but it’s all come up so fast compared to, say the UK, that the culture of safety and education is not yet there. It’s fair to say, every time you go out, you take your life in your hands.”
“Although there are numerous speed cameras, many people have a monthly budget for speeding tickets – they just see them as part of life.”
There is also a real disregard for safety, even where children are involved.
“You often see babies loose in the front, sitting on the driver’s lap or on the dashboard. They’re known as “Saudi airbags”.”
One positive thing she notes, however, is that there is a zero tolerance of drink-driving – if you have any alcohol in your blood, your insurance is not valid and you could face jail.
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