“I prefer to eat grass instead of garbage. Thank you”.
This road sign in Switzerland is there to let know drivers that even an apparently harmless action like throwing objects out of the window – like aluminum cans or food wraps – can do harm to cows, resulting even in death.
You can see cows on the road side everywhere in Switzerland.
If you want to avoid getting a ticket from Canadian police, just don’t do what I did.
As it is true for any expat or travel-abroad experience, you should be very careful in interpreting reality from behind the glasses of your own country way of doing things.
My mistake was basically thinking as I was driving in my country, which it is: “if you’re driving on a freeway and you don’t see any car with written ‘POLICE’ on it, then there are no police cars around.”
Hand gestures and their meaning can be so varied that in some countries represent a parallel language, used along with vocal language. Why is hand-gesturing so important to some cultures? Why it is less important to others?
He is honking his car’s horn with frenzy. He is really mad at me.
Trying to decide whether I should be angry or amused, I look at him. He is a middle-aged Caucasian.
Then I look at his license plate. His car has a Zurich number, like mine.
I didn’t experience many of these encounters here in Switzerland. However, I experienced plenty of them in my native country, Italy. First clue.
As soon as I jumped into the car at the airport I saw a green cable placed on the passenger’s seat.
When I reached my hotel, I noticed that every parking bay had a stake with a box on top of it. Inside the box, a power socket and a settable timer. The green cable is used to connect the box to a small socket on the front of the car. That will provide power to maintain engine and battery warm. My car has also studded tires.
Driving on road #80, New Zealand, near the shore of Lake Pukaki, with Mount Cook on the background
Driving on the left side of the road after you’ve been driving on the right all your life shouldn’t scare you, but you shouldn’t shrug it off either. Besides, most times it is not only a matter of driving on the other side of the road, it also about driving on the other side of the car. Here you can find my ten tips to help you with your first drive-on-left experience.
My first drive-on-the-left experience
My first drive-on-the-left experience occurred in New Zealand and I was pretty nervous about that.
First car I drove on the left hand side of the road, New Zealand.
Just after I started feeling a little confident, I had my second experience in Australia, and it was even harder than the very first one: I was given a big car (at least much bigger than the city car I used to drive in Europe), it was raining heavy, it was rush hour, I hadn’t slept the night before. But… I coped.
In fact, I coped so well that in the following years I drove an estimated 9,000 km (5500 mi) all on the wrong side of the road (while in Europe I drove on the right side of the road, ah-ah I’m such a comedian).
I have seen other people taking it much easier than me their first time, while others simply refused to seat behind the wheel on that side of the car. Some would not even bother. They will just use public service.
Nevertheless, there are some travel experiences that have a car as preferred mean of transportation. I could not imagine exploring the Australian Outback without a rented car; at least I couldn’t imagine doing that my way. The freedom way.
For anybody expecting to drive on the left for their first time, I used my personal experience to develop the following
10 tips on how to drive stress-free on the left for the first time.
1. AVOID DRIVING ON THE LEFT FOR THE FIRST TIME JUST AFTER A 24-HOUR FLIGHT. As any new thing, do that after you had a good rest. Would you drive under normal conditions while risking falling asleep or when lacking attention? Obviously not. Let alone finding yourself in such a situation the first time you drive on the left. And yet so many people do that after a long flight. It happened to me on my second left-drive experience. I had to do that to reach a motel (3 miles away or so) and I felt pretty uncomfortable. Then I slept all the afternoon. Hope you will be available to avoid those three miles.
2. CHOOSE A SMALL CAR. I can’t overstate this. You want to have a rather small car, in order to make things simpler. Easier parking, more margin of error in traffic. If you like larger cars, you can think of renting one that next time, when you’ll be more accustomed to left-hand-driving. The definition of small car is country-dependent. A small car in Australia can be a medium-size car in Ireland. It is also occupant-dependent. A family with teenager children doesn’t have the same idea of small car as a skinny 20-years-old woman has. Choose the smallest car according to your needs.
3. CHOOSE THE SAME GEAR SYSTEM YOU USE AT HOME. If it is your habit to drive a car endowed with a manual gear, go for it, and vice versa. Automatic gear is for sure simpler to operate, but I’m not sure it is the case when you’re not used to it. In my humble opinion, looking for a clutch pedal all the time (and failing in doing so) will not help your concentration behind the wheel. On the other hand, if you are, say, an American, you sure don’t want an additional new thing like changing gear manually to bother you right the moment you’re driving on the left for the first time.
4. LEARN WHO HAS PRIORITY EVEN BEFORE YOU START DRIVING. When you’re approaching a crossroad, you’d better know whether you should give way to vehicles coming from the right or to the ones from the left. Don’t take it for granted. For instance, most countries in Continental Europe drive on right and give way to those on their right, while in the UK you drive on the left, and yet you give way still on the right.
5. BUILD CONFIDENCE WITH THE CAR OFF-ROAD. That is not always possible of course. But nothing prevents you from prowling in the car rental parking lot for some time.
6. USE GPS NAVIGATION. It’s easier to have something giving you directions, instead of figuring them out yourself while you’re so busy driving on the left.
7. KEEP IN MIND THAT YOU HAVE MUCH LESS DEPTH PERCEPTION FOR CAR’S LEFT SIDE…. than the one you have for its right side when you drive sitting on the left seat. It is very easy to slam the left mirror onto another car, or tires against sidewalks while parking. All people I discussed that with reported this kind of problems from their drive-on-left experience. I got away with scratched left hubcaps a couple of times, one in Canberra and one in Brisbane. That’s another reason why a small car is better.
8. LOOK RIGHT FIRST. Pay particular attention when you enter a street from a parking lot. Our instinct is to look on the left to check for approaching cars on the side we’re coming from. It’s obviously the opposite in left-hand-driving countries when you think about it, but it’s less obvious when you’re on your first left drive and you’re under stress and everything is new and you’re operating a stick with your left hand, and you’ve checked that nobody is coming from the usual side…….. oooops! An angry Briton is honking the horn at you, who were apparently looking at the wrong side. Better repeating to yourself “Now that I’m going to enter traffic, what should I do? Looking to the right first”.
9. DRIVE ON A ROAD WITH MINOR TRAFFIC LEVELS ON YOUR FIRST DAY, IF POSSIBLE. It seems a pretty obvious tip, but it works well. Everything is much simpler if done with few to no other road users around you.
10. KEEP LEFT ON MULTI-LANE ROADS UNLESS YOU’RE OVERTAKING. Right lanes are usually for passing, therefore remember to keep left lane it if you’re slower than others.
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