We enjoy free and easy holidays where we are free to explore little towns that are out of tourists radar, savour authentic local food, and experience local cultures.
However, our limited visiting time in the destination country meant that having a car allows us to do all the above with the least time spent on transportation.
Another reason for our obsession with self-drive holiday is our love for the country-side and winding mountain roads, both of which are not available in our home country.
Note: always check that the destination country is indeed safe for self-drive holidaying before embarking on it.
With that checked, get ready for your road trip with these 10 tips that we considered are the most important for any would-be self-driver holiday-makers.
1. International Driving Permit
Prior to booking a rental car, check if an international driving permit is required for foreigners to drive in the destination country. This information can be easily obtained from the countries’ tourism website.
If you intend to rent a large MPV, for example a 11-seater MPV; always check if your driving license allows that. You don’t want to discover this only upon collection and have the holiday spoilt.
2. Check local driving laws
Information like which side does the country drives on can be easily found on the tourism website or any travel forum. If driving on the opposite side from your home country unnerves you, then read our post on Left hand drive versus Right hand drive.
To obtain other information like road condition, attitude of local drivers, drink-driving, speed limits and parking rules and regulations; you will need more finger-work browsing through numerous travel forums and blogs.
It may sound tedious but all these time spent is definitely worthwhile. We can never be over prepared, only how under prepared are we.
3. Hire car from reputable companies
We have been renting our car for overseas trips mostly from Hertz. Before your mind starts going wild….nope! we are not the spokesman of Hertz. Neither are we paid any commission.
The reason we rented from Hertz was because they have a large fleet of vehicles to choose from, and the cars are very well maintained. Hertz also have many offices well spread throughout the destination countries that we have driven. Plus, after the discounts from travel roadshows, airline loyalty programmes and credit cards promotions, the rate is competitive.
The other car rental company that we rent from is Sixt. Sixt also provides good car choices and relatively well maintained fleet.
Renting from smaller or local car rental companies may give slightly cheaper rates. Cost is a concern but it shouldn’t be your first priority (at least not for us). What is most important to us is a rental company that can provide immediate assistance when required.
Also, with rental companies only accepting credit card payment, any unauthorised charging by rental companies can be difficult to prevent. You will have a higher chance of getting a recourse from reputable companies than from small local companies.
So, does that mean these reputable companies doesn’t give problems? Definitely not true. We had a whole lot of unauthorised charging to our credit card from Hertz Italy after our rental. And it is a common problem in Italy no matter which car rental company you hire from.
4. Prepare your own GPS and maps
Renting an in-vehicle GPS from the car rental company may be a good choice since these GPS usually have larger screen and provide good 3D maps. The in-vehicle GPS we had in South Korea was fantastic. However, the GPS we had in Taiwan was totally hopeless. To save cost, ask if the rental company can throw it in for free.
Since most of us had a GPS installed in our smart phone, this is a good and cheap option. Most GPS needs an internet connection to function. With tourist SIM cards getting affordable nowadays, internet connection is no longer an issue.
Another advantage of using our own GPS is that we can save our destinations into our GPS in advance.
We did mention maps above. It is always good to have a paper copy of an overall map. This comes in handy should you lose your phone.
5. Limit Per Day Driving Distance
Prior to your road trip, plan out your total driving distance per day. On average, driving 400 km per day is a good distance. It allows for a relax drive with ample time for some impromptu side trips and coffee breaks.
Our longest drive was 800 km on a single day as we were travelling from one state to another, with nothing in between them that is worth stopping. In this situation, we set off as early as we could in order not to rush, and still have sufficient coffee breaks.
6. Half tank rule
We practice this “half tank” rule religiously. That means, whenever our fuel tank reach the half tank indicator, we will get our car pump up to full. We have friends and families dismissing our action as over-reacting. After numerous road trips to different countries, who knows better than us!
The first time our fuel tank ran critically low was driving on Malaysia’s North-South Highway. There was a stretch of the highway where there aren’t any petrol stations. We ended up having to exit the highway and tried our luck at the next nearest town. Thank goodness we managed to find one after driving quite a long distance into the town. It was through this incident that we started the half tank rule.
Recently, twice we detracted from this rule. First, in Triglav National Park (Slovenia), where we did not expect the mountain road to be that winding and steep. The second one was in Dongyanshan National Forest Recreation (Taiwan). It was a last minute impromptu decision to visit this park despite only having half a tank of fuel. In both cases, the mountain roads zapped up so much of our fuel that a supposedly relaxing and enjoyable trip instantly turned into a stressful one when our fuel tank empty light indicator lit up.
7. Lock your car
Of course, we lock our car after parking. But, we are not talking about this obvious gesture. We are referring to while you are in the car, be it stationery or driving.
Back home, we hardly lock our car when we are inside since we are familiar with our environment. But, we are visitors to the destination country. This means that we are in unfamiliar territory. For safety, we always keep our car locked the moment we step in.
8. Practice good driving habits
Back home, even if we don’t drive often, it does not pose too much of a problem for us to adapt to the road condition. However, the situation is different when we drive overseas.
There are rules and unspoken norms that we are unaware. It is advisable to err on the right side whenever in doubt, and learn and adapt as we go. For example, South Korea allows right turn on red. There is no signs at traffic junction on this rule. We observe and adapt to this rule as we go.
To have a safe drive, always practice good driving habits. For example, know the rule of driving a roundabout if you are unfamiliar with driving one. Or, if you are driving on high beam in the dark, have the courtesy to off it when there are cars on the opposite road.
9. Drive during the day
Driving in pitch dark environment is not something pleasant. Our eyes and body get extremely tired from the intense concentration. There are also risks like encountering inconsiderate drivers who left their high beam on as they approaches thus blinding us. Or we may not see a road-crossing animal. All these can lead to fatal accidents.
For city drivers who have little chance of driving in such no light condition, the risk factor is even higher. It is always good to plan your journey well to minimise night driving.
10. Treat the drive as part of the holiday
Road trips always involve long distance driving. Often, we hear friends rushing through the drives. They felt that these drives are wasting their holiday time. This mentality puts themselves and their passengers at risk of road accidents.
We, on the other hand, enjoyed the long distance drives. Admiring rolling hills, vast plains or visiting interesting small villages as we drove. For highway drives, we brought along lots of snacks to keep us awake for the long monotonous journey.
Treat the long drives as part of your self-drive holiday; and you will discover unexpected pleasant surprises and acquire beautiful memories.