Many young people travel abroad either before starting college or during their studies. While many trips abroad are conducted using public transit, some of the most memorable journeys can only take place by car. However, a road trip abroad requires more planning than just packing a bag.
Following the tips listed in the four categories listed below can ensure that an overseas road trip racks up great memories.
Driving Legally Abroad
Just as a passport and often a visa are required to travel abroad, official permission is often required to drive legally in a foreign country.
Since 1926, the United Nations has regulated driving in foreign countries through international conventions. Two international conventions, the 1949 Geneva Convention and the 1968 Vienna Convention, cover 98% of the world’s countries. These countries issue International Driving Permits (IDPs) to their country’s residents for driving outside their borders.
In South and Central America
Drivers traveling to Central and South America may obtain either an IDP or an Inter American Driving Permit (IADP). The IADP is issued under the 1943 Convention on the Regulation of Inter-American Automobile Traffic. Most Central and South American countries recognize both the 1949 IDP and the IADP, but Brazil and Uruguay only recognize the 1968 IDP or the IADP.
In the United States
In the United States, only two organizations are approved to issue official IDPs: AAA and The American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA). AAA issues both IDPs and IADPs, while AATA only issues IDPs. Other organizations claiming to issue IDPs or IADPs are likely fraudulent.
What these certificates do
IDPs and IADPs serve five important functions:
Translation of a holder’s driver’s license into 11 languages, including English.
Certification that the holder is legally licensed to drive in his or her home country.
Indication of the types of vehicles the holder is allowed to drive.
Allow the holder to rent a vehicle abroad.
Valid personal identification even for nondrivers in 150 countries.
For both the IDP and the IADP, drivers must be at least 18 years old with a current, permanent driver’s license. Learner’s permits and temporary licenses are not accepted. Two passport-type photos, either black and white or color, are required, with the driver’s name written on the back. The fee for both the IDP and the IADP is $20. AAA can issue IDPs and IADPs on the spot or by mail. AATA only issues IDPs by mail, along with charging additional shipping and handling fees.
Renting a Car Abroad
Renting a car anywhere can be pricey, but even more so abroad. Researching local companies online before a trip can save money. However, renting a car through an established rental car company can reduce the hassle. If all else fails, it’s often possible to rent a car at the airport, but at much higher prices than booking in advance.
In most European countries, drivers must request cars with automatic transmission. The cost is higher, but It’s a worthwhile expense. An overseas trip is no time to try to learn how to drive a manual transmission car, according to Jerry Summers of Jerry & Tracy Summers Dream Vacations of Phoenix, Arizona.
Obtaining Auto Insurance Abroad
Most domestic auto insurance policies provide no coverage abroad. Some policies provide coverage in Canada, far fewer in Mexico. Umbrella auto insurance policy coverage may be valid abroad, but only for coverage beyond basic required coverage. Some travel insurance policies also offer coverage for car rental abroad.
In nearly all cases, basic coverage should be obtained from the rental company or somewhere else before traveling. Contacting the U.S. embassy in the destination country is useful for obtaining specific information on coverage requirements. However, auto insurance coverage abroad may also be as close as a traveler’s wallet, according to Summers.
“Your credit card may offer coverage. Know what coverage you have, but some local insurance by the rental company may give you peace of mind,” Summers advised.
Staying Safe on Foreign Roads
Part of the fun of foreign travel is making unexpected discoveries. These discoveries often occur as a result of being lost. However, being lost on foreign roads can be hazardous. Drivers should rent cars with GPS, but also pack a map in case the GPS fails, Summers advises.
Learning the rules of the road beforehand is essential. This includes basics like knowing which side of the road drivers use, local speed limits, and right of way rules. For drivers with shaky driving skills, taking a defensive driving course provides dual benefits. Not only will driving skills improve, but completion could translate to lower auto insurance premiums.
Where to find safety information
The State Department website includes a wealth of information on safety abroad, including on the road. Online tourist board sites are another good source of travel safety information, according to Summers.
“For instance, [go to] www.visitbritain.com and search for “driving by car.” You will find help on road signs, planning your trip, and emergency info. Not every country has a highway system like the USA, so don't assume travel times will be similar or gas stations will be as prevalent,” said Summers.
Drivers should familiarize themselves with an unfamiliar car before hitting the road. Taking the time to adjust the seat, mirrors, and controls eases anxiety behind the wheel. Drivers in other countries may be more aggressive than travelers are used to. Drivers should resist the temptation to try to keep up or respond to rude gestures. If needed, it’s OK to pull off onto the side of the road to regain composure. Summers suggests that drivers avoid trying to cover too much ground in a day.
“Break up your trip into shorter distances so you can rest and enjoy the journey,” he noted.
A foreign road trip can create memories that last a lifetime. By obtaining proper driving credentials and insurance and practicing safe driving, travelers can concentrate on taking in the scenery and gathering new experiences.