Arrival and Collecting the Rental Car –
As I mentioned previously, if you’re unfamiliar with the country you’ll be driving abroad in, I’d advise you not to collect the car at the airport immediately when you arrive. Far better to take a day or so to acclimatise and recover after a long flight. Use the days before you pick the car up to observe the traffic and driving style. This will supplement the driving advice you’ve already gathered. Also if you need to drive out of a town centre, try and work out the route.
When you collect the car or it’s delivered to you, run through the costs and terms of the car rental insurance etc again. Make sure you’re provided with all necessary paperwork and a rental agreement, though you may find in some countries, that the agreement is less ‘official’ than you’d like, such as the one I had in the Philippines written on a napkin!
Check the car for damage before you leave, especially if its a brand new car. In many countries a slightly beaten up old car is actually an advantage as its unlikely any new scrapes or dents will be noticed.
Agree whether the car should be returned with an empty or full fuel tank. If it should be returned full, make sure it is. Excessive charges for fuel are a favourite method of making more money for rental companies. Fill up until the petrol pump clicks. Then fill again till it clicks again. And again! Some car rental companies give you a full tank and tell you to return it empty. This is a bit of a scam as- A)They can charge you a high price for the tank of petrol you use. B) They know you can’t return the car absolutely empty so they’ll always benefit from this. If given a choice tell them you’ll bring it back full.
Always have a drive on a quiet road near the car rental company office or in the car park to make sure the car is mechanically sound. This gives you a chance to spot other rental company dodges such as speedometers being disconnected- this means no additional miles are added to the car but also means you can’t tell how fast you’re going!
When driving abroad in many developing countries, you’ll be filling up at gas stations with no signage on petrol pumps indicating what type of fuel they’re selling. Sometimes it may be dispensed from a bucket or watering can. Get the car rental company to write down what fuel the vehicle takes in terms that any rural gas station employee will understand. It will save a lot of time, confusion and potentially disastrous use of the wrong fuel.
Setting off and Driving Abroad
First, accept that you WILL get lost when driving abroad. This is most likely to happen in Cities which is where you’re likely to experience the most stressful situations. Don’t be indecisive or change direction suddenly at junctions or road signs- that’s what causes most accidents. Make a choice and stick to it, Its always best to stop a few hundred yards down the road, take stock, consult the map and turn around and retrace your route of you need to.
Always be prepared to ask directions from locals when driving abroad, but beware! Whilst they’re invariably helpful, many will never have seen a map before, will pronounce place names totally different to you and, in their attempts to be helpful, may point you in totally the wrong direction. Always ask two separate locals before making a big directional decision.
In big Cities, I always try and get the car rental company to drive me to , or collect me from, the outskirts. Most will do this, often for just a small charge. If this isn’t possible, ask a taxi driver if you can follow them to the location. They’ll charge the normal fare which is usually very reasonable. Just try and make sure they drive slowly- I once followed a taxi driver in Buenos Aires and it became like a police chase!
Talking about the boys in blue, or khaki in some countries, getting stopped by the police is a fact of life in some countries. I always try to be friendly but deferential. I find smiling helps too. I also find that its a major advantage if the police speak a different language to you. Feigning total stupidity, is in my opinion one of the best ways to avoid a fine/bribe/’present’. Shrug a lot and smile and often the officer will get bored and give up. If you are faced with a situation where money has to change hands, as I mention in the Cash or Cards section above, carrying a handful of small denomination local notes which are easily accessed is preferable to producing a wallet packed with dollars on a deserted road.Another point to note is to exercise extreme caution if you happen to come across a police or army check point when driving after dark. If you’re the only car approaching the check point, slow down, put on the interior lights so the officers can see you, and make sure your headlights aren’t on full beam. You want those manning the checkpoint, who may be nervous conscripts, to be able to see you and realise you pose no threat. Approaching at speed and dazzling them with full beams is a recipe for disaster in some parts of the world.
Obviously, the actual driving conditions you’ll experience will vary massively depending on where in the world you’re going. Specific driving information for every country in the world can be found on my ‘Countries info’ page.