Regardless of whether it's for business or personal travel, driving in a new place can be terrifying and intimidating. There are new roads to learn, drivers to adjust to, and different road signs that may be in another language that all need your attention. Sometimes even just figuring out how to work a rental car can be stressful enough.
However, there are steps you can take that can help with the process. As expected, some destinations are easier to drive than in others. But once you've thoroughly prepared yourself, you may be surprised at how easy it is to adapt.
1. Find out what you will need.
You will need to do a bit of research to make sure that you are covered. The best place to start is the U.S. Department of State. There you can read about each country and learn the specifics with up-to-date information.
2. Get an International Driving Permit.
Most countries will not recognize a state-issued United States driver's license. Therefore, you will need to apply for an International Driving Permit. They are available through the American Automobile Association (AAA) or through the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA).
Fortunately they are rather simple to get. However, you will likely need a U.S. driver's license to qualify for one. Additionally, note that they may not be valid for your entire trip.
3. Make sure you have the right insurance.
The first thing you can do is check with your insurance provider. Ask them what they cover and whether or not you need to purchase extra protections. They may suggest another travel insurance or an upgrade specifically for this trip.
Secondly, if you have a travel credit card, you may be covered with it. However, you will also have to check with the card issuer. I also recommend checking that the country you are visiting accepts your credit card. It doesn't do much good if you are covered with a card that is not accepted.
Always check how long you will be covered, especially if you will be overseas for an extended period of time. Some insurers only cover trips up to 30 days. Travelers to Mexico and Canada may have coverage but will need to inquire.
To be sure that you'll be good to travel, always read the fine print to know exactly what you are getting.
4. Know how much of a deposit or hold will be needed.
If you are renting a vehicle, there is a good chance that a deposit or hold will be put on the card you are using to pay for the rental. These holds can be very costly, to the point where the deposit is more that the whole trip combined. In addition to making sure you have the right insurance, you should make sure that you can afford the extra fees.
Having a card nearly maxed out merely for a hold can put a damper on the trip. I have a friend who found a great deal for a rental vehicle in Ireland. However, when he went to the car rental counter, they put a $1,000+ hold, partly because he was international.
5. Stay focused.
Regardless of where you are driving, stay focused on what you are doing. To avoid any problems, limit or abstain from alcohol and any other drugs or medications that may impair your ability to drive. This is especially critical when driving in a country that drives on the opposite side of the road.
6. Don't be afraid to accessorize.
If you've ever driven in a city with plenty of sunshine, you know how important sunglasses and even sunshades can be for your vehicle. You want to have a comfortable and safe drive. Bring any necessary tools to help make that possible.
One other reason I like to accessorize my rental is to help it look less like a rental and therefore less interesting to potential thieves. I will sometimes leave a newspaper on or near the dashboard when I've parked my car in order to make it look more "local."
7. Get an idea of driving customs and etiquette.
Knowing what driving customs to expect can help you avoid any incidents and keep you safe. For instance, in Spain, drivers may flash their lights at you to let you know that they are going to overtake you on the motorway. In the U.K., you may get a fine for honking your horn between certain hours.
I find that a quick internet and YouTube search usually has the information I need to know and what I should prepare for.