Anytime you go on vacation, itís easier when you have your own car to drive around. Even when public transportation is readily available, nothing beats the freedom and control of having a car. However, driving in a different country can be challenging, especially when people drive on the opposite side of the road than in your home country.
If youíre planning a trip to the UK and wondering if you should rent a car or drive your own, the answer is a matter of personal preference as well as legalities. Your final decision will ultimately depend on how comfortable you feel driving in new and unfamiliar places.
Can you legally drive in the UK?
The first thing to consider is whether itís legal for you to drive in the UK. Generally speaking, if you hold a valid U.S. driverís license, you can drive temporarily in the UK.
However, if you plan on driving your own car or a friendís car, youíll need to obtain temporary car insurance from a separate insurer if you canít get this type of insurance under your existing policy.
Temporary car insurance for the UK can cover you for between 1-72 days and you can decide how much coverage you need.
Once you have insurance, you can either drive your own car or borrow a friendís car when you arrive at your destination. If you choose to rent a car, youíll be provided with insurance as part of your rental package. Although, most car rental businesses require you to be at least 21 years old.
There are pros and cons to driving in the UK
It might not seem that hard to adapt to driving in the UK. After all, many UK residents move to the U.S. and itís relatively easy for them to get used to driving. Unfortunately, it isnít as easy the other way around.
The biggest difference is which side of the road youíll be driving on, and youíd be surprised to see how hard it is to get used to this change. It alters everything about your muscle memory and will keep you on alert the entire time youíre driving, which might cause you stress.
Traffic laws in the UK are different than in the U.S., and can sometimes be opposite from what you know. For example, right-of-way is different and not as specific as it is in the U.S. Where right-of-way isnít specified, drivers are advised as to when to give way to others to avoid an accident.
Can you drive a car with a manual transmission?
Do you feel completely comfortable driving a manual car? If not, youíll need to do a little extra planning to rent a car. About 70% of all cars in Europe are manual, although thatís changing. However, if you want to rent an automatic, youíll need to call ahead to reserve one as soon as possible. Donít wait until you get to the car rental place because they might not have any automatics left.
Since automatics are considered more of a luxury, you can expect to pay more to rent one. Thatís a small price to pay for the convenience of having complete control over where you travel.
One word of caution: if youíre only vaguely familiar with driving a stick shift, itís better to rent an automatic. Youíre going to be driving on the opposite side of the road which will require a lot of attention. Trying to remember how and when to shift gears in this type of situation is a bad idea.
Tips for driving in the UK
If you think youíd like to try driving in the UK on your vacation, keep these tips in mind:
∑ Learn how to drive a manual car ahead of your vacation. If you want to brave the roads in a stick shift, learn how to drive a manual transmission before you get to your destination.
∑ Familiarize yourself with traffic laws. Do some reading to learn basic UK traffic laws.
∑ Drive a small car. In Europe, the majority of people drive small cars and unless you need a large vehicle for business, stick to something compact. Youíll notice narrow streets throughout most of Europe, and youíll need a small car to maneuver through traffic easier. Itís also easier to park a small car.
Should you drive on your vacation in the UK? Maybe
If you donít mind learning new traffic laws and getting used to the roads, youíll enjoy driving. However, if the thought of driving is too stressful, youíre better off taking public transportation, calling a taxi, or hiring a private car.