Driving abroad can be intimidating for a number of reasons. It requires plotting a route that won’t lead you into dead-end alleys or crashing through jungle vines or off the side of a cliff. You have to take responsibility for a rental car, likely putting down a good chunk of change for an insurance deposit. And you’ll need to learn foreign driving customs, dodge speeding locals, navigate dilapidated roads, and occasionally steer around livestock.
But facing those challenges is entirely worth it for the freedom of driving yourself through your vacation. While it may seem like work, driving enhances every other aspect of a trip. Here’s why you should get over your fears and rent a car.
You decide your own schedule.
Strict train and bus timetables tie you to set arrival and departure dates, which can really wear you out after a few days. An overly relaxed transit system is even worse, though, because you never know if you’ll leave or arrive on time. Behind the wheel of a car, you are your own master. You can linger over breakfast and leave a bit later, or drive in early to your next destination to catch the sunset from the roof of your hotel.
You’re free to change your plans at any time.
Driving doesn’t just allow you to shift your schedule by an hour or two, but by whole days or weeks. If you really love a particular city, feel free to stay an extra day before moving on. If it turns out your hotel room smells like if fish grew feet and then never washed them, you can check out immediately and hit the road.
It’s the best way to really learn about the country.
Getting ferried about a country by a local certainly offers a relaxing way to see a foreign land, but you only really get to know a country by driving it. You’ll learn local geography through the roads, and you’ll better understand your fellow drivers — or other travelers on the road like bicyclists and livestock.
You can get to areas you wouldn’t otherwise.
As extensive as public transportation networks may be, trains and buses will keep you on the typical tourist route, seeing the same sights and cities that appear on everyone else’s Instagram. Get off that pristine Disney track and drive yourself into the unknown…Well, arm yourself with a good map and drive into the semi-known.
You’ll never be truly lost.
Google Maps may not be able to give you turn-by-turn instructions deep in the Amazon or high in the French Alps, but most smartphones can track your location offline. Even if you’re the type of horrible navigator who can get lost in a grocery store, you’ll never truly drop off the grid entirely — assuming you charge your phone, that is. Plus, many rental cars offer an old-school (if you consider the early 2000s old-school) mountable GPS, which typically has a consistent signal.
You will be humbled by the natural landscape.
A sudden sense of wonder will likely overtake you as you drive through the open terrain with no one around except your travel companions. Whether you’re carving your way through a barren desert, rocky seaside path, or dense forest, the natural landscape can speak directly to you without distractions like bus passengers or train-ticket takers.
You don’t need to drive stick.
While knowing your way around a stick shift is certainly a useful skill when driving around the world, it’s not an absolute prerequisite. There are more and more automatic cars in the world, and those cars are slowly finding their ways to countries traditionally dominated by manual transmission. Just be aware you might have to pay a bit more for your rental and you should book early to avoid competing with other automatic-driving tourists.