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11 Tips for Safe Driving Abroad That Could Save Your Life

Make sure you read these tips for driving abroad to stay safe!

Whether you’re planning a campervan road trip, or simply a self-drive holiday in your destination country, driving in a foreign country comes with its own set of challenges and risks.

In this article, we share tips for driving and riding abroad that can help you stay safe on the road, no matter which continent you’re planning to be on.

They may seem rather “common sense” but it never hurts to be more prepared rather than less, so make sure to bookmark this checklist and read it before every trip abroad for a safe driving experience overseas.

1. Plan your vacation around your driving experience

First assess your own driving skills and comfort level before driving in an unfamiliar country. 

Sometimes travellers with a heart for adventure might be drawn to the thrill of a challenge. If you’re an experienced driver who has the necessary skills and knowledge to handle difficult terrains, that’s fine. 

But if you drive infrequently in Singapore , it’s advisable to choose destinations that have well-developed road infrastructure and a solid reputation for safe driving conditions. 

If you don’t feel confident in your driving abilities, you could take up an advanced driving course, or practice in different weather conditions and on different road surfaces.

The more you build up your driving confidence when you’re in your own car and home country, the more comfortable and skilled you will be behind the wheel, and thus better equipped to handle unexpected situations that may arise while driving abroad.

2. Make sure you have the correct licence to drive or ride

You will need the proper licence in order to drive a car or ride a motorcycle in another country. In many countries, you are required to have your licence from your home country, as well as an International Driving Permit (IDP) which specifically includes the same class/es of vehicles covered by your home country licence. 

Yes, this means that having a licence to drive does not make it automatically legal for you to hop onto a moped.

We get it, it’s very tempting. You’re holidaying in Southeast Asia, and riding on scooters is what the locals do.

The fact that the guy renting it to you doesn’t care if you have a licence or not does not mean that you don’t need one, nor that it’s legal. Ensure that you have both your driving licence and the IDP with you at all times as you may not be able to get a vehicle rental when either is not provided.

Driving or riding without a licence would only be putting yourself, your passengers, and also the local residents, at great risk.

You should also make sure that you’re riding with a motorcycle helmet at all times, whether or not it’s the law. Staying safe while on holiday should always be your first priority.

Riding without a licence also affects your travel insurance coverage negatively, so we would not recommend doing this at all. Speaking of which…

Make sure you have the proper International Driving Permit and motorcycle licence if you’re planning to ride overseas, and always wear a helmet!

3. Understand how traffic works in your destination country

The assumption that all traffic works exactly the same in most developed countries will quickly hit a roadblock the moment you encounter your first kangaroo/emu/camel crossing on an Australia road trip.

Understanding the local rules of the road, safe driving practices, and especially all the different road signs will help you adapt to your new driving environment and avoid potential hazards that may not even exist in Singapore.

The rules of the road may work differently in a foreign country, especially where wildlife is concerned.

You should also pay extra attention to speed limits when driving in unfamiliar territories. Local speed limits are set based on various factors, including many that we may not know about, such as local road conditions and potential hazards.

Even if you’re driving on a broad open road, and it seems like you could easily drive faster than the speed limit, you might not be taking other potential factors into consideration, such as wildlife crossings, or sudden winding roads.

Go even slower than the speed limit if you’re unsure of what’s ahead!

4. Stay the first night near the airport

Limited annual leave often results in us taking short getaways, and trying to squeeze so many tourist attractions into a 5D4N holiday means that we’re eager to hit the ground running the moment we land on the tarmac.

However, it’s not advisable to start a long drive to the first stop on your trip itinerary right after getting off a flight, especially if it was a long one, or if you were flying at night.

It’s always best to let the first day of your trip be more “free and easy,” and book a night’s stay near the airport so that you can first rest and recuperate. 

5. Familiarise yourself with the vehicle and roads first 

Renting a vehicle overseas means that it could be a complete stranger to you especially when the vehicle is not your usual make and model. 

Investing just a few minutes to get acquainted with the intricacies of your vehicle, from its controls to safety systems, and checking the tyre pressure and what type of petrol or diesel it runs best on, can go a long way in ensuring a safer, smoother ride.

Understanding exactly how your rental car handles is important - as is getting used to traffic in this new foreign country.

If possible, try and drive to an area with less traffic just to get yourself acclimated to this new driving environment. This is especially vital if you’re suddenly driving on the right side of the road, for example in the United States, Europe, or even Vietnam.

It’s also good to try out some urban roads and highways before attempting narrower streets or rural roads.

6. Know that driving a campervan is very different from a car

Let’s face it, size matters. Campervans are huge. Staying alert to surrounding traffic may not be so easy, so it’s best to get into the habit of checking your rearview and side mirrors more often than normal.

They’re also more top-heavy so you’ll need to watch out to take corners more slowly and more carefully.

Campervans are also slower to accelerate and take longer to stop. You may need to maintain a greater distance between you and the vehicle ahead, and anticipate the need for braking earlier, so as to mitigate the risk of sudden stops or rear-end collisions.

Pay attention also to the special speed limits for campervans and motorhomes. You may also want to take regular breaks at pull-off bays and rest stops so that you can shake off some of the tension of driving such a large vehicle for long periods of time.

The campervan life can be extremely rewarding, but it requires a whole other set of skills in order to drive safely.

7. Understand that different roads can affect your driving

Driving on asphalt is very different from driving on gravel or dirt. Traction is a problem on gravel roads, so it’s important to drive slowly to avoid skidding. Stopping on gravel is also more difficult than on normal roads, which often leads to more rollovers and fatal accidents occurring on gravel than on paved roads.

Vehicles in front of you can kick up gravel that could potentially hit your windshield, or create a dust storm, affecting your visibility. Maintaining a larger distance becomes even more important on these types of roads.

Rain will turn gravel and dirt roads into further danger hazards, that can that could cause your vehicle to slide, or cause you to lose control. In extreme weather conditions, it may be safer to leave that location off the itinerary altogether, especially if you’re an inexperienced driver.

Gravel and dirt roads will present new challenges, so be extra careful when driving overseas on unpaved roads.

8. Be adequately prepared to drive in winter weather

We may encounter driving in wind and rain in Singapore, but driving in winter is not something we may be accustomed to.

If you're driving in another country during the winter season, it's essential to be well-prepared for handling snow and hail. 

Before embarking on your journey, ensure that your vehicle is equipped with appropriate winter tires or chains, for better traction on slippery surfaces. It's also advisable to carry essential supplies like an ice scraper, a snow shovel, and other weather-related emergency kits.

Familiarise yourself with techniques such as braking and accelerating gently to avoid skidding on icy roads. Additionally, stay updated on weather forecasts and road conditions to make informed decisions about your travel plans.

9. Break up long drives with overnight stays and more drivers

Especially on road trips, it can be tempting to push through and reach your destination in one go. However, prolonged periods of driving can easily lead to fatigue, reduced concentration, and an increased risk of traffic accidents.

Planning overnight stops along your route breaks up long drives into easier portions, and allows you the opportunity to rest and recharge before getting behind the wheel the following day with better focus and alertness.

Always remember this: Sleeping at night keeps you safe in the light!

Having multiple drivers also makes for safer driving on long trips, as drivers can take turns instead to prevent fatigue. 

Some drivers are also better at driving in low-light conditions or on gravel roads, which can be an added advantage.

10. Buffer extra time than what the GPS says

If you’re hoping to reach a certain location in time to experience a gorgeous sunset, or don’t want to miss animal feeding times, for example, planning your drive becomes especially crucial.

Whether you’re following Google Maps or your rental car’s in-built GPS, always give yourself a generous buffer of extra time than the suggested duration on the app.

Not only does this give you ample time for pit stops, but it also creates a more relaxed driving mindset, and prevents stress from creeping into your brain. 

Driving while stressed for time can be dangerous and can even affect your physicality, making you a more tense and anxious driver, and affect your ability to react quickly.

Always prioritise safety over reaching your destination quickly and adjust your driving speed accordingly to ensure a safe journey for all.

11. Remember to book your insurance early!

Whether you’re driving a rental car abroad, or driving your own vehicle on a road trip in Asia, make sure you’re properly covered with the right car insurance, motorcycle insurance, and travel insurance.

Following the tips in this guide can help you ride and drive safely when travelling abroad, but unfortunately, accidents can happen. The only way to truly prepare for such unexpected incidents is to make sure that you’re all set for your trip knowing you have good insurance coverage in place to cover your overseas medical expenses, hospitalisation, and even potential damage to your vehicle.

So book your vehicle and travel insurance with DirectAsia today!