Driving in a new place can be daunting and I used to struggle just going to a new city in the UK. I think part of this came from growing up in Norfolk and never having much opportunity to tackle dual carriageways. But, the more I drove, the more I came to realise that that building confidence is all about practice.
When I started working as an automotive journalist, I’d already built some confidence but I still felt that anxiety creep in whenever I went on long drives or had to tackle the unknown.
During a road trip to Sweden, I freaked out driving my beloved Fiat Punto in a little town in the Netherlands called Einhoven. I’d been driving all of fifteen minutes and had to let my boyfriend take over because I got confused by a tricky road layout. I felt ashamed. It sucked. As the trip went on, I drove in Germany, Belgium, Denmark and Sweden. I started to build that confidence, the early freakout had been a blip.
My confidence increased with every road trip I went on but it wasn’t until I did the Route 57 road trip that I really had to up my game. During all previous road trips, my boyfriend had been on hand to help out with the driving, which, I’ll admit, did make me a little lazy. But for Route 57, I was the sole driver and while Ben joined me as navigator, he was nursing some snowboarding injuries and couldn’t get behind the wheel.
During that trip, I drove almost 3000 miles around the UK and Ireland, tackled snowy mountains, parked in awkward places, got lost, changed lanes more times than I could count, and had to deal with the added stress of electric vehicle range anxiety. It was the most wonderful trip for so many reasons but I learned so much about driving too.
I know so many people still struggle with becoming a more confident driver so here’s some advice from someone who has been there.
I originally filmed this video for my Turn Eight car blog but thought I’d post it here along with some road trip confidence tips.
If you’re worried about the driving part of a road trip, make sure you take a confident friend who can takeover when things get tricky. You must make sure to push yourself though. Don’t sit back and let them do all the hard work. Force yourself to drive in new situations.
If you can learn the local laws, you’re going to feel more comfortable when you’re driving. For example in some European countries, you need to have daytime running lights on at all times. If you know what to expect on the road, nothing is going to surprise you.
I recently road tripped in Germany and Austria where I know the language but when I crossed over in the Czech Republic, I felt a little overwhelmed. It’s good to learn the words for ‘exit’ as well as the names of the places you’re driving to in the local language, as these may be written differently to what you’ve learned. For example, Cologne is Germany is written Köln or Koeln; Krakow in Poland is Cracow; Naples in Italy is Napoli.
You can avoid a lot of frustration on the road simply by letting people know where you’re going. If you need to change lanes, indicate. If you’ve taken a wrong turning and need to pull over, indicate.
Tailgating is frustrating and, for the most part, you should maintain your speed and ignore whatever idiot is behind you. That being said, you need to be aware that if you’re getting your bearings or looking for somewhere, you are going to be driving more slowly than other cars on the road. Make life easy for yourself and stick in lane one of a motorway so people can overtake you. If you’re on a country road and you can see a place to pull in to let a faster car past, do it.
I’m not saying you have to get out of the way of all other people on the road but be courteous.
I want to finish by saying, practice makes perfect. Start out small and build up to bigger trips but don’t be afraid to throw yourself in at the deep end, especially if you consider yourself to be a good driver. Pay attention, obey the rules of the road, and look to a navigator when you’re driving through new cities or on tricky roads.
What are you doing to become a more confident driver?
Jess Shanahan is a road trip journalist and motorsport consultant who loves high heels, V8s and the open road. You can find her on Twitter @Jetlbomb.