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Driving in France: How I Overcame My Fear of Driving in a Foreign Land

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I got the same reaction from a number of stunned co-workers.  “What?!?!  You are renting a car and driving in France?  Are you crazy!”  Apparently, the European reputation for being crazy, fast aggressive drivers had reached the awareness of my colleagues.

Their reactions were not particularly helpful to me.  I was already a little nervous about driving a rental car on foreign soil.  Doubts had been seeping into my mind.  Most of them had to do with the potential financial implications of an accident.  I was nervous enough about it that I did something very uncharacteristic and I gave into the car rental companies pitch and bough the CDW (collision damage waiver), just in case.

Scared to rent a car and drive outside of your home country on your next vacation? Read about my experience driving in France and how I got over my fear!As I drove the car ever so carefully out of the rental car parking lot at CDG, I was a little unsure of myself and of what to expect from driving in France.

Seeing an opening in the steady line of cars, I pulled swiftly out into traffic, trying to fake confidence that I didn’t exactly feel yet.  The first hurdle conquered, I took a moment to assess the situation and I discovered that  it really wasn’t that much different than driving in the US.  Many of my fears had been unfounded.

And then, as if I wasn’t nervous enough, I decided that the best way to get over my fears was just to dive right into the middle of them.   I immediately drove right into the heart of Paris, France’s busiest city.  I got confused.  I got lost.  I eventually got to where I was going, and I emerged from the experienced unscathed and more confident in my driving skills.  If I can drive straight through the heart of Paris, I can drive almost anywhere!

In my opinion,  people in France are more skilled at driving than people in the US.  In France, you generally don’t see people doing other things while driving such as talking or eating.  People are more conscious of paying attention to what is going on around them.  When they are driving, they are just focused on driving.

On the flip side, it is true, drivers in Europe are generally more aggressive than drivers in the US.  When I say aggressive, I don’t mean aggressive in the road rage way that we picture here in the US, but more like decisive and faster…definitely faster.  When someone wants to change lanes in France, they look and if it is clear they go…immediately.

The only thing that I found that I had to be really careful about as an US driver was my habit to move into the passing lane and sit there.  If you are sitting in the passing lane in France, chances are pretty good that within 10-15 seconds, someone will be coming up behind you giving you a polite little honk (because EVERYBODY is driving faster than you are!)

Having a car in France gave us incredible freedom to explore small villages that were free from the crush of tourists and to find some unexpected surprises along the way.  It also saved us money in the long run, because when I added it up, the car ended up being almost half the cost that taking expensive French trains and other public transportation options would have been, even considering the higher cost of fuel in France.

Tips for Driving in France (many of these could apply to driving anywhere in Europe):

  • If you are in a roundabout and you haven’t figured out where you are going, keep your left signal on (right if in England), move into the inside lane and make another loop until you see your exit.
  • Another tip about roundabouts – make sure to signal when you are about to exit.  This lets the person trying to enter the roundabout know that they are clear and is just good, common courtesy (but in a roundabout with many exits, be careful not to signal too early as this can cause confusion).
  • As mentioned above, the passing lane on the freeway is sacred space.  Don’t go there unless you are actively passing, and move right back over when you are done.  This is extra important on highways that only have two lanes.

At the beginning of the trip, my ever patient travel companion did make a comment to the effect of, “By the end of the trip, you are going to be a crazy European driver.”  As I drove us home from the airport after our return to the US, I wove skillfully in and out of traffic just like those “crazy European drivers” that I had been intimated by at first,  and I had to admit to my companion that he had been right.

So, the moral of this story?  Don’t be afraid to drive in a foreign country.  Car rental might be cheaper than other forms of transportation, and it might not be as bad as you think!

Anybody else have any tips for driving in a foreign country? Have you rented a car in a foreign land for your travels, or do you generally stick to public transit?

Shanna Schultz

Hello, my name is Shanna, and I am a detail obsessed travel addict on a mission to make planning your own family trips fun and easy! I offer tools, guides and resources to help you through all of the steps of planning meaningful, memorable family vacations. Come over and check out our Facebook community where I share real tools and resources to help you move the needle on your travel goals. Let's start making those travel dreams real, y'all! Life is too short to spend dreaming...let's start DOING!

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. We rented a car at CDG and drove to and around Normandy. I usually leave the driving to my husband, both in foreign countries and in the U.S., but during our Normandy sojourn, there came a day when my husband was involved in a conference in Caen and I had to drive solo from near Bayeaux to meet him in Caen — roundabouts, highway, etc. I actually found it kind of civilized and when driving in new territory, I liked the fact that roundabouts give you the option to go around again if you miss your exit. (You don’t have to drive 60 miles out of your way like sometimes happens in the U.S.). (I can’t really think of a good reason to drive into Paris. Ever.)

    So, France was OK and I’ve driven around Spain with my son (who did the driving because although he hates driving, he hates the thought of me driving even more). The only place I became completely unhinged was on our trip last year to Ireland where you have the stress of driving in a new country — on the WRONG SIDE.

    1. Shanna

      Yeah, driving on the other side does take some getting used to, but with a little practice, it gets easier 🙂 For the first couple days, I was giving my husband verbal reminders (ok, you are making a left hand turn into the CLOSE lane!) but after a while, they became less necessary.

      I think that a fear of driving in a strange place keeps a lot of people from renting a car (and there is so much more that you can see from a car, because you are able to get off of the normal path of tourists and into some more remote places. For me, it is these out of the way, little known discoveries that make travel worthwhile).

  2. Iris

    An excellent article because it is rare to find information about leadership in general and I would love to know all the systems

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