Driving Abroad: Tips and Anecdotes

Posted on January 22, 2010 by

Whether we’re backpacking or vacationing, renting a car when travelling is always a thrilling experience for us – my partner loves the excitement of driving in foreign land while I enjoy navigating unfamiliar streets. Adapting to the local drivers’ habits (like cutting 5 lanes at a time in Yogjakarta) is always part of the fun!

From renting an open-roofed jeep in Zanzibar to driving across Turkey, it’s always a different experience and each time, we learn a little something about the country. Having driven in 4 different continents, each with completely different rules and regulations, here’s a look at our personal experiences.

Driving in Southeast Asia

Traffic in Southeast Asia can be chaotic and tricky to maneuver in – but on the up side, it’s very cheap and easy to rent a car especially in Thailand and Indonesia. The first time I drove in Phuket, Thailand, at the age of 18 – they didn’t even check my driver’s license! Renting a skipper is definitely the best way to get around messy traffic. But on our jeep, we could beach-hop and drive inland into the jungle. Depending on your bargaining skills, you can get a jeep at only US$10 per day.


In Yogjakarta, Indonesia, we car pooled with a German couple whom we befriended at the hostel – which saved us money and got ourselves new travelling mates. While Alberto was doing his stunt act of cutting 5 lanes at  a time, we were stopped by a traffic police. We started explaining how we were starving, looking for a place to ‘makan’ (eat). Soon enough, the officer was directing us to the best restaurant in town.

Read about our harrowing drive along the mountainous road to Dieng Plateau.

Driving in Australia

Australian drivers are pretty much obedient drivers who go by the rule. The only thing to take note is when driving along the highways, where chances of a kangaroo jumping out of nowhere are high, especially at night. Renting a small KIA cost us approximately US$60 per day.

In such a small city like Darwin, driving is pleasant and easy – it’s also a great tool to drive to the outskirts, especially to the mangrove swamps lining the bay. The Great Ocean Road in Melbourne is a perfect spot to drive with stunning views and a smooth ride. Meandering along the coast, you could stop to observe a koala bear or catch some surfs.

Driving in Mexico

While we didn’t get to drive much during our recent jaunt in South and Central America, we did rent a car to drive in the Yucatan Peninsula, from Tulum to Playa del Carmen and finally Cancún. An awesome ride it was, passing through beach towns and taco stands for a bite.

We were there during the off-peak season, so car rental prices were down as well. A small-sized car was rented out at around US$30 a day. Parking was always easy, with the beach towns often widely spaced out. Beach access points are often located by public car parks.

Driving in Zanzibar, East Africa

P1020683 One of our best driving experiences was on the island of Zanzibar, Tanzania. After our volunteering stint in Tanzania, we whizzed off to Zanzibar for a week of beach-bumming. Zanzibar is a gorgeous setting for some smoothing driving; in fact, driving is the best way to get around since public dala-dalas only leave from Stone Town at particular hours. There are also no frequent transport from one beach town to another, so driving allowed us to see different towns and stumble upon quiet spots.

While driving along the main road, we saw an officer by the sidewalk with his hand stretched, waving for us to stop. Alberto, worried he might be caught for speeding, stopped in front of him. ‘Stone Town?’ He asked. To our surprise, he was actually hitching a ride along with two other friends, and of course we said yes. It turned out to be a hilarious experience, we exchanged conversations with our chatty and humorous hitchhikers.


For one week of jeep rental, we paid approximately US$25 per day.

Driving in Europe

We’ve had most experience driving in Europe so far – from the Southern tip to the Northern shores of Spain, around Portugal, England and Greece. One of my most memorable road trips was driving across Turkey; crossing from Asia to Europe was definitely an experience.

Driving in Spain

While living in London, we managed to nab several awesome offers especially one to Greece – for airfare and a week’s worth of resort accommodation and car rental included, we paid GBP150 (US$250) each! Vacation packages like these sometimes help save pennies, especially if you are travelling in Europe.


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About Nellie Huang

Nellie Huang is a professional travel writer and blogger with a special interest in off-grid destinations and adventure travel. Her mission is to visit every country in the world. In her quest, she's climbed an active volcano in Iceland, swam with sealions in the Galapagos, built a school in Tanzania, waddled with penguins in Antarctica, crossed into North Korea and drank beer in Palestine.

11 Responses to “Driving Abroad: Tips and Anecdotes”

  1. Andy Jarosz January 22, 2010 2:39 pm #

    Great post Nellie. Like you, I enjoy the thrill of driving in new countries. We hired a car in Syria last year and I loved the fact that there were no rules (that I could make out). You just take car of what's in front of you, and everyone else does the same. And use the horn. A lot. It seems to work, although adjusting to UK driving again took some time.
    It was especially fun in the north of the country when we strayed off the main roads and the signs were Arabic only. My wife can read a bit of Arabic, but I had to drive very slowly past the signs to give her a fighting chance of making sense of them before they were behind us. We also met some wonderful characters and picked up friendly Syrian hitch-hikers. A good way to experience a country at close quarters.

  2. Travel Blogs January 23, 2010 9:30 pm #

    Love this article, so original! Just came back from a roadtrip in Australia and you forgot to mention how slowww people drive. They hardly ever make it to the speed limits..

  3. Brian Peters January 24, 2010 7:26 pm #

    I heard alot about driving in AUS and the kangaroos hopping out in front you, especially at night. Not cool.

    Has travel insurance been part of the rental agreement, or do you depend on your own in case you have an accident or a medical situation?

    • admin February 1, 2010 5:49 pm #

      Well we haven’t had any accident or medical situation before (thank god) – but travel insurance is usually covered in the rental agreement, at least in official rental companies.


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