5 Unexpected Benefits of Driving in Foreign Countries

My rental car, Hannibal
My rental car, Hannibal



It was probably not a very smart plan.  My itinerary for my first night in Malta:


  1. get to airport
  2. pickup rental car
  3. drive on the opposite side of the road (Malta drives on the left) across the island
  4. get on a ferry
  5. drive to a little seaside town


And it was dark.  And I’d been on a transatlantic flight that had been preceded by an excruciating three-hour car ride with a friend who was

A. hung over and

B. smelled not great.


Oh, and I’m not a great driver (Deer: 2.  Steph:  0).


But it turns out driving on the other side of the road is actually fun!  It took a little while to get my brain to switch, and I had to check myself when parallel parking, but after a couple close calls everything started to click.  And if I’d been too scared to try something new, I would have missed out on some of the best parts of my trip.


Here are some unexpected benefits of driving in foreign countries:



See things like a Local


Most locals don’t see their cities from the tops of double-decker tour buses.  For many parts of the worlds, seeing things like a local means public transportation, walking, and biking.  But there are lots of places where the main way locals get around is by car.  In these places, driving makes the most sense.



Waiting for sheep to cross the road in Iceland
Waiting for sheep to cross the road in Vik, Iceland



Go Remote


Not every location worth visiting is easily accessible by public transit. An isolated beach, a Roman amphitheater in the country, a beautiful midwest American overlook.  Sometimes the best places are the ones no one else can get to.



An empty gladiator school in Capua, Italy
An empty gladiator school in Capua, Italy



Road Trip Perks


Salty snacks. Unexpected roadside attractions.  Going back and forth between Rihanna songs and This American Life episodes.  Road trips are awesome.



A humorous find on the GPS in Malta
A humorous find on the GPS in Malta





On a trip, a car can represent the same thing that it does to a teenager: freedom! No schedules.  No rules.  Go where you want.  Stop where you want, for as long as you want.  There’s no first bus–if you’re an early riser, you can go as early as you want.  Want to catch the sunset?  There’s no last bus to make you miss it.  You can pull over and check out anything that catches your eye.



An unexpected find in Gozo. I still don't know what it is.
An unexpected find in Gozo. I still don’t know what it is.



Doing Something You Never thought You Could


The thought of driving in another country can be intimidating.  You have to go through the rules of the road, get ahold of a rental car, learn local parking etiquette, and stay out of trouble.  Navigating can be quirky even with GPS (hello mystery highway outside of Montreal). But after you’ve done all that, you feel kind of amazing.  Some countries are easier than others, and there are absolutely places I would not attempt driving, but even the easiest places can be exhilarating.



Crossing the border back to New York.
Crossing the border back to New York.





  1. I’m curious what that is in Gozo too. Let me know if you find out what it is. It looks like a shrine to something.

  2. Oh I love your little snapshot of Iceland. I can’t count how many sheep I nearly ran over when I lived there…Oops!

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