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A Few Lessons for Driving in Foreign Lands

Elias Christeas relaxes shoreside with a Range Rover during a trip to Australia.

(Photo: Elias Christeas)

The Mediterranean sparkled, and the smell of cypress trees warmed by the summer sun filled the air as I cruised around the Greek island of Paros on my dual-sport motorcycle.

Find and book a hotel in Paros.

It was paradise. Until an oncoming tour bus entered my lane around a blind cliff-side turn. I avoided disaster by leaning deeper into the curve and not locking the brakes. Otherwise I would have slid right into the bus or right off the cliff, as Greek tarmac is notoriously slick for motorcycles.

Driving overseas on vacation or for work can be very liberating, but you must use common sense and have some basic preparation. Here’s some perspective I have gained that may help you on your way.

In Europe

Europe encompasses more than 40 countries, with 100-plus border crossings and 90 languages spoken. Having a firm grasp of your main destinations is essential and realizing beforehand that road signs will be written in foreign languages will help you arrive in confidence.

Tip: Studying a map and familiarizing yourself with the notion of driving on a city grid, circuitous harbor town or country landscape will help create peace of mind. Know what the names of your destinations look like when written in the native language. Studying self-made flash cards is my favorite way to prepare.

A winding road along the Italy’s picturesque Amalfi Coast. It’s helpful to consult maps before driving in a foreign country.

(Photo: neirfy / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Down Under

Australia has modern amenities and conveniences, yet surprisingly underdeveloped infrastructure. While major cities are easy to navigate, don’t expect to see much outside of them on the two-lane roads that connect the dots.

Find and book a hotel in Sydney.

The lack of human footprints, however, lends itself to pristine natural environments. Brilliantly colored rainbow lorikeets and other exotic wildlife are in abundance, and you can see kangaroos freely crossing the road at any time of day. If you’re lucky, you may even get to take a nap with some, as I did. The Aussie vibe is relaxed and friendly and this island continent offers much to discover.

Tip: In countries like Australia and the UK, the basics are flipped. Our left hand passing lane is their slow lane. Manual transmission vehicles are the dominant type of drivetrain, so you’ll be steering from the right side of the car and shifting with your left hand.

Snoozing with kangaroos

Elias Christeas snoozes with some kangaroos.

(Photo:Elias Christeas)

South of the Border

Mexico is so close to the U.S., but recent headlines may leave travelers feeling trepidatious. Having enjoyed driving and even off-road racing there, I can attest to the overwhelming generosity offered by the locals if you lead with humility and curiosity. “Buenos dias,” “como estas” and “muchas gracias” are your passport to many unexpected opportunities while dining, shopping and beyond.

Find and book a hotel in Mexico City.

Tip: Know the uniform of federal and local police and how to drive to the nearest police station in case of emergency.

Driving in Mexico

The view from Baja California, Mexico. Taking the time to learn a few native phrases will help open doors during your travels.

(Photo: Elias Christeas)

I hope this little guide helps you do like they do when in Rome, especially if that’s where you find yourself.

Have you driven abroad? What do you remember most about the experience?

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