They drive on the wrong side of the road


This is a follow on from my blogs on preparing for a USA Road Trip, but it is equally relevant to anyone going to another country and especially where they drive on the opposite side of the road to what you are used to.

It is very easy when you relax into your trip and get up in the morning, to accidentally start driving on the wrong side of the road and many people even in New Zealand have had accidents and even died by losing concentration and automatically driving on the wrong side of the road because they have been doing it for years at home.

The thing that struck me on my first driving experience in the USA was that the traffic lights are often in the middle of the intersection. In New Zealand they are before the intersection, so I almost stopped in the middle of the road.

One of the things on the top of my preparation list was learn the key elements of the US Road Rules. I had my navigation but it wasn’t going to tell me who had right of way. The rules work really well for you once you understand them.

One that was really interesting is 4-way intersections and we found loads of those. The rule is whoever gets there first has right of way, so you really have to pay attention when you get to them.

Another rule that works really well is that you can turn right at a red light if the way is clear, unless there is a sign saying you can’t at that particular intersection. Make sure you come to a complete stop first, I’m told police are often hiding waiting for people to drive straight through.

A rule that I thought was really good on the Interstates was that if a car was broken down on the side of the road, you have to change lanes to give them space.

Whichever country you go to, its worth spending half an hour to make sure you know the basic road rules. Relax and enjoy but don’t relax too much. I was driving onto a major intersection a couple of weeks ago and the nav said turn sharp left, so I did and found myself facing a one way highway full of traffic coming straight at me. I managed to back out safely, but it reminded me of the importance of staying alert at all times. Having said that, I really enjoyed the road trip and the little bit of preparation beforehand made a big difference.

My 3 Essentials for the US Road Trip


My Thrifty Rental

I’m going to go into more detail continuing from my previous US road trip blogs, but I want to start with the 3 items that were critical to the trip. Actually it should be 4 because the first thing is you can’t do a road trip without a vehicle. I booked an SUV with Thrifty Car Rentals, online. I have to admit some trepidation with this because they were less than half of the price I had been quoted by a number of New Zealand travel agents. I needn’t have worried. These guys were super professional from start to finish and I highly recommend you use them. Even with a queue we were done with the paperwork in about 15 minutes. We were then told to take our pick from a variety of Fords and Jeeps. We chose the Ford Explorer in the picture because it had tinted windows to hide prying eyes from the fact that we had all our luggage on board much of the time.

So back to my list:

  1. Car Navigation. I downloaded USA maps on to my TomTom GO LIVE 820 before we left. For a long trip the cost of renting car nav is probably more than buying one. I didn’t realise I could have also downloaded live services, which would have been awesome and solved some of the problems I had along the way, but nevertheless, our trip would not have been possible without TomTom. One lesson I learned in setting it up was that the file was way too big to go on the device, but when I put a SD Card in the slot it installed so easily I was worried that I had done something wrong. I hadn’t, it just worked. Grateful thanks to TomTom. It guided me to all the places I needed to go (I changed the voice to American, Kiwi and Australian didn’t really cut it with names like Lake Ponchtrain)
  2. My iPhone. I will go into detail in upcoming blogs about all the apps I used on my iPhone and why, largely because there were no single apps that could tell me what I needed to know about attractions, accomodation, food etc. This is great for the development community, but if I was’t a geek, we would have missed out on so much and probably have been dissapointed with our ability to meet our bucket list expectations. Not only the apps, but also the ability to stay in contact with family at home, using a combination of voice and data apps including Facetime, Skype and Voxer.
  3. A USA SIM Card. We spent about 2 hours in New Orleans getting a local SIM Card. Thanks are required to the team at Keep N Touch on Canal Street who were awesome. Our first trek into town was to Riverwalk Mall, thinking it should be easy to get a SIM card but the two mobile shops there could help us, but they only sold mobiles and accessories. Someone in the mall told us to go up Canal and there would a store there which could help us and they were right. The whole team from the store at Keep N Touch rallied around us for a $50 prepay card from H2O for my iPhone. First they had to take a micro SIM out of one of their phones to see if my phone was locked, then set up an account for me, then help me get it working. $50 got me unlimited calls throughout the USA, unlimited text messaging throughout the USA and 2GB of data! It worked pretty much flawlessly everywhere we went, while my wife’s Vodafone mobile had coverage less than half of the time.

I’m going to write a lot more about mobile and location based apps in upcoming blogs, but basically these were the essential elements without which we would not have enjoyed our trip half as much and you would do well to do the same as we did. The other item I will mention is that we have a service on our Orcon telephone and Internet account (I haven’t had a good run with them, but this one feature was great) giving us free calls to the USA for up to an hour at a time including US mobiles. Once we had the SIM set up, our children were able to call us on mobile, within the constraints of the time zones and we used it a lot.