OXFORD, England -- Little left, big right. That was the advice a fellow journalist gave when she found out I'd be driving in England for the first time.
It became like a mantra.
She was speaking, of course, about turning into the proper lane. If you turn as you would in Canada, you'll quickly find yourself at best on the wrong side of the road, and at worst in oncoming traffic. A left turn in England is similar to a right turn here (except to the left), while executing a right turn means you have to cross the lanes of oncoming traffic (like our left turn).
Before leaving Canada, I thought it would be an adventure, driving down pretty country roads, taking in the scenery, having a good time. The reality was a little trickier.
While the roads are scenic and enjoyable, they're also very narrow, making driving around others stressful at first. The left side of the rented Vauxhall could attest to this point, as it often ended up scraping the many hedgerows, shrubs and tree branches lining those pretty country roads as I tried to avoid hitting oncoming vehicles (usually to the cries of "Pull right! Pull right!" from my passenger).
The seating position is different. The driver sits on the right side where the passenger sits in North American cars. This presents its own unique challenges, such as not having a feel for the position of the curb, where there is one.
While one will eventually get a sense of their place on the road, on very narrow roads brushing up against the greenery is sometimes unavoidable. This isn't a problem on the secondary highways as these are double-lane roads and the lanes are wider.
As for the roundabouts, they're not as hard to navigate as you might think. Knowing which exit to take and being in the proper lane are essential.
The rule for a two-lane round-about is you need to be in the right (or inside) lane until your exit, then you move over to the left and get off. What often happens is that drivers sort of hover around the middle of the round-about. If you do miss your exit, you can just keep going around until you find your way.
If you are planning to drive in England, take the time to look up what the road signs mean, as many of them are completely different than those in Canada.
I didn't, and was often confused about what they were trying to tell me.
And while a GPS (called sat-nav in England) is very helpful, a map is a necessity. I had failed to buy one, thinking the GPS would be good enough. There were many times I was unable to tell even what direction I was driving in, never mind that I didn't know how to get to my destination.
And all it takes is one wrong turn into a railway parking lot to get totally turned around, as the GPS doesn't always give instructions in time.
All in all, driving is a good way to experience the countryside. Just make sure to give yourself plenty of time and plenty of space.
And watch out for the scenery.
ROAD TRIP TIPS
-- Car rental agencies in England will only give cars with standard transmissions to drivers who can prove their proficiency driving a standard.
-- Avoid driving in London, and instead plan to visit villages and smaller cities where the traffic is less intense.
-- For your first few forays on English roads, program your GPS to avoid expressways (M-class highways) and stick to smaller roads.
-- Allow plenty of time to reach your destination.
-- When approaching a round-about with double lanes, your GPS may instruct you to "go right on the roundabout." This does not mean turn "right" in the North American sense. It means enter the roundabout from the right-hand lane.
Check visitbritain.com -- the official site of Britain's national tourism agency -- for travel information, maps, motoring regulations, journey planning, Best of British offers, and more.