Before heading out on an international road trip, use these tips to prepare for your adventure and you’ll experience everything a foreign country has to offer.
Planes, trains and busses can get you almost anywhere these days. They can’t, however, get you to certain reaches of the Kazakh steppe or the coast of Montenegro. Destinations like these are only possible to explore with your own, trusty wheels.
The keys to a successful international road trip are the right kind of preparation, flexibility and unwavering patience. The rewards are unfiltered access to countrysides, freedom from schedules and routes, and experiences of cultures and civilizations you can’t get anywhere else.
Read our short guide on what you’ll need to learn how to plan an international road trip.
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Plan Your Road Trip Loosely
Half the fun of an international road trip is knowing that you can take a side trip without having to be somewhere on time. Pick a starting point and an end destination, but allow yourself to meander, explore and see remarkable sights. Pinpoint some can’t-miss landmarks for your drive, but also explore to find some locations that aren’t on any maps. National Geographic has a great list of some beautiful road trip destinations to add to your own list.
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Rental cars are always an option, but the cost can get pretty steep if you’re going on an extended road trip. Additionally, things will get a little awkward if the car winds up at the bottom of a river in Laos when you’re trying to float it across on a fishing boat. Don’t rule out purchasing a used car on the cheap. Websites like AutoTrader make this possible from afar and you might even be able to recoup some of the cost by reselling at the end of the trip. Just be sure that you look into the implications of trying to do that in a new country, as bringing an automobile into a country and leaving it there is importing and you don’t want to get tracked down for failing to file the right form.
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Be ready to wait at border crossings. Read up on which border crossings are most intense (and which are impossible, such as Turkey to Armenia). A border official can be a welcoming presence or make you sit around for days. You should also bring a phrasebook and a map. Pantomiming may work in some situations, but you want to be able to get your basic point across in case of an emergency, such as running out of gas, losing your wallet or getting lost on your road trip. Double check the State Department‘s website while planning your trip to avoid potential issues.
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Meet the Locals
A guidebook will tell you where the visitors go, but it’s got nothing on the locals. Why pick up a book when a local bait and tackle shop owner could tell you the secret spot where he’s been fishing for the past 35 years. Make your best efforts to communicate with the people that you meet, and they’ll likely show you some of that good old-fashioned hospitality. Spotted by Locals is a cool service that primarily specializes in European cities, and is a trip planning point for finding places and events that are off the beaten path.
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Know the Rules of the Road
One of the most important steps in international road trip planning is learning the laws of the land. Make sure to pick up an international driver’s license. You can do that for a small fee via AAA, either in person or through the mail. Additionally, make sure you’re up on local traffic laws, as they might extend beyond just driving on the other side of the road. In Russia, for example, there’s a police checkpoint at the entrance and exit of nearly every town. If the police signal you to stop and you don’t, they’re legally authorized to fire their guns at your car.
The import/export mistake comes into play here as well. Consider keeping a list of what you’ve got in your luggage, as certain items, such as prescription drugs, have different laws around them in different countries.
Finally, roads in other countries can be crazy, so be prepared to alter how you drive. Driving through the alleys of Istanbul while trying to find your hostel and avoiding fearless pedestrians can make driving through taxi-filled Manhattan feel like a joke. Be vigilant on the road and know when to be mindful of carjacking. As a general rule, don’t leave anything in your car overnight that you want to see there in the morning. Lastly, bring a notebook. You are guaranteed to run into stories that you won’t want to forget.