Prior to our trip to Australia last year, neither my husband nor myself had driven on the opposite side of the road. Sure, we had been to the United Kingdom and Ireland in the past, but those trips had been conducted using entirely public transportation, thus allowing us to go about our business without worrying about such bothersome things as driving.
Australia, however, was different. We were staying in a lovely little town called Palm Cove, about 30 minutes from the Cairns airport. While it would have been possible to arrange transport from the airport, there wasn’t much of a public transport system apart from the odd bus in Far North Queensland and we really did want the freedom that came with having a car rather than needing to arrange a tour to take us to all our choice destinations.
What I hadn’t counted on, however, was how utterly exhausted we would both be upon arrival. I had gone to work early the day of my flight so as to get off in time to go to the airport without taking the day off. From there, we drove all the way to Los Angeles (about 2 hours from our home) to meet my husband’s parents at their place. They were taking us to the airport. From their house, we went to the airport where we checked in a little early. Following what is to be expected at LAX, our flight was of course delayed by several hours and it was nearly 2am when we finally boarded the plane. Then there was a 14 hour flight to Brisbane, several hours layover, followed by the flight to Cairns.
By the time we stood at the car rental counter in Cairns, I was so delirious I was hallucinating. I’m surprised the guys at the rental car place were so keen to hand the vehicle over to us, ragged looking as we were.
After all of that, we were handed the keys and sent off on our way-to drive for 30 minutes in a new country. On the opposite side of the road.
Those first few minutes in the car were full of bewilderment and fright.
What had we gotten ourselves into?
I was happy my darling husband had stepped up into the role of driver on this occasion, because in my state of delirium I really don’t think I had it in me. He does better on no sleep than I do.
The first challenge was to find our way out of the parking lot. Though that may seem like an everyday mundane task, I can assure you it was quite a daunting endeavor for two sleep deprived individuals used to driving on the other side of the road.
The thing about switching sides of the road -and the car- when driving is that it is both startlingly similar and unnervingly different than you are used to all at the same time. The basic operations of the car remain the same. Your gas and brake pedals are the same (thankfully), and the basic functions of the car are the same. It’s just that you are used to being on one side of the car with your passenger side opposite you, and when you switch driving sides, that changes. It messes with your spacial awareness. It becomes difficult to accurately place your vehicle between the lines of the road until you get used to it. I can tell you, after 30+ hours without sleep, it wasn’t easy to get used to it.
My poor husband held onto the steering wheel with white knuckles while I shrieked things such as, “WATCH OUT!” and “AAAAAHHHH!! WE’RE GOING TO DIE!!!”
Another difficult thing when driving on the other side of the road for the first time is to remember which way to look at intersections and roundabouts. Driving is such an automatic thing for so many of us that it becomes difficult to break habits, such as automatically looking left at an intersection when you should be looking right.
Thankfully, we had our GPS device courtesy of the rental car company and we somehow managed to make it all the way to our hotel unscathed.
I wasn’t brave enough to attempt driving until our third day in town, by which time I had grown a little more accustomed to the rules of the road around there.
I will say this: It was amazing to have a car while we were in Far North Queensland. It provided us with an incredible freedom and we were able to explore a lot of places we might otherwise have missed. It also allowed us to do things like stock up on groceries and snacks, which made for a pleasantly relaxing trip.
Here are some videos of our experience:
When we first arrived:
The first drive:
I finally make my attempt:
Have you ever driven on the opposite side of the road? I would love to hear your stories.
Read more about Tropical North Queensland: One Week in Tropical North Queensland: A Travel Guide