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Day 266: Some Thoughts on Driving in Australia and Abroad

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ford focusOn Monday I was given a nice little gift: A new Ford Focus was dropped off at my front door with a full tank of gas and the ability to go wherever I want for an entire week!

SWEET!

So, I’ve been driving around town, going to the shops, picking Pat up from the station, going cruising to places like Palm Beach and Leichhardt and wherever else I have had the desire to go. Driving is such a freeing experience, and I do miss it at times being here in Australia and being a little on the poor side (I couldn’t afford a car full-time here in Oz – no way). Having grown up in a place where public transport is minimal, where most people have a car at age 16 and where I have actually been behind the wheel since the age of 15, driving is a part of grown-up life that I have chosen to bypass in order to save money for the ultimate goal of travel, not to mention the ultimate flexibility also for the same purpose.

Having said that, there are a few things that have crossed my mind so far this week, both about driving here in Australia and also overseas.

Universal Driving Rules?

As much as I love the freeing nature of driving, there are many reasons why I choose not to do it in many parts of the world beyond the money factor. For one, I feel like the rules of driving should be universal – like you should be able to take your driving knowledge that you learned from your high school course and then effortlessly drive at any location around the world. However, I don’t believe this is so. In Australia, you not only drive on the opposite side of the road, but you also don’t have that right turn on red rule we have the USA (or left turn on red Down Under). In fact, this is only legal WHEN there is a sign telling you so, but what happens when you come to a stoplight and there is no sign?

I’ve also been doing lots of driving here on the North Shore and finding lots of little confusing streets, lane changes, lane merges and the like that I only know part of because I ride with Pat often. At the stoplights heading into the Wahroonga town center area (near the station), there are two lanes of traffic at the stoplight, but on the opposite side of the road there is only a single lane of entry. To make it more interesting, the right lane can only turn right at certain times of the day. In other times, both lanes if going straight have to merge into one lane basically in the intersection…. which is obviously not cool… especially since it is not marked that way. UGH.

In America, I feel like driving is just much more straightforward with clear lane markings and standard rules. Other parts of the world, like Italy or Turkey or Kyrgyzstan… not so much. I have no desire to deal with the headache that is driving in those destinations, not even in the slightest.

Other drawbacks of driving:

Big City Driving Sucks

I highly recommend a road trip in Australia, but I recommend those on the outskirts of big cities in the more rural parts of the country (which is basically anywhere outside of the major cities). I had no problems driving the east coast of Australia starting up in Cairns, but when it got to… oh… Brisbane, I was a little flustered, and in Sydney city my knuckles were white. I am much too anxious to deal with big city driving. However, the suburbs of big cities (like Sydney) are also a little bit of a nightmare to get around, which I have discovered this past week.

I guess I’ve always been this way. Whenever I headed up to Chicago by car, I was not a happy camper, and well I don’t understand Italian or European driving rules on those crazy narrow lanes where Vespas whip in and around wherever they please.

Roundabouts Suck

Perhaps I’m just used to the stop and start logic of a stop sign? I’m always apprehensive that the person before me forgot to signal properly, or that the next lane might not pay attention and go while I’m on the roundabout. Just a little annoying I do think so.

Traffic Sucks

This goes along with big city driving. The other day I went cruising with Nicole down to the Royal National Park, but I had to pick her up from Leichhardt On the way to Leichhardt it only took me about 40 minutes, but on the way home, that same distance took me 1.5 hours! Ugh, traffic you kill me!

Parking Sucks

Parking in big cities is a nightmare because of the rules, the lack of spaces and the price you have to sometimes pay. I have found that the price for parking stretches well out into some of the suburbs and if you ever want to park near a beach. Just the other day, I drove up to Palm Beach and stopped off at the beaches along the drive. To park at the Newport Beach, it was a $4.00 payment for the first hour and $2.40 for every hour after that during the week. The parking lot had like 100 empty spaces! The parking at Bondi Beach is more like double that.

If you’re looking to park I the city of Sydney, some parking decks will run you about $30 per day, sometimes more depending on the parking deck and the location in the city. And, airport parking is also a little bit of a nightmare with long-term parking at the Sydney Airport coming in at around $122 for a week while Edinburgh airport parking, Liverpool airport parking, and Glasgow airport parking, for example, come in at half that rate, even when converted from the pound. Sydney, you kill me!

Driving is Good Sometimes

I’ll say it again… I love driving, and I do miss it dearly at times. Having the car this week has been a totally freeing experience for both Pat and I as it seems like we have our own lives again instead of being stuck in our out-of-the-way temporary home situation. Now, I get to spend extra time with him in the car as I drive him to and from the station, as we make decisions to go to dinner or to the shops without wondering if there will be transportation conflicts.

On the other hand, I often don’t drive – anywhere in the world – not only for the money saving ability, but also for the peace of mind I get from not having to simply drive!

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15 Responses to Day 266: Some Thoughts on Driving in Australia and Abroad

  1. Lauren September 25, 2011 at 10:54 pm #

    I feel you on the upside-down nature of driving in Australia – my boyfriend is an Aussie (I’m from Indiana), and we lived with his parents for a year in Newcastle. His mom is a drive tester for the RTA, which made the amount of times I walked to the driver’s side as a passenger extra embarrassing.

    • Brooke October 2, 2011 at 11:17 am #

      Haha I still walk to the wrong side occasionally 🙂

  2. Shannon September 26, 2011 at 12:53 am #

    Oh, God. I thought I missed driving when I first moved overseas, but when my host family in France presented me with my little (manual!) Volkswagen Gulf for the duration of my stay, it turned out to be the biggest challenge of au pairing.

    I’m not sure if it was worse being pointed at and mocked by the townspeople or embarrassing the kids I was taking care of, but yeah – roundabouts DO suck.

    • Brooke October 2, 2011 at 11:17 am #

      That sounds like a total nightmare!

  3. Daniel W September 26, 2011 at 1:52 am #

    I have just come back from a week in San Francisco and can’t believe how an entire nation of car lovers can tolerate those pesky intersections. Literally every minute we had to stop for yet another red light. They must be the most stupid invention I have ever seen. You are guaranteed to waste fuel accelerating and then braking and it adds so much time to a journey!
    It’s okay to turn right through a red? sometimes? only when you see the sign? what sign? the one I just drove past, doh!

    Bliss – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yHTpcyoJdKI&feature=related

    Daniel.

  4. Alouise September 26, 2011 at 6:54 am #

    I already find roundabouts confusing at home, I can’t imagine driving one in Australia where the traffic goes in the opposite direction than what I’m used to.

  5. Audrey September 26, 2011 at 8:03 am #

    Universal rules would make it so much easier! I recently did a road trip around eastern Canada and the driving rules varied from one province to the next!

  6. The Expat wife September 26, 2011 at 12:08 pm #

    We are currently in Melbourne and I am too scared to drive in the city here! They have weird city traffic light rules..compared to Adelaide and Perth anyway

    • Brooke October 2, 2011 at 11:18 am #

      Yes, they do have some really weird rules… the hook turn I believe. ugh

  7. Shereen September 27, 2011 at 3:26 am #

    Sometimes driving at HOME (US) can be confusing, too. When we travel and rent a car, I’m the one that drives, because Eric does poorly if he doesn’t know where he’s going or what he’s doing. I think my favorite place to drive was actually in Ecuador (despite the lack of street signs and/or maps). You use your turn signal to indicate that you ARE getting in the lane…and people will slow down enough to let you merge. You also use your turn signal on the highway to let someone behind you know it’s safe to pass you. And while they DO have those crazy roundabouts that are scary to get in and out of, I find that everyone there knows how to just go forward at a reasonable speed…something Americans seem to have trouble doing, even on the way to work.

    • Brooke October 2, 2011 at 11:20 am #

      Ooh yes I know what you’re talking about. In the US it can be more stop-start and less fluid.

  8. Rebecca September 27, 2011 at 4:59 am #

    I loved my time with no car in New Zealand and Australia. It made me value my time more when I did have one! Plus, I knew this was not going to be forever and I was coming home, back to a driving culture. If I ever missed it, I would just flashback to my previous job where I had a daily commute of 12 miles/1 hour drive and my “car/homesickness” would disappear instantly!

    Haha, I had some friends from NZ come and visit me and they thought we were joking that we were allowed to “turn right on red”. They were shocked that this fact was true!

    • Brooke October 2, 2011 at 11:20 am #

      12 miles in 1 hour… NUTS!

  9. Andy March 10, 2013 at 11:53 am #

    Yeah I agree. Driving in the US (and Canada) is so much easier and more simple.

    I hate roundabouts too, and all those ‘unsaid’ rules. Do Aussies drive European too:) ? With that I mean do they drive stick or automatic?

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