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Nervous American driving in AU

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Mar 31st, 2016, 05:07 AM
  #1
cat
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Nervous American driving in AU

Hello. Hubby and I are planning a long dreamed of trip to AU this October for 3 weeks. We will fly in to Sydney and spend 5-7 days. We then want to head north to GBR, and then eventually end up in Melbourne. Trying to limit the number of internal flights to 2, if possible. We are both big fans of the extended road trip and have done this in many places around the world. However, we are both apprehensive about driving on the other side of the road. The road trip from Sydney to Brisbane sounds VERY enticing with the ability to take it slow and visit beach towns like Byron Bay. We are well aware of the distance and would probably overnight in 2 places. When I read about driving on the left and try to visualize doing it, it starts to boggle my mind. I do a lot of driving in the US and I'm afraid my brain is hardwired at this point for driving on the right. I've read about the roundabouts, animals in the road, drifting to the wrong side of the road etc., horrible tourist accidents etc. Looking for comments from US travelers who were hesitant but opted for driving in AU. Any personal experiences or tips are much appreciated. Don't want to make a big mistake planning for a long road trip that may end up making us miserable, or worse.

If we do the drive Sydney to Brisbane, we will probably spend a few days in Brisbane then fly to Hamilton Island to do some sailing in the Whitsundays and access the GBR from there. After that, fly to Melborne and spend the last week in that area. Thinking again about driving GOR or maybe visiting Adelaide and KI. We love cities, but also love beautiful beaches, natural vistas and definitely would love to see as much wildlife in natural habitat as possible, which is why KI seems alluring. We tend to be slow travelers that like to spend some time in different areas and factor in time for rest and relaxation. Any and all comments appreciated. Thank you.
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Mar 31st, 2016, 06:59 AM
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I'm an American who hesitantly learned to drive on the left while visiting NZ and then again when living in Indonesia and Australia.

My advice - don't bother with a car in the cities - Australia generally has very good train and bus transport.

Rent from a location on the outskirts of the CBD - cities, particularly large ones, can be confusing enough as it is, let alone learning to drive on the left in the middle of one where there are trams and trains to negotiate as well.

Roundabouts - easy as pie. They used to terrify me too, but when everyone follows the rules they work really well.

This video might help:
https://rsc.wa.gov.au/Road-Rules-Penalties/Roundabouts

All the controls will be on the opposite side of the car, so it quite easy to remember to stay left, especially when following other cars.

The passenger might find him/herself looking up for the rearview mirror which won't be there.

No turns on red. Red means red unless there's a turn arrow or a slip road with a yield sign (and you'll be turning left instead of right, so get that whole 'turn right on red' thing out of your head right now, because that just won't fly when you're driving on the left!

Once you get over the initial fear, the biggest drama will be turning on the window wipers instead of the turn indicators because you expect them to be on the other side of the steering wheel. And in the scheme of things, that's pretty darn minor. And remembering that the slow lane is the left, the passing lane the right, but you'll catch on to that pretty quickly.

Suggest you do a bit of research on Australian road rules before you go and familiarize yourself with the traffic signs as well.

Then go and have fun.
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Mar 31st, 2016, 08:56 AM
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It's just driving. And it's semi-natural once your seated behind the wheel on the other side of the car. I've done this on multiple occasions and I never lived in a country that drives on the wrong side of the road.

You're going to need a car around Sydney if you want to day trip to the Blue Mountains or Canberra or a coastal town. No point in taking a slow train to Katoomba for 2.5 hours when you can drive it in less than 2. Similarly, you would need a car for sites around Melbourne but not in the city itself.

One issue you're going to have is with a drop charge - that could be high if you rent in Sydney and drop the car in Brisvegas. Check into it.

And yeah, the wipers/turn signal issue will bite you about 2-3 times a day.
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Mar 31st, 2016, 09:28 AM
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I agree with the previous posts. It feels strange at first to drive on the left but you will quickly get used to it. Be sure to reserve an automatic transmission car because you don't need the additional learning curve of shifting with your left hand (though I think that's kind of fun). Ask your passenger to remind you to stay on the left if you pull out onto an empty road. Other than that, no worries!
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Mar 31st, 2016, 09:30 AM
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Australian roads and highways are pretty good - usually 3 lanes wide each way and well signed posted for exits. Compared with NZ (where I live) the roads are great. You can flick into 'cruise mode' and let the car just move along. The Bruce Highway would be an awesome road trip from Brisbane to Cairns. A GPS will help.
There are a lot of toll roads in the Brisbane area so get a rental with a built in toll track device. Then all the tolls are added to your credit card rather than having to set up an online pass thing in advance or buy a tag for your car. Too much holiday hassle.
We did the GOR trip years ago and it was great. The worst bit driving wise was the last few kms in the CBD to find our hotel in Melbourne.
Roundabouts rely on a quick assessment of the other traffic and then moving quickly into the flow of it all. Don't be too hesitant.
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Mar 31st, 2016, 10:32 PM
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cat, being an Aussie and having had to face the opposite situation lots of times, let me say you will be fine!
Several very good tips above, hire an auto (even if you normally drive a manual) as I agree with aprillilacs - one less thing to worry about.
For the same reason, try and spring for a GPS - you could easily survive without it in Australia but once again its one more thing to help you de-stress in urban areas.
Roundabouts are no problem, just go left ! Get your passenger to be a spotter for you - the trickiest part I found is exiting from somewhere or turning where there aren't any cars to follow, that's when you tend to revert to your "usual" side of the road.
Australia is a great country to road trip in, you will enjoy it!
Have a great time
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Apr 1st, 2016, 03:59 AM
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cat
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A big thank you to everyone for their insightful and encouraging comments!! This has definitely helped to ease my fears. People do it all the time, right? I probably need to stop thinking about it so much. I must say that I would feel I had cheated myself if we didn't do at least part of this trip on the road. One last question, if we do the Sydney-Brisbane leg by car, any suggestions for a way to pick up the car somewhere outside of Sydney so, as stated, I'm not actually driving on the left for the first time in CBD? That would probably be overload. Thanks again!
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Apr 1st, 2016, 10:15 AM
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You do realize that if you get the car in Sydney, you'll be following hundreds of other drivers and that's all you have to do - no real thinking about being on the wrong side of the road.

You can hop a cityrail train to some location outside the center of Sydney to pick up the vehicle. Considering you'll be going north, you do NOT want to go toward the airport or beaches (all east) to pick up the rental.
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Apr 1st, 2016, 03:40 PM
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Most of the major rental firms are in William Street, from where it is extremely easy to get onto the freeway going north.

As Big Russ says, you will be in a car set up to drive on the left, following everyone else doing just that, so it would take some determination to turn into oncoming traffic.

Use the Google maps facility to see how easy it is.

OTOH, you could take a train to Artarmon or Hornsby & collect a car there if you wanted to have a drive around a few suburban streets to get the feel of the vehicle etc.

A quick look shows Thrifty, Budget, Europcar & Avis in Artarmon. You would probably be best to get a taxi from St Leonards railway station ( because it's close to Royal North Shore Hospital & will likely have lots of taxis coming & going) - or just get one from your hotel. Depending on time & day - probably about $35.

Avis has an outlet at the Marriott Sydney Harbour (30 Pitt) street & from there you need only make one left hand turn to Bridge street & keep going to get onto the Harbour Bridge & the road north.

There are lots of options - I suppose it comes down to which company is going to give you the best rate to drop off interstate - and your own decision about where you want to start.

Personally, I'd rent in William street, go through the tunnel & pull off the highway when I got to Roseville, Gordon or somewhere like that if I wanted to better orientate myself & have a little break.

There is a block of shops opposite Roseville railway station with coffee shops etc ( same at Gordon, I think).

Are you going to be the primary driver? I ask because we often see posts from nervous people who aren't going to be driving much if at all & it occurs to me that they may be over -thinking & stressing about something that is of little or no concern to the one who will doing the driving. Not suggesting this is the case here at all - just an observation. From someone who has driven in Europe & the US solo & with passengers.

I have been moved to think an essential aid to drivers with passengers may be a roll of duct tape at times
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Apr 3rd, 2016, 07:49 PM
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Just for my ten cents worth -BigRuss and Bokhara2 make very good points about driving in the CBD. Yes, I absolutely understand the feelings of terror contemplating driving out of a city for your first experience but based on my own experience it IS actually easier. You are following everyone else, no turning to be done etc etc as above. Secondly, the suggestion of pulling off once out of the Sydney for a breather and further orientation is a good one.
Just make sure you know where the indicators are, your mirrors and seat are adjusted and you can read the speedo - that's all you really need to get going if it's not dark and not raining!
Programme the GPS in the car park and you should be set.

My DH and I once spent half an hour attempting to get out of the car park near Gatwick in a rental - everything was on the 'right' side for us but it was a hybrid car. We had had no experience with a car whose engine kept stopping when we braked and the red park light kept coming on so we thought we were driving with the parking brake on! It turned out because we were driving so slowly (in circles around the car park) the car thought we were trying to park and it was offering us the 'auto park' option - far too much technology for this old driver
Then, when we finally made it out on to the road, despite our best efforts, we couldn't make the GPS volume loud enough to be heard over the radio - a funny story now but not so amusing at the time
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Apr 4th, 2016, 03:03 AM
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Just one tip from me - we are Australians but have driven many times in the US and Europe. The passenger needs to be your second set of eyes and every time you pull on to the road, the passenger says "keep left, keep left". It's easy to pull on to the wrong side of the road (the side that is natural to you) when there is no traffic. As others have said, in traffic you just follow everyone else.

Safe travels.

Kay
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Apr 4th, 2016, 03:08 AM
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Another thought - the roads in Australia are not going to be as good as what you are used to in America. That will definitely mean slower travel times, sometimes getting stuck behind slow vehicles etc. This applies to the main highways as well as lesser roads. To give you an idea, check distance times on Google Maps and add at least another hour. Better to see a smaller area well than be sitting in the car all day, every day.

Kay
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Apr 4th, 2016, 04:25 AM
  #13
cat
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Thanks again to everyone for all the tips and advice. It really is what I needed to get me over the trepidation. Bokhara2, I will definitely check out the Google maps facility you mentioned. Also, yes, I always tend to be the main driver on our trips. My husband will drive certain segments, but generally speaking, he's not good driving long distances. I enjoy driving more than he does and I tend not to be a very good passenger He is a much better and more patient navigator than I am, so we have pretty much found our roles with respect to driving in foreign countries. I like ozgirl's idea of getting out onto the road and then pulling off somewhere close by to get our bearings and that is probably what we will do.

One more question for those of you from OZ or who have traveled there extensively: If you had to choose a road trip in OZ, would it be 1. Sydney to Brisbane with the main objective of spending time at beaches and particularly Byron Bay, or 2. Adelaide to Melbourne along the GOR? On either trip we would probably overnight in 2 places along the way. Thanks again all!
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Apr 4th, 2016, 05:58 AM
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Most of our long distance driving was in WA and SA, so I can't compare the two routes that you mention.

We did however make the drive along the GOR from Melbourne-Port Campbell and back.

On a separate trip we made a driving loop from Adelaide to the Limestone Coast and back, which comprises a section of the Adelaide-Melbourne route.

Trip reports here if it helps, first one is quite dated, second more recent:

http://www.fodors.com/community/aust...t-wild-tas.cfm

http://www.fodors.com/community/aust...tone-coast.cfm

Now if you're looking for an interesting road trip - take a look at Adelaide-Coober Pedy and return That was an adventure.

Whatever you decide, I'm sure you'll love Australia.
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Apr 5th, 2016, 10:36 PM
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Hi, you would probably have better weather on the Sydney to Brisbane trip than down south. October in Victoria/SA could be OK or could be wet and windy, impossible to tell. The further north you are, the better the weather (generally). Either trip would be good, with great scenery but if I had to choose I'd do Sydney to Brisbane. Also, each to their own, but we don't like Byron Bay and wouldn't return when there are lots of other gorgeous places along the way.

If you drive from Melbourne down to the Great Ocean Road, see if you can make time to double back via Halls Gap and the Grampians National Park. You are almost guaranteed to see wildlife - always kangaroos about and often emus. A koala if you are lucky, not as many as there used to be in the area. Halls Gap has lots of accommodation. Ballarat (heading back to Melbourne on the inland road) has beautiful gold rush era architecture.

Kay
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Apr 15th, 2016, 12:12 AM
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Hi, as they say in Oz, you'll be right mate. Coming from the Netherlands (right side driving) we arrived in Australia, bought ourselves a 28 ft. motorhome and drove off. Did a trip of 120,000 kilometers, no problem.
But one remark, do not believe that Australian Highways are in general 3 lanes wide. Most of them are 1 lane in each direction, some are still gravel and some are 1 lane only. Just in and out of big cities you will find multiple lane (toll)highways.
I wonder if Tasmangirl is still following this posting: how much of Highway 1 is multiple lane?
But as said before, follow the traffic and you'll be right. The only times you might make a mistake is driving our of a roadside parking area or service station onto a road where there is no traffic at all. Most times your co-pilot will warn you, as mine did a couple of times.
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Apr 15th, 2016, 02:56 PM
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We've driven in North America many times and developed the habit of reminding each other every morning that WE WERE DRIVING ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD! The only lapse was when I did a U-turn and automatically went to the left hand side of the road. I've often thought that hire cars should come with a big "T' (for tourist) similar to "L" plates used by a learner driver.
Make sure your hire car has GPS and E-tag (for toll roads) - both will make life easier.
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Apr 22nd, 2016, 11:45 PM
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How can one speak about the wrong side of the road where you drive on the only right side of the road. The oter side, that's tru, but still the right side ;-)
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Apr 23rd, 2016, 06:58 PM
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good info - thanks all
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Apr 26th, 2016, 07:01 PM
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This tip helped me during the decades I lived in the USA and travelled to Australia. In both countries, the steering wheel is closest to the centre of the road.

The most dangerous situations, and why accidents have occurred involving American and European drivers, are usually on deserted roads where there is no other traffic to remind you which side to drive.

One more thing - I miss driving in the USA. The drivers are more polite, they know how to get on and off freeways, and the roads are heaps better. So be prepared for idiot drivers around you. (Running and
ducking for cover...)
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