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Driving as a solo female traveler in a non-English-speaking country??

Driving as a solo female traveler in a non-English-speaking country??

Old May 31st, 2009, 05:07 AM
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Driving as a solo female traveler in a non-English-speaking country??

I consider myself an experienced traveler. I've taken solo trips depending on trains, subways, and buses in Japan and in multiple places in Europe. And I loved my three-week solo driving vacation in Ireland.

What I've never done, and find I'm intimidated about doing, is rent a car for a solo driving vacation in a country where I don't speak or read the language. I've never rented a car in such places with friends, either, which could be why I find the idea scarier than renting a car in the UK or Ireland. So many places I'd like to see -- Normandy, Alsace/Lorraine, the hill towns of Italy, the small towns that I love visiting everywhere -- feel "off limits" or at least harder to get to if I can't drive.

I'd love to hear comments about the experience of solo travel by car in non-English-speaking Europe, especially from women.
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Old May 31st, 2009, 05:54 AM
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I have driven in most European countries, many times by myself.. but I don't foresee any particular problems, especially since you can call 112 in English from a cell phone for any serious problem.

i definitely WOULD carry a cell phone.. and your rental car agency will also have a number in case of emergency or road repair.

I tend to find my accomodations earlier in the day, retire early and get up earlier to not put myself into the dark evening when alone.

But since you seem to have traveled a lot alone already, enjoy your journey. And a car some places can give you so much more spontaneity if you are going around the less traveled routes.
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Old May 31st, 2009, 06:00 AM
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Good maps and a GPS will help. I wouldn't drive in Europe again without a GPS and I've driven thousands of kilometers over the years
before using one the first time last summer.
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Old May 31st, 2009, 07:40 AM
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So many of your problems driving will be eliminated if you have a GPS as ParisAmsterdam above has suggested. A GPS reduces the stress. We had one in Germany a couple years ago and no way could we have managed so easily without it. Maps (at least for us) do not solve our problems if we can't find a road sign telling us we are on the correct road!
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Old May 31st, 2009, 08:26 AM
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I've rented a car in Italy and France by myself (no GPS or cell phone) and didn't have problems, other than getting a bit lost now and then (or that flight of steps in Gubbio I almost drove up - LOL). I'd plot the route before I left in the morning (including return route) and write it down on a piece of paper that I could read as I drove. I would not drive in cities; only in the countryside.

Why are you concerned about not speaking the language? Road signs are fairly international; town names are town names - they're not in a language, they're just the names (hope this is understandable). You can look up the words for things like "one way" which is important and the international symbols and study them.

If you get lost and have to ask directions, pull out a map and point to where you want to go and shrug and look helpless. People will understand that you're lost and will direct you by pointing.

I think it's a lot harder to navigate public transportation w/o speaking the language than driving a car w/o the language skills.

If you're considering Italy then the road signs are fabulous; seldom got lost there.

I would go for it. Don't sit home thinking "I wish I'd been brave and rented the car."
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Old May 31st, 2009, 10:09 AM
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I have been driving solo all over Europe (and Africa) for 30+ years. There's nothing particularly difficult about it. You need to familiarize yourself with the international driving signs, which are totally intuitive - nothing hard there. You need to know about restricted parking zones in certain cities, such as Florence, where you can receive hefty fees if you're not a resident. If possible, you should be comfortable driving a stick shift so you won't have to pay a lot extra for an automatic, and for the greater control it allows. And you need to be aware of what kind of signage exists in different countries - for example, in France you don't navigate by route numbers; rather, you have to know your destination and the major towns between you and it and keep following the signs for those towns (or toutes directions).

Language shouldn't be much of a barrier as long as you know the local names for things, or can guess (Firenze is Florence, Roma is Rome, just to give an example). If you're going to be visiting countries that use a non-roman alphabet you should learn that alphabet ahead of time. Otherwise, signage is pretty simple.

I don't use a GPS system, but they obviously have a lot of advocates. You might find that having one affords you some peace of mind - though personally, getting lost on European roads is a complete delight to me.
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Old May 31st, 2009, 01:46 PM
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Hi T, I think I know how you feel. I've traveled solo a lot, but was always a bit hestitant about renting a car outside North American. I can't exactly say why -- expense was part of the issue, I think. But last year, I rented a car in Italy for the first time. I actually only rented it for a few days to see some less-accesible hilltowns; for the rest of the trip, I stuck with public transport.

Having a plan helped -- knowing where I wanted to go each day, a pretty good idea of how to get there, plus having a good map all made me feel better and somewhat prepared. I still got lost a few times, but nothing very alarming (and always interesting!) I found the roads and towns very well signed in terms of distances and directions. And, as Adrienne said above, almost all road signs are very universal; you'll recognize them.

Good luck, and have fun!
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Old May 31st, 2009, 02:05 PM
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as long as the foreign language shares the same alphabet, I would have no problem with it. I would be intimidated in China or other countries like in the middle east where I can't even make out the signs due to different characters altogether. And yet, people do manage....braver souls than me.
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Old May 31st, 2009, 02:23 PM
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I've rented a car in Chartres, driven around the Loire Valley and returned the car to Chartres- piece of cake! Even though I did get momentarily lost in Blois. I thought the Loire Valley was one of the easiest places to drive, probably a lot easier than Tuscany, for instance.You might try renting a car first in an easy place to drive around.
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Old May 31st, 2009, 03:13 PM
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I was also quite intimitated about driving until 5 years ago, when I started out in the Loire Valley. Agree with Saraho, easy! Since then, I've driven around Dordogne, Provence, Alsace, Burgundy, Normandy and Brittany - always solo. I definitely avoid the big cities, and stick to the smaller roads. I love traveling this way, and have found that people are really helpful in France. I do speak some basic French, but I don't think that really matters. I agree with St.Cirq that it helps to be adept with driving a stick-shift car. Also, smaller cars are much easier to navigate in the villages.

One caveat - be aware that they drive fast in France (and probably faster in Italy!) and come right up on your TAIL to pass. That made me nervous until I learned to pull over alot and let them pass! But I do think you should try it,
you miss alot without a car. And believe me, if I can do it, so can you (I'm not the greatest with navigation - and am probably much older than you, besides)! Good luck.
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Old May 31st, 2009, 11:34 PM
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Agree with the above. I do it in France all the time. I have done it in Spain and in Cyprus. Good maps help. A guidebook good enough to tell you speed limits and basic highway code stuff is also very handy
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Old Jun 1st, 2009, 01:13 AM
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Hello, I have also driven solo many times in Europe, mostly France. I never had a GPS and have very limited map reading skills. I would learn the route sequence of towns to my final destination and could follow the signs from one town to the next. If I had to be somewhere in a certain timeframe, like an airport, I would print out specific directions on the internet.

The most stressed I ever was driving was actually in Scotland even with my husband and son along to help and no language barrier. The narrow roads combined with the side of the road switch was very difficult for us. If you drove without problem for 3 weeks in Ireland, you should do fine.
I admire that. For Ireland I chickened out and went on a bus tour.

Have fun. I absolutely loved driving the Dordogne.
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Old Jun 1st, 2009, 02:47 AM
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Talked to Mrs Bilbo who is never scared (even when she should be) however we agreed the following.

France, Italy, Spain Germany should be no problem in the same way that US should be no problem, so carry a mobile and be aware. Clearly read the road, no where you are going etc and if really worried get someone back home to check you get to hotels (something I do for Mrs Bilbo).

Italy and Spain suffer from machismo so probably more danger on the underground from wandering hans(the german travelling salesman.

Further east you go it gets more interesting ( I tend not to drive in Ukraine as a man for instance).
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Old Jun 1st, 2009, 03:21 AM
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TRUST me..if you actually did the SUBWAYS in Japan (I assume also in Tokyo) believe me, driving in western Europe will be a piece of cake.

I assume your "solo" concerns are because you would have nobody to turn to if something went "wrong?" You don't NEED anyone to turn to..you're well ahead of the game IMO....go for it.
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Old Jun 1st, 2009, 04:13 AM
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If you collect a car at an airport, the person on the desk will speak English. They give you a phone number for emergencies. You just need the local word for 'full' for non-self service petrol stations ('piena' in Italian).
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Old Jun 14th, 2009, 01:09 PM
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I'm the OP. Thanks for all the good advice.

As it happens, I think the decision of whether to drive solo in a non-English-speaking country this year is moot for this year, as I'm either going around Poland by train or around southern Wales by car. But I'm glad to hear the recommendation of the Loire Valley as a good "starting point." I think I *will* try that!

A couple folks wondered what I found intimidating about driving alone where I don't speak the language. Indeed, I did manage the subways in Tokyo alone (and will not soon forget Shibuya station -- FIFTY exits!), and loved driving alone in Wales. The nice thing about being confused on foot, though, is that you can pull yourself out of the traffic stream easily and sort out your confusion. In a car, that's less easy, and in my experience there are many, many traffic signs that are not so universal. Think of overhead electronic highway signs giving "helpful" info . . . or signs with complicated parking instructions . . . or signs giving HOV instructions . . . or detour signs . . . or signs warning you off military property . . . you get the idea. (I could point out twenty places within five miles of my house where someone without English skills would be unsure what they're being instructed by the signage.) It's often at moments when you have to re-evaluate your driving plans that understanding is most needed -- well, understanding and an extra hand and eye for mapreading. It's true, though, that GPS may have changed all that for the better.
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Old Jun 14th, 2009, 01:09 PM
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Sorry, driving alone in IRELAND. Haven't yet done Wales!
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Old Jun 14th, 2009, 03:30 PM
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>

I'm laughing at this since I get more confused about signage in the US than in Europe! And more lost too! There's been quite a few times I've thought: "what does that sign mean?" as I'm zooming by.

I think it's much easier to drive in Europe and they seem to have fewer signs telling you what not to do. But when I'm on vacation I usually avoid the highways and stick to the scenic byways.
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Old Jun 14th, 2009, 03:53 PM
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Have done this several times for 4/5 days after a business trip that the beau didn't have time to join me on. Once France, once Italy and once Switzerland.

That said - I've driven all over europe before with the beau or family or previous boyfriends - acting as either driver or navigator.

the only trick is that it's a little hard to do both at the same time (nothing to do with gender or reading the language - just hard to do 2 things at once).

I would always download very detailed maps, including the town centers with parking lots, of any town I thought I might visit, as well as having good large-scale driving maps. Luckily I have a fairly good bump of direction and was never lost for more than about 5 minutes (inside larger towns, not on the highway). and I never found anyplace I couldn't communicate - either with a person who spoke english or my fractured whatever it is (do take a small translator) and/or sign language.

don;t hesitate - you'll have a hoot!
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