You’re dreaming of an overseas driving holiday but first, it’s worth taking five to check you know all the obscure eccentricities before you put pedal to metal and a stress-free break turns to strife.
First things first: Your International Drivers Permit. Once it was standard to hit the NRMA or RACV up for an International Drivers Permit to demonstrate that you’re a competent driver. Most countries have streamlined and now accept your current Australian license along with passport proof that you are just visiting. The 'just visiting' bit can be key. In many states of the USA, for example, if you stay in the state over 30 days you are expected to apply for a local driver’s license, including passing the driving test.
In Europe, most hire cars have a manual transmission and in the USA? Book your car in advance. Worth noting are these lesser known but nevertheless key criminal acts you will want to avoid: drinking water and driving in Cyprus, driving shirtless in Thailand, driving a dirty car in Russia and driving while wearing a dressing gown in California. But there is one country in the world that women don’t need to know any of these rules, because baby, you are not allowed to drive.
In Saudi Arabia women can own cars, they just can’t drive them. To be clear, there is no formal law that actually makes driving illegal for a female, but the government refuses to issue women licenses. That would make it a religious edict, but there is nothing in the Koran suggesting women shouldn’t drive and no other Muslim country bans it – so it’s a Saudi thang.
Curiously, since 2013 women in Saudi Arabia have been permitted to ride bicycles and mopeds, which makes the car ban even more baffling. Surely there is more leg and thigh gap on a bike than driving a car? Good to know this loophole though, because unless you have a male relative or spouse with you, women are not even allowed to passenger in a car. The solution? Either a bike or a limo with really heavy tinting and a simpatico driver.
Perversely, some western women choose to celebrate their freedom by visiting countries where other women appear oppressed. If that sounds like you, some insider advice might come in handy. In Pakistan locals refer to the verbal harassment of women as “eave-teasing”. The good news if you are Lahore-bound is that you can catch a “Pink Rickshaw” and avoid all contact with men while travelling in public. This might be easier than renting a car from a misogynist. In India you can ride a motorcycle and – as a woman – you are not obliged to wear a helmet. Apparently it’s about helmet hair…
You can drive in Yemen, another deeply conservative country, as long as a male gives you permission to leave the house. Women drivers are on the rise in Yemen where it is deemed a safer mode of transport than the bus. Driving in China on the other hand may be one of the closest near death experiences you will have. Although visitors and tourists are not permitted to drive in China, I was granted a temporary Chinese driver’s license in 2012 in order to drive a fuel cell car for Mercedes, from Xian to Beijing, and I am still scarred. Bear in mind that driving-age Chinese did not play with tiny toy cars. Driving is a relatively new concept and licenses are a matter of money not skill. It’s not uncommon for a Chinese driver to come hurtling down the wrong side of a four-lane highway leaning on the horn to clear a path. Oh and, the pavement is considered a legitimate passing lane.
Burma is another country where your own driver’s license doesn’t get a look in. You can apply for a local license in Rangoon but be aware that most of the cars are right-hand-drive and Burmese drive on the right. So, while the car looks and feels like home, remember to keep it on the right.
Worth noting also that, regardless of fault, if you hit a pedestrian in Burma, you are to blame. With this in mind, Burma might be another one for rickshaws and limos. Burma’s neighbours, Thailand and Vietnam, are good with your Australian license, but Cambodia also requires you to get a local license, even to ride a motorcycle or scooter. Your Cambodian license is good for a year so plan a longer holiday to get your money’s worth.
One final hot tip for a holiday filled with happiness. Don’t drive – period – In Johannesburg. Known as the car-jacking capital of the world there are over 10,000 carjackings every year in South Africa. Many drivers carry guns, even flame-throwers. You can’t compete.