How To Drive On The Left With No Sleep (Scotland Trip #3)

Posted by Jason McIntire | Sep 04, 2016

Here's the third and final installment of my Scotland Trip series. Read Part 1 and Part 2 at those links if you missed them and have nothing better to do.

Arguing about which side of the road is "right" is a perenniel joke between the US and UK, but it's a joke that can turn tricky - or even deadly - when you get behind the wheel of your first Scottish rental car. Especially when you've been up for about 27 hours continuously. (Yes, I got plenty of shut-eye on the plane... the kind where you shut your eyes but don't sleep. It was still daylight in my head.)

The perilous trip to ALDI

After my first twenty miles on UK roads, I was at the same time amazed to be alive and almost physically sick from stress. It wasn't the driving on the left that got to me; it was the roundabouts, which in that part of the world you'll find at almost every intersection. They have multiple lanes (usually two or three) and run clockwise, and you yield to the right. (Does your head hurt yet?) Despite having "satnav" (GPS) in the rental car, I repeatedly managed to jump off on the wrong exit, or to skip the right exit through irrational fear of heading into oncoming traffic. (That's actually next to impossible, I found out later, due to the way the roundabout is built.)

A trip to ALDI turned into one of the most frustrating, traumatic experiences of my life, with the single saving grace being that it's easy to turn around in a roundabout if (when) you get lost. When we finally got to the store, I never wanted to leave. But of course we had to, once we got through with our semi-conscious zombie shopping expedition, so I prayed, gathered my nerves, and had a blessedly uneventful trip back to the cottage. Once there, I sent a rather shrill message to our local friends, politely advising that I needed either a driving lesson or funeral arrangements.

A simple, painful way to avoid jet lag

Before I propound to you the method I was taught for beating jet lag, promise me that you won't do what I did and try to drive on your first day. You will probably be half-asleep, and the experience is neither safe nor fun. Take public transit to your lodging, and spend your first day on safe activities that will keep you awake until a reasonable bedtime. Taking long walks is often suggested, as it will help you stay in wakefulness-enhancing sunlight - and get in some tourist time as well.

In addition to saving your life, this approach will put you on local time right away. You may feel like you're going to die, but it works. And as a side benefit, that's the sweetest night of sleep you'll ever have!

Learn from the locals

Once you've enjoyed that first night of European repose, have an awesome local friend teach you to drive. Okay, maybe this isn't possible for you - but thanks to the Lord, it was for me. Russ, whose personal courage evidently knows no bounds, took me on a day-long driving lesson. At the start of it, his equally-brave wife Loma sent me a text that meant everything: "Today is a new day, and today you will conquer Scottish driving!" She was right - and so was he, when he promised that by the end of the day I'd be entirely confident on UK roads.

Driving in Scotland, at least outside the major cities, is really very simple and easy when you get the hang of it. The basic reversals are obvious: drive on the left, yield to the right in roundabouts, exit toward the left, merge from the left. (And merging is pure pleasure in a Diesel VW Tiguan with a 200HP motor - a car that somehow also gets 50 miles to the gallon while still holding four people and all their stuff. But I digress.)

When it comes to roundabouts, read the signs on the pavement and stay in your lane. If you're turning left, take the left-most; right, take the right-most. The rest of the time, take the middle - and watch your mirrors if you have to switch partway through. If you miss your exit, don't sweat it; you can drive around the silly thing as many times as necessary, and no one will mind.

Trust God and use technology - in that order

In my opinion, it's simply silly to go UK driving without a GPS that features audio instructions. The Tom-Tom is your friend: use it, and the life you save could be your own.

At the same time, I've learned a thing or two about trusting God and not gadgets. Satnavs, international SIM cards, and 240V converters can momentarily fritz out, fail to show up, and blow your last fuses without warning. (Yes, I know, those examples are strangely specific. No particular reason for that, of course.) That's when you find out whether you were trusting more in those amenities, or in the Giver of every good gift. Trust, more than anything else, is what I learned on the Great Scotland Trip of 2016.

On to new adventures.

Comments (3)

  1. Daniel Sampson:
    Oct 16, 2016 at 03:12 PM

    Hi Jason.
    As a learner driver in NZ, (left side driving) I find the picture up the top and the instructions relatively easy. :)
    Hey, I'm kidding. I can imagine what driving on the other side would be like, especially roundabouts! The biggest roundabout I've been on is a two lane roundabout. I couldn't imagine three. (Nor would I want to drive it.) Though it's still weird to think that right hand turns in America are the easy ones...
    -Daniel S

  2. Jason McIntire:
    Oct 16, 2016 at 03:20 PM

    And I found it equally weird that left turns in the UK are the easy ones. In fact, I got honked at by a few drivers when I failed to recognize a "left turn only" lane the first time I came to one.

  3. Daniel Sampson:
    Oct 16, 2016 at 03:24 PM

    I guess the main thing is just to follow the signs and the markings on the road, and then you can drive anywhere.
    If you came to NZ, you could try the NZ roads. Auckland is a hard place to drive.


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