Behind the Wheel Abroad

Monday, 27 January 2014

Our Euro Car
I got my driver's license when I was 16 years old.  This is common where I come from - small town Saskatchewan, Canada.  In fact, driving is a major part of most North American's lives.  Our countries are expansive as are our cities and in many cases, public transportation is severely lacking.  Flights are expensive and train travel is practically non-existent.  We're used to driving thousands of kilometres for a trip, through rain, snow and sunshine.

I got my first car in my second year of University.  Prior to that, I always used one of my parents' vehicles (we were a 3 car family.)  Our town of 5000 had no public transportation and was home to two taxis.  Yes, literally 2 taxis.  Despite the post office being 2 blocks from our house, it was normal to drive.  The only places I walked to were school (2 blocks) and the rink (1 block.)  When I moved to Edmonton, a city of a million in Alberta, my time on foot increased mostly due to parking costs but driving was still a major part of my life.  In fact, I couldn't fathom not having a vehicle.  It meant freedom.

When we moved to Gabon, Joe was given a company vehicle which I wasn't allowed to drive.  Like my childhood home, public transit was nearly non-existent and the taxi system and walking was not particularly safe nor efficient so we bought a second vehicle for myself.  It meant everything.  That vehicle made my social life possible in a place where social life was paramount.  Changing my license was no big deal in Gabon - I gave my Canadian permit to an HR representative who showed it to someone in a public office who then attached a passport photo to a white piece of paper which would become my temporary permit.  (Technically, the 3 month temp should have allotted enough time to get my permanent Gabonese license but in actuality, I never received it after 2 years of living there.  We just continually paid the fee and renewed it.)

In Norway, Joe's company leases us a vehicle which I am allowed to drive.  When we arrived, I was nervous to get behind the wheel here.  There are hardly any traffic lights, the roundabouts are intimidating to this Canadian, and the teeny, tiny parking spaces are difficult to navigate.  Securing a home near the train line made it easy for me to avoid.  I walk the 8 minutes to the platform and can be in Sentrum in another 8 minutes - it's actually quicker than if I'd driven myself.  I walk to the grocery store almost daily and for the most part, I really enjoy it.

While I do have a car at my disposal, it requires me to drive Joe the 20 minutes to work at 7 am and pick him up that evening.  It's a hassle and it's usually not necessary.  In the first year of living here, I drove once.  On top of that, getting a license in Norway requires me to pass a driving exam - something no adult ever wants to do again.  As a Canadian (or American or Australian,) we have to surrender our home license within 6 months of moving here and complete the driver's exam within a year.  I procrastinated and missed my window.  Should I want to get a Norwegian driver's permit now, I'd have to complete the classroom sessions as well as the practical exam which would cost me near $2000.

Being from a culture that really values driving, I thought I would feel trapped without a vehicle at my disposal when in fact, I don't at all.  I enjoy walking.  I'm happy to lessen my carbon footprint in a small way and I like the fresh air and the light exercise.  There are times when the weather is absolutely miserable but thankfully, my schedule is pretty flexible and I don't have to leave the house if I don't want to.  The times where I have no choice but to brave the wind and the rain aren't fun but they're few and far between.

I do keep a valid Canadian driver's license allowing me to drive when I'm home and I can still rent cars when abroad although, Joe normally takes the wheel when we're traveling.  He's less nervous about navigating around foreign cities and countries.

Do you (or would you) drive overseas?

[By the way, I posted the answers to last posts' Norwegian name game in the comments.  If you're reading in email, you'll have to click over to the website and scroll down.]

21 comments:

  1. i think you and i share very similar feelings about driving. i keep and renew my US license but i really just dont use it (except when im back in the US). i always said when i lived there that i would never drive if i didnt have to. unfortunately, in the US, you kind of have to drive in most places or you cant get to work, etc. so i drove. i hated it. i have totaled all cars ive driven (except one, which my friend totaled for me). when i moved to norway and boasted to everyone how i could take advantage of public trans, they all laughed and said id miss driving and id cave in and buy a car and get a license. three years later, i couldnt be happier taking public trans. :) in the summers i rode my bike around (until it was stolen like all other bikes in oslo of course) and in the winters i take the subway and buses.

    andre is dying to move to the US and if we ever do one day, i told him it has to be in one of the cities with adequate public trans because i have a feeling my driving days may be over forever :)

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    1. Hehehe - well you've got me beat. I've never been in any accidents. I like to think I'm a pretty good driver and I occasionally miss the convenience of hopping in the car but I think the benefits of public transit outweigh them - at least here anyways!

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  2. I haven't been brave enough to try driving in Iceland yet. The roads are a bit to narrow in downtown where I live but I imagine at one point I will have to give it a try. When I was in Australia though driving was not something I wanted to try, the whole other side of the road thing is a bit terrifying to me.

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    1. I find the other side of the road thing terrifying too - luckily, Joe handles it like a pro :)

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  3. I haven't attempting driving in Iceland yet but imagine I will at some point. After having to drive every day it is kind of nice being able to walk and not deal with traffic and driving. I know soon this will not be the case and I will want to have the independence driving can bring you.

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  4. I've been driving since I was 16 as well and it was always something I just did and didn't take for granted. Then in Ireland I rarely drove because I took the bus and cabs everywhere but on occasion, I'd borrow my mother's car to run errands. At first driving on the other side of the road scared me to death but I quickly got used to it. However, I've never gotten used to driving in my area of Provence. Some of the roads here are tiny and the drivers nuts!

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  5. We have a similar car! It's perfect for Europe. I don't really like driving in Europe, even though I have to all the time (we live way out. Farm country). I dislike the tiny streets and the crazy stressful Autobahn and German drivers won't hesitate to freak out on you if you're doing something wrong. I'll take the train, thanks :)

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    1. The train is so much less stressful!

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  6. having a car makes all the difference! I think that was the most difficult part of living in South Africa - we had no access to a car and couldn't get around much. Relying on taxis was quite difficult.

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    1. It's definitely tough without a car when there isn't adequate public transit. While I'm happy to not drive while we're here, I am thankful that we do have a car. It's convenient for big grocery shopping trips and I love a good road trip into the countryside!

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  7. Really interesting post... I have a post coming on our experiences driving in the UK soon because it really is so different than North America.

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  8. I drove (we both did) in England, and actually I took over my US-spec car. We had a second cheap-o crap car for Paul to drive to/from work whilst there, and neither of us had issues driving left-side or right-side vehicles. Both had pros and cons- my left-side vehicle wasn't as scratched from getting to the far left on narrow roads, because I could see exactly where the stone walls were, but it sure was hard to pass a tractor on a busy road when you're seated on the wrong side! The public transit system in GB is incredible and dogs are even allowed on the buses, but the buses are expensive and with the random exploring we liked to do we drove most everywhere except on city-specific trips, like to London or Liverpool. Our second house was also over a mile from the nearest bus stop, so that precluded the ease there as well. Scotland is much harder to fully explore without a vehicle, so having our car enabled all of our trips up there, and we ferried my car over to Rep. of Ireland for a week to explore there. We actually planned to Chunnel across and drive-explore France, but the amount of time we wanted to spend there didn't work out. We did hire a car when we spent two weeks in Southern Spain and Portugal, although only Paul drove then just to save money on the rental. We joked in Lisbon that we should have added my name, because I handle city traffic MUCH better than Paul does… but he made it! I don't think we hired a car anywhere else… we took trains or coaches on most of our out-of-city excursions on our travels. But yeah, I'd drive. Obviously. ;)

    I also bought the little oval stickers for my car for all the places he went- Orkney, Scotland, England, Rep. of Ireland. I couldn't find a sticker for Mull, although I looked. I told Paul that Watson (my car) wants to show off his travels as well- not many US cars have been to multiple countries! (We drove through Wales, but didn't really do much unfortunately (have to go back!) so I don't count our having BEEN to Wales.)

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  9. Driving around those roundabouts, especially when you drive on the left side of the road, and sit on the right side of the car, is definitely a scary thing. Good thing I can't drive a manual car, so my husband did all the hard work. :)
    http://liveitinerantly.com

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    1. I don't drive a manual either so that gets me out of a lot of driving!

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  10. I think I would kind of like not having to drive everywhere. I drive an hour to and from work and because I live in the middle of nowhere, it takes at least 15 minutes to get to the nearest anything. I say that now though ... I'm really not sure how I'd react if I actually had to go without one

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  11. I also don't drive very often here in Germany but somehow I managed to exchange my American driver's license for a German one, even though I was WAY past the supposed window of opportunity. (A good example that there are sometimes loop holes in even the most comprehensive bureaucracies!) But I really enjoy life without driving, I must say. Even mid-size German cities have pretty extensive public transportation systems and with the Deutsche Bahn, it's possible to travel all over the country relatively easily. If I was ever to move back to the US, it would require a major readjustment and I might only consider cities which prioritze public transportation.

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  12. I also don't drive very often here in Germany but somehow I managed to exchange my American driver's license for a German one, even though I was WAY past the supposed window of opportunity. (A good example that there are sometimes loop holes in even the most comprehensive bureaucracies!) But I really enjoy life without driving, I must say. Even mid-size German cities have pretty extensive public transportation systems and with the Deutsche Bahn, it's possible to travel all over the country relatively easily. If I was ever to move back to the US, it would require a major readjustment and I might only consider cities which prioritze public transportation.

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  13. I'm too scared to drive in London, the traffic is quite bad compared to Sydney's traffic and the road rules are different too. I've only driven a handful of times when I've been in Australia in the last seven years and I'm getting a bit nervous about doing a big drive on my own from Brisbane to Sydney in a few weeks time!

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  14. driving is crazy in other countries...its such a breath of fresh air to drive in the states :) my craziest driving experience was in Malta - opposite side of the car and opposite side of the road..and a lot of roundabouts!

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  15. Justin got a company car when we got here. It's a stick shift and we planned on me learning how to drive it at some point. (I have no idea if I'm allowed to to or not!) It's been almost a year and a half and we've stopped putting it off....it's just not gonna happen. I'm good without it. Actually, I love it. I love walking everywhere and taking public transport. It is more of a pain in the winter because I'm cold and don't want to leave the house, but still not worth it enough to learn. I'm seriously hoping our next city allows me to not have a car again! Also, I'm totally going to have to go practice driving again out in the 'burbs, because 2 years no car is a long time!

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