Lessons From the Left Lane

On our recent journey across Southern England, we spent almost two weeks navigating the country’s motorways and archaic roads. From the Goodwood Revival held near London to Cornwall, the country’s southwestern tip, we gobbled up nearly a thousand incident-free miles in a new 550-horsepower Jaguar XJR.

Visiting a foreign country can be a bit daunting: There’s the unfamiliar customs, the inevitable gaps in the guidebooks, and the stress that comes with trying to appear like you know what you’re doing. Oh, and then factor in the driving laws that contradict your most basic instincts.

Fortunately, vacationing across the pond and driving on the “wrong” side of the road can both be incredibly fun. A good navigator, some common sense, and these 20 tips will help make your U.K. holiday relaxing and safe.

Travel Tips

1. Travel Light: Pack light and take advantage of England’s wash-and-fold services– especially if you’re driving a classic British sports car.

2. What to Wear: Casual is cool in England, but wearing shorts and gaudy event T-shirts will make you look like, well, an American tourist. For gentlemen, khakis and collared shirts are more appropriate. English weather can change at the drop of a hat, so plan for cool weather, even in summer.

3. Exchange Rate: England still uses the pound, whereas most of the rest of Europe has gone to the euro. The exchange rate– as of this writing, almost $1.60 to 1 pound–makes visiting England rather pricey right now.

4. Internet: In nearly every place we stayed, we could access quality wireless Internet for little or no money.

5. ATM: We had no trouble using our American ATM card in every town we visited.

6. Airports: London is served by two major airports. Heathrow is closer, but Gatwick is not that far away and is serviced by cabs, limousines and trains. While most Americans shy away from trains, at about $20 a ride they’re the least expensive way to get into London. They’re the fastest option, too.

7. Trains: Don’t be afraid of the trains. Train travel in England is inexpensive, efficient, clean and fun.

8. Staying at Pubs: The best way to see England is to stay at the old pubs and hotels available in most every town. Some rooms don’t contain an en suite bath, so don’t assume you’ll get one by default. Packages are usually available that include breakfast and dinner, and we didn’t have a bad meal the whole time we were in England.

9. Eating in England: Forget the old rumors about bland, boring British food: Every meal on our trip was quite good. The traditional full English breakfast includes sausage, bacon (theirs comes from the back, not the belly), blood sausage, poached or scrambled eggs, mushrooms, tomato and toast.

In the pubs, midday meals ranged from salads and hamburgers to shepherd’s pie and Ploughman's lunch (meats, cheeses fruit and pickles served with bread).

Dinner was classic English food, which is not much different from classic American fare. Larger cities offered excellent ethnic food on nearly every block.

10. Tipping: Tipping is much less common in England. A maximum of about 10 percent is customary, but only for exceptional service. Tipping a bartender is not done, and leaving change to round up to the nearest pound is usual for most other services.

11. Cell Phone Service: Call your provider before heading over. AT&T, at least, offers an inexpensive temporary plan that includes international data and minutes.

12. Temperature: England uses the Celsius system. To roughly convert Celsius to Fahrenheit, double the Celsius temperature and then add 30.

Road Wisdom

1. Think Small: You don’t want a big car in England. The lanes are narrow, and singletrack roads are surprisingly common.

2. Parking: Space is tight in settled areas, so parking is cramped and often creative.

3. Speed Cameras: They are used everywhere in England and need to be taken seriously. They calculate a car’s average speed over a measured distance; go too fast, and you’ll receive a ticket in the mail. Rental car companies will add this amount to your credit card after you return to the States.

4. British Fuel: Europe uses a different octane rating than we do. Multiply the rating at the pump by .95 to get the American equivalent.

5. Diesel Power: Lots of British cars run on diesel, and just about every petrol station offers it. Fuel is sold by the liter and, as of this writing, costs an average of £1.09 per liter of unleaded gasoline and about £1.11 per liter of diesel. There are 3.785 liters per gallon, so figure close to $7 a gallon.

6. Roundabouts: Roundabouts are very common on English roads, although like here, local drivers seem to have trouble using them properly. Remember, stay to the left and exit as needed.

7. British Road System: England features three basic types of roadways. Motorways, comparable to American Interstates, have an unposted, universal speed limit of 70 mph. Common speeds are more like 80 to 85 mph, though. A roads are typically wider streets–think two or four lanes. Speeds are normally in the range of 30 to 60 mph. B roads tend to carry just local traffic, and sometimes they’re little more than a onelane cow path where you have to pull over to let oncoming cars pass by. These are fun to explore, but don’t think you’re going to make good time on a B road.

8. Passing: Always overtake on the right. English drivers are generally good about yielding the fast lane.

9. Look Left: Remember, in England, left turns are easy and rights are harder.

10. Licensing and Insurance: You will need a valid U.S. driver’s license and a major credit card.

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View comments on the CMS forums
Toyman01 MegaDork
2/18/16 2:54 p.m.

I spent a week in the Turks and Caicos Islands. They like the wrong side of the road as well. For the first hour or so, it took a mental effort to stay on the correct side of the road. After that it wasn't too bad.

I will say the Toyota van we rented wasn't near as cool as a Jag. Sounds like a fun trip.

Rupert Dork
2/19/16 10:59 a.m.

An XJR! I hope you didn't spend too much time on B roads or in Cornwall!! There are a lot of roads in Blighty where a XJ probably wouldn't even fit between the rock walls.

Tim Suddard
Tim Suddard Publisher
2/22/16 7:19 p.m.

Rupert, it was a tight fit and Toyman01, I found right hand drive roads in parts of the Caribbean too!

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