Self-drive holidays

One of the best ways to explore a country is on a self-drive holiday. Whether you plan to head across the Channel and drive on the continent, pick up a car in the USA and drive through Death Valley or head off the beaten track and discover some rarely seen parts of Africa, a self-drive holiday can be the adventure of a lifetime.

To make the most of your trip and enjoy safe passage, good planning is essential.


In many countries it’s perfectly safe to travel by car. But before you set your heart on anywhere it’s a good idea to look at the Foreign & Commonwealth travel advice website. This includes information on entry requirements, safety, security and road travel in more than 220 countries around the world. For more local advice it’s worth contacting the local tourist information agencies.

You’ll need a full driving licence to drive abroad and if you’re travelling outside the EU, European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland you might also need an International Driving Permit (IDP). This costs £5.50 and you can find out which countries you need it for and how to get one on the AA and RAC websites. You can also apply for one at the Post Office.

Where possible plan your route and book accommodation in advance. Whether you decide to stay in a hotel or self-catering accommodation it’s good to know you’ll have a bed for the night especially if you’re heading for somewhere remote or very popular.

As well as taking out appropriate travel insurance, it’s also worth buying any maps you need in advance and a good first aid kit is also useful.

Taking your own car

Check with your car insurer to see if you are fully covered to drive abroad or if you need extra cover. The same goes for your breakdown insurance.

As well as your driving licence don’t forget to take your V5 vehicle registration certificate which is proof that you own your car.

If you plan to be out of the country for 12 months or more you need to fill in the appropriate section of your V5 and send it to the DVLA. You can find out more about this on the website.

Before you head off make sure your car is in good shape and is appropriate for the terrain you plan to cross. For tips on driving abroad, local customs and what equipment you need to take in your car see our guide on driving abroad.

Hiring a car

If you plan to hire a car it’s worth booking in advance wherever possible to avoid disappointment and ensure you get the car and any special equipment such as child seats you want.

For more on car hire and tips on driving abroad, local customs and what equipment you need to take in your car see our guide on driving abroad.

Driving on poor roads

You need to take extra care if you plan to drive off-road. If you use your own car you will need specialist car insurance. If you plan to hire a car you may find it very difficult to find a firm that will insure you for this.

Even if you don’t plan to drive off-road, depending on where you are, you could find yourself driving on badly pot-holed or corrugated dirt roads. If you know you’ll be driving through rough terrain make sure you tell someone beforehand your planned route and expected arrival time so if you do run into trouble at least someone knows where you are.

It’s also a good idea to take plenty of food, water, a first aid kit and a mobile phone with you. And make sure you have someone with you who knows about basic car maintenance such as how to change a wheel and what to do if your vehicle gets stuck.

You should also have suitable equipment in your car in case you run into trouble such as a shovel, sand mats and a winch.

Remember the following if you are on bad roads:

  • Reduce your speed and take your time.
  • Don’t drive too close to the edge of gravel roads.
  • Stay a safe distance behind the vehicle in front of you if you are on dusty roads to ensure good visibility.

What to do if you have a driving accident

If you have a serious accident contact the emergency services immediately. In Europe the number is 112. It’s a good idea to check what it is in other countries and store this number in your phone just in case you need it at short notice.

If you are in a hired car, contact your rental firm straight away. You will usually have been given an emergency contact number when you first picked up the car.

If you are driving your own car you should contact your car insurer as soon as you can and take photos of any damage to your vehicle.

For details of how to claim on your travel insurance for any medical treatment you need see our guide.

Published on 07/06/18

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