Americans have one of the lowest passport holding rates in the developed world, often cited as an outward symbol of American xenophobia, ignorance, or fear of the unknown.
The reality is that it's far simpler to mention our nation's lifetime supply of amusement parks, national parks, and Pilot Travel Centers. Sure, you can stay busy with mouse ears, hiking trails, and pseudoephedrine pills (respectively),but eventually the time must come to venture outside our borders.
"So, why not just go to Canada or Mexico?" your friends ask. No offense to our Northern neighbors, but except for certain enclaves of Quebec, it's just...too much like home. And if it's prescription drugs you're after, Mexico is probably cheaper and easier. But then there's that whole burgeoning violence thing, which would scare you into never leaving the Sandals resort, in which case you might as well have just stayed at a resort in the States where your White Guilt would have been far less stressed when ordering drinks and knowing the barkeep didn't go home to a corrugated tin shack that night.
England: Where else can you find a common language and culture (somewhat), prolific car culture, decent beer, and incredible history all in one place? Besides, we all secretly know that 30% of Top Gear's quips fly right over our heads, so maybe it's time to step outside our comfort zone to see what UK motoring is all about.
What, do you think this is a travel blog? You're on your own here. But "shoulder season" airfare prices are rarely more expensive than a coast-to-coast domestic flight.
HIRING A CAR
Don't say "renting" because I think that's British slang for something you do with a prostitute. Trust me on this. They have a lot of slang there.
When most people hear I have rented cars over my last few trips to England, their immediate reaction is usually "But isn't the rail network supposed to be a lot better than driving?" To which I reply "Only if you have 1-2 people, minimal luggage, and are staying only at hotels near the train station." At risk of offending the Green contingent, there is simply no better, cheaper, easier way to get several people and their belongings from point-to-point while enjoying yourself along the way.
THE ACT OF DRIVING
Odds are you will get something with a manual transmission. If you don't know how to drive a stick, England is a great place to start practicing! The shift pattern and pedals will be identical to our own, but the hands are reversed. The 1-2 shift requires an awkward left shoulder abduction and is very much inferior to the American 1-2 shift, but that's a different discussion entirely.
Have I mentioned you'll be driving on the wrong side of the road? This is a tradition that dates back to horse-drawn carriages and something about keeping your sword hand on the same side as oncoming traffic. If you have forgotten your sword at home, you can usually find one at a news agent or tobacconist before you leave the airport.
There really is no way to prepare for driving on the left, except for maybe spending a week shaving with your non-dominant hand without the luxury of a mirror. For any competent driver, basic mastery should come pretty naturally, but only after ruining (knackering) the tires (tyres) on a few curbs (kerbs), failing to yield (give way) at a few roundabouts (traffic circles), and running over a few shopping carts (buggies) in a parking lot (car park) while completely drunk (pissed), but eventually you'll get the hang of it and shoudn't have any further problems (Bob's your uncle).
Have I mentioned the optional Collision Damage Waiver on your rental agreement? That's to protect the hooker from domestic violence. However, the CDW on the Car Hire Agreement might be a good idea if your domestic insurance and/or credit card don't take care of it (worth a phone call). It's expensive, but so is legal representation in Okehampton after you mow down a group of schoolchildren.
GPS Nav Systems (Sat Nav) tend to be much more popular in the UK than in the US, and for good reason. In 1066, the invading Normans decided that cardinal directions were obsolete, since they lent a sense of objective order to the world (which the French do not tolerate). Most road signs tend to favor listing the nearest town over the road name or general direction. When your road network often resembles a plate of spaghetti dumped on the floor, this actually makes sense. However, unless you know the next 5 towns along the road in the direction you'd like to travel, it can be very frustrating to the novice driver. The best bet is a GPS and/or a regional (NOT national) Ordinance Survey map from a local gas station.
ROADS AND LAWS
For most Americans coming from the potholed asphalt of the wintry north, or from the pockmarked concrete of the low-tax South, these will be the smoothest roads you've ever seen. Motorways resemble US interstates, but generally with fewer exits and, thus, less room for navigational error. The rest of the roads are generally labeled as A or B roads (secondary and tertiary), with a prolific mix of slow, circuitous country lanes connecting everything together. The B-roads and country lanes are by far the most enjoyable as long as you're not in a hurry and won't be alarmed by creating a bustle in every hedgerow from Castle Combe to Bath.
Don't be discouraged by all the talk of speed cameras and other "nanny state" oppression. Unless you're hooning your way through town centres (which you won't be, since your butt will be so clenched from fear...er, exhilaration), the odds are you'll do just fine. Just relax and enjoy the sheer terror of flying around narrow, blind corners at breakneck speed, only to look down and realize you're going 40mph. That's the most fun you can have with 1.3 litres.
Ash78 has logged over 2,000 miles on British roads over the past 12 years, some of it while actually following the law.
This piece was written and submitted by a Jalopnik reader and may not express views held by Jalopnik or its staff. But maybe they will become our views. It all depends on whether or not this person wins by whit of your eyeballs in our reality show, "Who Wants to be America's Next Top Car Blogger?"