UP/ICJA Quest: London, January 19th, ROAD TRIP!

Ok, let me just say that, though I knew this was going to be a fairly intense experience, I wasn't prepared to be constantly questioning why on earth the car was moving when I hadn't given it a command!
Lex wanted to take a trip to Wolkingham to visit one of his company's satelite centers. Rather than spend 3 hours (one way) on a bus to get to Wolkingham and then another 3 hours (or more) to get to Gatwick to catch our flight, Lex thought it would be a good idea to rent a car; making the trip about 1.5 hours each way.

I certianly had my reservations about this plan, mostly because I was concerned we would be too rushed in trying to figure out the roads, the whole driving on the wrong side of the road thing, and dealing with crazy London traffic (I think it's even worse than I had been told). After surviving 8 hours of ill-behaved rental-car employees, poorly marked road signs, and being in the 'power' seat of a car yet having no say whatsoever about what the car did, I have to say that I was right. We wre rushed and it was a bit more hassle than it was worth.

However, I did learn a few tips I can pass on to you other American travelers thinking you should take on the British M-system and drive off into the wild blue yonder of the British countryside:

1) Reserve your car online. Eurocar (one of the cheapest to rent from) charges an extra 35GBP (minimum) when you book your rental in their office.

2) When booking your rental online, be prepared to wait an additional 2 hours from the time of booking to pick up your car (they don't want you to stand in their office, making a booking through your smartphone, just to save a "few extra quid").

3) Be prepared to pay an additional 250GBP deposit on the cheapest car available for rental. You may expect to receive some of this back when you return the car (be aware the employees have been given special training for car inspection when they know someone who usually drives on the other side of the road is using the car, and they will find something to try and stick you with.)

4) Expect it to take you a minimum of 45 minutes to wind your way out of London, in good traffic.

5) POOR SIGNAGE!  Whether you are on the M-(insert number here) or in town, you apparently have to have that British sixth sense of where to go to get where you want to be. Ironically enough, this doesn't change even when there are signs. When we finally made it to Gatwick airport we had to play eeny-meeny-miney-mo to choose which terminal to try for rental car drop off (signs only say North and South terminal, nothing more).

6) Roundabouts are EVERYWHERE! I never saw a stop sign during our entire adventure. Instead, in place of where I would logically have expected a stop sign, there was a roundabout, usually with multiple lanes/entries/exits (and poor signage!) that the cars had to negotiate. Also, expect to deal with these aut as often as you would deal with stop lights in a major city.

7) Automatic transmissions in Europe are very rare (and expensive to rent)! In England, the gear shift is on the left side of the driver. I hope you are ambidextrous!
1 Response
  1. Lexa Flasher Says:

    For the record: it was totally worth it. Except for the being lost in London part. That part sucked. Seriously messed up grids of one-way streets, right-turn only intersections, lack of signage in most places, signage that only makes it worse in many others. Don't even attempt it without a GPS and be prepared to improvise when the GPS tries to tell you to drive across a median.

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