This was it – one of the main reasons I took on the Mongol Rally in the first place. I had been scared to drive in foreign countries on 4 wheels for a very long time now – but that was about to end. We left Brussels and I took the wheel for the first time. There were so many things to think about, I didn’t really have a chance to be scared. Shifting with my left hand, driving a right-hand drive vehicle on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, where were my windshield wipers, the center mirror was now on my left, and to top it off I had to deal with round-abouts! It really is a lot of change to deal with at once. But you just have to do it…so I did.
We left Brussels and headed towards Germany. It was really exciting to think that everything between Belgium and Mongolia would be new to me…new countries, new cultures, and new driving rules. The driving was a bit touch and go at first. This is one time where I totally encouraged back seat drivers as it totally was a team effort at first to get me going. One of the hardest things for me to get used to was the GPS unit and trying to figure out how to understand it’s instructions.
The last time I owned a car was in 2003 – there were no GPS units in cars then, so I’m not terribly comfortable with utilizing them. But with the help of my team I was able to manage – and only took one wrong turn!
When you introduce all of this change into your brain – it wants to fall back on old habits. I kept first trying to reach instinctively for the gearshift on the right side and would slam my hand into the door which would jolt me back into remembering it’s new placement in the car on my left side. My eyes instinctively went to my upper right looking for my rear view mirror…but it wasn’t there. The weirdest thing is that my feet seemed to forget where to go on the peddles and I had to really remind myself where the clutch was (even though all the peddles are still in the same place in any type of car). To top things off – it was pouring rain and I had to figure out where the wipers and gadgets were!
But I did it. And it felt like a huge accomplishment. Check.
As I sped into Germany it was a great feeling reaching my 39th country since turning 30. Plus – I was driving there on the autobahn which made it even that much more exciting. Especially when cars would zip by us as if I were going 10mph.
We were invited to Cologne Germany for the night by our friend Melvin and his family. Melvin runs the popular travel tips website TravelDudes – so it was a treat to get to finally meet him in person. Once again we were welcomed with a bottle of champagne. I seriously could get used to this! After our toasts we sat down to a feast of pasta and salad and of course lots of German beer. Melvin and his wife were amazing hosts – ensuring we had plenty to eat and drink, snacks for the car, and plenty of power to charge all of our devices! Clearly the first two days of the rally we were spoiled. But I’ll take it whenever I can get it! The only thing that doesn’t seem to be cooperating is the weather. It was so cold in Germany that Melvin had a fire going and we all huddled around it trying to get the damp cold out of our bodies. But quite frankly, it’s just how I imagined Germany; beer, warm fires, heavy food, great people. So much for losing weight on this trip.
I told Melvin I didn’t want to ever leave. His response which seemed very German to me, “You have to leave… Mongolia is waiting for the super-duper-bloggers!”
Here we come!
How to donate to our charity – the Christina Nobel Foundation – we are still collecting donations along the way!
By Melvin August 1, 2011 - 8:58 am
Nice to see that you got along on the Autobahn & you enjoyed the evening at the “Traveldudes headquarter”. 🙂
Our place is a bit far off, on the countryside of Cologne, so I’m always excited, if someone finds his/her way to stay with us. Especially when it’s people I know already for such a long time via Twitter, but I’ve never met in person!
It was so great having you & you are always welcomed to drop in again… but only if you stay longer than one night! 😉
I just wonder why you think that my response was so typical German? 🙂
By Lisa | LLWorldTour August 1, 2011 - 9:36 am
1. It was the same for me when i tried driving in Ireland. You never notice those habits ’til then: I too slammed my right hand into the door trying to shift and also my eyes would dart up to that mirror that was not there! And I also have that habit of reaching up for my seatbelt and I’d always reach to the wrong side since I was in (our) passenger side, but was the driver! Way to go!
2. I LOVE German breakfasts AND Kolsch! Cool that you got to meet Melvin and fam!
By Barbara Weibel August 1, 2011 - 9:59 am
I laughed about the windshield wipers. Whenever I’m driving in a country where they drive on the left hand side, I’m constantly turning on my wipers rather than my turn signal. You’re doing great – keep it up!
By Debbie Beardsley August 1, 2011 - 3:16 pm
I think driving in a foreign country is nerve wracking and think it’s great you are defying your fears! I remember driving in Germany, feeling like I was going so fast and those cars just come out of no where to swoosh past you! Crazy.
By Mike August 1, 2011 - 7:59 pm
Driving in a foreign country is definitely on my bucket list. I don’t if I can even comprehend shifting with the left hand. Nevertheless Kudos to you!
Also if you change “wrong” side of the road to “opposite” it sounds a bit more politically correct.
Anyway, keep up the tweets and updates!
By Melvin August 2, 2011 - 3:52 am
Hi Mike, you are right, it would be politically correct, but… 😉 What’s the opposite of right? -> Wrong. On which side do we drive? On the right. On what side people drive in the UK? hahaha… Just joking!
By Mark H August 2, 2011 - 6:42 pm
Somewhat ignorantly, I decided that I could manage to drive on the other wide of the road and sit on the “wrong” side” of the vehicle to drive but wouldn’t be able to operate the foot pedals the wrong way around. I recall checking in cars in France (Australians drive on the left) to see where the pedals were situated and was relieved to see that the accelerator and brake were in the same spots. At that time I felt OK!!!
By Lisa Dazols August 3, 2011 - 11:17 am
I love this story! I just hit two poles driving a stick shift in New Zealand. You can laugh at my crashing in the video that we made below.
Excited to follow you on your road trip and enjoying your blogs!
By Anil August 3, 2011 - 12:29 pm
Driving on the autobahn is one of the best driving experiences both for the speed and how well the other drivers are in Germany.
Wrong side of the car though is pretty impressive, sill hate that reverse shifter!
By Jodi Henderson August 7, 2011 - 10:51 am
Driving in a foreign country sounds completely scary to me so maybe it needs to go on my bucket list! I don’t like driving in other cities in the US because people just aren’t very forgiving if you don’t know where you’re going.
When I was in Paris last year, I remember thinking that it didn’t seem like people were driving in pre-defined lanes, but rather that they were driving wherever there was space for their car. Scary stuff!
By Sherry August 10, 2011 - 2:56 pm
Well, getting over that fear for me was partially what this adventure was about for me. So far so good! I’ve now driven in Russia, Romania, Germany, and Kazakhstan!