Driving through Scotland and Ireland.

U dunno have insurance here, pal!

If you plan to drive through Ireland check with your insurance company and/or credit card about what is covered before you visit.

As it turned out, our two auto insurance plans (one with our credit card and one with our regular auto insurance provider) excludes protection specifically in Ireland. Every other country in Europe is covered except Ireland.

Pay ye Toll

Stay alert. Some tolls don’t have booths, gates, or entryways, just an obscure sign on the side of the road (that look much like regular highway signs) that reads, “You must go online within 24 hours to pay your toll” with a URL at the bottom. If Jackie didn’t notice the sign we would have easily missed it.

We don’t break for Banshees

Every country has their own signature style of driving. Everyone in Italy, for example, thinks they are a pro racecar driver, and the eye in the sky keeps Australians annoyingly honest. Ireland and Scotland are a wee bit different. Sort of inbetween the two.

The average posted highway speed limits were between 100 Kph and 120 Kph. The fast lane had cars moving 20-40K faster than the posted limit and the slow lane was about 0-10K slower. There were no crazy lane changes or people cutting each other off like in Italy, but the locals have the same level of respect for letting faster folks pass.

In general the speed limits were quite high. Highways were typically between 60-70 Mph. Not too crazy, but even the small, one lane, curvy, country roads were quite high at 60 Mph as well.

Something that bothered me about Scotland was while the roads were strewn with signs  warning drivers of speed cams there were few posted signs that actually let you know what the speed limit was. I guess it is just understood: if you are on a highway, drive between 60-70 Mph.

What side and what unit of measurement are we on exactly?

While driving through Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland we crossed through a hodgepodge of units of measurements for speed. Although all three countries drove on the left side of the road North Ireland and Scotland use the Imperial system for measurement and Ireland uses the Metric system.

This created a peculiar situation as we drove from Ireland into North Ireland. Our rental car (that we rented from Ireland) ONLY had Kph on the speedometer.  Within two-seconds we went from reading signs in Kph to reading signs in Mph, followed by a whole lot of calculating what our speed should be on our phones. Talk about a crash course in conversions. (Lucky that didn’t turn into a pun. We made it out unscathed.)

Don’t get stoned

Many Irish roads are not only tight, but lined with stone walls that jut out. In a slight miscalculation I clipped the passenger side of our car on one of the narrow, curved, stone walls. (Jackie has made it hard to forget about it.) Luckily it was small enough that our rental company let it slide. Maybe this is why no auto insurance company wants to cover Ireland drivers.

Aye, that price? Not bah.

Here is a huge tip: Before coming to the area be sure you learn to drive stick! The price of a manual transmission rental car is around $20 per day. Compared that to a car with an automatic transmission at around $80 per day. As such, it can be super cheap to drive through the country and as I’ll explain below – you will most definitely want to.


Oh my gosh, what an amazing country side! Ireland is filled with ancient structures dating back to before the pyramids. Scotland has rolling hills filled with rocks and picture perfect lakes (AKA Lochs). The grass is emerald green and lush. You will be in awe.

If it is your first visit to either country then: Explore the south of Ireland (the Kearny loop). For Scotland make your way up to the north (AKA Highlands) and especially in the north west for majestic views of the country side.

Golf courses

You may not be a golfer, but many of the golf courses we saw in Scotland were worth stopping for anyway. Some are situated between amazing lakes and mountains and other straddle quaint towns. They make for a great walk, and, if you ARE a golfer, a magical round.


Our drive through Chianti

Chianti is not an area you want to get lost in. Don’t get me wrong, the views are spectacular and the drive is like a long stroll through a museum of italian art, but when you take a wrong turn things go very bad, very gradually; an ugly combination.

We drove our little two door up many daringly narrow, gravel-paved roads before deciding to turn around. Nevertheless the mistakes turned out to make some fun memory (since we made it out unscathed) and the stops on the side of the road to take it all in made it totally worth it.

Our drive through and tastes of Tuscany, Italy

Of all the spots in the world we are marking as “must return here”, Tuscany is at the top. Sure, there are some things to be careful of while driving through Italy, but the long up-hill climbs to view the valleys from the entryways of medieval walled towns makes it so very worth it. Tuscany is the part of Italy you dream of when you imagine what a trip here would be like. So many other parts of Italy are too large or too touristy, but a great deal of Tuscany is made up of open roads and quaint towns.

Oh yeah, and the food! To be frank, the average Italian meal was only so-so, but the best meals we’ve had on the entire trip (and ones that were also modestly priced) were here in Tuscany.

Driving Through Italy: Know the etiquette and rules while avoiding fines


Italy is known for its Lamborghinis and Ferraris, and although we didn’t see any it seemed like everyone thought they were driving one.


Funny thing about italy. It is the exact opposite of Australia’s driving culture. Everyone and their grandmother is going 30Km/h or more over the speed limit.  We saw few police on the highway but many radar cameras and signs. Based on our experiences in NZ and AU we did our best to stay below the posted speed limit even though no one else seemed to.

A huge credit to Italian drivers: they always pulled to the right when they weren’t passing. (Something I really wish more Americans did.) We noticed  a sort of dance that exists in the way cars passed one another. On the highway you could  often see one car speeding past you and then immediately pull in to the right lane. Just as another car passed them and went directly into the right lane too. Then another car would pass and do the same, and then another. It was a sort of jump-frog of cars passing by and pulling over to the slower lane to let the person behind them go by. It was quite impressive actually.

You would also often see what I call a “slow-lane tap-in” during the “passing dance”. After a car would speed past us they would tap half of their car into the right lane for a few moments before speeding off again.

Driving through towns

You cannot drive within the city walls of any of the small historic cities like Siena, Pisa, Cortona etc. If you do, not only will you get lost or have a hell of a time turning around but you’ll get fined $100 or more for doing so. Yes, there will be cars driving into and around the city making it seem like it is a-okay, but YOU are not allowed to follow suit. A “my mistake” will get you nowhere with an officer. Finally, after 5 days, if you don’t pay up your fine could double. I really wish our rental car company would have clued us in.

A good rule of thumbs is: If you are about to drive through an archway of a huge wall, turn around.

IDP Required

Italy is one of the few countries that *require* an IDP (International drivers permit.) Not having one will cost you a $300 fine on top of whatever else you get stopped for.

ztlBeware of Traffic Zones

Watch out for ZTLs (zona a traffico limitato – reduced traffic zone.) There are cameras everywhere and you may not even get a notice of your fine for up to a year.


Make sure you bring change with you. Many parking stations don’t take credit cards or cash. Also, be sure to check online for parking info for the town you plan to visit. For example, there is parking for residents only in certain areas of town and there may not be a sign specifying it as such. Check other car’s dashboard nearby. If there are papers on the dash with the word “resident” on it, it probably isn’t a public lot. Most likely you will need to park and walk or grab a bus to the town. Also, different color spaces have different implied costs. For example, white spaces can mean free, while blue can mean you have to pay, and they may be situated right next to one another. In some cases yellow will denote its for resident, but bear in mind that not all resident spaces are yellow.

In the new world of automated, camera based, ticketing systems the days of “I didn’t know” are all but a memory. You must be far more researched that you had to be in the past to go on a driving adventure abroad. Hopefully these tips help 🙂



Avoiding Fines While Driving Through New Zealand and Australia


When we drove through NZ and AU we found it incredibly odd how slow people were driving. I’ve never been on a highway where almost everyone is driving UNDER the speed limit by 10K/hour on wide open roads. Where we’re from, the speed limit is realistically +/- 5Mph the posted number.

There is A TON of space between each city in NZ and AU and to make good time we made a habit of passing the unusual number of “slow pokes.”

About a month or so later I get a ~$30 charge from each car rental company. A week after that a letter from AUS highway patrol sent tickets to my parents house. Each ticket was between $100 and $200. I did some research on tickets in those countries and supposedly there is a huge crackdown on speeding; some roads monitored by drones.

No wonder everyone was overly cautious with their speed. You never know who is watching and when a simple pass of another car could cost you $100 bucks a month later. I’m not hating on them, we were going fast. We paid the ticket. Our bad.

For everyone else out there, fair warning: obey the posted speed limits in Australia and New Zealand to a T!

Our driving route through Queensland with a stop in Sydney

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Our drive through the countryside of Australia was not nearly as scenic as our drive through New Zealand, but, for us, logistically it was the best way to see all the towns along the coast line. There is a train, but we are the type of travelers that like to go off and do random things when we tour and not having a car would feel restrictive.

Although the drive between town were long (4-8 hours stretches) and flat, the beach towns of Queensland are spectacular and the weather was perfect.

Our rankings

  • Our favorite beach town was Cairns.
    • We heard from a lot of locals that we should skip it but it was a nice town, not over crowded, and had a lively vibe.
  • Our most surprising good time was in Yeppoon
  • Our favorite small town beach was Mount Column (just north of the Sunshine Coast.)
  • Our favorites activities were the Wildlife preserve in Cooberry and the Great Barrier reef tour from Cairns.
  • Our favorite site was the Whitsunday White Sand Beaches.
    • It gets a lot of hype but it is an aaaaammmazing beachline.  (Funny, on the way up other towns claimed to have similar beaches on the cheap but they were wrong.)


Our driving route through northern New Zealand

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From what we heard, the country side of New Zealand is spectacular. We thought the best way to see NZ was by driving. We rented a car in Auckland and made our way down to Wellington – stopping in each of the must see towns along the way.

Getting use to driving on the other side of the road wasn’t too bad. What we had trouble catching on to was the fact that the turn signal was on the opposite side of the steering wheel than we were use to. On every turn we would accidentally turn on the windshield wipers, have a chuckle and carry on. It took a few hours to get use to that.

In the end it cost us about an extra $90 per day to have the car. It really broke into our budget but flying to all the towns would probably have been worst. Tip: Picking up and dropping the car off at the airport adds an additional %15 cost to the overall bill.  If you can, plan well and drop it off in town, but be sure to mind the hours of operation.


The beautiful country side of New Zealand


I’m so glad we decided to rent a car and drive through New Zealand. The countryside is truly inspiring. (It is like a constant view of Windows Desktop XP for you nerds out there.) The peaks and valleys of green grass framed with blue skies are something not to be missed You can see why it was a great place to film the countryside for the movie Lord of the Rings.


To make it even more picture perfect we passed thousands of packs of cows and sheep along the way.