Anyone can get a driving licence. But once you’ve passed, the learning really begins.
The open road can be nerve-racking, especially without an instructor around to guide you. Mistakes are inevitable, but bouncing back from them is what matters.
Passing gives you the freedom to travel wherever you want, but not the experience to do so. I remember picking up my first car — a red Ford Fiesta — and driving it the wrong direction down a one-way street. For a new driver, the mistake was mortifying. Convinced I’d lose my license, I waited in a nearby car park just to calm down.
The trick is to learn along the way — from your own adventures, mistakes, and from other more experienced drivers. If you think the driving situation you’re going into may leave you feeling uncomfortable and out of your depth — or may even be dangerous — then prepare yourself before. This could be looking at the route in advance on your SatNav or Google Maps, or reading tips on how to drive in winter, when ice, snow and low visibility can all prove to be a challenge to even the hardiest of drivers.
I still consider myself a new driver three years on: prone to the odd mistake, but now confident enough to continue along the road. The only way you can improve is to keep going. I find road trips are a perfect excuse to take my car for a spin — and they distract me from any anxieties about driving.
Read on to learn how small and frequent road trips make you a more confident driver.
Road trips with friends
Growing up in the UK, I couldn’t wait to channel my love for The Inbetweeners and take my mates to Thorpe Park. But when push comes to shove, I wasn’t ready for such a long trip. It was too daunting a reality, too soon.
Instead, I took a step back and stayed local; gradually allowing more friends into the car at any one time. Soon the Fiesta’s seats were full and we expanded our horizons to the cinema and a nearby theme park.
Road trips with your mates are great and you’ll make countless memories. But be careful not to jump in the deep end; many extra hazards come with letting friends into the car. From arguments and blaring music to the shotgun rule, friends do tend to get carried away (and so will you).
You should start small and build confidence — sometimes the best road trips come in the form of an impromptu visit to the drive-through. Building up slowly means you learn to take control of the car and assert authority as the driver. After all, the car is yours, not your friends’.
Bowing to peer pressure can affect how you otherwise normally drive, and that’s how avoidable mistakes happen. But on a lighter note: having friends in the car helps you realise driving opens up the world and you should enjoy it.
Road trips with family
Hitting the road with your family provides a very different experience than with your friends. For one, there is far less banter and a much larger degree of criticism about your driving. And two, they make you turn the music down.
However, taking my mum or dad to the supermarket gave me a far greater sense of security. In a way, my parents filled the role of instructor; knowing they were around to guide me helped my overall driving — the training wheels were almost off, but not quite yet.
Popping to the shops isn’t exactly the coastal retreat many would envision a family road trip to be. But it’s a great way to develop practical experience, building you up until you are ready for the long hall drive to Cornwall. For me, driving around with my parents gave me my first motorway lesson, teeing me up to brave it on my own.
Road trips on your own
Riding solo is a great way to familiarise yourself with your car and get comfortable as a new driver. You begin to read the road without anybody’s input, gaining trust in your instincts as time goes on. It’s hands down the best kind of road trip: switch the radio on and explore the world.
When I started to drive, taking the little Fiesta out became the best part of my day. I set myself a route to complete and each time went a bit further, soon encompassing motorways, country roads and roundabouts — anything I had previously been scared to attempt became normal.
Committing to drives helped me conquer my nerves. Suddenly, travelling locally turned into round trips to London and Bournemouth. I was off and until now, never looked back at the day I scuppered the one-way system.
A road trip is whatever you want it to be. Sure, we romanticise cross-country expeditions, but it’s not feasible for a new driver. And certainly wasn’t for me. When you pass your driving test, anywhere and everywhere you go has a learning curve; it takes time to get over such a hump. Small and frequent is the way to go to start — but don’t worry, you’ll soon build up to those memorable road trips!