As you soar over the luscious green back yards of the residential areas of Orlando, your transatlantic journey is at last coming to a welcome end.
Nine whole hours of mixed emotions, that ranged from unmentionable boredom right through to somehow managing to quell the burning desire to offer parenting advice to the family in the row behind you.
But now as you make your descent, it is almost official, you are about to touch down in Orlando!

Luxury Orlando Vacation HomesFor at least one member of your own, much better behaved family, this means for certain that anxiety is beginning to well up alongside that holiday excitement!
While everyone else has been buying swimwear, reading guide books and searching the internet for the best places to eat and dine, the designated vacation driver has undoubtedly been preoccupied with the 45 minute journey that links the airport and your accommodation.

Driving on the left copy

My own first visit to the USA was a business trip, meaning that I only had myself to worry about if I took the wrong turn, but of course, having a little extra help can be good or bad, depending on the help on offer!
An extra pair of eyes, can be a little irritating if you are under pressure and you claim that you know what you are doing, and of course, that pressure doubles if you are a stubborn male driver like me!
For the lone business trip, I was as mentioned, alone, and everything was going to be down to me and my map.  Oh no, the map!  It’s in the hand luggage buried under the suitcase in the boot (trunk) of the car!
So you can already see how things began on my first ever drive in the USA!

Actually, I missed a bit out.  I missed telling you that I opened the right hand door and sat down with my keys poised ready to place into the ignition.  I kid you not, that is how green I was on my first ever trip to the USA as I stared at an flat space containing the passenger airbag!
Previously to this, the only experience of ‘driving’ on the ‘wrong side of the road’ was a school trip or two into Europe on continental coach, and it was showing.

After a shuffle around the car in the rental parking lot, I was on the expressway, headed to my hotel room.  No map, (it’s in the trunk remember).
I was so hopelessly confused, my logic was to pull over at a petrol station (gas station) and buy a map.  I clearly realise now, that you are one step ahead of me in remembering that my very own map is in the trunk in my flight bag.
I unzipped my flight bag, to grab my wallet and strolled into the gas station for a high quality map that cost about about $5 at that time.
After sitting for about 15 minutes in the blazing heat (I did not have the engine running the aircon!) I found the state of Florida, and at that time, I steadily recognised that the USA was indeed a very large place in comparison to the good old North East of England.
The map, was in fact next to useless.  I needed an idiot’s version with a lot less information and I guessed the nice guy in the gas station could help.
His help was so overwhelmingly good, I shook his hand enthusiastically, as he came over to the car and popped open the dashboard stowage area to reveal the rental car company’s very own ‘idiot’s guide map’.  I was saved!

He kindly took the map I’d bought, and returned back to the car with the $5 I’d paid him.
But instead of a crispy $5 bill, he handed a whole bundle of shiny coins marked ‘quarter’.
He grimaced as he moaned about some expressway that would use these up in no time during my journey to the hotel, and he even laughed that there was plenty enough cash to get me there even if I dropped a few at the toll booth.

I didn’t drop a single quarter at the toll booth (Yorkshire from my Dad’s side), and thanks to that Hertz map, I reached I-Drive without any fuss.
My biggest fear was heading up the wrong lane, but I quickly realised that the good old skill of thinking far enough ahead and paying attention to road signage was a simple and very effective tool throughout every journey.
Occasionally, I did hesitate, perhaps a little longer than usual, and a ‘honk’ from a car or two behind, made me chuckle, or on one occasion swear, but by and large, I quickly realised that Americans routinely sound their horns at junctions and lights, even if you don’t hesitate, so why worry?

With all that I learned during that rather beautiful sunny afternoon in Orlando, I am delighted to share a few basic things about my first and my many subsequent road trips in the USA;

  • Keep your hand baggage inside the car
  • Always take a bag of quarters or get some from the airport before you pick up your car!
  • Use a Satnav.  They are fabulous!  I use the TomTom US-Canada Mobile App on my iPhone (about £50).  Also ask the rental car desk for an idiot’s map.  They will happily mark it up with a route right to your destination!
  • Stay calm, even though you might feel you want to panic.
  • At junctions; Stay as far to the right of the route you want to head down and you will usually be right!
  • Read the signs
  • Ask passengers to stay as quiet as possible while your brain adapts to the road.
  • Read about the latest laws and safety tips when driving in Florida
  • Read our car rental tips article.
  • If you are staying in one of the popular Orlando vacation rentals, make sure you have the address of the villa written down in your wallet and also entered already into your Satnav.