Dear Rick Steves –

StevesOn page 1019  of your travel guide Great Britain (the Twentieth Edition) you assert the following:

“Driving in Britain is basically wonderful – ”

No offense to all my British friends, but what were you smoking?

Of course, you amend this comment slightly by including the following admonition: “. . .once you remember to stay on the left and after you’ve mastered the roundabouts.”   Oh yeah.  No sweat. Those roundabouts are a piece of cake!

PSign

The P sign which in Britain means that the driver has just passed his driver’s test and should be avoided like the plague. Can’t they have a T sign for tourist?  Please!

Bless you for pointing out that other readers found driving in Britain to be a “nerve-wracking” and “regrettable mistake.”  Otherwise I would have felt like a real wimp.

By the way, when you suggest that nervous readers buy a green P sign to put in their car window, does that sign really mean “pansy-ass driver on board”?

As much as we enjoy your travel guides (I think we’ve bought over thirty of them!), I must point out the following changes that should be made to your section on driving in Britain based our recent experiences:

1.  In Britain (unlike the USA), rental car companies are perfectly happy to rent stick shifts (manuals) to people who haven’t driven one in over in twenty years, and are most likely to:

drive on the wrong side of the road
slam on their brakes in a roundabout
 frantically flash their green P signs hoping for mercy from the locals

Here’s our story: We decided not to attempt driving in London (as we could barely find our way around on foot) but to instead begin our driving-around-England portion of the trip at Heathrow Airport.  So, our last day in London we took the Underground to Terminal 3 where we’d been advised the car rental companies had their booths.

(You might mention to your readers, Mr. Steves, that apparently the only function of the car rental booths at Heathrow is to direct you to the their shuttle buses.  So don’t waste a lot of time, energy and patience by futzing around at the booths inside the termination.  Just catch a shuttle.)

Once we got to Avis we found out the rental reserved for us was a stick shift and that an automatic would cost an additional 50 pounds a day. At that point we probably should have said thanks but no thanks but alas, as in any good horror movie, we foolishly went ahead with the rental.  Cue the theme from Jaws!

2.  Make sure to caution your readers to test a GPS system before getting on the road and not after.

Our story: We decided to spring for the GPS foolishly thinking it might prevent us from getting lost but, alas, the Avis employee-in-training who programmed the gizmo for us made one slight mistake.  She thought we were Italian. I don’t know why.  I thought we were speaking English. Of course,  I didn’t turn the darn thing on until we were exiting the parking lot.

3. Another good thing to point out is, GPS systems do not work the same way in Britain as they do in the US.

IMG_4000

One lane road we ended up on for miles and miles until finally asking for directions from a real human being.

Unlike the navigation system on our Prius, which beeps to alert you of an upcoming turn, in Britain a beeping GPS means you’re going over the speed limit. So  don’t immediately take the next exit off the motorway every time the darn thing beeps or you could find yourself on a one-lane road out in sheep country!

IMG_0048

Thank you providing these instructions as to how to enter an exit a roundabout however, what if the cars aren’t all white and gray?

Another thing you should mention is, if you miss an exit, instead of the familiar “recalculating” message Yanks are used to, a British GPS system will take its time to calculate another route and it will get back to you when it’s good and ready.  So stop the car if possible and give it time to think.  (we didn’t and ended up circling around Winchester for about an hour before spotting the M3 sign and telling Miss GPS to bugger off.)

4. On page 1023 you make the following assertions which I believe need clarity:  “Outside the big cities and except for the motorways, British roads tend to be narrow. In towns, you may have to cross over the center line just to get past parked cars.  Adjust your perceptions of personal space: It’s not “my side of the road” or “your side of the road,” it’s just the road – and it’s shared as a cooperative adventure.”

Road

Chipping Campden – note the cars parked in all directions!

“Tend to be narrow” and crossing over the center line” should be amended to read: “Narrow as shit with no space for cars to park thus they park halfway up the curb, blocking your lane.”

“Cooperative adventure” should be amended to read: “Prepare to play chicken with oncoming traffic and make sure to wear your Depends!”

And, to that lovely bit of psychedelic advice:  “Adjust your perceptions of personal space”  I can only add that a little LSD might help.

5.  On page 1021 you state the following “The driving instructions in this book are intended to be used with a good map.”  We took your advice and purchased a map of Great Britain from AAA.

map5

Find your way to Stratford on Avon using this map – I dare you!

Above is a close-up of the map I tried to use to find Stratford on Avon after the GPS wanted to take us on itty bitty backroads.  We almost ended up in Birmingham!  Deciphering maps of England should not be attempted by those people with a green P card plastered in their back window.

Perhaps the folks in Stratford on Avon had the right idea about how to handle traffic.  Close down the streets, set up a carnival and party the weekend away!  Rock on Will!

StratfordAll the world is truly a stage!

Sincerely,

Your biggest fan, Jan

20 thoughts on “Dear Rick Steves –

  1. Jan, this post literally had me laughing out loud. Of course, if you’d posted it while you were still over there, I’d be worried sick! So glad you made it home in one piece. I’ve never driven in England, but after reading this, I’m fairly certain that I never will.

  2. Haha, ol’ Rick makes everything seem too easy. I’ve not driven in London, but my husband and I did rent a car for one of the two weeks on our recent trip to Germany. Of all things we were given a giant Jeep Grand Cherokee because I guess you can’t take a Mercedes rental into Italy. I’m so glad he enjoys driving and I take pictures out the window with a zoom lens. His most impressive feat was fitting the SUV into a garage made for Ferraris when we were in Zurich. The sensors in our rental were pretty sweet. The mirrors folded in when they sensed the roads were narrow, plus the back-up camera saved the day more than once.

  3. This is so funny – I think you’re the next Bill Bryson.
    I have a friend who is the Minister of Transport in NZ and he told us they have a lot of trouble with tourists driving on the wrong side of narrow roads – and on OW bridges.
    I’ve heard that the “only” way to see the British countryside is to drive – what do you think?

    • I wanted to see the Cotswolds which are difficult to see by public transport. However we paid dearly! The tours are expensive but then so is a blown tire! (which we found out the hard way!)

  4. Jan, this was a hoot. I have spent a lot of time driving in the UK (mostly on the passenger side of things, and must admit, that when I take the wheel, it’s only because I’m on a small Hebridean island where you rarely come by another car, and your biggest challenge is maneuvering around the sheep that lie in the road.
    I hope the rest of the trip was successful.

  5. Oh my goodness, I know this wasn’t funny when it happened, but it is funny to read. I hope he made some adjustments to his guide. Ireland is on our bucket list and when I look at some of the tours that offer the manual car and you maneuver from B&B to B&B across the country, I just shake my head and think to myself – I don’t think so. 🙂

    • Depends on what level of excitement you like on your vacations! ; ) Ireland is also on my bucket list! Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

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