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1. Adj.: Describing a person born between 1 Jan. 1946 and 31 Dec. 1964
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The “Wrong” Side

by Suzanne Fluhr on July 30, 2012 · 32 comments

Our Irish rental car, our Nissan Tiida

Baby Boomers are the mostly likely demographic to have the financial wherewithal to pay for escorted travel.  The advantage is that you can arrange to travel in a small group with professional guides who have vetted hotels and restaurants and who can add value to your sightseeing experiences.  Another advantage is that you leave the driving to professional drivers. We rarely do escorted travel.

Our Irish rental car, our Nissan Tiida

Our Irish Rented Nissan Tiida–Driver’s Side

Somehow we missed the memo about the stress of driving “on the wrong side” in Ireland.  On our recent trip to the Emerald Isle, after our Dublin stay, we found ourselves at the office of a car rental brand of which we had never heard (Sixt) outside the Dublin International Airport.  We walked around our Nissan Tiida (a what?) with 106,602 kilometers on the odometer, noting the dings, dents and scratches, so we wouldn’t be held responsible for prior drivers’ mishaps.  I paid particular attention to the back of the left side-view mirror.  From our experiences driving in England, I knew that this is a particularly vulnerable appendage for folks driving on the WRONG side of the road.  I realize that the “wrong” side is a relative term, but American neural pathways have been trained to want to drive sitting on the left  side of the car and to stay on the right side of the road.

Dingle, Ireland

Very Effective No Parking Messaging in Dingle, Ireland

As we nervously “joked” with the car rental clerk about the “wisdom” of letting Americans loose on Irish roads, he regaled us with his story of driving the wrong way on an interstate highway in Florida and having to be lead off the road by a state trooper.  Instead of having to pay a hefty fine, he was let go with a warning because the officer’s grandfather had been born in Ireland.  It occurred to me that the chances of us being pulled over by an Irish police officer (a garda) whose grandfather had been born in the United States were probably slim, and more likely, none.  Hence, it was with no small amount of trepidation that we pulled out of the driveway and approached our first roundabout (traffic circle) on the way to the Motorway (toll highway) that is a ring road around Dublin so we could head off to southwestern Ireland.

Even though we had wimpily rented a car with an automatic transmission, it took the two of us to drive.  Our first roundabout was an adrenalin rush. My husband, Steve, actually drove the car while I shouted important warnings like:

“No! You have to turn into the left lane!!”

“No!  You have to look to your right!!  Watch out for that truck!!”  (That last part shrieked with my eyes wide shut).

Some Ring of Kerry Coastal "B" Roads

Some Ring of Kerry Coastal “B” Roads

We finally made it onto the Motorway where it was relatively easy to stay oriented in the same direction as the other cars (assuming one had not entered the road going the wrong way up an exit ramp).  However, I had to remain vigilant because Steve had a disconcerting tendency to drift out of his lane to the left.  He insists that with the steering wheel on the right side of the car, he always felt like he was too far to the right.  Others who have driven on the “wrong” side have confirmed this sensation, but that is small comfort to the front seat passenger.

Two Way Road Around the Dingle Peninsula

Two Way Road (!?!) on the Dingle Peninsula

On the Motorway, we were hunkered down in the left lane (the slow lane) where there was a robust rumble strip on the left edge of the road to reinforce my only slightly hysterical warnings that we were straying onto the shoulder.  However, once we left the Motorway and  had to use  “A” and “B” roads in the countryside, this drifting to the left thing became a much graver problem because not only was there no rumble strip, there was also usually no shoulder.  Moreover, the denoting of these roads as “two lanes” was often a tad hyperbolic.  So, while Steve was driving like he was quite sure we were going to meet a tour bus head on, I was wailing about the stone walls millimeters away from the passenger side (i.e. my side) on the left.  These ancient walls were diabolically frequently covered with vegetation, so I had to convince Steve that “No!  It is not okay to brush against the side.  No! Those are not just bushes.”

Two Way Street in Kinsale, Ireland

As troubling as it was to drive on the country roads, driving through the small towns and villages was also challenging in that:

  • We were easily lost because the streets had obviously been cow paths during some other era and were often at crazy angles to each other with roundabouts to try to sort out the mess;
  • being lost distracted us from the staying on the left side of the road thing (apologies to the motorists we startled while visiting the Rock of Cashel by actually driving on the wrong side in a lost moment);
  • there were cars parked along the side of the streets; and,
  • these cars, like our car, had side view mirrors jutting out from them.

Let’s just say that I was relieved to find out that our left side-view mirror was hinged, and that, on our car rental paperwork,  I had noted, in a non-specific way, that there were scratches on the back of the passenger side-view mirror.

Road Through the Burren, County Clare, Ireland

Road Through the Burren, County Clare, Ireland

I am happy to report that seven days after driving out of the Sixt Car Hire lot, we returned the car, relatively unscathed.  Our nerves —- not so much.

Have you ever gone on a road trip and had to drive on the “wrong” side?  How’d you do? Are your passengers still speaking to you?

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Roz Warren July 31, 2012 at 10:51 am

This doesn’t sound like a relaxing vacation. But the photos are gorgeous.

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Suzanne Fluhr Just One Boomer August 1, 2012 at 1:38 am

It wasn’t relaxing, but visiting the beautiful Irish countryside and small towns and villages was worth the stress. And there was always a pint of guinness or an Irish (decaf) coffee at the end of the day to make it all OK.

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avatar Alexandra August 4, 2012 at 1:01 am

Ah, brings back fond memories of driving around Scotland in 1975. I loved the whole driving on the left side thing – but, of course, I was the designated driver, not the passenger.

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Suzanne Fluhr Just One Boomer August 4, 2012 at 3:21 am

Thanks for sharing.

In our case, the driver was pretty much as freaked out as the passenger—although he couldn’t see the stone walls right against the road under the thin veneer of greenery. Driving in Ireland was definitely a two person endeavor for us.

Did you notice whether your passenger was drinking more (ETOH) than usual?

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avatar Madaline Fluhr August 7, 2012 at 10:29 pm

Sounds like time to dip into the ole retirement fund and hire a native driver!! I agree that the photos are great so you were not completely nonfunctional during this “pleasure” tour. However, you probably enjoyed viewing the photos at a cafe or in your hotel room more than the actual experience of seeing the sights through your car window! I notice that as I get older being in a car in the U.S.A. as a passenger with my husband driving on the “right” side of the road is increasingly harrowing! I don’t think Eddie’s driving has changed, I think I’m becoming Mom!! Really, next time hire a driver or take a tour bus!

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Suzanne Fluhr Just One Boomer August 8, 2012 at 5:49 am

It’s hard to think about giving up the freedom to go wherever whenever. I also think that driving on the wrong side might be like childbirth. There’s kind of a built in amnesia, so that when you’re safe back home, looking at your photos (little baby), you don’t dwell on the terror (pain).

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Suzanne Fluhr Just One Boomer August 8, 2012 at 5:51 am

P.S.: There are more “great” photos to follow. I still haven’t done the actual post about the substance of the trip through southwest Ireland (Ring of Kerry, Dingle Peninsula, Cliffs of Moher) itself. I guess I had to expiate the driving on the wrong side heebie jeebies first.

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avatar Christopher August 8, 2012 at 7:47 am

OH, I feel your pain. I drove through Ireland with my father a few years ago. We had to take a test before we could get the car. Did you not have to do this? I’ve driven a lot in Great Britain, so I was used to driving on the wrong side of the road, but somehow in Ireland it all felt more dangerous.

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Suzanne Fluhr Just One Boomer August 8, 2012 at 8:26 am

No, we didn’t have to take a test, but we had an automatic. What type of test? Did you have to go out on the road with someone from the car rental company? We’ve driven on little roads in Cornwall in England. It was a lot like our experience driving in southwestern Ireland.

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avatar Merrill August 12, 2012 at 12:47 am

We’ve rented cars many times in Ireland and never had to take a test. I know that road to Dingle very well, and it can be really scary in places, but no where near as bad as going over the pass to the other side of the island. That is truly terrifying!

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Suzanne Fluhr Just One Boomer August 12, 2012 at 1:02 am

I’m glad we missed that. We took the Motorway from Kinvarra on the west coast back to Dublin—only three hours!

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avatar kevin August 25, 2012 at 5:15 pm

We did this same trip in April. I drove and the wife got bruises on her left hand from holding the “OH” s**t handle. We really enjoyed ourselves in Dingle. Most beautiful of Ireland. Will be going back to see the Rock next April on our way to Germany.

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Suzanne Fluhr Just One Boomer August 25, 2012 at 6:52 pm

Terrific name that handle!

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Suzanne Fluhr Just One Boomer August 25, 2012 at 10:56 pm

BTW, Kevin, I will have a blog post up about Dingle and the Ring of Kerry in the near future. Thanks for reading.

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avatar The GypsyNesters December 2, 2012 at 10:19 pm

Good stuff. We got very used to driving on the “wrong side” when we lived on St Croix. Trouble there is all the cars come from the states with the steering wheel on the wrong side.

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avatar Just One Boomer (Suzanne) December 2, 2012 at 10:53 pm

When I was a teenager, we lived in England (in Wiltshire) for a year when my father was an exchnage teacher. My parents bought a Volvo station wagon and had it delivered in England. The plan was to ship it back to the US after the year, so the steering wheel was on the left. I had to ride shotgun to tell my father when he could pass. He got used to it, but I was sent into London with him to pick it up. Very scary

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avatar Phil August 5, 2013 at 5:01 am

I found the toughest part of driving on the “wrong side” was judging the width of the car and always being either too far from or bumping the curb. I also loved those country one-lane roads in England with the high hedges where you could play “chicken” with the oncoming traffic to see who would yield first. Funny how, although the steering wheel is on the right, the gas, brake and clutch pedals are not mirror images of the american style.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr August 5, 2013 at 11:28 am

Phil, thanks for your comment. Driving the Ring of Kerry, somehow the oncoming tour buses always won that game of chicken. You know, that ” discretion is the better part of valor thing.”

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avatar Erin Bender (Travel With Bender) August 5, 2013 at 1:40 pm

So glad to here the Irish drive on the RIGHT side of the road haha. Cant wait to drive around then, sounds exciting lol.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr August 5, 2013 at 2:02 pm

I assume you’re from the UK, Ireland or a Commonwealth nation — or Japan for that matter! I know you guys probably experience some of the same emotions if you hire a car in the U.S. (i.e. terror?), but at least our roads are usually wider.

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avatar Ami August 5, 2013 at 9:26 pm

Oh the driving on the wrong side of the road. My husband kept turning on the windshield wipers instead of the turn signal. 🙂

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr September 12, 2013 at 4:31 pm

My husband does that wherever we rent (hire) a car — even in our home country of the U.S. 😉

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