As I have been spending more time in England, I notice more cultural differences between the two countries.  Of course, we do share the same language (sort of) but other things that have surprised me.  Let’s take road trips as an example.  You might think doing a road trip in the UK might be the same as one in the US.  Of course, there are similarities, but for those of you planning a road trip around the UK, I thought I would share some of the differences I noticed on my recent UK road trip to the Isle of Skye.

One of the many curvy narrow two-way roads on Isle of Skye. "UK vs US: Road Trip Comparison" - Two Traveling Texans

One of the many curvy narrow two-way roads on the Isle of Skye.

Which Side of the Road?!

The most obvious difference is the side of the road that you drive on.  In the US, we drive on the right side so obviously, that means in the UK you have to drive on the wrong side.  Luckily, I have Russell who is used to this and drove the whole time! For those of you that have never driven on the left, Katherine did not have issues driving on the left in Anguilla.

You would not think that driving on the other side of the road would affect me as a passenger, but it did.  Not only did I forget and try to get in on the driver’s side, but I had difficulties navigating.  It felt weird to be sitting on the left as a passenger.  So this sometimes caused me to get my left and right confused.  I would know that we needed to turn towards my side, but as the passenger, I would think that would be a right turn instead of left.  Oh and all the roundabouts make navigating more difficult too!

We weren't sure if this was a one way or two way road until we saw a car going the other way. - "UK vs US: Road Trip Comparison" - Two Traveling Texans

We weren’t sure if this was a one way or two-way road until we saw a car going the other way.

UK vs US Roads

I think the roads in the UK are also more narrow than in the US.  During our road trip around England and Scotland, we even had to drive on many one lane roads that were for two way traffic.  They had what they called passing places for cars to pass each other.  However, if you weren’t close to a passing place when you met the car coming from the other direction, someone has to reverse to allow the other one to pass.  Plus, in the Isle of Skye, you sometimes had to share the road with animals – sheep and cows.

Sometimes we were sharing the roads with animals like this guy. "Uk vs US: Road Trip Comparison" - Two Traveling Texans

Sometimes we were sharing the roads with animals like this guy.

Also, in some places, it was difficult to tell if it was one way or two-way traffic.  In the US, a yellow dotted or solid line signifies that it is two-way traffic.  However, in the UK, the center line was white even if it was for two way traffic.  If it was a narrow road, there might not be any markings and you might not know it was two way until you come across a car going the other direction.

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"UK vs US: Road Trip Comparison" - Two Traveling Texans

Two way roads still have a white line in the middle.

Cell Service in the UK

Also, I feel like there are a lot more areas in the UK when you can’t get any cell service.  This can make it hard to navigate if you are using the GPS on your phone.  Russell bought an Atlas just in case, but it was still difficult to find and navigate to specific sites.  We have gotten so spoiled by Google! Well, luckily I remembered that if you download the maps you need in advance, you can use Google Maps even if you don’t have service.  The travel blog Tales from a Fork, explains how to do it.  You will definitely want to download the offline maps when you are planning a road trip in England or Scotland.

There was no shortage of scenic views. - "UK vs US: Road Trip Comparison" - Two Traveling Texans

There was no shortage of scenic views.

Road Side Services

I liked the rest stops or services, as they called them, in the UK better.  I know in some places in the US the rest stops can just be bathrooms and picnic tables.  Sometimes if it is a truck stop, you get a gas station and two fast food places together.  You have to be lucky to find a clean bathroom.

In the UK it was always restrooms, several options for food, and a drug store or convenience store.  Many of the services we came across while touring England and Scotland by car actually had Marks and Spencer Simply Foods.  You can find some really tasty snacks there.  While every place we stopped seemed to be out of my favorite chocolate covered caramel corn, we got Scotch eggs and pork pies! Any road trip needs fun snacks!

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We didn't always have the best weather! - "UK vs US: Road Trip Comparison" - Two Traveling Texans

We didn’t always have the best weather!

I thought it was really smart that the services were easy to access regardless of what side of the road you were on.  Both sides of the highway had options and then there was a pedestrian crossing so that you could easily access what was on the other side of the road.  So clever, not sure why we don’t see this more in the US.

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A section where we had a dual carriageway or what I call a divided highway. - "UK vs US: Road Trip Comparison" - Two Traveling Texans

A section where we had a dual carriageway or what I call a divided highway.

UK Speed Limit and Speed Cameras

While some road signs were similar to what you would see in the US, there are more different ones in the UK.  For example, in the UK, they also have a national speed limit.  Cars have a limit of 60 mph on highways or 70 mph on a divided highway or dual carriageway as they call it.  So when it is the national speed limit, you will not see speed limit signs with numbers.  Instead, you will see a white circular sign with a black stripe diagonally across it.

average-speed-check-signAlso, thank goodness I have not seen average speed cameras in the US.  These have to be one of the most evil inventions of recent time.  There is no escaping them.  The cameras take a picture of your car when you enter the zone and then also when you exit.  Then it calculates what your average speed was.  I know getting cars to slow down saves lives but it really tests your patience when you are driving.  Luckily, there are warning signs when you enter the area, so you can avoid the ticket, but you really can’t speed.   You will also see regular speed cameras in the UK, but always with warning signs.  In the US, you find the speed cameras well hidden.

As you can see, there are some real differences with road trips in the US and in the UK.  Still, I definitely plan on doing more driving trips in England.  Have you ever done a road trip in another country? I would love to hear about your experience.


Expert Tips for Your Driving Tour of the UK

  • Download Google Maps so you will be able to have GPS navigation even when you don’t have a signal.
  • Brush up on what the road signs mean before your United Kingdom road trip.
  • Road trips are so much fun, be sure you are making the most of your road trip.
  • To entertain yourself on the road, think about games you can play while traveling.
  • Be prepared, check out this road trip packing list.
  • Watch out for speed cameras!

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A travel blog about the surprising cultural differences I noticed between a road trip in the United States and one in the United Kingdom.