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.

"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!

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.

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:

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UK vs US: Road Trip Comparison
A travel blog about the surprising cultural differences I noticed between a road trip in the United States and one in the United Kingdom.
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44 thoughts on “UK vs US: Road Trip Comparison

  • I’ve never been to a roadtrip but will about to go in Iceland next month! I’m so excited! Good thing the driving is the same as the one in the US, so no major adjustment. 🙂

  • Interesting points about the differences between the UK and US! So true how driving on the opposite side of the road (from what you’re used to) is different no matter if you’re the passenger or driver! Had this experience as a Canadian driving in New Zealand 🙂

  • Very nice insights and indeed nice comparison between UK and USA. I was born in India and hence can relate to the opposite side of road when it comes to driving . Hehe. Hope you had fun

  • I’m so glad I read this as I am preparing to drive around the UK in March. I encountered the narrow roads in Norway and Iceland too – it was very confusing at first and we thought maybe we were going the wrong way, but once we noticed the passing areas and got used to it, it was fine. Were you able to get an automatic transmission car there, or did you drive stick?

    1. Diana – Thanks and glad you found this helpful. I actually didn’t do any driving. My boyfriend Russell who lives in England did it all. So where are you planning on going on your UK trip?

  • Interesting observations. I’ve never driven in the US but found as a pedestrian that all roads are built with solely cars in mind whereas in the UK often the natural area, particularly in rural areas, takes priority. I’m preparing for my first opposite side driving experience in Greece and I’m terrified!

    1. Cliodhna – Yes the US is not too pedestrian friendly. Good luck driving in Greece! I’m sure it won’t be as bad as you think.

  • Wow, never drove in US; but hey, overtime I do this in a country different than my own, I do drive very carefully, respect the speed limit and so on. In Europe general the streets are smaller as they had to adapt to the existing towns and roads, I dream at driving in US, I imagine to be the best road trip experience over there, one day 🙂

    1. Mirela – Glad to hear you are such a respectful driver. Hope you get to do your dream road trip in the US one day soon!

  • I have never driven in a foreign country. Your thoughts on being the passenger in what is, in the states, the ‘driver’s side’ is exactly what I thought it would feel like! Wondering if the road is two way? Getting my right and left mixed up! Boy, that all makes perfect sense! Maybe one day I’ll give it a go!

    1. Natalie – Haha yes. I did have to ask Russell many times is this a two way road. Most times he knew but there were the occasional times where even he wasn’t sure. It is quite the adventure, you should try it.

  • The UK traffic drives on the left whereas the US drives on the right and this does create a lot of problem for tourist on a road trip. Adding to the confusion are the road signs and symbols which differ across countries.

    I faced the same problem in Greece so I can relate to it.

    Nice post.

  • I have the same impression: in the States all the roads are wider! and not only wider than in UK, wider than in Europe, in general! For some people driving on the left/right side is not a big deal – it´s something you get used to. Not in my case though. We do drive on the right in Spain (and Europe), but I went to Cyprus (was not even driving there) and it took me a whole week to stop trying to get in on the driver’s side… And afterwards a whole week back in Spain – the same: trying to get in on the driver’s side again.

  • I really enjoyed your post. I love road trips, and have done many in UK and US. I really miss the UK Service stations when I do road trips in US. Another difference I think is toll roads – US seem to have a fair few (especially in the east), whereas in the UK its still rare. But Petrol is cheap in the US, so the who trip costs a lot less too! Thank you for sharing. #theweeklypostcard

    1. Thanks Upeksha. Yes the services are wonderful. And yes you make a good point on toll roads. I think they are most common in the northeast. In some parts of the US it is rare too.

  • I went to Europe in the summer of 2013, and I went with a friend. We drove around south of England for a couple of days. It was a bit confusing and scary at times. There would be so my times I would yell because I thought she was going down the wrong way! Lesson learned. I will always look up the road laws for different countries now!

  • And there was me thinking it was the USA that drive on the wrong side of the road! Seriously though – a great post! I often get stuck in the lane beside my house whilst trying to get to work – sheep everywhere!! I prefer to travel by train around the UK (though we did a fab road trip to the Lake District and Northumberland a few months ago. In the US I get trains too as much as possible and then public transport – we have only travelled to major cities on the west and east coast. We dream of catching trains across America! #theweeklypostcard

    1. Tracy – Russell and I also joke around about who drives on the right vs. wrong side and I say how can the right side be wrong! Train is a great way to get around, but it is nice to have a car to get to more remote places and have more freedom. I am lucky that Russell is a great driver and loves it. Trains in the US are another story, not sure if they will ever be a practical way to go very far.

  • Your observations are very interesting. I have never driven on the left side of the road. Well, one time we went to Thailand and rented a scooter. I wasn’t driving but my husband got confused several times and asked me if he was on the correct side of the street. Well, I was confused too and had to think hard. It is not as easy as it seems. Glad I wasn’t the one driving.

    1. Thanks Ruth. Yes I am glad I didn’t have to drive. I know some people can easily switch back and forth but for me it’s not easy.

  • I have never been on a road trip in the UK but I imagine it is a bit different than in the US. We drove on the left side in Thailand and it did take some getting used to. #TheWeeklyPostcard

    1. Allison – I can’t imagine driving in Thailand! So many crazy drivers, plus how did you read any signs? That must have been quite the adventure.

  • Interesting to learn about the differences between driving in the US and UK. Many travelers assume it will be similar, but there is more to it than driving on opposite sides of the road. Thanks for sharing your experiences and insights, it will be good to have if I head to the UK in the future.

    1. Thanks Brooke! Yes some of the differences kind of surprised me. I hope you get a chance to do a UK road trip too.

  • Interesting perspective this post as I live in the UK 🙂 Yes our roads are significantly smaller I would say, especially “country roads” which is what you will have encounted on the Isle of Skye. You are right about mobile phone signal in rural areas, you don’t get much reception or some at all sometimes and it does make navigating rather difficult! I love how you say that average speed cameras must be the most evil invention ever … yessss!!!! Glad our services are good though, they are a god-send for long journeys. #theweeklypostcard

  • Love this! It is exactly experiences like this which you can only learn by traveling! I am fascinated by the idea of national speed limits. I think a lot of police in the States would be out of a job if we had those. =D I have roadtripped in Canada, which wasn’t too different from the US, and in Spain. In my experience, Spain only has two lanes of traffic: super slow, or super fast. It was a bit harrowing when you are trying to merge onto an expressway!

  • Couldn’t agree more on this, the first time I was in the UK it was really hard to adjust with the driving. They have really narrow roads unlike in North America that we build wide roads,and in there they are more prone to traffic.

  • We also spent some of our time in the UK wondering is this a one lane or two lane road? Luckily, they were all so sparsely traveled that we never encountered another car on them. I also have trouble remembering which way to go around a roundabout although I can stay on the correct side of the road just fine.

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