Got anxiety about driving in unfamiliar places? You’re not alone. If you’re naturally nervous behind the wheel, a new driver taking a trip to somewhere you’ve never been, or a university student preparing to head to a brand-new city, driving in areas you’re unaccustomed to can be daunting.

New landmarks, roads you don’t recognise and drivers honking their horns all make for a pretty stress-inducing drive. And when your tension levels are high, you’re more likely to make mistakes that will make the situation worse.

To help you calm those pre-journey nerves, we’ve gathered some top tips and advice. From planning out your route to carrying out basic car maintenance ahead of time, we’ll make sure you’re ready when preparing to drive to unfamiliar places.

Plan your route in advance

A bit of homework ahead of time can be invaluable. Use Google Maps to work out what the best route to get to your destination is. This won’t make you instantly familiar of course, but it’ll help you know what to expect when you’re on the way. Plus you’ll be able to identify any toll roads and bridges you might have to pass through and roads with speed cameras.

It’ll also give you a chance to check if the route has any tricky junctions or steep hills, which can be stressful if you’re not prepared for them. What’s more, you can also find safe, practical places to park – because every driver knows finding a spot is often the most stressful part of any journey.

woman at computer

Give your car a once-over

Really, you should be carrying out basic car checks on a regular basis, but ahead of journeys – especially long ones – a few checks here and there can keep the anxiety of unexpected breakdowns at bay. Whether it’s checking your engine oil, inspecting tyre depth, or replacing wiper blades, spending some time to get your car road ready can ensure you don’t have to make any unexpected stops along the way.

Use a GPS – but don’t always depend on it

Your GPS or sat nav will probably be doing a lot of the legwork. And while they’re pretty much essential these days, they’re not always as accurate as you need them to be, especially if you’re driving through more rural areas.

The problem with some navigation systems and apps is that they tend to get stumped when it comes to road closures and changes in traffic patterns, which can lead to dangerous situations. Ahead of your journey, search online for any traffic or road updates so you aren’t caught short once you’re underway.

Also, try not to focus on your GPS too much while you’re driving. When your attention’s divided between a small screen and the road ahead, it’s not a good combination.

GPS on phone

Pay attention to speed limits

Your GPS should let you know what the speed limit of the road you’re on is, but if not, be on the lookout for speed limit signs. If you’re struggling to get your bearings, then decrease your speed a few miles per hour under the speed limit.

If you’re not sure of the speed limit on a particular road, there are a couple of things to remember. In built-up areas where there are lamp posts, the speed limit is usually 30 mph. That’s unless there are ‘repeater’ signs for a different limit, like 40 mph or 50 mph.

In rural areas away from towns and villages where there are no lamp posts, the national speed limit applies. Again, that’s if there are no repeater signs enforcing a different limit.

Avoid peak travel times

If you’re especially nervous, then travelling during rush hour will only add to your worries. Peak travel times also make it harder to find turns and exits safely.

Although avoiding these busy periods won’t eliminate traffic entirely, the reduced number of cars can make your journey a lot less frustrating than if you had traffic jams and congestion to deal with.

Stay calm

Missing a turn or an exit can be frustrating and stress-inducing. But in the moment, don’t be tempted to try any hasty manoeuvres like slamming on the brakes or making a sudden 180-turn. Split-second decisions like these put you and your fellow drivers at serious risk. Take a deep breath, keep your cool and stay calm. Your GPS will be able to advise you how to get back on track if you do make a mistake.

Similarly, remember to take regular breaks if you’re on long journeys so you can decompress and recharge. Stopping every two hours is recommended to keep your alertness at the optimal level.

Smart motorway

How to become more confident behind the wheel

Whether you’re driving somewhere new or not, boosting your confidence level on the road comes in handy wherever you find yourself. Give these tips a try for a bit of extra assurance during your next journey…

Know the ins and outs of your car

Getting to know your car can be helpful when it comes to your confidence. If you find yourself in a bit of a situation, then knowing which switch to flick makes all the difference.

Familiarise yourself with every switch and button so you know where they are and what they do. From fog lights and wiper speeds to de-steaming the windscreen, even the smallest things can be a big help, so make sure you’re taking the time to get to know your car’s interior well.

The same goes for the outside too. Walk around your vehicle so you can judge its size and dimensions. When you have a better sense of these measurements it makes judging distances and parking far easier.

Make yourself comfortable

When everything is to your liking behind the wheel, driving becomes a much more relaxing experience. If you’re uncomfortable on the road, it’s easy to make mistakes and get frustrated in stressful situations.

Make sure you’re in the correct driving position, your head’s close to the headrest, your arms are relaxed, and your windows are clean and clear. Get your mirrors in the right position too, so you can see where other cars are on both sides. It’s worth giving your car a de-clutter as well; a messy car is only going to add to your frustrations.​

woman driving

Drive as often as you can

Practice makes perfect, of course. Driving as often as you can is one way of boosting the old confidence levels.

Over time, you can begin tackling longer and more challenging journeys often as your abilities improve. Driving in different environments can be a big benefit too. Try driving on a quiet motorway or keep your skills sharp with a night-time drive. Take on a roundabout so you can practice getting in the right lane. Wherever you go, the more often you do it, the better you’ll become.

Take a refresher course

There’s nothing wrong with brushing up your skills by taking some refresher lessons either. If you’re especially rusty, then getting used to motorway driving, defensive driving techniques and anything else not covered in your regular lessons can help you gain back that much-needed confidence in just a few helpful lessons.

For more motoring tips and advice, head to the Brindley blog. In the market for a used car? Maybe you want to learn about our servicing options? Follow the links or contact your local Brindley Group dealership.