Getting to know a new city

striking image of a sunset over a built up city

Posted by Eleanor Richards on 25 September 2017

Driving in a new city is always a daunting experience. Whether you’ve recently moved somewhere, are travelling to a new place for a day or your sat nav has simply taken you on a different route to the one you’re used to – when we find ourselves behind the wheel in an unfamiliar place a spike of panic tends to hit.

It’s the same story for almost every driver; When you take your test you mostly stick to roads your instructor has already taken you down. You know where the sharp turns are, where the surprise stop sign is hidden and when you need to slow down or speed up.

However, after you’ve then passed your test you’re given the freedom to drive anywhere and everywhere – and quite often new drivers forget what it’s like to drive somewhere different.

Having learnt to drive in a fairly small seaside town, I didn’t have much experience with driving in cities. In fact in Scarborough – where I learnt to drive – there’s a traffic light at almost every corner, so it’s difficult to get into the swing of driving on an open or busy road to begin with. That meant that when I first moved to Sheffield, and the first time I drove there, I had a massive culture shock.

Taking the initiative

Being new to the city I was using a sat nav to get around, and this can really be either a massive help or a massive hindrance. The obvious plus of using a sat nav is that it tells you exactly where to go. You know it’s the second exit on the roundabout, or the road bears left in 200 yards and for these things it’s really useful.

What a lot of people don’t think about however is how disadvantageous a sat nav can be at times. If you’re driving in a new place and are going to be driving there a lot in the future it’s actually a good idea to try to get around without your sat nav for a bit. Learn where the road signs are and what the other drivers are like. There’s always an element of using your initiative when driving and if you rely completely on your sat nav this initiative gradually tends to fade away.

Of course, you will have to leave a bit of extra time to get to where you need to go without a sat nav, but again this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The key to driving well is feeling comfortable and safe behind the wheel. If you’ve specifically taken time to get to know the area on a slow drive around when you first arrive then when you’re stuck in mad rush hour traffic, or there’s been a random accident, you’ll find you’re not as stressed out.

Back to your "routes"

cars in a built up city

It’s also a great idea to do a few practice runs of a drive you know you’ll have to make on a regular basis. This is something I’m thinking about at the moment – as although I don’t yet have a car (or a job, ha) I will eventually have to get to work every morning. So I’ve done a few practice runs with the bus, figuring out which route gets me into the town centre with the most ease in the mornings.

This exact same theory works when applied to driving. You need to get to your new job and you certainly don’t want the added panic of not knowing the way on your first morning. So I would recommend doing two test runs – one in the middle of the day when the traffic isn’t so bad so you become comfortable with the route, and then another with the morning traffic.

Although I’ll agree, it is a bit of a pain doing practice runs, it will be extremely helpful on that first morning. You’ll know exactly what time you need to leave the house with the traffic and you won’t have the awkward stall or panic at a roundabout because you don’t know which exit to take. You’ll also arrive on time and not be late on your first day – or maybe worse, too early and have to wait outside a locked building.

Driving with passengers

Another tip I’d give you is to drive alone or with an experienced driver when it’s your first time driving somewhere new. This bit of advice comes again from my time at university, when my friend got her first car and drove for the first few times in Sheffield. Naturally - as we were students - we went everywhere together, but I think this was a bad idea as it made my friend more stressed out when driving. Not only did she have to figure out the new roads, but she also had people chatting to her in the car and offering – we can only apologise for it now in hindsight – not overly useful pieces of advice.

Get comfortable with the roads by yourself first and only once you feel ready then offer lifts to your friends. I know that once you have a new car you want to share it with everyone and drive everywhere – but if you can’t do it safely it’s best not to do it at all.

My final word would just be to relax about it. Everyone has to drive somewhere new and everyone gets stressed about it. Try to stay calm and everything will seem a lot easier. If you stall or take a wrong turn – so what? You’re not the first person to do it and you certainly won’t be the last. So just relax, take your time and you’ll get to where you need to be… eventually.

About the Author

Eleanor Richards
Eleanor Richards

Hi, I'm Eleanor and I'm currently living in Leeds after finishing four years at uni in Sheffield. I've been driving since I was 17, luckily passing my test first time and I really enjoy the freedom driving gives me. I don't currently have my own car but I am looking to buy one within the next year. In my spare time I love playing sports, particularly football and hockey and I'm a huge fan of the social aspect that comes from being in a team - spending time together both on and off the pitch.