A few weeks ago (already!), I hit a major milestone in my life: I finally got my driving license!
After a 5 year learning process, 2 temporary licenses, 4 driving schools (2 in Brussels and 2 in Ghent) and 5 different instructors, I finally took the exam in August – and I passed! I really didn’t think I would succeed the first time, as I know myself and I’m always pretty nervous, especially for such highly anticipated events. But hey, I guess I learned how to tame my stress, so bonus point for me!
I know, yes: 27 years old is damn old. And honestly, it’s been a huge weight on my shoulders all this time. It was constantly bothering me, a mix of shame and guilt always present in the back of my head. I’ve had so many patronising, condescending looks. Begging friends to drive your moving truck for you, taking a cab to the middle of nowhere because buses don’t reach there, carrying IKEA furniture kits on the subway… so many situations that kept putting me face to face with the painful truth. I’m usually so attached to being autonomous and independent, and it was painful to always depend on public transports or on the goodwill of my boyfriend/friends with a license.
Today, fortunately, this period of my life is definitely behind me, and I feel very free, relieved, ready to conquer the world!
But before that, given my, euhm, extended experience, I wanted to share with you some tips, things that I’ve learned over those few difficult years. Hopefully, this will help some of you who are in similar situations!
- Go to a driving school, even if it’s just a few hours in the beginning: it’s safe (if anything comes up, the instructor still has all the pedals on his side and can take over if needed), it doesn’t involve any personal attachment (no fights with your parents/friends who would be crazy enough to teach you) and it will allow you to learn the “official” way to drive. Everybody has their habits, and not all of them are legal, so it’s always better to learn with a certified driving school. It will prevent you from discovering certain rules during your exam!
- Pick your driving school according to the criteria that matter: proximity to your house/work/school, quality of the lessons, quality of the vehicles… even though price might seem like a determining element, it shouldn’t be your priority. ‘Low cost’ lessons rarely pay off. And even after you started, if you have doubts about your choice, always feel free to cancel the rest of your lessons and pick another school (just be careful because there’s usually a minimum period to respect for cancelation).
- Try to keep your learning period around a year. What made it so hard, stressful and expensive to me, was that I was always stopping for a while, then starting again. I’ve spent a crazy amount of money on driving lessons, because every time I was getting back at it, I needed an adaptation period, which made me waste a lot of time. So when you plan to learn how to drive, make sure the next year is clear enough for you to be able to plan regular lessons. FYI, in general people need about 300 hours of practice before they’re ready to take the exam (hours with a driving school count as 3 ‘normal’ hours, which means you’ll need 100 hours with a driving school to be ready).
- If possible, always learn with the same person. From one instructor to the other, even within the same driving school, there are always differences, everyone has their tips and tricks, and their ways of teaching. It’s also very important that you find someone you get along with, someone who has a teaching style that fits your personality. Some people need a strict instructor, others need more flexibility, some like to chat while driving, others need complete silence… It’s very personal, but crucial that you find someone who listens and observes you, someone you can ask your questions to, someone who gets to know you.
- There are freelance instructors, who own a car with commands on both sides, and are used to give driving lessons (usually they also work or have worked in driving schools), but are significantly cheaper than driving schools. It might be handy, for example if you don’t have anyone to drive with, or if you don’t have a car to drive. A quick Google search will help you locate the freelance driving instructors in your town!
- It’s a classic tip, but oh, so true: do it as early as possible. If you can, do it while you’re still studying, because that’s when you still have a lot of free time, and will be able to pick convenient hours to drive. Once you start working, it becomes much more difficult: your options range from driving during your lunch break (if your boss is ok to let you leave for 2 hours), driving early before work, driving after work (that’s long days!) or taking days off (I don’t know about you but it’s not like I have too many). Obviously, it’s easier to afford driving lessons when you get a salary every month, but as a student, I would advise you ask your family to offer you driving lessons for your birthday, for Christmas… Depending on the city and on the school, one lesson (2 hours) costs between 100 and 150 euros.
- Last tip, but one of the most important ones: don’t panic! It’s never too late, nothing is impossible. Believe in yourself and do everything you can to reach your goal. Make the right decisions, make time for your lessons, it will have to be your priority for a little while. And when you feel hopeless, just think that if so many people have their license, there’s no reason you wouldn’t.
Voilà, I hope this article will be useful to those of you who are desperate to get their driving license! If you have any questions or remarks, I’d be happy to advise you further and exchange about the subject :)