Road trips are one of the best ways to explore the European continent. Today I’m sharing lessons learned from my road trips across five European countries so you can plan the best trip of your life!
1. Book the Right Car
When booking a car, you need to consider three things:
- Number of Passengers
- Amount of Luggage
- Transmission (Manual vs. Automatic)
Don’t just book the cheapest option! Be realistic about how much space you need for baggage- the trunks in some of the ultra-compact rentals are very small. Also, the autobahn is not the place to learn to drive stick. If you need an automatic you will need to reserve one in the booking process. Most European cars are manuals (stick shift).
2. Make a Realistic Budget
Gas, tolls, and parking add up quickly! This is very location dependent but as a rule of thumb: calculate your fuel expense using the distance of your route, the vehicle fuel economy, and the local gas price; add 20-30 euros/day for parking and another 5-10/day for tolls.
Related: If you’re traveling in a group I recommend using a cash pool to pay for car expenses. At the beginning of the trip, have everyone contribute 20-50 euros (cash) into an envelope. Use the cash to pay for communal expenses like parking, gas, and tolls. Every time the envelope nears $0, have everyone contribute another round of money.
3. Watch your Speed
Many countries in Europe use speed cameras and they are ruthless! If you go over the posted limit don’t be surprised to receive a ticket in the mail months after your return. The rental company will often provide the ticketing authority with your contact information.
Also, this goes without saying- but drive safely! Roads, like the one shown below, can be narrow, windy, and crowded. It is easy to be distracted by the scenery but please keep your eyes on the road.
4. Have a Plan… or Two
Google Maps is very useful for itinerary planning and navigation. However, you always need to have a backup plan! I recommend buying a paper map with written directions to your next destination as a back-up. Google Maps has failed me so many times in Europe. If you get lost, don’t be afraid to ask for directions.
5. Plan a Realistic Itinerary
If you’re coming from North America, you’ll feel like everything in Europe is really close together. For example, Paris to Amsterdam can be driven in less than six hours. However, there are many places to stop along the way- some of which are totally unplanned! Give yourself ample time to make the drive between major cities.
6. Consider A Round-Trip Route
One-way car rentals are more expensive than round-trip rentals. Car rentals with an international drop-off are insanely expensive. I’d recommend planning your road trip as a loop (starting and ending in the same city) to save money.