Short distances between countries, cities, and sights, beautiful scenic roads, German Autobahn without speed limits, there are many good reasons for a road trip in Europe. Follow our few simple tips, and you will have a great time while exploring Europe on wheels.
1. Renting a car
If you rent a car, check the countries you are allowed to enter with it. Premium class cars are often not permitted into Poland, Czechia, Slovakia, Croatia, etc. If not asked, state the countries you are planning to drive to. That way, you won’t get any rental trouble on your trip.
Also, check prices for one-way rentals. Many companies ask high extra fees if you drop off the car in a different city or country.
Traveling without borders is one of the best inventions of the European Union.
But you should be aware that not all European countries are a part of the Schengen space, where you can travel freely. You’ll need to show your ID/passport, for example, when entering Croatia, Bulgaria, or Romania. Also, with the recent refugee crisis, some countries established soft border controls. For example, when crossing the border on the A1/A8 highway from Austria to Bavaria, you can get into a traffic jam because of the controls. Have that in mind and count in extra time when crossing the controlled borders.
3. Road Toll
There are different types of road tolls in Europe.
In some countries (e.g., Austria, Switzerland, Slovenia, etc.), you need a vignette (sticker). Usually, you can buy a vignette at a gas station for 7 or 10 days, a month, or a year. In other countries (e.g., Slovakia), you pay the toll for a specific number of days at an electronic kiosk or via an app. And there are some countries (e.g., Italy or France) where you pay at toll stations for each driven section.
In the Alps, there are also some passes, bridges, and tunnels with an extra fee.
The prices differ from country to country, but the fines for not paying the toll or not having a vignette are very high everywhere.
Check the details for the particular countries here: http://www.dalnicni-znamky.com/en
You don’t need to be afraid that you run out of gas in a remote, forgotten place in Europe. But gas prices vary immensely from country to country. Italian and Scandinavian prices are usually the highest. If possible, (re)fuel at cheaper destinations.
You can check the prices here: http://www.fuel-prices-europe.info/map-europe.php
Furthermore, gas stations in towns are ordinarily cheaper than on the highways.
5. Speed Limits
Only on German Autobahn, no matter how fast you drive, someone is driving faster.
General speed limits are similar in European countries: 50 km/h (30 mph) in cities, 90-100 km/h (55-60 mph) outside towns, and 130 km/h (80 mph) on highways.
On the other hand, fines for speeding differ very much. In Germany, speeding is “cheap” (15-150 €). On the other hand, in Italy or Slovakia, you might pay several hundred Euros for a few km/h above the limit.
If you spot an IG-L sign in Austria, don’t think about speeding even a little bit. It means the emissions are too high. Thus, the speed is restricted due to environmental pollution. Not only you’d break the traffic law, but you’d disregard the environmental legislation as well, which means a fine up to several thousand Euros.
Credit cards such as Visa and Mastercard are generally accepted. AMEX is not common. But it is recommended to have enough cash on you. Bear in mind that the Euro is not the official currency of every European country. USD is not accepted.
Don’t rely on GPS and Google maps only. Bring a real map and know the directions for your trip. Street names spelling of your GPS device can be confusing in different languages. For what is more, in some old towns with narrow streets you can lose GPS reception.
8. Don’t Drink and Drive
Well, that’s obvious.
But there are some differences as well. While in Germany, France, or Italy, you can enjoy a beer or a glass of wine for lunch and drive afterward. In Slovakia, Croatia, etc. there is zero-tolerance. In some countries, you even risk jail time when drinking and driving.
9. Get off the Highway
If you have the time, leave the motorways and drive on one of the many scenic roads. Not only will you see much more of spectacular landscapes, but rest stops in small towns are much nicer and cheaper.
10. Mountain passes
Mountain passes in the Alps or Carpathians are the best parts of a European road trip.
Before starting the journey, check possible road closures. In winter, some roads are closed due to snow. An occasional rockslide can also block the way.
Check the status here: www.alpenpaesse.de (in German)
Don’t save the money on a parking garage or secured parking. Particularly in major cities in southern and eastern Europe, always head to a secured parking lot. That way, your car won’t be scratched, towed, or stolen.
12. Have fun & Relax
A road trip through European mountains, cities, and coastal towns is one of our favorite ways of traveling. Don’t be in a rush and don’t try to see every famous site at once. Enjoy the atmosphere. Get a perfect 1 Euro espresso at the first Italian gas station and be sure to schedule many foto-stops when driving through Achen Pass in Austria or Bernina Pass in Switzerland. On the Amalfi Coast of southern Italy, you may sometimes need help from your front seat passenger to fold the side mirror, or you won’t fit onto the narrow road. Hence, a relaxed driver is what European (and probably all) roads need.