Whether you are looking into French castle valleys, Italian wineries or a full-on eastern adventure, planning a European road trip requires a lot of preparation.

While for some a car is simply a liability, I like to think of it as the key to discovery and freedom. Thus, I’ve been on a few road trips myself and have developed some essential habits that I think are worth sharing with the non-initiated. Let’s see…

1.   Buy a GPS

I can’t stress this one enough.

As old-fashioned and whimsical maps are, you will spend more time trying to find where you are and how to fold back the map rather than actually enjoy the moment and going in the right direction. GPS devices are not as expensive as they were a few years ago and are so, so much more efficient than… anything else, really. There’s just no point in debating otherwise!

 

2.   Have some toll money ready

European motorways are not in such great state for nothing – users have to pay to use them in most countries.

Tolls depend on which road you are on and how long you have been on it, and can range anywhere from 2 to 20 euros (try to turn this into a game: guess the toll!).  If you do not have a European bank account and debit card, I suggest you carry enough cash to pay the tolls as not every toll machine accepts international debit or credit cards.

3.   Book accommodation in suburban hotels

One of the great advantages of a European road trip is that you don’t necessarily have to pay expensive downtown accommodation.

You can park  in the city for the day, and drive out at night to one of the many affordable suburban chains. It’s a very cost-efficient option, especially if you are only in town for a day.

european road trip

 

4.   Bring many, many tunes

Never underestimate how quick you can go through your iPod playlist!

If you think you have enough songs, think again and add some more. If you’re planning to drive a few hours a day, radio won’t be any good, leaving your precious iPod as the only available option. I carry over 1000 songs and still, I sometimes feel like it’s always the same one that’s on. Diversify and extend your selection!

5.   Pack the cooler

I wrote about it before, but eating solely in restaurants and rest areas will definitely break the bank and upset your stomach, no matter where you are.

Instead, try to pack as much food as possible in the cooler and rely on this for occasional snacks and refueling stops. Granola bars, fruits, juice boxes (candy and chips, too) are nutritive, cheap and easy to carry around. I even pack croissants for the first few breakfasts, saving even more money!

Have you been on a European road trip, or on a road trip at all? Did you run in funny situations? Do you have additional planning tips?

35 comments

  1. Comment by Annette | Bucket List Journey

    Annette | Bucket List Journey Reply October 28, 2011 at 4:27 pm

    I just got a car with GPS and I vow to never have another automobile without it! Even when I take local roap trips, it is so much better than having to stop and look a a map. It gives you more freedom to roam :)

  2. Comment by Emily @Travelated

    Emily @Travelated Reply November 1, 2011 at 11:52 pm

    When you rent a car in Europe, do you need more than just your American driver’s license?

    • Comment by Auto Europe

      Auto Europe Reply November 2, 2011 at 4:55 pm

      Hi Emily.

      You will need your drivers license and your passport, but now some car hire companies are requesting a copy of a utility bill. Also Germany & Spain will require an international drivers license.

      When you book this information should be displayed in the terms & conditions of the booking- if not always check and ask as car hire companies change their requirements quite a lot!

      Thanks

      Auto Europe UK

  3. Comment by Abby

    Abby Reply November 2, 2011 at 1:06 am

    It blows me away when people tell me they do road trips these days without GPS! I so do not miss the days of getting so lost and stressed out, but I actually prefer solo trips and it REALLY stressed me out when I get super lost. Although, I do happen to have maps. :)

  4. Comment by John

    John Reply November 2, 2011 at 9:44 pm

    Using SatNav is fine if you want to get somewhere on a strict timetable. Personally, I love using maps, then picking out detours to interesting places. Getting lost if your not in a hurry, is a magical way to explore new places.

    • Comment by Marie

      Marie Reply November 2, 2011 at 10:07 pm

      I think you can definitely fit in interesting detours with the appropriate guidebook and planning ahead. That’s what I do :-) The spur of the moment is also important… if I see something pretty down the road, I’ll go and ask the GPS to find my way back ;-)

  5. Comment by Stephanie - The Travel Chica

    Stephanie - The Travel Chica Reply November 3, 2011 at 2:56 am

    Trying to fold maps back the way they started is IMPOSSIBLE!!

  6. Comment by Janelle

    Janelle Reply November 11, 2011 at 7:07 am

    Did a massive European road trip last year – 17 countries in 2 1/2 months! We bought a campervan and travelled in that – absolutely loved it and would recommend it to anyone! Definitely use a GPS, the cooler is a must and I would also say you need to make sure your car has all of the required safety gear for each country, like hi-vis vests, triangles etc. Each country in Europe has different requirements. Hire cars should have everything you need, but I would just check!

    • Comment by Emma

      Emma Reply December 30, 2011 at 1:02 pm

      Hi, I’m planning a 3month road trip next summer. We’re buying a campervan and going with our two girls. Do you have any recommendations? where to go/not to go? how to start planning etc? …where did you find the campsites? How much did you book in advance?
      Many thanks!
      Em

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  8. Comment by Jouk

    Jouk Reply August 13, 2012 at 1:00 pm

    I am starting to plan a MEGA road trip round europe. possibly taking several months. any advice? and does anyone want to come with me?

    Do I get a car, tent and inflatable bed OR a campervan?

    Jo x

    • Comment by kiki

      kiki Reply March 7, 2013 at 7:04 pm

      i do! i’m planning a roadtrip for june 2013!

      • Comment by Marie-Eve Vallieres

        Marie-Eve Vallieres March 8, 2013 at 9:22 am

        Good for you! :)

  9. Pingback: Lusting for a European Road Trip - Spunkygirl Monologues

  10. Comment by Evren

    Evren Reply December 2, 2012 at 2:33 pm

    Some nice tips there ,thank you for sharing :)

    I am too planning a road trip to europe (from uk) next summer . My first stop will be northern France then i am not sure which way to go or what to see.
    I will have 10 days in total . Any suggestions ?

    Thanks , Evren

    • Comment by Marie-Eve Vallieres

      Marie-Eve Vallieres Reply December 2, 2012 at 3:11 pm

      From Northern France, you basically have two options – to get deeper south and explore more of France. Or you can go north and indulge in some Flemish goodness in Belgium and the Netherlands. It really depends what your personal favorite is :-)

  11. Comment by Jimbo

    Jimbo Reply December 2, 2012 at 9:03 pm

    A friend and myself are going on a european adventure next march/april. We kind of want to work along the way but not sure if finding a job before we go will prevent us from exploring along the way. Is it easy enough to find work whilst away???

    • Comment by Marie-Eve Vallieres

      Marie-Eve Vallieres Reply December 2, 2012 at 10:50 pm

      I’m not really an expert on short-term jobs around Europe… I’m sorry I can’t be of much help :(

    • Comment by suzanne

      suzanne Reply March 15, 2013 at 10:09 pm

      @Jimbo,

      Guess your on the way already, but day job should be easier to find a bit later in spring, if you trave laround the countryside it wouldn’t be hard to earn a few euro’s as fruit picker and that sort of thing.

  12. Comment by Amrik

    Amrik Reply February 23, 2013 at 8:23 am

    Hi I am planning a road trip with my family , where to start and end , beat deal in cars and hotels. We should book in prior or we should book on arrival .

    • Comment by Marie-Eve Vallieres

      Marie-Eve Vallieres Reply February 24, 2013 at 1:14 pm

      You should always book prior – that way you won’t find yourself in a dead end should trouble arise. As for where to start and end, it’s really up to your interests! Which countries do you find the most interesting, do you want to see castles, cities, beaches, vineyards, etc.

  13. Comment by Ahmed

    Ahmed Reply March 14, 2013 at 7:04 pm

    Hi,

    I’m here in barcelona and wish to travel to germany by road ,
    Is there any one who goes to germany in these days ?

    Regards.

  14. Pingback: Lusting for a European Road Trip | Savoir Faire Abroad

  15. Comment by Kirstie

    Kirstie Reply April 6, 2013 at 12:36 pm

    Hi,
    I have a small combo van (old post van type) that two people can sleep in cosily. I was thinking of driving from the UK and seeing how far me and my sister could get…any top tips? Is it feesable to sleep in a inconspicious van out of town etc. Would like to visit unusual, non toursity, chilled out places, any suggestions?

  16. Comment by Common: Take a trip

    Common: Take a trip Reply July 2, 2013 at 11:51 am

    Excellent post. I was checking continuously this blog and I am inspired!
    Extremely helpful information specially the final part :) I take
    care of such information a lot. I was seeking this certain info
    for a long time. Thanks and best of luck.

  17. Comment by Arthur

    Arthur Reply January 28, 2014 at 3:41 pm

    The Adventure begins when your roadtrip buddy who has never been out of the country says “I know a shortcut let’s go this way “

    • Comment by Marie-Eve Vallieres

      Marie-Eve Vallieres Reply January 30, 2014 at 9:04 am

      YES. Adventures await :-)

  18. Comment by Pat and Carla

    Pat and Carla Reply January 18, 2015 at 10:06 pm

    For tip #1 I would like to emphasize the word “buy.”

    Our only foreign driving experience is in Iceland, on two separate occasions. The first time we rented a GPS unit with the car rental. For those who aren’t familiar the Icelandic language just seems crazy as heck. Fortunately I was able to click around and got it to “English.” However, that wasn’t good enough. The destinations were not programmed in English and we couldn’t search anything effectively. We had to zoom out/scroll the map and click where about we would want to go. We’re like some adventure so it worked out okay, especially since most of our time was in rural areas.

    However, for our second trip we borrowed a family members GPS and purchased the Nordic Maps from Garmin. This time it worked perfectly.

    • Comment by Marie-Eve Vallieres

      Marie-Eve Vallieres Reply January 19, 2015 at 12:11 pm

      Good to know, thanks for sharing Pat!

  19. Comment by ervin armstrong

    ervin armstrong Reply January 25, 2015 at 10:52 am

    I’ve been planning a road trip to Europe for some time, this is the first website I’ve found that offers good sound honest advice by a real live human being. I’m planning on a 3 month camping tour of Europe. I think leasing a car (Peugeot “Partner”) seems to fit the bill. It’s almost double the cost for 3 month eurorail Global pass. But when you add in hotel and meal costs, leasing a car and camping is the better deal. Freedom of a car? Priceless. Due to weather conditions I’ll start the tour in Southern Spain and hug the coast line, same plan for France. Then down to Italy’s heel to Bari, a port town on the Adriatic coast, from there, a ferry to Cephalonia. A Greek island (where Captain Corelli’s Mandolin was film), another ferry to the mainland for Athens Delphi and other sites. Going North to Albania, Kosovo Slovenia hugging the Adriatic coastline, Up through Austria, Germany and finally ending in Paris. I love history and would like to visit as many historical sites as I can. Do you think my plan is right on target or, a little too ambitious for a 3 month camping trip? If so, any suggestions would be helpful. This will be my first time to Europe.

    • Comment by Marie-Eve Vallieres

      Marie-Eve Vallieres Reply January 28, 2015 at 2:24 pm

      That’s one hell of an itinerary, Ervin! I do think it is a bit ambitious but again, having a car and camping gives you ample freedom to stay longer or shorter in places you enjoy.

      • Comment by ervin armstrong

        ervin armstrong January 28, 2015 at 10:19 pm

        I think you might be right, I like to go at slow pace I do not want to be rushed by a schedule. I went on a cruise down the Nile a couple of months in a Dahabiya, (two masted sailboat no motor,only 6 to 8 cabins) It was a 2 week cruise that I wished would never end, but 2 weeks was enough time to enjoy all the sites on the Nile. I’m thinking my itinerary is a little too ambitious.

        I’ll have to make some difficult decisions and choose an area to visit and stay there for a week or two and move on. I won’t have time to see all sites, but I’ll enjoy the sites I time for. To do the tour I outlined I’d need at least 6 months or a year. Who knows, maybe I’ll find a place in Europe and stay there to finish my? Like I mentioned, I’m an artist who appreciates Art and History, I could do 6 months in Italy alone with the Art and History Italy has to offer.

        I see you are in Paris, I’m planning to end my trip there, but I’d like to stay a week to see the sites. Do you know if there are any campsites close to the city? I’d rather use public transportation if I can. My internet search yielded 3 campsites, Campsite Indigo Paris, Campsite Huttopia Versailles, and Campsite Paris-Est. Reviews at tripadvisor has some interesting war stories about 2 of these campsites, even the French thought they were ripped off. Indigo Paris was referred to by other reviewers as the place to go but it was full and they couldn’t get in. If you don’t know of any other campsites, I’ll make a reservation to stay at Indigo. Looks like it pays to make an early reservation.

  20. Comment by Emily

    Emily Reply February 6, 2015 at 2:05 am

    For those who asked, you do not need a special license in Germany. For up to 3 months, your US license will suffice. After 90 days/3 months you would need to register for a German license, though. (I live there.)

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