How to travel by car across Europe.
Mainland Europe is home to some of the best driving routes – from the world-famous Autobahn to the golden Amalfi coast. With a little planning and enough time to sit back and explore, you can embark on a truly unique adventure.
Road trips aren’t just about seeing new places – they’re about immersing yourself in a location and going off the beaten path. The essence of a road trip is spontaneity – but there are still some key things you need to know before you go.
Vignettes to safety kits: pack the necessities
Europe has 50 countries, and though 27 sit within the EU, each one comes with its own unique legal system and motoring laws.
For instance, several countries require a “vignette” display permit to drive on motorways and autobahns – in Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Switzerland, you’ll face heavy fines for flouting this law. The price of a vignettes ranges from €5 to €15 for one week, and you can purchase these permits from petrol stations or border crossings.
In several European countries, drivers must carry kits with safety equipment – from warning triangles to reflective jackets. Invest in a European travel kit so you can drive with peace of mind.
You’ll also need to make sure your motor insurance is valid in Europe. Many UK insurance providers have policies you can use in Europe – but you’ll need to check the small print, and purchase temporary cover if necessary.
Stay informed on the rules of the road
When you’re touring through the beautiful High Alpine Road in Austria – winding among icecaps and soaking in breathtaking views – it can be easy to forget how close you are to international borders.
Each country has its own policing styles and speed limits – so before setting off on a long drive, ensure you know the rules of the road for every border you’ll be crossing.
The German autobahns famously have no speed limits – but they do have a recommended speed of 130 kph. Consider other typical speed limits, too – find out what’s typical in city centres and residential areas before travelling. If you’ll be taking your UK car, get used to converting speeds from MPH to KPH.
It’s also worth familiarising yourself with other local laws – like drink driving limits. Though a no-drink-drive policy is always the safest, there are countries in Europe where maximum limits can vary enormously – from Malta, where you could legally drive after a small glass of wine with lunch, to countries like Czech Republic and Hungary, which operate a zero-tolerance policy.
Leave extra time to cross borders
Because borders can be so quick and easy to cross in the Schengen zone, it can be easy to forget that you are crossing a continent, not a country, and should plan accordingly. Always leave an extra few minutes to allow for any delays around borders.
Don’t forget your passport
With this in mind, always remember your passport! You’ll be surprised how easy it is to forget this essential item when taking to the road rather than the airport.
In the Schengen Zone – which covers 26 European countries – you won’t necessarily need a passport, though you will need to carry some form of photo ID at all times. Since the UK is not in the Schengen area, you will need your passport to leave and return to Britain, however – so don’t leave it behind.
Download offline tools for remote driving
Road trips are all about getting lost and going off the beaten track. This means you can regularly lose phone and internet signal. Since many of us have all but forgotten how to use a real map, this can quickly spell disaster in 2018.
Google Translate Offline is also an invaluable tool, allowing you to truly explore remote towns and villages. After all, the best authentic continental restaurants are often tucked away in corners only the locals will know.
Organize a great playlist
Once you’ve ticked off all essential knowledge, the next thing to organise is a killer playlist. Every holiday is defined by the memories you create, and strong driving music is a must.
Driving for pleasure is all about sitting back and slowing down – savouring each corner. If you’d prefer to avoid obscure continental radio stations setting the tone of your adventure, pack a playlist with sounds to suit every landscape.
Prepare currency and contact your bank
Since you’ll be travelling through so many countries, it is important to contact your bank – and give them a copy of your travel itinerary. Fail to do this, and some banks will suspend your account due to suspicious activity.
Make sure you know the currency for all countries you’ll be travelling through – even within the EU, nine countries do not use the Euro, so plan ahead.
Have patience and take challenges lightly
Most importantly, stay flexible and don’t be overly ambitious. Driving long distances can be as tiring as it is rewarding – so you’ll want to strike a balance between sightseeing and comfort.
Taking the unexpected lightly is the most important tip of all, since you can only plan for so much. Leave enough time to enjoy every moment. With a little planning and an open mind, you can ensure a successful and unforgettable European road trip.
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