Everyone raves about Europe’s public transportation, and with good reason. Between air, train and bus, you could do a fantastic tour of some of the most iconic stops on the continent. But a large part of Europe’s charm lies in the teensy towns and villages that are often only reachable by very sporadic local bus routes or car. To catch the most hidden of all the European gems, you may want to rent your own vehicle and do an all-out European road trip. Here’s how to plan for one:
Can You Drive Stick?
Most European rental cars have a manual transmission, which comes in handy when you factor in the high cost of gas. So, it’s great if you know how to drive stick. But if you can only drive automatic, fear not—there will be a few options for rentals they’ll just cost more.
International Driver’s License
While the rental agencies often don’t ask you to present an international driver’s license, having one is certainly a nice security blanket in the event that they do, or that you’re pulled over. Stop by your local AAA or DMV to inquire—getting one is usually a simple matter of filling out a short form and paying a small fee.
Familiarize Yourself With Road Rules
Don’t go to Australia and drive on the right side of the road. But even besides the obvious differences like what side of the road to keep to, some countries have different rules about parking, turning right on red and stoplights indicating different messages—like one for “get ready to go.” It’s a good idea to look up basic symbols and driving rules in the countries you’re headed to, especially if the road signs won’t be in English.
Identify Your Top Destinations
Once you know where you want to go, plan a route around these sights. Depending on your time frame, choose a handful of major stops, but also research secondary locations that are worth visiting along the way. That way, you can break up the drive and see more of each country without totally oversaturating your itinerary.
Use Online Forums
The automobile has been around for a while, so that means road trips have, too. Draw on local knowledge from forum boards. There will usually be questions asked by people doing a similar route. Here you can get a good sense of driving times, additional stops, alternative routes, and restaurants and hotels along the way. You can also start your own topic for anything you can’t find information on.
Account for Toll Roads
Tolls can quickly add up in Europe—those smooth roads don’t come for free. Google Maps will tell you if the route you’ve chosen has tolls, though not how much they cost. Maps will also show you alternative toll-free routes, if there are any. Of course, these routes almost always take longer, so you may pay just as much in gas, but sometimes the savings are big.
Take Advantage of the Rest Stops
Europe has amazing rest stops—the days of Port-a-Potties and burnt drip coffee seem to be behind us. Depending on where you are, you can now find full-service rest stops with huge bathrooms, restaurants, cafés and even supermarkets. It’s a good idea to stock up the car with snacks at these stops, as many grocery stores and cafés in Europe—especially away from the larger cities—close early and don’t open on Sundays.
Share the Ride
This one is certainly optional, but if you have some spare seats and are looking to offset some of the cost of rental and gas, check out the site Bla Bla Car. It’s a very reputable rideshare site that’s popular in many European countries, and you can subsidize your ride (and help someone else get where they need to go) by offering one to a stranger. Unlike hitchhiking, Bla Bla Car is very safe. The site takes numerous steps to verify drivers and riders.