Seeing new places. Going off the beaten path. Discovering the unexpected. All from the comfort and convenience of your car! You can be spontaneous. Stop every time you see something awesome. Rock out to great music. And take in beautiful and diverse scenery without a care in the world…
Road Trips were always our thing when we lived in the USA. We used every opportunity we had to drive somewhere new on the weekends. Now that we’re living in Austria (and now that we have a car), these trips have only become even more common (and even more epic) than before. We’ve been on Europe road trip after Europe road trip, and every month, we’re still planning more.
Whether it’s a quick drive to Berchtesgaden or a 6-hour journey to Croatia, we can’t get enough. I mean, when you can drive to another country within 30 minutes, is there ever really an excuse not to?
A Europe Road Trip vs. a USA Road Trip
With every new trip we take in our little European adventure wagon, we come back with one common theme or takeaway:
Planning a Europe road trip is NOT the same as planning a road trip in the USA.
You’re not driving to different states – you’re driving through different countries. Laws are different. Languages are different. Signs and what’s considered ‘normal’ on the road are all very different.
So how do you ensure a successful Europe road trip? What can you do to fully (but not overly) prepare, so hiccups are prevented and issues are solved right away?
21 Tips to Ensure a Successful Europe Road Trip
1. Research: highway vignettes and/or tolls?
This was the biggest surprise to us and one of the most important steps in our Europe road trip preparation. Check the toll or highway vignette laws in every country you’ll be driving through before you leave.
But what’s a highway vignette?!
It’s basically a pass that you either stick to the inside of your windshield (driver’s side, bottom) or keep with you at all times. This highway pass allows you to drive on highways in those countries. You can get 7 day passes, 2 week passes, month, year etc, depending on the length of your Europe road trip.
Most of the time, they are in lieu of tolls, but we’ve come across some countries that have both toll and vignette requirements. In Austria, for example, we have a year-long highway vignette, but also have to pay tolls at certain tunnels. In Croatia, you pay tolls only, but in Slovenia – highway vignettes all the way!
And just some advice: DO NOT think you can get by without a highway vignette if that country requires one. Some highways have readers, so if you don’t have it properly displayed, you’ll find a ticket in the mail. Other countries will hit you with a 300 euro fine if you get pulled over without one.
15 euro week-long highway pass vs. 300 euro fine? The choice is easy and the information is out there. So do your research!
If you need a highway vignette, just hit up the first rest stop you see after you cross the border. Rest stations will always sell them and cashiers are used to the question – no matter what language they speak. It’s easy to purchase, takes minutes and prevents a lot of headache during your trip.
You can also avoid tolls in your route planning, but this can of course add extra time to your trip, which you might not have.
2. 112: THE emergency number in Europe.
112 is the General Emergency phone number for all European countries! 911 won’t do you any good here, so make sure you’re familiar with this number. Save it in your phone, keep it in your glove compartment. Do whatever you need to do to remember it. Safety is top priority and in case of emergency, this will save you both time and stress.
3. Know legal BAC limits.
Every country has different laws for what/if you can drink before you drive. For obvious reasons, it’s important to know this ahead of time.
ZERO drinking before driving is always the safest choice, but having a glass of wine at lunch and then driving 2 hours later can be totally acceptable in one country but totally against the law in another. If you aren’t prepared with this information ahead of time, that glass of wine can create a very sticky situation.
For example, in the Czech Republic, there is a ZERO tolerance for alcohol. Meaning if you had a glass of wine at lunch and happened to get pulled over, it could mean big fines and maybe even an arrest. In Austria, the legal BAC is 0.5 (less than the USA), so even countries right next door can be totally different.
Make sure you’re aware of these laws before you hit the road – for every country you pass through.
4. Keep your connection going.
One thing that people forget is that every time you cross a border, you’re going to lose your connection. Unless of course you add a European package to your current phone plan. That’s not something you’re used to thinking about when planning a road trip from state to state.
If you don’t arrange it with your carrier beforehand, you can always get SIM cards along the way. Just make sure your phone’s unlocked. Each country will require a separate SIM card, which is easy when you’re focusing on 1 or 2 countries but can be a burden when you’re traveling to many.
Whatever you choose – know your options and plan ahead. The stress of not having a connection can get old real fast and may ruin part of your travel experience.
5. Download maps from Google maps (to use offline)
This can be a serious life saver! What if you have no data or service? What if you’re lost in a rural village with no knowledge of the local language?
You can download Google maps to use offline for a certain area. It’s well worth the few minutes and data it takes to download them! And although some of us may forget how to actually read a map, when in a crunch, I am sure it can be figured out old school. Another easy step would be to print directions ahead of time, just as a precautionary measure. Either way, have back up because no data or service happens often when you’re road tripping!
6. Waze knows the ways!
Waze is the best navigation we’ve found for a successful Europe road trip. It will give you speed camera locations (which are pretty common throughout Europe), accidents ahead, construction zones, delays etc. It will even re-route you based on traffic.
We have Google Maps as backup too, but never use it for driving. Waze is where it’s at and has rarely steered us wrong.
7. Leave extra time to cross borders, just in case.
You never really know what will be going down at the borders. Most of the time, they take minutes to get through. But other times, there is an organized checkpoint that gets backed up – especially during peak travel times.
Planning for a wait at each border is a good trip planning technique. That way, a little delay won’t ruin your entire day’s plan. And if you were wrong and there’s no wait at all, you’ll either get to your destination earlier or enjoy a few unplanned stops. (More time for freedom = more relaxation = more enjoyment, which is never a bad thing!)
8. Don’t forget your passport.
So simple, but SO important and very easy to forget. Since you’re not flying, grabbing your passport may not be a natural step in your Europe road trip preparation. Trust me, we’ve had to turn around for our passports a few times so far. It totally happens and you’re totally human for forgetting this step. We’ve started leaving a post-it reminder on the door to be we don’t leave home without it.
Of course crossing borders should never be done without passport in hand!
9. Bring a good soundtrack.
Road trips are ALL about the music! Instead of relying on the radio to set your mood, bring your own! Every time you drive into a new country, the stations will change, which can be fun but also annoying. Make sure you have access to endless music to cover all sorts of scenery and situations as standard trip preparation.
We load our music onto a USB and plug it right into the stereo of our car! With over 900 songs of all different genres, we know we can easily stay occupied and entertained!
10. Pack a cooler with snacks and cold drinks (& room for more!)
This is a requirement for any road trip really, but having a cooler with water and snacks for your Europe road trip is a must. Especially since you’ll be driving into other countries.
You don’t now how easy it’ll be to stop and grab something on the road, so it’s good to be prepared, just in case. BUT, on the other hand, don’t over pack your cooler! Always make sure it has room for more deliciousness. After all, this is Europe, so the chances of you passing a farmers market or stand with the freshest and tastiest treats are high.
Save room for new snacks but be prepared with back up, and HA-ngry (hungry + angry = we all get there!) will not be a feeling you experience on this trip.
11. Take your time & don’t drive too fast.
Not just for safety and legal reasons (which provide enough reason as it is!) But because the drive will be confusing at times. What if the roads get really narrow or the signs don’t make total sense? Or what if you’re too busy rushing that you pass a giant castle or adorable village without stopping to appreciate it? Take your time! That’s why you’re on this trip after all.
Also, the rumors are true. European are crazy drivers. Maybe it’s because they’re used to the roads or maybe they like to live more dangerously. Either way, if you’re being followed too closely and feel pressure to speed up when you don’t want to, pull over or slow down and let them pass. It’s not worth sacrificing the enjoyment of the drive.
12. Enjoy the license plates!
One of the coolest parts about a Europe road trip is that you’ll see COUNTRY license plates instead of state license plates. This makes for an entertaining drive and a fun game if you’re driving with others.
There’s a certain excitement that comes with seeing license plates from all over Europe driving right next to you! And it’s something you won’t find on most road trips, so enjoy it while you can!
13. Know the rules of the road.
Certain countries require florescent safety vests or safety kits in the car. Others expect you to have your headlights on at all times. Just a little research will go a long way. If you’re renting a car, make sure you ask before you drive away. That should keep you covered!
We also look up general speed limits before we leave. What is the typical speed limit on a highway, through a town? On the byways? Knowing in advance avoids any confusion or question if you don’t see a speed limit sign for a while. This site is a great reference!
14. Get your International Driver’s license.
This isn’t a requirement everywhere, but most countries expect you to have an international driver’s license to accompany your regular license. To be on the safe side, get one anyways.
For Americans, you can simply apply through your local AAA or NAC. The application is easy, the process doesn’t take long. All you need is a valid license, completed AAA or NAC application, 2 passport-sized photos and payment. Ours cost $15 in 2016, so it’s not expensive at all!
We recommend applying at least a month in advance, but rush options are out there too if you find yourself in a crunch.
Click here for all the details!
15. Download Google translate offline.
If you’ll be road tripping through 1 or 2 countries, downloading the offline dictionary for those countries can be a huge help. That way, even if you don’t have data, you can still translate when you need to.
Since you’re driving, you may find yourself in rural destinations, where knowledge of English is not common. Instead of trying to communicate in English, getting frustrated that you aren’t understood and creating a negative experience for both you and the local, download that specific language dictionary from Google translate.
16. Pulled over? Stay relaxed!
If you get pulled over, which can happen, relax and don’t get nervous. We’ve found that police officers are a lot friendlier here than what we were used to in the USA. Sometimes, based on your violation of course, you even pay for the speeding ticket right then and there instead of having to go through a huge legal process.
We’ve experienced this both in Austria and the Czech Republic before. Within 15 minutes, we had paid the officer, signed our ticket (with a receipt) and were back on the road. Simple and totally not as intimidating as we expected. Of course every country is different, but this is at least what we’ve found so far!
17. Contact your bank with ALL travel plans, even just the countries you’re driving through.
This is an automatic step when you’re traveling outside of the country, but when you’re on a road trip throughout Europe, extra steps are necessary.
Since you’ll pass through multiple countries, make sure you add every single one to your travel notification. You never know when you’ll have to stop, and since new countries pop up like new states, it’s something you might think about.
Plus, who wants to deal with credit card companies when you’re trying to live in the moment during your Europe road trip?!
18. Bring portable chargers. Fully charged and ready to go!
We always have at least 2 chargers fully charged and ready to go when we take off for a road trip. A charged phone or tablet means you’re ready for most situations. After a ton of research, we invested in a few Anker Astro E6 Ultra-High Capacity Compact Portable Chargers, and they’ve proved to be the best ones out there!
19. What side of the road do they drive on?
Surprisingly, we’ve booked trips to destinations without researching what side of the road they drive on. We just assumed that they drive on the right side, like most of Europe. But you really never know!
We planned to rent a car for our upcoming trip to Malta, but changed our minds because they drive on the left side of the road. If you know in advance, you can decide whether or not driving there makes sense for you. This site lists all the countries where driving on the left is the norm.
20. If you see something cool, stop!
That’s why you’re taking a Europe road trip anyways, right? To discover new places and see a country beyond just its capital city? So if you see something awesome that causes you to look twice, as long as it’s safe, stop to enjoy! Those moments will turn out to be the best moments of your trip.
21. Keep your schedule flexible and not overly ambitious.
Right along with being spontaneous, leaving extra time in your schedule is key. That way, you can enjoy those unplanned moments along the route, without having to rush to your next destination.
Keep your itinerary realistic and don’t try to cram too much into one day. We’d never recommend staying for just a night anywhere. It becomes tempting when you can check off new cities and new countries daily, but are you really getting the most out of your travel? In addition, driving long distance is SO exhausting. You need to space out each day so it’s comfortable and enjoyable, not something you start to dread.
Think about that as you plan and leave time for spur of the moment decisions and for rest and relaxation!
Sites to Reference for your Europe Road Trip
So there you have it. All of our road trip secrets and lessons we’ve learned since our first Europe road trip. If you follow these guidelines, we have no doubt that your experience on the road will be a positive one.
Most importantly, in addition to all of this, having patience and taking things lightly is the most important tip of all. You can only prepare for so much, especially when you’re driving from city to city. There will be obstacles – both physical (like the reindeer below) and theoretical (like traffic and forgotten passports)- but never let that get in the way!
We’ve gotten tickets. We’ve been pulled over. But instead of letting those moments ruin our attitude or come between us and a new destination, they’ve served as learning experiences. With every little setback, we’re just more informed for the next time. In fact, we look back and laugh at our past struggles over anything else! It actually turns a frustrating moment into a really funny memory because of that!
All in all, if you keep a positive attitude and open mind, you’ll get the most out of your road trip experience. Stay relaxed. Don’t let anything bring down your travel high. And with that positive attitude, you’ll ensure the trip of a lifetime.