I’ve been fortunate enough to drive in 21 countries and counting, most of which have been in Europe, and I’ve learnt a thing or two along the way. Here, I try to detail some tips and thoughts before you embark upon your next adventure.
Driving is often our preference when exploring a new destination as we find it a great way to explore more thoroughly while at our own pace. Nevertheless, there are some countries, particularly outside of Europe such as Egypt, Thailand or Indonesia, where I am very happy to be a passenger. But, bear in mind that driving comes with hidden costs, risks, and of course, a healthy dose of adventure.
The first thing to consider when in Europe particularly, is that the streets are often quite narrow. A small car is therefore best, particularly as parking, even underground paid parking, is often small and limiting. Similarly, while an electric car may be cheaper, as we tried in Germany, finding stations to recharge these is a good way to test the strength of your relationship! While public charging stations have a four-hour limit, there are never enough stations and four hours, as we discovered, is barely enough to recharge half your battery (depending on the car you hire! In our case, this was true). Similarly, some electric cars will do less than 300 kilometres on a full battery, which is fine if you are sticking to the city, but if you want to get to Neuschwanstein Castle and back, it’ll be touch and go. As such, I would recommend either a hybrid or petrol car for longer distances.
On that note, fuel stations are very different in Europe. In some places like in southern Spain or Greece, the stations are full-service whereby your car will be filled by an attendant. Similarly, stations aren’t always connected to the highway like in Australia, so you may need to take an exit to find fuel. And oddly, stations aren’t always right next to the airport, so make sure to plan your last stop before dropping your car back!
The next thing to consider is the actual driving. For Australians, most of Europe drives on the other side of the road. Also, remember that the United Kingdom uses miles instead of kilometres. Speaking from experience, don’t be that person who is still driving at kilometres when you cross the border into Northern Ireland, and now being in miles, you’ve created a traffic jam...
Mostar, Boznia and Herzegovina
Border crossings themselves take planning. And not just checking your visas but also understanding rules and regulations. In the Balkans for instance, you need to notify your rental company which countries you plan to visit so they can provide you with a Green Card, part of their insurance scheme. Similarly, in Slovenia, you need an e-vignette, allowing you to drive on the highways and toll roads. This is basically a pre-payment providing you unlimited access to most major roads. It is conveniently linked to your car’s registration so can be easily online with instant confirmation.
Also, take note of the parking rules and regulations. Nothing kills a mood let alone a holiday with easily avoidable fines. In some countries, you can park facing the opposite way but in others, you will receive one of these nasty pieces of paper. Road signs also differ in some European countries and speed signs are sometimes non-existent for hours on end. Google Maps often notifies you of the appropriate speed, but I still recommend having a quick look at the rules for cities, roads, and highways before pulling out from the airport.
There's so much to discover in just Spain and Portugal
Generally being parsimonious travellers, we’ve usually opted for cheaper rental companies. However, from various contrasting experiences, which is by no means a true reflection of every experience one might have with said company, here are some we would not recommend: Firefly and Enterprise. Instead, we’ve had multiple good experiences with SIXT and similarly with AVIS/Budget.
Driving is a great option for freedom and flexibility but not always the cheapest. Make sure to consider some of the above points when planning your next trip and be sure to do your own research to ensure you don’t stumble into any other unforeseen costs of your own!