In the last three months, we’ve travelled over 5,000 miles across nine countries in Europe by car. The journey has taken us from the canal-lined streets of Amsterdam and the beaches of the Algarve to Bavarian castles, Slovenian lakes and finally, to Prague. Here’s a look at our experience of travelling Europe by car, including the benefits, tips and some key things to consider if you’re planning your own Europe road trip.
Our Europe by car itinerary
To start with, here’s a look at what our road trip around Europe from UK looked like:
- Dover to Calais, France
- Amsterdam, the Netherlands
- Lille and Poitiers, France
- Coimbra, Portugal
- Lagos, Portugal
- Lisbon, Portugal
- Porto, Portugal
- Saint-Pierre-d’Irrube and Saone-et-Loire, France
- Halblech, Germany
- Ljubljana, Slovenia
- Prague, Czech Republic
When we leave Prague in mid-December, we’ll travel to Cologne in Germany for a few days and stop briefly in Bruges, Belgium, before we catch the ferry back to Dover.
Why travel Europe by car?
You can’t beat the flexibility of travelling through Europe by car. Although it was certainly cheaper hopping around Europe by bus last year, we love the independence and flexibility of having our own steed. This has allowed us to tailor our route, detouring to Amsterdam to visit a friend and stopping off at Neuschwanstein Castle on our way through Germany.
While some of our drives have been epic, nine-hour affairs, at least we have our own space in the car to listen to music, podcasts or chat and we can stop when we like for toilet and food breaks, unlike some of the torturous bus trips we’ve taken in Asia. Even when we’re based in one place, we can easily take day trips such as to Lake Bled in Slovenia and the Passadicos do Paiva in Portugal.
A car also makes things easier for stocking up at the supermarket and we’ve been able to curb our accommodation costs by staying outside of expensive areas such as big cities on our journey. For instance, we paid as little as £20 per night while travelling across France by staying in rural farmhouses and suburban areas.
Driving around Europe, tips and things to consider
Our epic journey has taught us plenty about road-tripping in Europe. If you’re thinking of taking a similar trip, here are some things to consider.
Ferry crossings – since our road trip begins and ends in the UK, we booked ferry crossings between Dover and Calais. Booking as far in advance as possible will give you cheaper rates, so take a look at various ferry sites to compare prices and plan your route, companies like Ok Ferry operate across Europe and the Mediterranean, even as far as Morocco! You can find out more info here but whatever you do, try to book as soon as you have your travel dates.
Car insurance for driving abroad and breakdown cover – don’t go anywhere without arranging car insurance and make sure you add EU breakdown cover. We shopped around and got an annual insurance policy from Admiral for £573 and 90-day breakdown cover from Driver Guardian for £79. Be aware that many UK car insurance companies only allow you to travel abroad for 90 days (which is why we timed our trip to this exact length), a policy with a longer allowance will cost substantially more.
Travel insurance – even if you’re an EU resident with a European Health Insurance Card, it’s still essential that you take out travel insurance too. In the past, we’ve used companies like Globelink, Explorer and World Nomads, but for this trip we found a cheap three-month policy from OUL Direct for £51.98 for both of us.
European driving regulations – make sure to research what kind of driving rules and regulations there are for the countries you plan to travel through in Europe. For example, we had to buy a warning triangle and reflective vest, as well as a breathalyser kit and even a fire extinguisher to comply with regulations. The AA is useful for researching this information.
European vignettes – some countries require you to buy a vignette for driving through Europe. We have three vignette stickers on the car at the moment for the Czech Republic, Austria and Slovenia and we had to buy one online for Portugal. These last varying amounts of time and have cost us from £7.95 to £15.50. We’re planning a separate post to about this that’ll break down the European vignette rules and costs.
Driving UK car in Europe: tolls – in addition to vignettes, you’ll also have to pay tolls along the way, which can really bump up your road trip expenses. We try to avoid toll roads, which can sometimes add hours onto our journey, but there are times when we suck up the costs to get to our destination faster. For example, on a drive from Porto across to Biarritz, we must have spent £50 on tolls, making it our most expensive day of driving yet.
Fuel costs – don’t forget about all the fuel you’ll need to buy too. We’re lucky that our car is pretty economical, but we’ve still spent around £500 on fuel so far. Try to fill up as much as possible in cheaper countries, we found Spain was super-cheap while petrol prices in Portugal were up to £1.40 per litre.
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Planning a route – we used Google Maps to plan European road trip routes, avoid tolls and estimate journey times. We don’t have a sat nav but used the maps app on our iPhone for directions.
Staying sane on long journeys – we’ve had 10-hour days and I’m not a very confident behind the wheel, so Andrew ends up doing the lion’s share of the driving. We’ve learnt that it’s essential to make sure you have snacks, drinks and wet wipes to hand, as well as change for toll booths and your passport in case of border checks. We try to stop for short breaks every couple of hours, create music playlists (including an awesome three-hour Christmas mix!) and download plenty of podcasts to keep us entertained along the way.
What are your top tips for traveling Europe by car or road tripping elsewhere in the world?