How to go on a road trip
How to go on a road trip
With the rest of Europe just a short ferry trip away, a road trip is a brilliant way to explore our amazing continent. The metallic clank of the ferry doors opening in Calais always fills me with such excitement. The open road to almost 50 countries is there for the taking. So how do you take it?
Where do you want to go?
With a British or European passport most of Europe is open to you so it's just case of thinking about what you really want to see or experience.
The biggest factor will probably be time, so to get an idea about travel times use Google Maps. Either click on your starting point and then a left-hand menu will appear from which you can select 'directions' or you can right click the mouse on your starting destination and your end destination. Remember mountainous regions take way longer to travel through and avoiding motorways and toll roads can also add considerable time to your journey. Google maps will also show you ferry routes which you may want to consider as part of your journey. For all ferry info check out our How to book a ferry guide.
Once you've had a play on Google maps pick out a few places you really want to visit that are possible within your time frame and make this the basis for your trip. It's realistic to travel about 4 to 6 hours in a day but you really don't want to be doing this every day. Also a few one night stopovers are fine but it's nice to build in at least two or three nights for the key places you want to visit. Obviously if you have weeks and weeks to explore you can take it really easily.
Once you've identified a few key places then look at the possible routes and find out what else you might be interested in seeing along the way. While it might be tempting to just go with the flow and stop where you like this might not be as easy as it sounds. If you're travelling by motorway as it's really hard to get a sense of the places you are passing by. A bit of research beforehand will really be worth it and ensure that you don't completely miss something amazing without knowing it was there! Google maps can be really helpful also take a look at our How to choose a destination guide.
Where are you going to stay?
If you are going outside school holidays you may well not need to book anything before you go. It's lovely to have the flexibility to stay longer of you love somewhere and move on if not. If the thought of not having a confirmed bed for the night fills you with horror you can either book the key locations and wing the bits in between or use Booking.com* and reserve accommodation that has a free cancellation policy (just read it really carefully to make sure you are fully aware of the terms). Another alternative is to take a tent and camp. Europe is covered in campsites and they make great accommodation for a road trip. See How to go camping for details on how to find a good site. The only downside of camping if you want to move quickly is the time it takes to pack and unpack your camp so either keep it simple, stay a bit longer in each place or look for campsites with other accommodation such as mobile homes, cabins, pre-erected tents which are all really popular in Europe.
Preparing your vehicle
It can be much more complicated breaking down in another country so getting your vehicle in tip top condition is really important.
Tolls and other charges
Many other European countries have a system of road tolls or vignettes for travelling on motorways. A toll usually involves stopping at a toll booth and paying the charge by cash or card. A vignette is a sticker you buy in advance and display it in your windscreen which allows you to drive on certain roads or in certain areas.
It is possible to buy a toll tag before you go which you position in your windscreen and it gets picked up as you drive through the tolls and payment is made automatically via the card you register the tag to. This can speed up the process of going through tolls and eliminates the need to queue (and you get to feel really smug!!). To find out more about toll roads in France, Spain and Portugal and to buy a tag go here.
To find out about road tolls and vignettes in other countries see the AA guide to driving in Europe, country by country, which tells you what you need and how to get it.
To work out how much your drive will cost including fuel and road tolls Michelin have a route planner calculator. Sixt have a tool which allows you to see how much each journey will cost you in tolls charges.
Low Emissions Zones (LEZ)
10 European countries operate Low Emissions Zones which affect over 200 cities. In these Zones the most polluting vehicles are either banned or are charged a fee to enter. To find out more information about LEZs go here.