Make Driving in Europe
Simpler and More Enjoyable
A vacation driving in Europe can mean many things…renting, leasing or buying a car; hiring a chauffeur or driver-guide; or even camping…
European Travel Planning Tutorial
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So I’ll start with the most important question…
Are you ready to drive in Europe…?
Read what you must know before you leave…because…
If you’re traveling by train you go fast and it’s comfortable…but if you want to see the countryside and stop at historic monuments …you need a car.
Flexibility is the word so let’s look at the pros and cons…
Your benefits for driving in Europe
- No time schedules…you’re in charge and nobody else…
- No luggage problems – just make sure your trunk is locked and that nothing can be seen from the outside…think travel insurance
- You can stop any time you want…see a nice-looking bistro or pub for lunch…you can decide to stop or go on
And some of the things to think about before you book…
- You or one of your travel companions has to do the work…driving in Europe.
- Driving in major cities in Europe can be more difficult than at home...parking is usually very limited and expensive. Start the driving portion of your trip when you’re ready to leave a city or if you already have the car, stay on the outskirts and use public transportation to go into the city.. It's better not to drive in an unfamiliar city.
- Do you drive on the left or the right at home? Only in Great Britain, Ireland, Malta and Cyprus do they drive on the left.
- It may take some time for you to become familiar with traffic rules and the local driving habits. In the European Travel Resource Center you find direct links to helpful driving tips for each country.
- Rental car bills are often a shock…local taxes, insurance and other costs are high...know the facts in advance.
Renting a car in Europe…first, you must decide
- What size car
Not too small but also not too big! In Wales I was once upgraded to a Mercedes because the company did not have anything smaller. It was too big to drive on the narrow roads…and for me driving on the left side with a large car was certainly not a pleasure.
- Automatic or manual
If you are used to a manual transmission – as I was when I lived in Europe – you may want to choose it…it’s a lot less expensive than an automatic. However, when I drive in mountainous areas or in cities I prefer an automatic.
If you’re used to an automatic at home, I’d suggest an automatic car for driving in Europe for the first time. It’s more expensive…but you will enjoy your vacation a lot more…one less thing to worry about!
- Accept or decline insurance
The one insurance to consider is the CDW – Collision Damage Waiver. If you don’t take this insurance and have an accident or even a scratch on the car you are liable for the damage…and in Europe that’s very expensive.
Many credit cards cover CDW but only as secondary insurance. One exception is Diners Club...it offers primary insurance and the company will pay any damage automatically...however, it does not pay for value added taxes (average 20%), administrative fees and replacement fees. (We once had a small scratch on our car in Nice and even with the Diners Club coverage we had to pay about $200!)
Whatever credit card you use…check it out to make sure you have good coverage. The CDW is unfortunately expensive…but think of it as peace of mind…you don’t want to worry every day you drive the car. (After the Nice incident we now take the full insurance every time and enjoy our trips without worrying about very high damages.)
- International Driving Permit or not
If you’re from North America you may not need it, however, if you’re coming from other destinations you very often do. The permit is a translation of your own license.
Do you need it or not? Check it out with the rental company when you make your reservation. Each country has its own rules.
- Where and when you should book your car
You’ve got several options – meta search engines such as Kayak, regular rental companies such as Avis or Hertz…or one of the best I have always used - Auto Europe, a consolidator for car rentals who doesn't own any cars but works with most major companies…its prices are better than most and its service is the greatest!
- So you want to rent a Porsche or Ferrari for a few days…
Is your fancy driving around the French Riviera with the top down? It’s possible with several operators that specialize in handling luxury cars.
It’s of course more expensive than renting a standard car, and the operators have special restrictions for driving one of these show-stoppers…Monaco and Cannes are good places…
When you're driving in Europe for 17 days or more… leasing is often less expensive than renting.
Leasing a car instead of Renting…which is the best for you…
Leasing means you’re buying a new car and the company agrees to buy it back for a fixed price at the end of your trip.
The difference between the two prices is the lease price. So, that’s all you have to pay...
Leasing includes all taxes and insurances, and you get a brand new car.
France is the major country for picking up and dropping off a leased car, however, you can do this in other cities in Europe for an extra charge. Your car will be a Renault or Peugeot.
The European Travel Resource Center lists the companies that handle leasing…one for each car company.
Understandably, you have to arrange this before you leave…the sooner the better.
Easy to do as long as you do all the paperwork in advance…and you’re planning to buy a Volvo (most popular), BMW, Mercedes, Saab or Porsche.
Buy a new car in Europe…drive it around on your vacation and then…ship it home…
It’s best go to a local dealer two or three months before the proposed delivery to place your order and arrange financing.
You order a model here, collect it in Europe and enjoy your vacation in your own car…and when you’re ready to go home, the company ships it across the Atlantic, which takes 8 to 10 weeks.
Or if you like, buy a second hand car to drive in Europe...for a longer vacation…
This is popular with travelers from Australia and New Zealand who stay in Europe for several months. Buy a used car for driving in Europe and then sell it when you’re ready go back home.
The best cities for buying second-hand cars are Amsterdam, Frankfurt and London. Look on the Internet for ads in local newspapers.
Chauffeur services are often for business people but driver-guides are popular with vacationers like you, for a half day, one day or even a few days.
OK…you’ve decided...you don’t want to drive a car…
To really experience the benefits of a driver-guide – and to save time and money – I suggest discussing exactly what you want to do and see with your guide before you leave home.
Give the guide some time to plan your trip and maybe even check out special sights. The guides are the specialists in their city or area…by planning ahead you can get the most out of the trip…
Do you want to save money on accommodations in Europe and enjoy meeting Europeans?
Campers and Camping in Europe
Camping is the way to do it, but remember camping in Europe is not “getting away from it all!” In summer campgrounds are crowded. For Europeans camping just means an inexpensive vacation. It's not going off in the wilderness!
Meeting Europeans…one of the enjoyments of camping in Europe
If you plan to buy or rent a camper, I suggest you read Europe by Van and Motorhome (via Amazon.com) to find out the things you need to know before you decide. You can then either get a camper or a car and a tent.
Amsterdam is a good city to rent camper-vans and motorhomes. The European Travel Research Center lists operators for all European countries.
To see spectacular scenery is a good reason for you to drive in Europe instead or traveling by rail.
What are Europe’s Scenic Drives…
The European Travel Resource Center offers direct links to information you’d like to have before you go on scenic roads, including those listed below.
Helpful items to take along when driving in Europe…
They make driving in Europe easier…and above all…more enjoyable…
- A dictionary - simple words and road signs can be confusing if you don’t know the language while driving in Europe. (Or a language App)
- Michelin Green Guides, the best for touring and sightseeing (the red Michelin guides are for hotels but also include many city maps)
- Driving in Europe 101 from Amazon…it has all the information you need…not just for driving but for making your vacation more interesting.
And a few more tips…
So…what’s the best and simplest way to book your driving vacation in Europe?
For all services regarding driving in Europe - auto, camper, chauffeur and driver-guide - check the European Travel Resource Center for each country.
Note: I always insist that car rental staff shows me the car and explain how the key works (often it's just a pin.) Before I leave I also want to know how to open the trunk and the gasoline door (they're all different in Europe!)
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