Traveling around Europe by car is an adventure that many people dream about. It attracts by the openness of the route, the possibility to plan your own time of stay, to visit several countries in one vacation and to follow beaten hiking trails.
For experienced travelers it is not difficult to plan their own European road trips, but for the beginner it will be a challenge. How to start planning a trip, what documents are needed, how much the approximate expenses will be, what nuances should be considered - SMAPSE experts have collected answers to all these questions in this article.
Rent a car when traveling in Europe
There are 2 ways to start traveling around Europe by car, everyone chooses the best one for themselves:
- The first way is to leave your country (if possible) in your own vehicle. The advantages are obvious: you do not spend money on rental cars, additional insurance and do not risk getting too greedy distributors who are willing to charge incredible amounts for the slightest damage. This method has two disadvantages: you spend an extra 1-3 days to get to the border with Europe, you have time to get tired before the main adventure begins, and you also spend money on minor / major vehicle repairs on the long road. , Traveling by car to European cities is much more cost-effective than spending money on public transportation, and if you're traveling in a group, the trip becomes even more affordable.
- The second way is to fly to the European city of your choice as a starting point, and you can rent a car there. On the other hand: you start your trip rested, enjoy the freedom of movement, even if you do not have your own car, you can change the type of traffic if you suddenly get tired of driving: local railroads, ferries, buses.
How experienced travelers rent a car:
- The best rental deals are much easier to find in advance: book a car for the dates you're interested in online.
- The booked car is picked up from the office or the airport (more expensive). Evaluate what is more profitable: pick up the car from the airport or pay for the travel from the place of arrival to the car dealership office.
- Sign the contract on the spot, pay the deposit (security deposit), inspect the car for damage (take a photo or video), write down all the defects of the car when filling out the inspection report. What to pay attention to: damage to interior (burnt upholstery, chewing gum marks), integrity of tires, windows, coatings - no small chips, scratches. Don't be lazy: if you miss something, you will pay a fine.
- When paying, specify the account number of a credit card with a limit: the company will block the Bank's funds, and after returning the car the money will be available (your own money will stay with you on the road).
- Specify the fuel level separately: what level of gasoline was at the time of signing the contract, the same should be when renting a car (companies offer other options, but this is the most convenient).
- At the end of the rental period turn in the vehicle: it is better to write down the condition of the equipment, keep the receipt from the last filling, because the rental company can withhold the amount for defects after your departure.
What documents do you need to rent a car in Europe?
- A valid national driver's license with your last name, first name (in Latin alphabet) and Permis De Conduire written on it.
- International driving license is required for Italy, England, France and Greece.
- Permits for travel to neighboring countries: If you plan to move only within the Schengen area, you do not need separate permits, but if you move from Bulgaria to Romania and after visiting Croatia to Slovenia, check the requirements for documents with the distributor.
- To rent a car, you need to pay for insurance. Many companies show the most attractive prices and then jump! - And insurance payments are added to the final amount. Experienced renters take out rental car insurance with a separate company: it's more advantageous than insurance with a rental provider. Well, it's nice to decide for yourself rather than settle for an imposed offer, right?
- If more than one person drives the rental car, all drivers must be included in the insurance. The size of the policy depends on the number of drivers, driving experience, and age. Different countries understand the term "young driver" differently, but usually drivers under the age of 21-23 must pay more.
How to choose a rental company?
There are 2 types of car rental companies: large network or local. International networks - Europcar, Avis, Hertz, Sixt - operate in several countries, often located in airports: they offer a large fleet of vehicles, common operating rules, but high prices.
Brokerage companies, on the other hand, offer competitive prices. Use proven brokerage sites, compare prices, choose the best options: Discovercars, Economybookings Rentalcars, Autoeurope.
Some nuances of renting a car from a European dealer:
- Some companies impose mileage restrictions and offer the best rates for those planning a short trip. If you want to go from city to city and then use other modes of transportation or make a long stop, these offers will help you save your budget.
- Rentals in some countries (such as Greece) restrict travel to asphalt roads only.
- European regulations require the use of car seats for all children up to 150 cm. Compare what's more advantageous: pay for a baby seat by plane or rent a seat from a rental company.
- Do you use your home navigator? Take it with you and try to download a version for your phone. The company will charge an additional 5-15€ to rent a navigator.
- Most companies allow the cancellation of transportation free of charge: the customer pays a fee of 2 € for the use of payment systems, but it must be done no later than 2 days in advance.
Whether you start your European road trip by car from home or from the airport, you need a clear itinerary for each stage. If you plan to travel by your car, divide the trip into 2 stages: from home to the border, then from the border with all the stops / nights / sights, crossing the borders between states, the need for local travel permits (vignettes ), maps. The first part may not be as detailed: marking the sections of travel for each day, making reservations for overnight stays, calculating the cost of food.
After moving the border, the daily distances will not be as long, 200-400 km, with long stops and overnight stays. Someone wants to explore a city they like, or stay there longer - car trips provide that opportunity.
The average price of gasoline is 1.06 euros: the cost of fuel in Western Europe will be twice as much as in Eastern Europe. Add the cost of toll roads to the cost of rent and gas. If you want to avoid additional costs, plan your route in advance with a navigator: for a closer acquaintance with the country choose small roads - highways allow you to quickly get to the chosen point, but give you little to see.
Nuances of route planning:
- The best arrival time is late evening or early morning when there is no traffic.
- Don't forget the time difference.
- Planning your itinerary in advance each day (use Google, Excel spreadsheets, paper planners), calculate the number of rental car days, gas mileage, subsistence, and meals. This approach will avoid unnecessary stops (during rush hour when crossing the border or looking for a working store), and will optimally allocate your budget.
Where to stay in Europe? There are many options, the rental housing market is developing in this region. You can choose traditional lodging in hotels, hostels, rent an apartment from locals, choose equipped campsites with houses or places for tents, immediately rent a house on wheels. Each option has its own advantages:
- Hotels offer comfort, extras (breakfast), free parking. The disadvantage of this option is the price. The largest resource for booking hotels, hostels is Booking.com. Its advantages include a lot of recommendations, reviews from real guests, a short clear description, the possibility of canceling the reservation with no fees (not always, but often).
- Hostels are inexpensive, and they are often located close to the city center / attractions. Minuses - not all hostels have parking, strict accommodation rules (e.g., no alcohol allowed), but a lot of redeeming presence of a shared kitchen.
- Renting a local apartment is advantageous in that there is a kitchen and you can cook food, you live separately. Living in an authentic environment helps you get a better sense of the "spirit of the place." Airbnb is the largest resource for booking apartments: as with everything else, the best options go quickly, so plan ahead.
- A house on wheels - renting such a "house on wheels" is very expensive, but you're not paying for a hotel, you decide where to stay, cook meals in the kitchenette. Keep in mind that a motorhome usually significantly reduces your average speed: it's unlikely that you can bounce around Europe with it.
- Grab a lightweight tent - and you can stay in a campsite along the way, paying only the rent (best to book in advance, there are often no vacancies in season). European campsites are well-appointed sites with facilities, water, electricity, rest areas, barbecues, children's corners. Average cost of camping in Austria is 25 € / day (tent), house for 4 persons in camping in Italy - 50-75 € / day.
The nuances of choosing accommodation options:
- Whichever type of accommodation you choose, you should book in advance: this will avoid unnecessary searches on the spot, save money (advance booking allows you to choose the most advantageous dates)
- Choose a hotel/hostel with free parking
- Booking a bed and breakfast is a real bargain!
- Check whether the hotel has extra beds, cribs, children's or dietary menus, pets
- Get a confirmation of your reservation and print it out: the document can be presented when obtaining a visa. Some countries allow foreigners on condition that the room is paid for, in which case you will need a receipt.
Food in Europe for those who travel by car
The second most important question after "Where to Live" for those traveling on their own is "Where to eat delicious, inexpensive, interesting food?" It doesn't matter if you have the ability to make your own food, visiting famous cafes and restaurants is a must for exploring the country. Choose the places you definitely want to visit in advance and make reservations. The daily menu at many cafes is cheaper than in the evening. If you want to try the most popular everyday dishes from local chefs, choose the "Dish of the Day."
Want to see more than the parade of folk cafes and check out your favorite spots in town? Ask for directions from cab drivers, vendors, and market vendors-so you can get a delicious, inexpensive meal while seeing local life from the inside.
A few tips for beginners:
- European cafes in the afternoon offer options for set lunches, business lunches, and some establishments operate on a flat fee basis: for a certain amount you get salad + soup / main course or 2 courses + dessert.
- Local street food will help you feel the spirit of the country: darts, soft ice cream, herring, fish and chips, pancakes. These are usually high-calorie foods that could well replace lunch or dinner.
- Visit the local market, bakeries, buy seasonal products - what this region is famous for - have a picnic in the park.
- What is alcohol in Europe? Supermarkets offer a wide variety of wines, beers, and spirits; Restaurants serve locally-branded wines (particularly famous in Italy, France, Spain, and parts of Germany). Be careful when drinking drinks in public places in Poland, the Baltic States, Belarus, Ukraine, Scandinavia - you will be fined.
- Fountains with clean drinking water are often installed in the streets, where you can drink and fill your containers.
It is better to start preparing documents for a trip to Europe by car in advance, at least 6 months in advance. The first most important document after the passport is a Schengen visa plus insurance for the Schengen Agreement. Carefully check if there are any countries in your itinerary that require a separate visa (England, Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia). When applying to Schengen, you choose either the country you plan to spend more time in or the first country you enter - go to that consulate and apply. If you will be traveling between Schengen/non-Schengen countries, the visa must be multiple entry.
What documents will be needed:
- It is better to start preparing documents for a trip to Europe by car in advance, at least 6 months in advance. The first most important document after your passport is a Schengen visa plus insurance for the Schengen Agreement. Carefully check if there are any countries in your itinerary that require a separate visa (England, Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia). When applying to Schengen, you choose either the country you plan to spend more time in or the first country you enter - go to that consulate and apply. If you will be traveling between Schengen/non-Schengen countries, the visa must be multiple entry.
- What documents you will need:
- Application form - 4 pages filled out in Latin letters on the layout on the visa center website.
- The passport is valid for another 6 months.
- Passport of your country.
- Photo: it is better to do this at the visa center than to just comply with all the requirements.
- Tourist insurance (minimum amount - 30 000 € for the whole period of stay).
- Reference from workplace (with wages for 6 months), studies (pupils, students), from Pension Fund (pensioners), reference on registration as an individual entrepreneur (sometimes - an extract from the tax office with the income for six months, an extract from the bank, confirming the availability of funds on the account: not less than 40 € / day).
- For those who cross the Schengen border by car - copy of vehicle registration certificate issued at the registration of your car (PTS is not needed). For those who travel by plane - receipt of airline tickets purchase.
- Confirmation of reservations (hotels, apartments, campsites) for each day for all participants of the tour.
- List of routes.
- Consent to process personal data (download from the site of the visa center, fill in manually).
- Fingerprints (again in the center, in person).
- Schengen for children: you need to fill in an application form for each child (signed by parent / guardian of the employee of the visa center), the original, a copy of birth certificate is attached. You will need the child's passport - a separate document, the other option - a minor is entered into the parent's passport, but the parent will need additional pages for visas. Notarized parent/guardian permission is required for the child to travel abroad unaccompanied.
- Travelers with their car will need an international license + copies, GreenCard - international insurance renewed by CASCO.
Europe is full of attractions and just beautiful places where vacationers can stop by in their cars. When planning your itinerary, go through tourist forums, mark the places where you want to walk, spend 2 hours or stay forever (crossed out with tears in your eyes) for a few days. Here are some options for inexperienced travelers:
- Poland begins with Krakow for many, where tourists visit the traditional Market Square, City Hall, Old Town, Wawel Castle, Florentine Gate, Barabacan, and Dragon Cave. Interested in the history of World War II and the Holocaust? Visit Auschwitz or Auschwitz, but be prepared - the places are not for the faint of heart. Brno is famous for Freedom Square, amazing astronomical clock, there is the Plague Column, the House of Lords from Lipe.
- Austria: The famous Viennese Café Sacher opposite the opera house offers perhaps the most famous chocolate cake in the world. The Austrian Alps are equally interesting in winter and summer: winter sports, a visit to the Semmering Railway, Lake Koychacher, Wörthersee, and the famous floodplain meadows.
- France-Spain: Travel from Lyon through the Basque Country, Navarra, Aragon, and a visit to Barcelona. On the way visiting the wine capital of Bordeaux, the resorts of the Silver Coast of France, Biarritz, the statue of Christ on top of Mount Urgul, and the beaches of La Concha. Possible stops include the Guggenheim Museum, downtown Bilbao, the Nervion Riverfront, and Louise Bourgeois' giant spider.
- In Germany walk through the small towns of the Tauber Valley, Rothenburg, famous for the German Christmas Museum, visit Dinkelsbühl, feel the atmosphere of a medieval town with old signs and half-timbered houses.
- Italy is known not only for its great capital, trendy Milan, pizza, but also for its picturesque northern lakes - Garda, Como, Maggiore. It is good to start from Venice to slowly explore Padua and Verona, for example. On the same route are the small towns of Sirmione, Riviera Gardone, Bergamo, where you can stay longer, relax, taste the local cuisine, visit the beaches.
The first costs when planning a road trip are associated with the paperwork:
- "Green Card" (15 days, for a passenger car) - 2 320-3 220 €, the final price depends on the euro exchange rate.
- When visiting Albania, Andorra, Iceland, Malta, Cyprus, Netherlands, Turkey, Ireland, take care to get an international driving license - 19 €. (Average price).
- Schengen visa - minimum 32 €. + 25 € consular fees.
- Reservation of the electronic line at the Belarusian-Polish border - 10 €.
- Preparation of transport for the long journey, compliance with EU requirements (standard winter tires, etc.).
- SIM-card of mobile operator: buy a common (though quite expensive) travel tariff or more budget offers from local providers. Look out for international SIM cards (like Drimsim) that are not tied to any carrier or country - for traveling without borders, this is often the best option.
- Charges for using the autobahn if you call.
- Accommodation + meals: the specific amount varies depending on the preferences of the participants. Just calculate the cost of all rooms booked, add food, parking (on average) to the expense. Be prepared that the reality will exceed expectations.
- A separate budget line is excursions, shopping, souvenirs, entertainment, attending tastings.
- Gasoline costs. The West of Europe is more expensive for fuel. Calculate the approximate mileage with the help of Google Maps and multiply by 1,06 € which is the average cost of 95 liters.
The general picture of prices is clear: the most expensive are Western Europe - Germany, Austria, Italy, the countries in the West, the countries of Scandinavia - Norway, Sweden, Finland. Cheaper to visit Eastern Europe, the Baltic States, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. Between Western and Eastern Europe, Spain and Portugal are located in terms of costs. Visiting the Balkan Peninsula will require a smaller budget: the former Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania. Turkey belongs to these countries in terms of tourist expenses. Greece stands apart: prices here are higher than in Turkey, but lower than in Western Europe.
Example of travel cost calculation
- Participants: 2.
- Duration: 15 days.
- Length of the automobile route: 2100 km.
- Average fuel consumption: 7 liters. per 100 km.
Costs (prices are approximate, based on an average or minimum budget):
- Schengen - 57 €
- Green card - 38 €
- International law - 19 €
- Vignettes - 24 € for two persons
- Lodging - 40 € × 15 days. = 600 €
- Food - 20 € × 15 days. = 300 €
- Gasoline - 0,012 ¢ × 2100 km × 7 liters. ≈ 176 €.
Total: 130 € - documents, a minimum of 1100 € - a car trip across Europe plus the cost of the road from home to the European border / back. This is a minimum that does not take into account small expenses for water, instant purchases, parking, toll roads, travel to and from the border (or airfare), insurance, car repairs before the trip, if necessary. Have you done the math? Add 500 € "just in case", as if you won't lose.
- Install a translation program on your phone, have Google ready to translate, have a dictionary and patience - not all countries speak English fluently.
- When entering the Czech Republic and Austria, buy a vignette: spend 6-10 € and drive safely, without fear of every post. The penalty for not having a vignette will be much more expensive.
- Before departure, check the first aid kit, add 2 vests with reflectors to it, stick a plate of your country on the glass. This is required by EU self-regulation.
- Check each state's import/export regulations so you don't have to leave local pickup trucks, new clothes at customs due to overage or other rules violations.