If you want to make the most of your European vacation, you can live like a local by renting a car.
Still, traveling somewhere new can always be a bit stressful, so we created this helpful resource to get a better idea of what to expect driving in Europe for the first time. This will afford you the freedom to go where you want to go, when you want to go.
How much time should you factor in for road travel?
With 44 countries packed into a landmass that’s similar to the US, you can immerse yourself into a number of different and fascinating cultures in a very short amount of time. While Europe is comprised of many countries, most of these countries will actually compare more directly in terms of size to individual states.
For example, the major highways going from west to east in France total 590 miles, while the major highways going from west to east in Texas total 790 miles. The key difference, however, is that it would take 3 days to drive across France, while the trip across Texas could safely be done in 1 day. This is due to road systems being much more direct in the US, rather than slower and winding through much of Europe.
Keep this in mind as you plan out your trip. Always factor in extra stops along the way to fit in time for pictures, site-seeing, shopping, amazing food and other surprises (good and bad).
What are the rules of the road?
- Expect to drive on the right side of the road except in the UK.
- There are no right turns on red unless a sign specifies otherwise.
- On turnabouts, give yourself a full loop before taking your exit to avoid any snap decisions.
- It is unlawful to pass in the slow lane.
- Some countries will require the use of headlights (even in broad daylight).
- Speeding is often enforced via a camera system, so don’t just watch for police vehicles if you want to avoid getting a ticket.
What can I expect in terms of regulations, safety and costs?
Don’t drink and drive! Outside of the UK, expect all countries to have a lower blood alcohol tolerance than our standard .08. Most European countries will enforce a .05 blood alcohol limit, while some will require drivers to have .00 alcohol in their systems to operate a vehicle.
Expect tolls, especially along the Mediterranean coast. Some countries will require the purchase of a sticker (many rentals will have an up-to-date sticker). Toll roads may seem inconvenient but factoring in the time and gas of the more scenic routes, it’s a fair price to pay.
Certain cities may require a congestion charge in an effort to limit traffic within the city. It may be wisest to park outside of the city limits and take public transportation into the city.
Some cities have banned car traffic altogether. Watch for zones that indicate that parking is not permitted, as tickets can swiftly be enforced without your knowledge until you receive the bill at home a month or two later.
It’s best to enter your European road trip with an open mind. Some areas can be strict towards its drivers, while other areas can be very loose (in Italy, drivers can sometimes view red lights as optional, if they do not see any cars coming). Speak with your car rental agency for further driving details and understand that the overall experience is absolutely worth making a few adjustments to your expectations.
When parking, understand the differences of each city/country. In the UK, drivers expect plenty of space in between vehicles, while in France, drivers are encouraged to leave off the parking brake to allow other drivers to nudge (seriously) neighboring vehicles back and forth until they can fit in. Make sure you cover your rental with the appropriate insurance to avoid costly fines.
Assume that each country has its own set of colored lines with different meanings for parking, passing lanes, etc. Get to know the specific details of each country you will be driving in ahead of time to avoid the potential for fines or accidents.
How do I rent a car in Europe?
Just as with domestic travel, you can rent a car for European use on most travel booking websites. You can also add options like GPS, car seats, luggage racks and more.
Make the most of your European travels by collecting valuable travel points on your car rentals and hotel stays. Turn your points into a free flight, hotel stay or fun gift card if you are a Bonwi member. Find out more about Bonwi’s membership program here.