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5 tips for the Europe road trip planner

Salzburg panorama

I’m a chronic Europe road trip planner. Every time I have a spare minute, I’m plotting points on a map of the continent and creating trip itineraries. After all, some of my favorite trips ever have involved driving through Europe. I loved every second of the rings I drove around Ireland and Scotland. Exploring São Miguel island in the Azores ranks among my favorite memories. And last year, journeying by car through Germany, Austria, Slovenia and Croatia allowed me to access places and hotels I couldn’t have reached otherwise.

Over the course of those trips, though, I’ve had my fair share of things go wrong. To help you avoid making my mistakes, I’ve put together the top 5 tips anyone planning a European road trip needs to know!

Munich church entrance
Church tower

5 TIPS FOR THE EUROPE ROAD TRIP PLANNER

SEE IF YOU’RE LEGAL

Having a U.S. driver’s license isn’t necessarily enough to legally hit the road. Enter the International Driver’s Permit, which translates the information on your license into multiple languages. Not every European country requires you to possess one alongside your license, and rental car companies don’t necessarily check for them when they hand you the keys. All of this is to say that if you don’t check ahead of time, you could be driving illegally without even knowing it—not exactly the kind of situation you want to end up in if you get pulled over for another reason!

Luckily, it’s easy to get one before your trip. AAA and the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA) are the two organizations with U.S. State Department authorization to issue IDPs, and you can find application instructions on their websites. 

REQUEST AUTOMATIC

Unless you can drive stick shift (and if you can, I envy you), don’t forget that you need to specify that you want an automatic car when you make your rental car booking. Unlike in the U.S., where manual cars are in the minority, in Europe, manual reigns supreme—and you’ll have a tougher time finding automatic vehicles on the road. I’ve been in situations where the rental car company was completely out of automatic cars, so if you forget to reserve one, you may be out of luck when you get to the counter!

Unfortunately, because automatic cars are so few and far between, the rates to rent them are much higher than the rates to rent manual cars in Europe. Expect to pay up. 

Europe road trip planner - Prague architecture

MAKE SURE YOU’RE INSURED

Not surprisingly, depending on what car insurance you have in the U.S., you may not be covered when driving abroad. Check with your provider to see what the rules look like so you know what protections you’ll need in Europe. 

Thankfully, even if your normal insurance provider won’t cover you on your trip, you may not be stuck with insurance from the rental car company, which can often be expensive. Certain travel rewards credit cards, including the Chase Sapphire Reserve, provide primary car rental insurance abroad when you use your card or your Ultimate Rewards points to pay for the rental. Just make sure to check the list of exclusions; Chase won’t protect certain types of vehicles, such as antique autos and large-capacity vans, and it has a few other parameters, too. 

CHECK THE VIGNETTE RULES

If you’re going to be driving on motorways, you’ll likely wind up paying tolls at some point on your journey. Many countries charge you based on how far you go, requiring you to take a ticket and then charging you based on where you picked that ticket up.

In some countries, though, you won’t find toll plazas on the road. And while you may think that means you don’t have to pay, you might be mistaken!Enter the vignette, a prepaid toll sticker that you can buy at local gas stations either within a country or, ideally, in a neighboring country before you enter. Each vignette is valid for a certain number of days, and in some countries, you’ll have a choice. Naturally, the longer your vignette’s validity, the more you’ll pay for it.

You must have the vignette affixed to your windshield to avoid fines, so you’ll definitely want to do your research on which countries require them before you set out! Switzerland, Austria, Hungary and Slovenia are just a few of the countries where you’ll need them. 

Aerial view of Pest

BRING WI-FI WITH YOU

The last thing you want on a road trip is to get lost, especially in a place where a language barrier and lack of international cell service could potentially compound your problems. Even with an international calling plan, it can be tough to get around without data if you don’t have a paper map in tow. But luckily, you can eliminate that problem pretty easily these days with either a global portable hotspot or a global SIM card. I’ve used Skyroam quite a bit in the last year with varying levels of success, but it’s gotten me out of plenty of international directional snafus even in that short time. KnowRoaming is another option if you’re able and willing to swap out your SIM.

BONUS: USE AWARDMAPPER

For those planning to earn or use hotel points on a road trip, this tool is a godsend. Simply type in your starting point or destination, select the hotel chains you’re looking for, and zoom in or out to see where in the region that chain has properties. I discovered a couple of my favorite hotels to date—Bachmair Weissach, which has since left Marriott, and  Schloss Fuschl—this very way while doing research on Germany and Austria for a road trip last year!

To learn more about hotel points and how they can help score free stays, check out the 52 Cities free resource library or register for an upcoming points and miles masterclass! And for more on road-tripping Europe, here’s a perfect two-week itinerary for fall.

Schloss Fuschl hotel

Hope these Europe road trip planner tips were useful for you! Do you have a European road trip coming up? Let me know in the comments! >>

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The essential Europe road trip tips

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