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Buckling Up Abroad: Tips for Taking a European Road Trip

Written by Chris Osburn

Americans go together with road trips like…well, America and apple pie. But historically those automotive adventures have been within the confines  of the United States. But that may be about to change.

According to a recently published study, more and more Americans (and Canadians) are renting cars while abroad, especially in Europe. In the first five months of 2016 alone, the number was up over 7% from the previous year. And while that might not be definitive proof of a new travel trend — it got our interest piqued.

So sit back as we take you on a scenic drive to look at a few tips and itinerary ideas to help you arrive at your desired European driving destination safe, sound, and satisfied.

Basic Tips / Shutterstock

Get acquainted with the laws where you plan to drive. For the most part, road rules across Europe are similar to those in America. Most street signs and traffic lights are exactly the same too. In fact in many non-English speaking countries, stop signs still have the word “STOP” written on them.

Even if you don’t speak the language and don’t know the roads where you’re driving, you should still be able to enjoy the ride and not get lost. Sat nav and driving apps will get you to all but the most remotest of places. Almost everyone you are likely to encounter speaks a bit of English too. Of course, it is wise — and courteous — to familiarize yourself with at least a few words in the local language.

Driver in the Middle

magicinfoto / Shutterstock

The European countries where people drive on the left (opposite to US roads) are the United Kingdom, Ireland, Malta, and Cyprus. The rest of Europe drives on the right side of the road (just like in the States). If you’ve never driven on the left before, don’t worry. It can throw you for a loop at first, but with some concentration (never a bad idea when you’re at the wheel) most drivers get the hang of it in no time. If you’re not feeling confident at first, maybe take a spin through a parking lot or quiet residential street before driving on the open road or entering heavy traffic.

One tip for driving on a side of road opposite to what you’re used to is to remember the mantra “driver in the middle.” That should prevent you from swerving over or turning onto the wrong lane of traffic.

If you want to drive the same car in, say, the UK (left side driving) and then in France (right side driving), you can. It’s legal to drive a car designed for one side of the road on the other. Keep in mind that some folks find this pretty tricky and that the “driver in the middle” concept doesn’t apply. Of course, thousands of Europeans do it all the time. It’s especially common to see British cars on roads in the South of France during the height of summer.

Fun Fun Fun on the Autobahn

Soeren Kracht / Shutterstock

There’s no better way to zip across Western Europe’s biggest country with pit stops in historic cities such as Hamburg, Berlin or Munich with excursions to admire the natural beauty of areas like the Black Forest or the Alps. For many car enthusiasts, a high-speed holiday on the national highway system Bundesautobahn, better known as just “autobahn,” in Germany behind the wheel of a fine piece of German precision would be the ultimate road trip. Just keep in mind that while some sections don’t have speed limits others do.

Fast Cars and Slow Food

Massimo Campanari / Shutterstock

Italians tend to take life at an easygoing pace — but not when they’re driving! A great part of Italy to experience this peculiar dichotomy is the region of Emilia Romana, home of the ancient city of Modena where slow-aged Balsamico and handmade tortellini had their origins — but so did super luxury sports car manufacturers Ferrari and Maserati (with Lamborghini just a jaunt up the road near Bologna).

Grand Tour of Switzerland

welcomia / Shutterstock

In 2015, Switzerland Tourism launched the Grand Tour, a 1,000-mile self-driving route to share the best the Swiss have to offer and highlight “must-see” sights and attractions across the country’s four language regions and along its most scenic roads. The route takes in 5 Alpine passes, 22 lakes, and 11 UNESCO World Heritage Sites while steering clear of motorways wherever possible in preference of country roads and rural byways.

Your Journey, Your Way

Dziewul / Shutterstock

Whether it’s the manoeuvring the hairpin curves of Romania’s infamous Transfagarasan Highway, going for a slow country drive to take in traditional village life in Slovenia, vineyard hopping in France, touring Moorish ruins across Portugal and Spain, or cruising across an archipelago on Norway’s otherworldly Atlantic Ocean Road – there’s so much to see and do in Europe. In so many ways, touring Europe by car allows you to do it on your own terms and at your own pace while getting closer to what you want to see and interacting with locals more than other modes of transportation might allow.

RELATED: Planning to hit the road with the whole family? No worries – we’ve got you covered with this  guide on how to plan the perfect stress-free family road trip!

About the author

Chris Osburn

Chris Osburn is a freelance writer, photographer, consultant, and curator and the driving force behind the long running and award winning blog, Originally from the American Deep South, Chris has lived and worked all over the world and has called London home since 2001.

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