When my husband and I travel to Europe we usually stay for 2 weeks and plan a route where we can see as many of the countries as possible. We always rent a car and plan our trip meticulously. Our entire itinerary is planned out almost down to the minute. I want to assure you that driving in Europe is just as easy as driving in the USA! A little prep work before you go, is all you need.
Some basic information to understand before you get behind the wheel: Only 4 countries in Europe drive on the left, United Kingdom, Ireland, Malta and Cyprus. Studying road sign designs and definition before you go is a must! There are many road signs that you will not understand, also, if you don’t speak or read the language, use a translation app on your phone. This will come in very handy throughout your journey. Get your International Driving Permit, very easy to do at any AAA office. The addresses do not look the same, so when putting in the destination into the GPS, make sure you understand exactly what you are putting in. You can rent a GPS when you rent your car, or you can bring one from home, it is very easy to download European maps.
There are many US car rental agencies in Europe, however the largest agency is Europcar. As your Travel Professional, I will ensure you understand the destination differences. Many cars in Europe run on Diesel, it is important to remember that when filling up. Make sure to use a credit card that provides Collision Damage Waiver (CDW), and then waive it at the agency when picking up your car. Car Class is important, in many cases the roads in Europe are much narrower than what we are used to here. Cars are also much smaller, getting the right car class to fit luggage and people is the key. Most cars are stick shift, booking an automatic well in advance is very important, if you are not comfortable driving a stick. Plan for your return, and fill up the tank (use the right fuel).
A few rules of the road: Everything is measured in kilometers. Absolutely NO cell phone use by the driver. NO drinking and driving, tough penalties in Europe. Traffic fines are paid on the spot! Make sure to have a credit card or cash. Most traffic violations are captured on camera, you will receive a bill many weeks after your return home. Pay it as soon as you get it. We have had this happen, we have received the citation 6 months after returning home.
Driving in Europe is not as difficult or daunting as you may think. Just remember, put the best driver in the driver’s seat, remain calm and try not to argue. Seeing the country side and going off the beaten path is part of the adventure.