Driving through Europe between countries, cities and towns is actually quite exciting as you see many things that you would never see, have the ability to stop anywhere you like for photos, food and even choose your own bathroom stops! However if you are concerned and not confident to drive on the other side of the road (for some) or even in a foreign country, it might be best to get your way around via train, bus and ferries if needed – it’ll keep you safe, and the locals from you!
Our suggestion is to fly into Germany or France if you intend on hiring a car, simply because the rental rates are a lot cheaper and allow you to drive between countries without an issue. Whoever you book through query whether or not they allow you to drive the type (or class) of car you booked through or to your destination. Some rental car companies do not allow for example an Audi or BMW to go to Serbia or Italy and so on, the statistics may show that type of car is a target in those countries for theft – not what you want on your holiday!
There are also speed cameras throughout these countries, especially in Switzerland. Each smaller town through Europe will have speed cameras fitted and are well camouflaged so be warned! Have i ruined your dream yet? Don’t worry, you can still have a little fun through Germany on the autobahn. Please take in mind a few things, the left hand lane is the fast lane so unless you’re passing someone keep to your right. Do not think you’re a race car driver, and respect the locals drivers.
Some of us, mainly male will think of Germany and no speed limit! Well, truth is some areas are ‘speed limit free’ but most are limited to 130, Austria itself is a maximum of 130, Switzerland between 110-130 and Croatia, Italy also the same. It is only Germany that offers ‘no speed limit’ but with saying this, not entire German autobahns are. Check the signs carefully!
This sign means ‘free speed’ (no speed limit)
This sign means speed limited back to 130 or otherwise posted
[divider]RENTAL CAR COMPANIES[/divider]
Choosing the right Car Rental Company. There are the standard international companies to choose from; Thrifty, Hertz, Avis, Budget and Europcar followed with the German, Austrian, Italian, Croatian, and Swiss national companies also. Check the rates, check the coverages including insurances and choose who you feel most comfortable with. Yes, of course these larger companies will be more expensive but from experience (previously working in the industry) these larger companies will offer free road service 24/7 (or may be additional cost), cover and replacement of vehicle if something were to happen including an accident even if your fault (so you won’t have to cancel your trip) and have locations throughout Europe in many major and smaller Cities.
Coverages such as accidental waiver/3rd party cover may be covered through your credit card or travel insurance, check what they cover. Just note that you will have to pay for it up front and then be reimbursed at a later stage most likely after you have returned so ensure you have 2 cards just in case. I also might note that certain cards do not cover you in every country strangely enough, so double check on this as well.
Choosing the right car. If there are 2 of you and you will be regularly driving throughout towns, which may include keeping your luggage in the car whilst sightseeing we would highly recommend getting a wagon of sort. This will allow the retractable shelf to hide all your luggage and hopefully be somewhat safe whilst you’re sightseeing for a few short hours.
[divider]PLAN YOUR TRIP VIA ONLINE MAPS[/divider]
Plan your trip via google maps and don’t be afraid to google a name of a City you’re passing by as it may be small but might have something big to offer, after all a few years back Hallstatt was very unknown and now well it has become very suddenly. So this will add onto your trip which includes more stops. You may encounter the occasional traffic if you are driving through peak times, standard for the whole world these days so take this in mind if you have anything booked such as tours, dinners or flight/trains to get to.
The good part about driving and having a car is, say you’re going to Milan. You stay somewhere nice outside of the City where you can access the City via tram, bus or train or even car. This way you’ll save a bit on accommodation at the same time and not have to worry about driving right in the City.
As you drive normally in your own city you may forget a few things that you will need when abroad. The basics such as your mobile phone charger, some music to listen to (whether via cable, bluetooth on mobile/ipod or cds) and most importantly a GPS unit. A GPS (or navi to most Europeans) can be rented with your car, for those who are super organised you can use this on your phone via TomTom or maps.me and Garmin – do note sometimes you will need to pay for the maps so work out what is best value for money before you leave. If you intend on say driving from Germany to Croatia you’ll need western Europe maps to cover Germany, Austria and Italy or you may get a little lost and Eastern Europe maps for the eastern side.
Be smart, get yourself some mini paper maps in case from a local petrol / service station just in case but more importantly so you can gauge the direct you’re going in case anything were to happen. This is also incredibly useful as a lot of towns you’re passing are most definitely worth stopping for, even if its for 30m to an hour!
We always check on google maps from where we are to where we are going for each leg of the trip, in fact i plan everything out on google maps as part of the trip planning – you should also! Most service stations throughout Germany and Austria and Northern Italy including Switzerland do offer free wifi, not to forget McDonalds also. So don’t stress if you don’t have data available and need it to get somewhere just get off an exist and have a quick look for McDonalds or pull off to a service / petrol station on the freeway/highway. (alternatively, speak and ask for help!)
- GPS / Navigation
- Paper maps
- Phone chargers
- Mobile phone holder
- Handy wipes
For Australians. a international drivers license is required and can easily be obtained from your local auto club such as NRMA, RACV, RACQ etc and costs around $20-40.
A Reflective Safety Vest are required to be carried in your vehicle at all times in Austria, normally this is given by the rental car company, but check just in case and let them know you’re going to drive to Austria. Failure to do so, you’ll receive quite a large fine by a lovely Austrian policeman or woman.
Those who are travelling in Switzerland & Austria also required a vignette, this is almost a registration permit to allow you to drive through Austria & Switzerland. Without this you will receive a very hefty penalty so i would suggest you pop into any service / petrol station or posted ‘vignette’ seller and purchase one for the amount of days you intend on driving through Austria / Switzerland. Click here for more information and pricing
Quickly back on Germany, be careful when you change lanes as you have to be aware that some drivers are doing in excess of 200km/h on the left lane (the fast lane) and if you’re not careful you could be part of something that can be easily avoided. Be sure to only use the lane if necessary and of course always use your indicators/blinkers when merging and changing lanes.
There are many ‘rest stops’ and service stations in all the countries mentioned, however we did notice one very big difference and this is the quality of the food and type of food you can purchase. I remember we were coming back from Velden in Austria about 10pm at night almost without having had any dinner, we knew that there was nothing left open so pulled off into a petrol station / rest stop to get some food. To our surprise, tasty fresh goulasch, roast potatoes, schnitzels (not the 7-11 kind) etc. The food was much better than you would get at most Restaurants in Australia! So don’t be afraid to have a bite to eat as Europeans are still very traditional and not always wanting junk food as we would!
Kids under the age of 12 who are below 150cm must be in an appropriate child-safety seat, this can be obtained again from rental company or alternatively some families bring their own.
The alcohol limit for Austria, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, France, Monaco and Croatia is 0.5 per mill. I am sure you’re aware of the consequences if you’re caught over.
Fuel in Austria / Germany / Italy / Croatia / France is unleaded regular-grade 91 octane petrol as well as Euro-Super (unleaded 95-octane) petrol and are available at all petrol stations. Unless you’ve rental Diesel, then you need diesel of course. Do not mix the two up.