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Tips for Driving in Europe

8 Tips for Driving in Europe

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I smiled as we parked our rental car amongst the tour buses at Linderhof Palace in Germany. We had just experienced the most stunning scenery and stopped whenever we pleased. Driving allows travelers to see whatever they want to see and get there quickly and efficiently. A little planning and preparation is involved, but it is worth it. Here are my tips for driving in Europe.

Avoid renting a car at the airport

After a long flight it may be frustrating to navigate to the car rental services at the airport. Take a taxi to the hotel and rent a car locally. Local rental cars will many times be less expensive than cars rented at the airport.


Rent or bring a navigation device. We used our Tom Tom. I also printed Google Maps directions for each day of travel. The Tom Tom was fairly accurate, but there were a few instances that we relied on the printed directions.

Learn to drive a manual transmission

Most European rental cars have a manual transmission (stick shift). Renting a car with an automatic transmission can be twice the cost of renting a car with a manual one. If an automatic transmission is needed, book well in advance, especially in the popular summer months. There are few cars with automatic transmissions available and they go quickly!

Choose the size of the car wisely

European cars are small. Small cars are perfect for navigating Europe’s small streets and providing low fuel costs, but if you’re traveling with a lot of luggage, it may not fit in a smaller car. We rented a Compact class car, and we were just able to fit our four carry-on bags in the trunk.


Have all of your documents ready before going to the rental counter. We rented our car in Italy, and Hertz required our passports and an International Driving Permit. My husband purchased an International Driving Permit from AAA before leaving home. The fee is $15 and AAA membership is not required to purchase the license.

Learn the road signs

All of Europe uses the same simple road signs. Familiarize yourself with the signs before traveling. My kids quickly learned what Ausfahrt meant and used it frequently for the rest of the trip.

Don’t use the car for city centers

It is not recommended to drive in large European cities. Many cities centers allow local traffic only, and you can be fined for driving into certain areas. Park the car and use public transportation or taxis.

Expect to pay via tolls or vignettes

Germany’s famous Autobahn is a free expressway, but in much of Europe there is a charge for driving on a expressway. Countries such as Italy, France, and Spain will charge a toll based on the distance driven. Switzerland and Austria don’t use toll booths, but instead require drivers to buy a permit sticker called a vignette. Stickers can be purchased at border crossings or gas stations.

My kid’s favorite part of driving was going into the gas stations and convenience stores in each country. We stopped at restaurants most tourists never see. Driving through Europe was definitely an adventure, and I recommend it!

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Tricia lives in Phoenix with her husband, 14 year-old daughter and 12 year-old son. She is a special education teacher for elementary students. Her family’s favorite memories…

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