Whizzing over cobblestoned streets in Italy, cruising through the south of France, and driving between snow-covered mountains in Switzerland – there’s nothing quite like the thrill of a road trip. It’s all freedom, fun and, as long as you don’t run out of petrol, the world at your fingertips. But without breaking the bubble too much, it’s worth doing a bit of research before reaching for the keys. Here are four questions to ask yourself before you hit the highway.
What shouldn’t we miss?
Part of the allure is not having too much of a plan. But it’s smart to get the map out and decide on some sort of direction before you go, so you don’t miss anything epic. Europe has plenty of hair-raising and enthralling drives and some of them are to be taken with a ‘you only live once’ mentality. The kind of roads to look out for are the ones that will make your toes curl.
Norway’s Atlantic Road is an engineering masterpiece and one of the most beautiful in the world. Italy’s Stelvio Pass, an iconic Europan drive, reaches dramatic heights of 2757 metres. And spine-tingling Combe Laval in the French Alps cuts theatrically into the side of a cliff, taking you through a series of narrow limestone arches that aren’t for the faint-hearted.
What’s the law?
It’s boring, but essential. You may be a fantastic driver and know the Highway Code inside out, but the same rules don’t apply in every European country. Did you know that if you wear prescription lenses and you’re driving in Spain, it’s illegal not to carry a second pair in case the first ones break? While in France, you’re breaking the law if you drive a car and don’t carry a self-test alcohol breathalyser.
Not all the rules are so somber. Belarus is a great place if you need to find a parking space – there are no parking meters on the streets and as long as you see a blue ‘P’ sign, you can reverse right in and not have to pay.
Who remembered the supplies?
Organised or not, at some point in the journey someone in your group is going to get hungry or thirsty. Make sure to pack snacks, extra water and medications. It’s sensible to carry a first aid kit in the car and reflective jackets in case you break down.
When travelling to a foreign country, always make sure to carry your driving licence and passport, as well as a photocopy of the documents kept in a separate bag. Download any podcasts and playlists at home so you don’t use up all your data before you’re even a couple of hours into the trip.
Tissues and baby wipes are a godsend when it comes to any spillages in a rental car and a bin bag in the front passenger foot seat will stop the car looking like a teenager’s bedroom.
Who’s the confident one?
The designated driver should be the most confident one. While the United Kingdom, Ireland, Malta and Cyprus drive on the left-hand side of the road, most countries in Europe drive on the right. Having to switch sides can be a little unnerving for more timid drivers and if you’re heading for high-up drama or stretches of slender coastal roads, you want the person in charge of the wheel to be the most experienced.