A Europe road trip? That would be great! Those were our words at some point and we noted to to do that “some time”. Well, “some time” came soon enough. Read along.
How all started with our Europe Road Trip
Five days before New Years Eve and we had no idea where to go. On Facebook, a friend mentioned arriving at London, United Kingdom with his wife to stay there for years to come. I congratulated them and he asked me if I knew someone to return their (left hand drive) car back to Greece.
Lights and wires switched in our heads… You can imagine what happened! We said, we will bring it back! We decided to combine it with a road trip through through France, Italy and then into Athens Greece.
We booked airplane tickets on the spot, and started planning our Europe road trip from London to Athens. We would spend New Years Eve in London, leaving for France on January 1st!
Ready! Pack! Go!
What To Pack For A Road Trip in Europe
So, we were thinking how to pack for such a trip? It would be a slow drive, taking around 7 days back. Seven days may seem enough, but it is not… It was an easy decision since we would arrive in UK by plain and then we had a car to put everything in. So… 2 luggage’s, laptops, etc.
Having a car is an excellent opportunity to take a bit more clothes, especially in winter time (our trip). More difficult when you are doing the same by bike, where extra items are an issue to carry them around.
Brainstorming For Road Trip Ideas
There we were, doing a more detailed research of places to go. The key factors -essential on a road trip- were:
Driving time per location and sightseeing, along with accommodation. Driving time must be well calculated since it can be tiresome. We had some 7 hour driving time at some points.
Distance between London and Bari (Italy), is 2076km. Bari is the port to take the ferry to Greece.
Driving time is 21 hours under good conditions. That driving time is not divided in same intervals. Some locations demand 5-7 hours driving time, while others 2-3; in winter time in Europe…
We didn’t spend time in London as we go there lots of times.
Itinerary for our Road Trip in Europe
Checking lots of hotel, guesthouses and sightseeing options, we concluded to this itinerary. We would take the Euro-tunnel to France and then:
Calais (a couple of hours touring time): Nice for a few hours to see the main colorful squares. You bump to Calais, right after the Euro-tunnel, so why not?
Le Mont Saint Michel (stayed in Pontorson): A fantastic castle city. Unreachable since a couple years ago, during high tide but now it is fine after making a bridge to walk through. Do explore the whole of this place.
Lyon: Explore the old city. This is where everything is. Lyon is roughly divided into the new and old city. New one is for administration and offices. We stayed in old city. Before arriving to Lyon we visited Rouen.
Verona: You need one day there at least. Visit Juliet, eat gelato, walk and walk and walk all over the city. Stay in the old city.
Firenze (Florence): Stay more than one day. Stay 3 at least. Old city is a walk-through museum with tons to see in and out of different locations. It is 1 hour from Pisa, so…
Pisa: It is a fantastic place. Our face expressions when we saw the tower? Can’t describe it. Make sure to explore the history of whatever you see, as there is more than the tower itself.
San Marino (a few hours touring time): Spend 3-4 hours and visit but we wouldn’t suggest to spend more time there.
Click on the links to read about our experiences in each city. We didn’t stay in San Marino but explored this little independent country. Then we moved to Bari, Italy for the ferry to Greece (this takes almost a day to cross).
Driving in Europe
A bit difficult to get out of UK, since -as you may know- driving is on the left, and we had a car with the steering wheel at the left. In London it is in the other side. With caution -and slow- we managed to arrive to Kent and take the Euro-tunnel.
Yet, GB government takes care of that. You get prepared with signs point the driving side change on the road to Calais, France. Same happens when you come from France. The signs show what you need to do as you approach each country.
We needed a special European driving license on top of our country license. This costed around 50 euro as we issued that in Greece.
Other than that all other were the usual ones, except… tolls. Lots and lots of tolls all over Europe. You need a special budget for that. If you decide for a road trip in Europe do consult the all time classic website: ViaMichelin. We used ViaMichelin to calculate all costs, excluding , food and accommodation.
Europe Road Trip Costs
The total cost for this trip was somewhat less than 2000 euro. That included everything. We booked accommodation that was not cheap but rated above 9 in Booking.com. Around 700 of that cost related to tolls and gas.
In some destinations we found great bargains for accommodation. Yet, in others, 200 euro per room per night was the “cheapest”. That was Lyon. We did found a great room in Verona, inside the old city and it was a huge room with huge space and bathrooms (plural). A beautiful guesthouse in Pontmorson, was less than 50 euro. A huge homemade breakfast also included.
We ate at different places depending on the driving time and location. When we left France from Lyon towards Verona, we had lots of driving time there through the Alps. We tasted pizza in gas station restaurants and it was fantastic.
The cabin for 2 persons and car cost in the ferry was pretty considerable. Yet, you can’t stay around 24 hours in a ship without sleeping, since in the ship sitting areas all lights are bright.
Europe Road Trip Essentials & Tips
There is a list of things you definitely need during a road trip. It is different when you are a couple, and much different when you are 3 or 4 or more. Some key points are:
Make sure your vehicle is in top condition. Check everything; oil, filters, tires, breaks, electrical stuff. Do a thorough check.
Share driving time. As mentioned, driving time will be a lot, unless you want to stay in many more places along the main route. When 2 people drive, it becomes easier. Make sure to have a USB stick or CD’s with music. Driving through some of the countrysides of France or/and Tuscany Italy can be a dream with music.
Navigation: The Alpha and Omega. You need a digital way to navigate. Forget books and printed maps. We used CoPilot software loaded in one of the smartphones in an extra sim. We additionally loaded the European maps needed for the trip.
Free roaming in Europe was not an option (as it is now), so imagine the costs if we wanted to navigate with i.e. google maps. In our opinion? Don’t use your mobile phone. We had good reception almost all the time but in some locations it was not so good and did some “rounds”.
Better to have a designated GPS road navigation device and use it only for that. Even better? Have both from the above mentioned. It is good to have a backup or (have the extra money) to buy along the road. Yet… if you get lost at night crossing Alps, is not that comfy…
Proper GPS software/device will also alert you for POI’s (Points of Interest). Plus, it will “beep” with alerts when you go over the speed limit.
Respect road signs and info. More than the speed limits, when you see sign saying “next gas station in X Km/Miles”, do believe that. Out of gas in remote locations is not that funny. France and Italy are well organized on road safety/services, but why risk that? Moreover… why to pay for services you don’t need? Pay attention.
Have extra budget. You may think you figured all out but, you don’t. Unexpected costs will pop at different times. We “lost” some of our budget while putting gas in a Total gas station and the system charged us 300 euro. A “reserve credit” for upcoming Total gas station. That was stupid (in our minds) and we called the bank for refund.
Have cash, not only credit/debit cards. No, not everything works with credit cards and yes, they do take cash along your trip. A credit card may get lost or damaged. For some weird reason your bank may decide to deny charges if they think someone hacked your card. Your bank doesn’t know you are changing between different cities in short time.
Imagine being in a foreign country, on the road, without money. Not good.
Money in general: Do not take the trip if you don’t have enough (plus some more) money to cover it. Driving between European countries needs money and you can’t do it for free or skip “something”.
Car rental: We didn’t need such in this road trip in Europe but we did that in another where we drove through Cote D’ Azur, France. Renting a car to drive 2200km costs a lot. Make sure you rent a new car and not an older one. Even if it has gone through all the service controls, etc. Ask for new car all the time.
Eating & drinking: If it looks suspicious, avoid it. Ask the locals for where to eat real local food. Some gas stations serve gourmet food or/and snacks.
Conclusion for this Road Trip in Europe
It was a fantastic experience, with a few ups and downs. They were few as we planned that good and we had no big surprises along the way. Make sure to find out, if you need an international driving permit.
Planning a Europe road trip or elsewhere? Let us know.
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