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How to Travel in Europe by Rental Car

How to Travel in Europe by Rental Car

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Traveling in Europe by rental car offers a unique and flexible way to explore the continent’s rich history, diverse cultures, and breathtaking landscapes. From the sun-kissed beaches of Spain to the alpine roads of Switzerland, driving in Europe provides an unparalleled sense of freedom and adventure.The IDA organization will tell you everything you need to know to make your trip to Europe a success.

Planning Your Trip

Choose the Right Car

Selecting the right car is crucial for a comfortable and enjoyable trip. Consider the following factors:

  • Size: Compact cars are easier to navigate in narrow European streets and easier to park.
  • Fuel Efficiency: Diesel cars and hybrids can save you money on fuel.
  • Transmission: Manual cars are more common and often cheaper, but if you’re not comfortable with a stick shift, opt for an automatic.

Renting a Car

When renting a car in Europe, it’s essential to shop around and compare prices. Websites like Rentalcars, Kayak, and Auto Europe can help you find the best deals. Keep an eye out for hidden fees, such as additional charges for young drivers or extra insurance.

Understanding Insurance

Insurance is a critical component of your rental agreement. Most rental companies offer basic insurance that covers theft and damage. However, it often comes with a high deductible. Consider purchasing a Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) or Supplemental Liability Insurance (SLI) to reduce your liability. Check if your credit card offers rental car insurance, as it might cover you for free.

Required Documents

To rent a car in Europe, you’ll need the following documents:

  • Driver’s License: A valid driver’s license from your home country is usually sufficient. However, some countries require an International Driving Permit (IDP). Check the requirements for each country you’ll be visiting.
  • Credit Card: A credit card in the driver’s name is typically required for the deposit.
  • Passport: Necessary for identification purposes.

International Driving Permit (IDP)

An IDP is a translation of your driver’s license into several languages and is required in some European countries. For example, if you are traveling to Italy or Austria and you have an American driver’s license, you will need an IDP. However, if you have an international driver’s license and are traveling to countries such as France, Germany, or Spain, your regular driver’s license will suffice. It is always best to check the specific requirements for each country on your itinerary and, if necessary, arrange for a license translation or International Driving Permit in advance.

GPS and Maps

A reliable GPS system or smartphone navigation app is indispensable. While rental cars often come with built-in GPS, it’s wise to have a backup plan, such as Google Maps or a dedicated GPS device. Download offline maps to avoid high data charges.

Understanding Road Signs and Rules

Each European country has its own set of road signs and traffic regulations. Here are a few general tips:

  • Speed Limits: Speed limits vary by country and road type. For example, highways in Germany might not have a speed limit, but residential areas typically have a limit of 50 km/h.
  • Tolls: Many European highways, especially in France, Spain, and Italy, have tolls. Make sure you have cash or a credit card ready.
  • Roundabouts: Roundabouts are common in Europe. Yield to traffic already in the roundabout unless otherwise indicated.


Parking can be challenging in European cities. Here are some tips:

  • Parking Zones: Pay attention to parking signs and colored zones, which indicate restricted or paid parking areas.
  • Parking Garages: Consider using parking garages in larger cities to avoid fines and ensure your car’s safety.
  • Street Parking: Always check local regulations and be cautious of parking in unauthorized areas to avoid hefty fines.

Practical Tips for a Smooth Journey


Fuel prices in Europe are generally higher than in the United States. Diesel is usually cheaper than gasoline and more fuel-efficient. Look for supermarkets and larger petrol stations, as they often have lower prices.

Toll Roads and Vignettes

Many European countries use toll roads, and some require a vignette (a type of road tax sticker) for highway travel. For instance, Switzerland, Austria, and Slovenia require vignettes. You can purchase them at border crossings, gas stations, or online.

Local Driving Customs

Driving customs vary by country. In Italy, for example, drivers tend to be more aggressive, while in Germany, adherence to rules is strict. Research the driving culture of each country to avoid surprises.

Emergency Kit

Ensure your rental car is equipped with an emergency kit, including:

  • Reflective vests
  • Warning triangles
  • First aid kit
  • Spare tire and tools

Rest Stops

European highways have well-maintained rest stops with clean facilities. Use these opportunities to take a break, stretch your legs, and enjoy local snacks.

Must-See Destinations

France: The Romantic Road Trip

France offers a blend of scenic beauty and cultural richness. Drive through the Provence region, visit the lavender fields, and explore the charming villages. Don’t miss the iconic Route des Grandes Alpes, a spectacular drive through the French Alps.

Italy: The Coastal Adventure

Italy’s Amalfi Coast is a must-see, with its winding roads and breathtaking views. Start in Naples, drive through Sorrento, and end in the picturesque town of Positano. Along the way, indulge in authentic Italian cuisine and explore ancient ruins.

Germany: The Fairy Tale Route

Germany’s Romantic Road takes you through medieval towns, castles, and stunning countryside. Start in Würzburg and make your way to Füssen, where you can visit the famous Neuschwanstein Castle. The Autobahn, with its unrestricted speed limits, is also an experience not to be missed.

Spain: The Diverse Expedition

Spain’s diverse landscape offers everything from beaches to mountains. Drive from Barcelona along the Costa Brava, visiting quaint fishing villages and historic towns. For a unique experience, head south to Andalusia and explore Seville, Granada, and the Alhambra Palace.

Switzerland: The Alpine Escape

Switzerland’s well-maintained roads and stunning alpine scenery make it a perfect destination for a road trip. Drive through the Swiss Alps, stopping at picturesque towns like Interlaken and Lucerne. Don’t miss the scenic drives through mountain passes like the Furka Pass and the Great St. Bernard Pass.

Safety Tips

Road Safety

  • Seat Belts: Wearing seat belts is mandatory in all European countries.
  • Child Seats: Ensure children are in appropriate car seats as per local regulations.
  • Drink Driving: Europe has strict drink driving laws. The legal blood alcohol limit varies, but it’s safest not to drink at all if you plan to drive.

Health and Safety

  • Travel Insurance: Comprehensive travel insurance that includes car rental coverage is essential.
  • Emergency Numbers: Familiarize yourself with the emergency numbers in each country (112 is the general emergency number across the EU).

Vehicle Safety

  • Lock Your Car: Always lock your car and don’t leave valuables visible.
  • Breakdown Assistance: Ensure you have a breakdown assistance number and coverage.

Traveling through Europe by rental car is an incredible way to experience the continent’s diverse cultures, landscapes, and historical sites at your own pace. By planning ahead, understanding local driving regulations, and being prepared for various road conditions, you can ensure a safe and enjoyable journey. Whether you’re navigating the scenic routes of the French countryside or driving along the dramatic cliffs of the Amalfi Coast, each road trip offers a unique adventure waiting to be discovered. So, pack your bags, grab your map, and embark on a European road trip you’ll never forget.

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