European Road Trip Planning Tips

Heiligenblut Pilgrimage Church

If a European Road Trip is on your bucket list, these planning tips will make your holiday especially memorable. I’ve planned and gone on road trips throughout Italy, France, Germany, Austria and Switzerland for years and thought I’d share the process.

This year my husband and I had planned another Mediterranean cruise but as sometimes happens, plans can change on very short notice. We consider ourselves very lucky that we were still in the timeframe where we could cancel our cruise and have our deposits refunded.

Now new plans had to be made for our fall holiday…what countries and areas to visit. Would we try someplace new or return to some of our longtime favorites? Perhaps we would go back to Tuscany where I have a friend who specializes in villa rentals. How about Provence or the Loire regions of France, it had been a long time since we had visited those areas. Where to fly in and out of, would we rent or lease a car and so on? That is what I’ve been working on and decided to share how I plan a European road trip.

Heiligenblut Pilgrimage Church
Heiligenblut Pilgrimage Church, Austria

Hotels in famous cities tend to fill up quickly as do flights in and out of them. If you can’t get on a flight when you want to leave, be flexible and pick another date or travel destination. I couldn’t find reasonably priced nonstop flights to Italy or France out of Orlando or Miami, two international airports that are several hours from our home.

I learned years ago that you can often see more of Euope if you fly into one city and out of another. Instead of searching roundtrip flights, I searched multi-city flights and included Melbourne, Florida, a small airport an hour’s drive from our home. While we normally take nonstop flights to Europe, I found a convenient American flight out of Melbourne connecting in Charlotte to Frankfurt and returning home from Munich through Charlotte back to Melbourne. The fare was half the price of what we paid three years ago so I bought our tickets without hesitation.

We always rent a car because it allows you to go to rural destinations. Many people on travel forums will tell you that trains are the best way to see Europe. If you are young and have a sense of adventure, travel light, don’t mind making connections and sometimes having to use buses to get to your final destination, then trains may be for you. Driving gives us the independence to stop when and where we want, finding the out of way  place to eat or the castle ruins on top of a hill that make a trip especially memorable.

european rental car
European Rental Car

Driving regulations on car rentals in Europe vary drastically in each country. Most rental companies only allow some of their cheaper models to cross the border into Eastern Europe or even Italy. Even then, you may be required to buy supplemental insurance. We usually rent a Volvo, BMW or Mercedes. We get an automatic with GPS, we think the extra cost is worth it. They have plenty of room for luggage and they handle well in the Alps but they are not allowed to be driven into Italy or the Czech Republic so read the fine print. It is also good to know that if you will be driving in Austria, Greece, Italy, and much of Eastern Europe, you can be fined for driving without an international permit. The permit can be easily obtained from AAA in the US.

Driving The Grossglockner, The World’s Highest Alpine Road
Driving Our Rental Car On The Famous Grossglockner, The World’s Highest Alpine Road

Familiarize yourself with the passenger and luggage space of the category of car you are renting. It may sound funny but if you are concerned whether you and your luggage will fit in a particular model rental car, stop by a car dealer and check out its interior and trunk before you rent the car.

I would never drive in Europe without GPS. I always have a map with us for day trips and they are good for an overview of your route but GPS has made my life as navigator on our trips so much easier. I get to enjoy the countryside views instead of always being glued to a map trying to determine where the next turn for an unmarked county road will be.

back roads of Europe
GPS Is Helpful On The Back Roads Of Europe

Reserve and pay for your rental car as far in advance as possible for a good rate. Just like airline ticket prices, as availability decreases, prices increase. For our last few car rentals in Europe, I’ve used Hertz. Would you believe that I can rent a better car for less money in Germany than I can at home. The cheapest car I can rent in my own hometown for 26 days is a Ford Focus without GPS for $45.65 a day. For this trip, I rented a Mercedes E-Class Automatic with GPS for 26 days for $27.75 a day. Search around for the best rate but always rent from a reputable company.

Your biggest expense for a European holiday will be transportation. Within a week of paying for your airline tickets, I would suggest you buy travel insurance. Accidents, health issues and weather related incidents can happen even before you start your holiday. I bought “cancel for any reason” insurance that will cover the costs of our airfare, car rental and hotel rooms in case we have a problem either before or during our European trip. We have had two close calls of having trips cancelled at the last minute by hurricanes so having trip insurance gives us peace of mind.

hurricane Irma closes airports
Weather Channel – Hurricane Irma Closes Airports In Florida

Once I have my airline and car reservations made, it is time to plan what cities to visit. I use a large scale map and sticky markers to visualize the route. I also use small scale maps when I’m looking for a scenic route or places of interest along the way. Most of the time, our destinations are about a 3 to 4 hour drive apart. If you do take the scenic route along a coastal or mountain road, it may take longer than you may have planned, especially if you encounter bad weather.

planning a European road trip
Planning A European Road Trip

How long the stay will be at each destination is usually determined by how long your holiday is for. When my husband and I first started traveling in Europe, we spent one night in each hotel and were on the road the next morning because our vacations were 7 to 10 days long. Now our trips are usually for three weeks with a 3 night stay at each destination. We do make exceptions and will stay one night to break up a long drive or stay 4 or five nights if we are visiting somewhere especially interesting that we have never been to before. This year’s trip will be 26 days long and we will be staying at 10 hotels, 3 we have never been to before and 7 favorites that we love returning to time and again.  We will leave from Frankfurt and visit Germany, perhaps day trip over to Switzerland, visit France and Austria before flying home from Munich.

poolside of hotel bareiss
Poolside Of Hotel Bareiss

Do your research when choosing a hotel or destination in Europe, I spend days, if not weeks, researching them. I’ll Google a town or hotel and look at 10 or more pages of websites, trying to get honest, unbiased information. If the website is in a foreign language, I’ll copy and paste it into Google translate. I like to read traveler’s opinions on Trip Advisor but you might be surprised that I read the terrible comments before the good ones. If there is a pattern of something being wrong with a hotel, that is where you will discover it. I also rely on the and Michelin Red Guides for honest information on hotels and good restaurants. If we plan to stay at a spa resort, wellness hotel, as they are referred to in Europe, the Relax Guide is the absolute best but you have to translate the information. The hotels that we finally pick are selected for their location, having a good reputation and their amenities like a good restaurant or wellness facilities.

post hotel achenkirsch spa
Part Of The Spa Area At Post Hotel Achenkirch

I don’t use a booking site to reserve a room. While you may get a good price, you may also get one of the small rooms that most people would be unhappy with, get a room with a window that looks out at a concrete wall three feet away or you may even get the noisy room over the dumpster that the hotel has trouble renting.

Nesslerhof Suite
Nesslerhof’s Suite Weitblick With Fireplace And Open Floor Plan

E-mail the hotel directly to make a reservation especially when you would like a specific room or have a question about the advantage of one room classification over another. If I don’t hear back in a couple of days, I’ll send a second e-mail as sometimes the first might have gone into their spam file. By the time I walk into a hotel entrance for the first time, I’m confident that I got a room for a good price and our stay will a nice one.

Hilton Munich airport
Hilton Munich Airport

Last but not least, stay close to the airport for your departure. The night before our flight home, we are staying at the Hilton Munich Airport which is connected to the airport terminals. There is nothing worse than being caught in unexpected traffic, encountering long check in or security lines then having to run through an airport with your carry on luggage, all the time hoping not to miss your flight home.


I’ve been planning  multi city road trips through France, Italy, Germany, Austria and Switzerland for years and find the whole process very interesting. While planning each of those trips, I have learned a lot about each country before I’ve ever left home.

Many of our friends have told me that they would find the task daunting and would rather take a guided tour where someone else has planned and is responsible for their holiday. My husband and I enjoy our road trips in Europe so I thought I would share my planning tips with my readers who might be thinking of planning their own European holiday.

Good luck and happy travels!


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I travel the back roads of the world, sharing great food and interesting places and enjoyable pastimes.

45 thoughts on “European Road Trip Planning Tips

    1. Thank you Kay, we are looking forward to this year’s holiday. Not what we originally planned but one I’m sure we will enjoy. 🙂

    1. Hi Jenna, I’m hoping my tips will help anyone planning a trip. I’ll look forward to having you tag along on our upcoming trip…thank you. 😀

  1. Wonderful tips! I can’t imagine taking a guided tour, much preferring the freedom of a rental car and coming and going at our pace. I’m sure you’ll have another wonderful excursion.

    1. Thank you for your compliment Ingrid. We like the freedom of planning and going exactly where we want when we want. Guided tours show you a lot but they can also be exhausting. I think we will have another memorable trip…just hope we have good weather.

  2. Very good advise. I prefer cars to trains too – IMHO cars are better for seeing a country if you follow the B roads. I strongly dislike having to put up with mobile phone conversations and the music of others. In some countries one is subjected to buskers with amplified instruments (Spain included), though I was impressed with the French TGV between Paris and Marseilles, which cuts hours off a car journey.

    1. Hi Mad Dog, We’ve always enjoyed the smaller roads, going through villages where tourists aren’t as prevalent is where we feel we really can enjoy all that a country is known for.

  3. We enjoy driving around Europe as well. We took our dog along when we did a road trip to Paris last year and were pleased to find many pet-friendly hotels. Enjoy your trip. I look forward to the blog posts.

    1. Hi Darlene, I do remember your trip to Paris with Dot. We are looking forward to this year’s trip and I’m happy that you will be following along.

    1. Thank you Gary, I’m glad you like the tips. Driving does give you the opportunity to explore a region and see things that would be difficult if traveling by train.

    1. Thank you for your kind words Roz, I’m so glad that you enjoy my writings about our travels and the tips that I’ve shared. I’m happy to know that you will be “traveling along” on our upcoming trip. 😀

    1. I’m delighted to share my tips Gerlinde and I happy to know that they are helpful…thank you! I’m glad that you will be following along on our upcoming travel adventure.

  4. Really great post. I always enjoy reading your travel posts — you go to such interesting places. Fun to see how you put together those neat trips. 🙂

    1. Thank you John for your nice compliment, I’m glad that you liked reading a little of how I plan our trips to Europe and that you enjoy following along.

  5. Great post, Karen! Even I as a European do/research most of the stuff that you do because there can be such vast differences between countries.
    I also read the negative hotel feedbacks first 🙂 . Just to get an impression really whether someone is complaining on a high level (“luxury issues” I call them) like “I didn’t like the water brand they put in the fridge” etc.

  6. What great tips! Like you, I’d rather go to the rural places, and so much rather on my own than with a tour. Restaurants are so much better than the places tours would take you as well, IMHO. Thanks for the tips!

  7. Superb tips. I didn’t know about the border issue with car rentals as we have only rented cars in France. All that traveling throughout Provence was managed (and pretty well at that ) without GPS, and we had nary a problem. Were we to go again today, however, we would surely use it. You are right about train trips–you have to be willing to travel light as the schlepping can be burdensome.

  8. I can tell you are a seasoned traveller Karen. Excellent advice. I wonder which cities you will visit… will look forward to hearing all about it!

  9. Such a great resource. I’m bookmarking this for the day I’m lucky enough to plan such a trip. 🙂 Just home from a trip to Spain where from Madrid, we did a mini trip up through the north. Such good advice here. ~Valentina

  10. Hello Karen.

    Great tips I can say after making three road trips from Finland to Central Europe. You have to remember that Nordic countries including Finland, my country, belong to Europe. Comparing Nordic countries with Central and south Europe is big. Different languages, habits, art, lakes, nature and culture.

    Happy and safe travels!

  11. yes that’s very wise about booking with hotels direct. even domestically! we always do that here in australia too. you usually get a better deal. and you’re not wasting money paying fees to booking agents. cheers sherry

  12. I’m sorry you had to cancel your cruise as I know how much you enjoyed it last time. I also know that whatever you do, it will be fantastic and you’ll make the most of it. We often change our plans at the last minute, as we did when in Germany: we were loving it so much, we didn’t bother with Austria!

  13. I think the researching and planning is half the fun. And I agree with you: staying at an airport hotel before the flight home is the way to go.

  14. These are OUTSTANDING tips! Some I knew or have thought about but others new to me and very important. I’ve yet to do the car thing — too chicken! But I think it would be excellent for exploring and in the end probably less expensive than taking tours that put you on a time-leash. When we were in England we often found we got better prices booking directly with the hotel than even the online sites, as they have to kick back to the site. I hadn’t thought about the rooms being nicer too! Thanks for this — it’s a keeper.

  15. What excellent advice, thank you. We usually arrive and depart from different airports, it used to be so expensive to do that, but we’ve been finding that the flights have become less expensive. We also do some hopping on planes because our destinations are too far apart to drive or take the train. One thing you have to be aware of is the luggage restrictions/extra costs on intercontinental flights, we generally travel for 3-4 weeks and our luggage shows it! I have to admit that I do find the planning task daunting, I get caught up in the details too much, but my husband does the planning with some input from me. I rarely have any issues with his planning but even if I did, I would hold my tongue for fear he’d throw the task back at me!

  16. These are great tips from an experienced traveler as yourself! My husband and I have been to Europe only once when we took a trip to Italy. We rented a car for part of the vacation. We were warned to pay attention to the speed limit and to stay out of restricted zones in Rome, which my husband tried hard to avoid. He thought he had succeeded. It wasn’t until a few weeks after we returned home that a hefty $300 bill arrived for entering a restricted zone. Ouch!!

  17. Karen – Mark read much of this to me the other day as I was cooking – so many good bits of advice! We are planning another trip for October (2020) and your notes remind me of several things I must do soon – notably travel insurance! Thanks!

  18. Wow, these are all helpful suggestions, especially about the restrictions about driving into different countries. BTW, there is a great French bakery in Melbourne, Florida- ‘Jacqueline’s Bakery and Cafe’. Make sure you go there before flying off to Europe!

  19. During out European holiday earlier this year, we rented a van (to accomodate us all). It was not always a pretty picture considering here in Australia we drive on the left hand side of the road. A few mix ups, but I’d do it again. It’s a great way to get to out of the way places.

  20. Good tips. We are traveling to Scotland in a few weeks. We found the rental car the most difficult part. Finding an automatic with enough trunk space for the suitcases of 4 adults, and from a reputable company was a challenge. The negative comments on the car rental companies were the most useful.

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