Here is the good news – you’re off on a summer driving holiday in Europe! HOORAY!! The bad news? Well, our Continental cousins do things a little differently on their roads, excusez-moi, we mean “routes”.
From the most obvious (remember to drive on the right side of the road – the RIGHT!!!) to the unexpected, here is all you need to remember if you are planning a road trip to Europe this summer.
1. Check your insurance
You might think it’s simply a case of jumping in your car and heading for the nearest ferry port, but there are a few things you will most definitely want to double check before you hit the road.
First of all, you will need to check whether your insurance company covers you for driving abroad. Some include a fixed number of days as standard, but many require that you apply for it, or even pay an extra fee. No matter who your insurer is, they will want to know if you are taking your car abroad, so do make sure you notify them at least a week in advance of your departure.
Most insurance companies will offer breakdown cover as part of their policies, but they may ask for an extra charge for foreign travel cover. However, if you are travelling for a couple of weeks only, the cost will be relatively small, so is the risk worth it?
2. Pack your necessities
Every European country has its own regulations in terms of what you need to carry on board your vehicle. For example, did you know that it’s compulsory to have two portable breathalysers when driving in France? Before leaving, check this AA handy checklist of equipment required for driving in Europe.
As a general rule, make sure you have a GB sticker, first aid kit, warning triangle and headlamp converters – no matter where you are headed. You also will need to make sure that you have all your car’s documents to hand in case you get pulled over by the local police. In some European countries it is compulsory to carry your driving license with you if you are driving, so make sure you take yours with you (and the paper counterpart too, if you still have one). You must also take your car’s V6 registration document, motor insurance certificate and breakdown policy if you have one. It is highly recommended to write down all the important contact telephone numbers and document references, too.
3. Research your routes and get to know the local toll roads
In Europe, you will have to pay to use most of the motorways. Some countries operate a pay-as-you-drive system where you pay on entering or exiting the motorway, whilst for others you have to purchase a ‘vignette’ sticker. This normally goes on your windscreen and it’s automatically recognised by the roadside cameras. These vignettes are often reasonably priced and available from most petrol stations.
Toll roads can be very expensive if you are travelling on long stretches of the motorway – especially in France and Italy so it’s definitely worth doing some research before departing to see if you can drive on alternative routes.
4. Adopt the local driving style (without breaking the law!)
Driving on the right side of the road is a mental adjustment, but it’s easy enough once you get the hang of it. In general, remember:
• Roundabouts operate in an anti-clockwise direction
• Oncoming traffic is seen coming from the left
• Left-turning traffic crosses oncoming traffic
• The far right-hand lane is the slow lane; the inner left-hand lane is the fastest lane
• Traffic signs are normally on the right-hand side of the road
• Use headlight beam converters on your lights, to avoid dazzling oncoming traffic at night
If it’s your first time, while you’re getting used to it, take extra care, try to stop often to take a break and have an alert passenger with you to avoid lapsing into ‘left hand-side autopilot’ at roundabouts, junctions and leaving a petrol station.
Whilst not breaking the speed limits, try and adapt to the driving style of those around you, without putting yourself or anyone else at risk. Don’t drive unnecessarily slowly on roads without limits such as the German Autobahn – it’s sometimes more dangerous than driving too fast. Remember to make clear signals with plenty of time if you are changing lanes and make sure you are fully familiarised with local road signs, as sometimes they seem to make little sense – and can be even more confusing when they’re dashing past at high speed.
5. Make sure your car is in good order
Last, but not least – prepare your car before your trip by making sure it is serviced. It’s definitely worth paying a visit to your local garage and put your mind at ease about any issues your vehicle may have. If you are travelling south in the summer months, be prepared to find quite extreme weather conditions, with temperatures spiking up to above 40 degrees C in the sun. Make sure your car can cope with the extra stress. At Exminster Garage we offer a convenient Long Journey Check and Air Conditioning installation at a very competitive price.
If you take into account all of the above, simply be safe, have fun and enjoy your drive!