Traveling Europe by rail is great, but traveling Europe by car gives you unparalleled access to the land and to the people. Nowadays it's easier, more economical and hence more popular than ever to travel around Europe by car. Generally only one partner is required to render a car tour of Europe less expensive — all transportation costs considered — than a tour facilitated by rail passes. And nowhere is driving more fun. Yet several misleading myths about European motor travel persist and keep untold numbers of travelers from enjoying this great value. Let's explode these unfortunate myths.
True only in the UK, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta.
Provided you're at least 18 years of age, your domestic driving license is usually all you need. Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Russia and Spain do require non-Europeans to carry also an International Driving Permit (IDP). The AAA sells IDPs for about US$20. Many car rental companies in Europe require customers to be over 23 or 25 years of age, but French tax-free short-term car leases (ranging from 17 days to 1 year) are available in Europe to persons as young as 18.
The price of gasoline in Europe is generally three to four times higher than in North America. But the gasoline-powered vehicles of Europe are more fuel-efficient than those of North America. What's more, diesel vehicles are widespread. Diesels run about 20 percent more efficiently than gasoline-powered vehicles; and in continental Europe, diesel fuel is about 30 percent cheaper than gasoline./p>
Free parking spots abound on the streets, at train stations, at tourist sites, at provincial hotels and motels, and, yes, at hostels. This abundance prevails especially off the beaten path, precisely where a motor vehicle can take you. Expect to pay only about US$50 per month for parking.
Wrong again. A comprehensive network of new expressways (autoroutes, Autobahnen, etc.) crisscrosses the entirety of Western Europe. In Austria, France, Italy, Spain and Switzerland you must pay tolls on most of these sleek roads; but in the rest of Europe they are free of charge. Avoiding expressways, though, is advised and easy. Parallel to the expressways run the highways that once served as the main highways. Typically these secondary highways afford much more interesting scenery and experiences than do the expressways and are in excellent condition. Regardless, navigation is a breeze. European traffic-control and road-signage measures are either remarkably similar to those employed in North America or else sufficiently heuristic as to be easily followed by foreigners. Moreover, coming into a town, everything tends to fall into place if you follow the ubiquitous signs to the town center or train station. The parking lot at the train station will be at your disposal — often free of charge. Even the infamous roundabouts that increase in frequency with your proximity to a city or town — especially in the UK and France — make navigation easy, as they provide for any number of revolutions while you figure out which turn to make.
Border crossing is usually free of hassle. Often you need not even stop.
For starters, driving will amount to a great subject for conversation and it'll grace you with a certain mystique in the eyes of the fellow travelers you'll meet. Surely some of these travelers will ask to travel with you. Regardless, persons traveling accompanied will rediscover the special intimacy that develops during a road trip.
Not so if the one way car rental itinerary falls within the same country. For extra-country one ways, you might do best to book a French tax-free short-term car lease instead. Such auto leases require payment for a minimum 13 or 21 days but their extra-country one way fees are quite nominal. Moreover, such car leases tend to be far better deals than long term car rentals in Europe.
* 2011 "Statistics of Road Traffic Accidents in Europe and North America," a United Nations publication; and www.data.WorldBank.org.