Myths About Traveling by Car in Europe
"No one has seen Europe who has not traveled in it by car. The life of
the continent from an car window is a closely felt, personal experience."
"The thing that I call livin' is just bein' satisfied
with knowin' I got no one left to blame."
Gordon Lightfoot, "Carefree Highway"
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.
Myth #1: Europeans drive on the left side of the road.
True only in the UK, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta.
Myth #2: It's difficult to get the proper documents.
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.
Myth #3: Fuel costs in
Europe make driving a car there three to four times more expensive than driving a car in
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>
Myth #4: Parking a car in Europe is a nightmare.
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.
Myth #5: Europeans are crazy drivers.
The European driving style is faster
and more chaotic than the style in the USA, but Europeans generally are
better drivers than are Americans. Compared to the US count of
1.47 deaths and 92.32 injuries per 100 million vehicle kilometers,
the UK counts only 0.54 and 48.82 respectively,
Germany 0.80 and 73.11, France 0.89 and 19.42 — this despite the
fact that the average kilometer of roadway in the UK or Germany bears nearly twice as many
vehicles as the average kilometer of US roadway, and the average French road bears
about the same number of vehicles as the average US road.
Indeed, European drivers customarily demonstrate remarkable
patience and goodwill: honking is kept to a minimum; slow drivers pull over
onto the shoulder or otherwise signal to let faster drivers pass; the faster
drivers wave or beep in appreciation.
Myth #6: European
roads are prohibitively vestigial and confusing.
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.
Myth #7: Crossing borders with a car is a long and hair-raising process.
Border crossing is usually free of hassle; often you need not even stop.
Myth #8: Driving is a lonely process.
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.
Myth #9: One way car rental in Europe is extremely expensive.
Not so if the one way car rental intinerary 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 17 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.