Note: With his finite wisdom and resources, Eric abstained from suggesting particular itineraries. We likewise abstain. There are just so many possible noteworthy routes; and we don't want to risk spoiling any of them. Please leave room for the road itself to speak to you, to guide you. Radically conserve the liberty that is the chief bequest of car, RV and motorcycle travel. Plan but don't overplan. Follow your path. Free your travel.
Points of Interest or POI's are locations that are part of, or can be added to, GPS devices. A POI could be a gas station, a hotel, a restaurant, a shopping mall, a historical location, and so forth. The data for the POI databases is collected from a variety of sources. In some cases mapping companies compile it. Sometimes the data is provided directly by retail companies. Often times the information is gathered by companies that specialize in creating business directories. Sometimes a POI is compiled by individuals with a special interest, like RVers who create POI's of their favorite RV parks.
Suitable maps are not provided with your vehicle. We recommend that you invest in a top quality map or maps or a very good atlas — even if you will be using a GPS navigation device. Nothing beats a paper map for general travel planning purposes. Hunkering over such map with, say, a cup of coffee is one of the great pleasures in life. For those reasons, buy your maps before you leave. Once abroad, however, you can buy them in airports, bookstores or auto service stations.
Everyone wants a free map, but in addition to death and taxes at least one further fact will always be true: free maps are not good maps.
And no matter what map you get, remember the words of Thomas Ottavi: "There are lies, damned lies, and then there are maps."
France, Italy, Portugal and Spain have extensive toll road systems on their expressways whereas Belgium, Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands do not.
For details on all the various road toll systems and instances in Europe, please see AA European Tolls.
The following countries in Europe require that vehicles using certain of the nation's roads bear a special one-off road tax sticker or vignette: Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Moldova, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Switzerland. Switzerland requires such vignette on its expressways. You can buy the Swiss vignette for 40 SwF at Swiss National Tourist offices, Swiss Customs posts (the border), Swiss post offices, or Swiss garages. (However, check whether your rental vehicle already has a valid vignette on it from a previous renter, in which case you don't need another vignette.) At the border you can pay in SwF, EUR, £'s and USD. You can also pay inside the Customs office onsite by credit card. The vignette is valid until the end of the January of the year after you buy it, is non transferable, and should be clearly affixed to the inside of the windshield, ideally at the top left corner or close to the central rear view mirror; do not afix it in the visor strip.
If you buy a vignette from the person stationed for this purpose outside the office (who accepts only cash), they will insist on affixing the sticker. If you buy inside the office you can affix the sticker yourself. You must obtain a separate vignette for a trailer or caravan. If your vehicle doesn't bear a properly affixed vignette and the Swiss police catch you driving on an expressway, you'll be subject to a 100 SwF fine — on top of the vignette's cost. Expressways offer the only hope for speedy and level motor travel through mountainous Switzerland. Still, it's not absolutely necessary to use the expressways there. You have to ask yourself this: Why do I want to travel quickly and horizontally through Switzerland? Carefully study your map to determine if you want a vignette. See Wikipedia's Vignette page for more about such vignettes and road taxes.
If your vehicle's total permissible weight (i.e. basically its unladen weight) is over 3.5 tons (i.e. 3500 kg, which corresponds to a pretty large European motorhome), you must buy a "GO-Box" rather than a simple vignette to travel the tollways of Austria. A white box about the size of your palm, the GO-box should be affixed to the inside of the windscreen. The device logs the tollway distance traveled by the vehicle. (Electrical control points are located along the tollway and are queried by overhead DSRC microwave radio transceivers at different locations. Overhead 3-D infrared laser scanners detect and photograph vehicles travelling without the GO-Box.) A GO-Box initially costs EUR55.
These devices are sold at most fuel stations on major roads approaching Austria. (In Germany, look for signs reading "GO Vertrieb.") The initial EUR55 is reduced each time the vehicle passes a tollway control point. As the credit gets low, the GO-box emits certain warning signals. You can recharge the GO-Box in EUR50 increments only. The fine for traveling said expressways without a charged Go-Box is EUR220. For more information, visit www.go-maut.at.
There is a road toll system in Norway called "Autopass". Many of the motorhomes rented in Norway bear a device that communicates with the road toll point if the driver uses the lane marked with the Autopass sign. When the customer returns the vehicle, the rental company will charge the customer for the road tolls the customer has accumulated, this at the same rate the road toll company charges the rental compnay. Only if there is no Autopass lane does the driver need to stop and pay the toll.
If the rental vehicle does not have such device — e.g. if it is brand new or rented from Sweden or from Germany — the customer can register their own credit card in the Autopass system online before they enter Norway. Unfortunately this registration is only possible after pick-up of the vehicle (because the license plate info is needed). Register with Autopass right after your pick up or latest prior to your entry to Norway: www.autopass.no. Don't forget to memorize your credit card password beforehand, if you use one.
Upon the rental pick-up occasion, make sure the LPG heating/cooking gas cylinders (also referred to as bottles) that are provided in the rental vehicle are sufficiently full. Most motorhome rental vehicles in Europe are provided with one such cylinder completely full and another partially full. Also on the pick-up occasion, ask for appropriate LPG connectors/adapters for each country you plan to visit. Nevertheless, before crossing any national border in Europe, again make sure the LPG cylinders are sufficiently full. Indeed before crossing a national border in Europe, you should at least consider exchanging your cylinders for full ones even if your cylinders are not yet empty, and likewise you should at least consider buying extra cylinders to augment your supply. Many European, Scandinavian, British and Irish rental motorhomes employ LPG cylinders which are meant to be exchanged by the customer (rather than refilled on the spot by the customer or by a retail operation), the customer paying only for the LPG not the cylinder (bottle) itself as well. The refilling of such cylinders by consumers or retail businesses is prohibited in the UK and in many continental European countries because it is a dangerous process and one which can easily be performed improperly. Notoriously, however, the type of exchangeable cylinders tend to vary by country within Europe. Therefore when outside the country in which you picked up the vehicle, you very well might not be able to exchange the cylinders provided by the motorhome rental company. Instead, inasmuch as your LPG cylinders are depleted, you might need to buy an exchangeable cylinder locally (in which case you'd also have to place a deposit on the exchangeable cylinder, because it remains the property of the gas company).
If you are touring multiple countries on the European continent, we recommend that you obtain a Campinggaz (that's the brand name) cylinder, just in case, because it is so widely available (i.e. for exchange) in continental Europe.
Continental European exchangeable cylinders are not typically available on the UK or Irish markets; and there is no adapter on the general market which interfaces continental heating and cooking systems to the "Calor" gas exchangeable cylinders standard in the UK and Ireland. So indeed you might need to bring extra, full exchangeable cylinders if you are crossing to the UK or Ireland for an extended tour. UK and Irish vendors supply the standard Calor gas exchangeable cylinders for travel in the UK and Ireland. When a client is traveling from the UK or Ireland to Europe, the vendor typically supplies the client with continental "Campinggaz" (formerly Camping Gaz) exchangeable cylinders and/or an adapter that interfaces the Campinggaz exchangeable cylinders to UK heating and cooking systems. Campinggaz is relatively expensive but it is available all over Europe; whereas Calor gas cylinders are not available outside the UK.
New cylinders, whether Campinggaz or not, are often sold at campgrounds, outdoor recreation stores, hardware stores, home improvement stores (e.g. "OBI" in Italy), or fuel stations (e.g. in Spain the ideal is "Cepsa", otherwise "Repsol"). You would also buy (hopefully at same store) an adapter/tap that will connect this type of cylinder to the motorhome system, and perhaps (if the vehicle does not have a remote, wall-mounted regulator, which nearly all post-2004 motorhomes do have) a regulator as well (although adjustable ones are sometimes available that preclude the need for a separate adapter). Costs vary by country. Cylinders cost EUR 40 to EUR 75 or so. The deposit required per cylinder is about EUR 20. Adapters and regulators cost only about EUR 10. You can look on campground noticeboards for used cylinders for sale for maybe EUR 10.
In rural Spain, bottled gas is the most common form of cooking. Therefore adapters/taps are readily available in most larger supermarkets there. Cylinders (butane or propane) can be exchanged and adapters/taps bought in most Ferreterias (i.e. hardware stores, ironmongeries) in Spain. Often it is possible to buy an empty cylinder from a "flea market" in Spain and then simply exchange it at a supplier and pay for a full one. The Spanish fuel stations Cepsa and Repsol sell new gas cylinders. Repsol is more prevalent but they tend to require from the buyer a proof of Spanish address and/or they might insist on an expensive inspection of your vehicle before consenting to sell you a gas cylinder.
Unfortunately there's virtually no standardisation of LPG bottles and fittings in Europe. Some motorcaravanners travel with assorted bottles and/or adaptors to suit. If visiting several countries, especially in the south, you may have to consider some of this equipment as disposable otherwise you'll finish up carrying empty bottles from the UK, France, Spain and Italy perhaps even more than one type from some countries. Spain has strict laws about selling gas to non-householders, and for 12 kg Cepsa or Repsol bottles you need a contract from a gas agent which can be difficult. Go instead to a Cepsa petrol station and get a silver 13 kg bottle for about EUR 17 which includes an EUR 10 deposit (at time of writing).
With respect to LPG cylinders that are meant to be refilled by customers or retail operations rather than exchanged, various connectors might be needed to re-fill the cylinders because the LPG dispenser nozzles at fuel stations tend to vary from country to country.
Three different dispenser connectors are used in Europe: the Dutch Bayonet, the Claw or Italian Dish, and the ACME thread.
The following articles are helpful:
The minimum age limit for the motorhome and campervan rentals presented by IdeaMerge depends on the vendor. (Many vendors require that drivers have possessed a valid domestic driver's license for at least a year prior to the rental.) In some cases there is a maximum age limit. See the particular Rental Details page presented during our online reservation process.
Drivers must of course possess their valid domestic driver's license, valid especially relative to the rated weight of the rental vehicle ("total permissible weight"). Most domestic driver's licenses suffice for operation of most of the vehicles presented on the IdeaMerge website. However, the standard European license, for instance, limits its holder to operating vehicles rated 3500 kg or less. Some of the vehicles available for rental in Europe are rated with a higher total permissible weight than 3500 kg. If your domestic automobile driver's license does not stipulate a weight limitation, it will be interpreted in this regard in Europe as having a weight limitation of 3500 kg. To research the limits associated with your driver's license, please check your license and visit the website of the governmental agency that issued your license. You can also see the following Wikipedia articles: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Driver's_license and, say, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UK_Driving_Licence_codes.
The right to drive in European Union (EU) countries is based largely on the possession of a driver's license issued to a person living permanently in a country that has ratified the Geneva or Vienna convention agreements on road traffic. Australia, Brazil, Canada, Israel, New Zealand, South Africa, the USA, and many other countries — including Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan (Republic of China, ROC), Singapore and South Korea — have ratified one or both of the aforementioned traffic agreements.
Most European countries — notable exceptions being Austria, Italy and Spain — do not also require an international driver's license (IDL, IDP) of persons who hold a driver's license from such ratifying countries. However, if there is no English in such license, a notarized translation or else an IDL is typically required.
Vehicle rental companies, in relation to the motoring insurance they offer, may and often do impose driver's license requirements that are different than those imposed by the relevant government. For instance, such company might not require an IDL in a country that does require an IDL; or they might require an IDL in a country that does not require an IDL.
China (People's Republic of China, PRC) has ratified neither of the aforementioned convention agreements on road traffic. Therefore a proper IDL cannot be obtained in relation to a China (PRC) driver's license. Morever, in Finland and Sweden a China (PRC) driver's license cannot be used as a basis for driving legally. In Norway and most if not all of the rest of Europe, on the other hand, a China (PRC) driver's license is sufficient if the license includes English translation or is accompanied by a notarized translation of the license into English. A holder of a China (PRC) license should contact the relevant consulates to determine whether the nation in which s/he plans to drive accepts their license as a legal basis for driving.
Many countries require of you, the foreign driver, no license apart from your domestic driver's license. However, certain countries require of certain non-resident driver's an International Driving Permit (IDP) in addition. You should contact the relevant tourist office, consulate or embassy to determine whether a country requires you to carry an IDP while driving. A good secondary indicator in this respect is the IDP webpage posted by the UK's Automobile Association. Basically an IDP is a means by which police in a foreign country can know — in terms of translations in nearly a dozen different languages — that your domestic driver's license is indeed recognized as being valid by the proper authorities in your country. (See the excellent article at Drivers.com.)
The local office of your auto club (AAA, CAA, etc.) sells IDPs for about US$20. If you need an IDP, take your license, two passport-sized photos and the requisite cash to the club office. (Though for about US$6 the club may snap Polaroid photos for you.) Ten minutes later you'll be able to legally drive on any European road — assuming you're at least 18 years of age.
If you plan to operate a motorcycle in Europe, be sure to have the auto club certify your qualification to do so. The USA's AAA now has a Webpage whereby drivers licensed in the USA can obtain an IDP: AAA's application for IDP. Web searches will bring up a host of websites selling documents that conform to the model delineated in annex 10 of the United Nations Convention on Road Traffic (1949); but according to Article 24 of that convention, a truly valid IDP is one which is "issued .. by the competent authority of another Contracting State or subdivision thereof, or by an association duly empowered by such authority ...." The US State Department says it has empowered only the American Automobile Association (AAA) and the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA) to issue IDPs. (The AATA offers IDPs through the National Automobile Club.)
Nearly all RV rental companies include insurance which involves a very considerable deductible (i.e. an excess). Many RV rental companies do offer an optional waiver or two by which the customer can effectively reduce the deductible, perhaps all the way to zero. Note in this respect: the cover which credit cards typically extend to car rentals when the customer uses the card to pay for the rental does not extend to RV rentals, this because RVs (like sports cars, etc) are considered specialty vehicles that are excluded from such credit card cover.
With respect to manual transmission vehicles, it is the client's responsibility to know, or to learn how, to drive a manual transmission. The rental company (i.e. the vendor) will likely refuse to deliver such vehicle unless all the drivers listed on the rental contract are expressly or evidently proficient in the operation of a manual transmission vehicle. There are no refunds in such cases.
Almost all the motorhomes and campervans available for rental in Europe have a manual transmission rather than an automatic transmission.
Vehicle models and layouts are not guaranteed. Some vehicle accessories, such as an awning or a bike rack, are not guaranteed, because some of the vehicles are delivered from the factory to the rental company so near to the pick-up date that there is no time to install such items.
Where and when road or weather conditions, and perhaps laws or ordinances or such, dictate the wise or requisite use of specific tires or specifically embellished tires (e.g. tires fitted with snow chains or socks), it is the driver's responsibility to abstain from driving until such tires are installed on his or her vehicle. It is nevertheless the client's responsibility to return the vehicle with the initial (i.e. original) set of tires installed or co-present; otherwise the client will be billed for those initial tires. Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Norway and Sweden, for example, have laws which dictate the use of winter tires. It is the client's responsibility to research and understand such laws in relation to his or her rental and itinerary.
You can study the UK Automobile Assocation website to learn more about winter tire requirements and other compulsory equipment per European country.
Regarding snow chains, it is vital that you check and if necessary maintain the tension of the chains frequently, and certainly after every short journey. Also, with the chains fitted do not drive faster than about 35 miles per hour (60 km/h).
IdeaMerge suggests that our clients do not plan to rely solely on any one guide nor even on any collection of such guides (whether they be in book form, software form, or online) to determine the location or quality of appropriate hotels and campgrounds. Such a guide — especially if it is provided free of charge by the vendor or another entity — should not be considered suitably thorough and up to date, although in many cases they are very useful. Even if a vendor's policy is to provide such guide with every rental vehicle, they occasionally run out of supply because too many clients lose or abscond with the guide, or for other reasons beyond the vendor's control. IdeaMerge therefore suggests a sort of rule of three: use at least two published guides (in book form, software form, or online), and rely on your own on-the-ground research (e.g. following local signage, questioning local people, and so forth) to complete the picture. Market forces usually take care of the rest because they result in hotel and campground locations per the general demand and thus near where you are most likely to desire such location.
Neither IdeaMerge nor the vendor is responsible to assist in locating or recommending hotels or campgrounds to clients. Any assistance IdeaMerge or the vendor does give in that respect should not be interpreted as sanctioning or signifying the suitability of the services or products provided at the hotel or campground.
For motorhome travel soft-sided, collapsable bags are the best sort to use, because they can be stored within the vehicle without taking up much room. See the particular Rental Details page presented during our online reservation process for information about whether or not the rental depot will store luggage for you.
Unless otherwise specified on the IdeaMerge website or by the relevant IdeaMerge vendor, clients should not plan to park their own vehicle at the rental depot. At some rental depots such parking is possible, but only if upon the pick-up occasion there happens to be room on the depot grounds. Typically rental depot personnel can direct clients to optimal parking solutions nearby the depot.
Check all accessories at the depot to be sure they are in working order. If there is a problem say something at the depot before leaving.
Ask questions during the vehicle orientation. Refuse to be rushed.
You will be held liable for vehicle damage that is deemed to occur during your rental. Test drive the vehicle at and near the rental depot where you begin your journey. If you notice anything unusual about the vehicle, especially the clutch, return it to the depot immediately.
Drive carefully. The security deposit that you leave with the rental company upon the pick-up occasion will be debited for vehicle damage.
Please carry a mobile phone with you so the vendor can easily contact you if necessary and in case of emergency. Please confirm that your phone service provider and contract allows you to call toll-free numbers.
The vehicle should be returned with the toilet waste receptacle (e.g. blackwater tank) and the shower/sink waste water tank (greywater tank) empty. Otherwise the vendor reserves the right to charge a waste cleaning fee.
Moreover, the vehicle should be returned clean inside and be emptied of luggage by the reserved return time. (Typically the vendor will clean the outside.) If the vehicle is not clean on the inside — i.e. not only emptied of luggage but also with clean floors (vacuumed or thoroughly swept), clean seats, clean appliances, clean bathroom, and generally clean surfaces — the vendor reserves the right to charge an interior cleaning fee.
If proper return (as described above) occurs after the reserved return time, a charge will be levied for each extra such hour (up to the daily or nightly rate); and the customer will assume responsibility for claims made against the vendor by the subsequent customer because the subsequent customer's pick-up is the delayed by the late return.
Upon returning the vehicle the client should report to the vendor any ticketed parking violations, ticketed traffic violations, and toll-road violations and such that the client knowingly incurred during the rental, along with any documentation thereof (e.g. the ticket itself). The cost of any associated fine or fines devolves upon the client, even if the client was not directly ticketed for the violation or was otherwise unaware of the violation. Moreover, the vendor might charge to the client an administration fee for processing each such fine.
Also see our General Disclaimers & Notices.
Many cell phones (i.e. mobile phones, handies) now work overseas. Check with your service provider (i.e. your carrier, the phone service company) in this regard; it might be a good occasion for you to upgrade to a phone (and plan) that works well overseas. If indeed you want to be able to use your phone on another continent, you'll need to call your service provider customer support to get international roaming turned on.
But beware: such roaming in and of itself is very expensive. Every missed or rejected call will use a minute of roaming charges; every notification of a voicemail that's been left will cost a minute too. More charges will come if you use data, even unknowingly — and the new smart phones are constantly using data that you're unaware of. Data roaming costs about US$15/MB, which means a dollar fifty or so for every single web page that you view. If someone sends you a nice 2 megapixel photo from home, that'll be US$30! If you want to avoid data roaming charges completely, you should disable data roaming and data synchronization before you go abroad.
International roaming is not a good value unless you have tri-band GSM phone. Such phones can be "SIM subsidy unlocked" via your service provider to accept a foreign SIM card. Calls received through such card will be charged to you as if you are using a local phone. To initiate such unlocking of your tri-band GSM phone, call your service provider at least a week or two before you go abroad. Your service provider will then request an unlock code from the phone manufacturer, but the service provider will not officially guarantee the manufacturer's response time (it's usually 24–48 hours) nor even that a unlock code will be provided.
Moreover, you'll need to obtain a prepaid SIM card or cards for the country or countries you plan to travel to. Those cards cost roughly 30 euros and can be bought in mobile phone shops in Europe (the primary companies in France, for instance, are Orange, Bouygues Telecom and SFR). Alternatively you can buy or rent them before you go abroad, from various internet-based companies. You would replace your current SIM card with the European one. (Typically they go under the battery.) Do save your current SIM card, however; you'll need it when you return home.
For SIM card or special phone rental or purchase online, see the following:
Portable GPS navigation technology has undergone some real changes lately. Windshield-mountable units have proliferated and dropped hugely in price. Meanwhile mobile (i.e. cellular) phone based GPS navigation has arrived full force.
Be wary of "free" portable GPS rentals. You tend to get what you pay for. And upon finally receiving such rental unit a day or so before you depart, there's precious little time for you to get comfortable with the device — much less to program it with destination addresses and such. Furthermore, "free" usually translates into shipping and handling charges in both directions, to and from you. In the face of these negatives, you should strongly consider buying your own portable GPS navigation device instead.
Make sure the unit you buy comes equipped with pre-installed, high-resolution map software of both North America and Europe. There are some potential drawbacks to purchasing these types of portable GPS units. Some users have remarked that these types of GPS units "lose their way" from time to time in smaller European towns, and in some cases the units have difficulties obtaining satellite reception while in Europe. Other users have noticed that these types of GPS units occasionally have difficulty with place names in the voice command mode if not set to the language of the local area.
It is important to note that while these units are loaded with European maps, and they offer additional features such as downloadable city maps for even more usability in small local areas, they are primarily marketed towards a North American user/consumer, and as such they may not be as functional on the ground in Europe as, say, a built-in GPS like as those that are delivered in some of the French short-term tax-free lease vehicle models.
There are literally dozens of windshield-mountable GPS models. Between adjacent, sequentially ordered models from a given manufacturer there are only incremental differences. Comparing the top to the very bottom of a manufacturer's range, however, there are big differences.
The latest in the evolution of GPS technology is the mobile phone or "Smartphone" integrated unit. Most if not all "smartphones" on the market feature GPS signal transmission and reception that can be integrated with a dedicated GPS navigation device discussed above, enhancing the dedicated device's ability to transmit and receive such signal, and which also feature full GPS navigation functionality in connection with Google Maps and other apps.
Dedicated GPS devices still provide larger screens, better maps, and an overall higher level of functionality than these cutting edge integrated phones; but mobile phone navigation will of course continue to improve, and it already meets the needs of many users.
Of special concern when choosing to use a smartphone in Europe is the type of service plan or contract that one might have with their particular service provider. In some cases, a smartphone's GPS feature may utilize a "data" connection which is just a way of the GPS attaining its functionality by way of the mobile phone network. Using such a phone in Europe may compile some significant, if not astronomical fees from the service provider. It is critical to thoroughly understand your particular mobile phone plan before attempting to rely on your smartphone in a foreign country. We strongly recommend that you contact your cell phone service provider for full details about the ramifications of using a smartphone GPS in Europe before you leave for your trip. You'll be glad you did!
Great deals on the GPS units that we have recommended (as well as those we have not) are available through a wide variety of vendors on the internet. We recommend using a reputable seller such as Amazon.com for your online purchase.
Bricks-and-mortar companies like the USA's BestBuy offer a wide selection of GPS models both in-store and on their websites. Not all of the items shown on their websites are available in all their stores, but it may nevertheless be wise go into the store and speak with the GPS expert there (if there is one).