Driving holidays in Europe are undoubtedly one of our favourite things to do! The freedom, the cost effectiveness and utter ease of it all really appeals to us when travelling with our young family. This is why we chose to do it again and again and again.
We plan all of our summer holidays around some sort of driving holiday in Europe. From booking the Dover/Calais ferry, the overnight stays on driving days and the holiday itself – it’s all so so exciting! For us, these holidays usually involve some sort of camping trip too!
If you are new to driving abroad and want to give it a go, here are our top tips to help you enjoy the experience and, most importantly, feel 100% prepared for your driving holidays in Europe.
If you are thinking of driving in America, see our advice on hiring a car and driving in LA.
1. Plan Your Stopovers Ahead of Time
If your European driving holiday destination requires more than a day of driving, plan your stopovers before you leave. We have had great success booking these with Formula 1. This Accor Group hotel is a very good budget hotel option. Perfect if you are wanting to keep costs down and save money.
A basic room is based on three people sharing. However, there are hotels which offer rooms for six guests, which is great for a family of five, like us!
We have also booked stays with AirBnB and Booking.com, which have worked just as well.
How to Choose Where Your Stopover Should Be?
When on a driving holiday in Europe, we choose our stopovers according to how much driving we want to do in a day.
On some trips we plan longer driving days of up to 9 or 10 hours. This is because the priority is to get to our destination. Other times, we take our time and the drive becomes part of the holiday.
To plan our European driving holiday stopovers I use Google Maps. I do a general search for hotels in a particular area (a red magnifying glass will appear next to the word you are searching). This provides me with a good place to start looking. I then plan according to cost or distance.
Stopovers can also become part of your holiday. For example, on our way to Croatia we used Lake Bled as a Stopover and ended up staying for 5 days. On another trip to Italy we chose a layover at a place called Gap in France. Then ended up staying for 10 days!
Since having kids, and also since Covid, booking last minute campsites and accommodation has become a little harder. This is especially true if you want to be on the coast or in a popular area. It seems these places get booked very quickly now-a-days.
2. Tolls or Non-Tolls on Driving Holidays in Europe
This is a decision we always make before we leave. One option makes the drive a little quicker. The other option makes driving through France completely free.
Driving through France on toll roads can be really expensive. We are always looking to cut costs with our travel, so we choose to drive on the non-toll roads.
Driving on the non-toll roads will take more time, however it is free. You can use this SANEF site to calculate the costs of your driving holidays in Europe.
3. Other Road Charges (Vignettes)
There are other countries in the EU that charge to use their motorways and you can find a comprehensive list here.
Countries like Austria and Switzerland require you to purchase a vignette. A vignette is a little sticker that goes on your windscreen. They are needed to drive on most major road networks in that country and can vary in price according to what vehicle you are driving. For example a motorbike, car or campervan etc. There are also a variety to choose from depending on the length of time you are in the country.
Vignettes can be easily purchased at petrol stations in and around the country you are planning to visit. If you don’t get one and get caught, expect to pay some large fines.
4. Take Breaks on Driving Holidays in Europe
It’s really important to take breaks every 4 hours. Under the EU drivers’ hours rules you should take a 45 minute break for every 4.5 hours driven.
Needless to say, breaks are really important. The monotony of driving for long periods of time can make you tired and decrease your levels of concentration. Tiredness can also affect your reaction times.
A stretch of the legs and a coffee will do you the world of good. If you want to make sure you take lots of small breaks, keep well hydrated. This will ensure you need to stop pretty regularly!
5. Share the Driving (if you can)
Sharing the driving can be a really good way to reduce the amount of time you are on the road. Changing drivers means that you may not need to stop for long breaks as the other person takes their break by becoming the passenger.
If driving on the continent is a little bit of a scary prospect for you or your partner, consider completing your journey on the motorway. Motorway driving can be very easy as you stay on big roads for long periods of time.
However, I find driving on the non-toll roads a little easier. It is not as fast, infinitely more interesting and easier to take small breaks. Also, if I make a mistake with the directions, I can simply turn around and try again. This is not so easy to do on a motorway.
6. Speed Cameras
Be aware of speed cameras on the motorway and on the normal roads in France. Signs like this will appear to let you know you are entering an area with speed cameras. However, it is illegal to use speed camera detectors in France and if found using one you can be fined up to €1,500.
7. Check with Your Car Insurer Where You Can Drive
It is worth checking with your car insurance provider where you are covered to drive on the continent.
While spending a summer in Croatia we planned to drive into Montenegro. However, our insurance did not cover us to drive in Montenegro, so we had to make other plans.
8. Green Cards and Driving Holidays in Europe
You may also need to obtain a green card from your insurer to drive in some EU countries. A list of these places can be found here.
A green card is proof that you hold car insurance when travelling abroad. Authorities may ask to see it at border crossings. A green card can be acquired from your car insurer.
9. Track Your Outgoings
Keeping track of how much money you spend on your driving holidays through Europe can help you identify if this kind of trip really can save you money.
The variables around this will vary wildly from family to family. The biggest differences will be how big your car is, whether you drive a petrol or a diesel and how heavy the car is or if you are towing.
10. Eat Regularly on Driving Holidays in Europe
Pack lots of yummy snacks in the car for your driving holidays.
I find snacks can actually help entertain me whilst driving. If you don’t want to fill up on loads of sweets, snacks such as dried banana chips, muesli bars, nuts, fruit and rice crackers are great alternative options.
11. Music Playlists
On a driving holiday music in king! Fill your phone with your absolute favourites and get the whole car singing along!
I am a big country music fan, so we don’t go anywhere without some Keith Urban or Rascal Flatts to keep us company.
However, we have also been accompanied by Dolly Parton, Elton John, best of Disney, Leo Sayer, Bob Marley, George Ezra and Kids Bop to name just a few! Our kids are constantly growing and changing and so is their love of music. We just go with the flow!
12. Listen to Books
I am a big fan of listening to audiobooks on driving holidays with kids. I choose stories I think we would all enjoy listening to and it gives us time to wind down and listen to something other than each other for a moment.
Our kids are currently 2, 5 and 8 years old and The Ickabog was a fantastic listen on our last driving holiday to Europe.
As an addition to listening to the book, I devise five questions about what the kids have listened to at the end of each chapter. If they get the questions correct, they receive a snack to eat whilst they listen to the next chapter. Works a treat! It’s also quite good for their reading and listening skills too!
13. Play Games on Driving Holidays in Europe
Playing car games is another great way to while away some of the time on the road.
We love the card pack called 50 Things to do on a Jouney from Usborne Books. It’s great for all ages. There are some tried and tested games as well as some newer ones we hadn’t played before! Legs is a firm family favourite!