Things to Consider on a European Road Trip - My Family Travels

I’ve just returned from a road trip through France and Spain with four of my Irish friends.  We booked cheap Ryanair flights from Dublin to Nantes, rented a car, and took off for the ‘Murphy’s Law’ road trip.  For those who don’t know Murphy’s Law is –“Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” 

In about 11 days, we went through Nantes, La Rochelle, Bordeaux, Biarritz, San Sebastian, Zaragoza, Valencia, Barcelona, Collioure, Montpellier, Toulouse and back through Bordeaux, La Rochelle and Nantes.  

It was exhausting!  I am ready for a vacation after that holiday.  

I’ve gathered a few tips for those brave enough to test their luck driving through Europe. In the end, even when things seemed hopeless, we were in the beautiful scenery and any weather is better than the Irish rain.

1. Rental Cars
If you are traveling from continental Europe and already have use of a car, then you can by pass this tip.  We had originally planned to take the ferry from Ireland to France and take our own car, but in the end renting was actually cheaper.  The car in question also hadn’t had use of the A/C since 1992, so our comfort was at stake.

Always, always, always read the fine print.  If you are under 25, prepare to pay a little extra, (usually €25-30) per day. Also double check if a 2nd or 3rd driver is included in the set fee.  No one wants the burden of driving every day. 

2. Drivers
Automatic cars cost more than standard (or stick shift) cars to rent.   Even though I was the only one used to driving on the right side of the road, my Irish friends had to get used to it quick. If we had a Euro for the amount of fearful times the backseat drivers shouted “Right lane!” we would have had enough to just pay for the automatic. 

One of our drivers unfortunately could not seem to manage to stay in his lane and would constantly drift to the right.  Although the common excuse was that the roads were narrow or that he was used to the left, all we could think about was how much we’d have to pay in damages when he knocked off the side mirror. Luckily, we got away without paying extras in damages (So far!), but it’s always a best bet to pick drivers that won’t make you want to pop a Valium every time you hit traffic.

3. Tolls
There  were tolls all over France and Spain.  Revert back to the scouts and Be Prepared.  Keep a ton of change in the center console.  When you haven’t hit a toll booth in awhile, get the cash ready, the longer stretches ended up costing at least €20 and sometimes more. Split five ways, the tolls weren’t so bad, but we made a game of it to make it a little less depressing seeing our money dwindle away.  We’d make a guessing game of how much the upcoming toll would be.  “Winner doesn’t have to pitch in!”

If you are in a time crunch, the toll roads are very handy.  From Valencia to Barcelona by motorway was only three hours and the coastal roads would be have been six hours. The downside was that we missed a lot of beaches and smaller towns that would have been a little less touristy.  The motorways are quicker, but they are more expensive and only offer expensive gas stations and no spectacular views whatsoever.

4. Use a Tom Tom! 
 Trust me on this one.  GPS is worth its weight in gold, silver and myrrh.

5. Plan Ahead
We didn’t.  It’s very stressful not knowing where you will be spending the night. After one hopeless night in the car, we spent about an hour every day in internet cafes.  Even just knowing what cities you will spend the night in every night helps get the google search going.

6. Eat and Be Merry
Car snacks are a great idea, especially if certain travelers get grouchy when hungry.  Look into stocking up on ready made sandwiches or even better, some of that French bakery cuisne, or whatever local delicacies you come across.  Granola bars and potato chips are always a safe bet. 

I’d also suggest to shop around when dining out.  It’s better to pick a good restauant than let your stomach guide you to the first one you see.  My food poisioning in Barcelona helped me learn my lesson the hard way.

7. No One-Night Stands
Since we weren’t the best planners, by the time we actually found our selected hostel/campsite and got settled in a town, the sun had set.  Then in the morning, no matter how early we woke up (believe me, one of the guys is a Farmer and had an internal clock that always woke us up earlier than neccessary!), we were already planning, anticipating being late at our next desitnation.  We did manage to stay in Valencia two nights, and even then, we barely had enough time to see the sights and go to the beach.  I suggest a minimum of two nights in any city you actually want to check out; anything less is more of a passing through experience.

8. Find friends!
One of my favorite nights was spent on the coast of France in a small village called Collioure.  A friend of a friend’s girlfriend’s parents own an apartment there, so literally anyone you might know abroad and is willing to let you stay, or at least hang out for a night, really helps the morale of the travellers.  No matter who you are travelling with, after a week stuck with the same people, a few new familiar faces is quite refreshing. 

9. You can never take enough pictures.
I am one of those people who don’t ever want to actually feel like a tourist.  I hate standing at street corners with a map and even more I hate taking 10 pictures of the same cathedral.  But, in the end, I always regret not taking more pictures.  

Think of the amount of facebook albums you can create with all those excess photos!

10. Don’t lose track of the important items…
I am speaking from experience.  The things that you don’t seem to use all trip are the first ones to get lost.  The passport, remember you need that to get home.  The phone, even if yours doesn’t work wherever you are, you’ll miss it when you get back.  And last but not least, your keys.  I currently have a lot of my possessions locked up in a car parked in a college in Dublin, and hopefully (fingers-crossed!) it hasn’t been towed or damaged.  The paranoid part of my mind is trying to be patient as the keys to said car are now on their way back to Cork, where we are waiting for them!  Lesson:  Don’t lose your keys!

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