Europe Road Trip: From Planning to Packing

If you’re planning a Europe road trip, then you’re in the right place. 

I’ve been doing road trips all around Europe since 2007!

If you’re planning a Europe road trip, then you’re in the right place. 

I’ve been doing road trips all around Europe since 2007! I was 17 at the time (you can all do the math on my age now), and I am doing road trips in Europe (not just the EU), like nobody else I know. 

I have done crazy long drives around Europe, as if the world would end next month (or at least, that’s what it feels like in my head). 

Here are some of my most memorable road trips I did in Europe, just to give you an idea of what I’ve been up to lately:

  • Romania (my home country) since I was little. If you’re not Romanian, you can’t possibly know more about my country than I do. 
  • Bulgaria – North to South and West to East
  • Bucharest – Helsinki (basically, all Eastern Europe, including the Baltic countries, all the way up to Finland)
  • Bucharest – Berlin at least 4 times (I have designated stops for lunch on this route)
  • Austria (I lived there for 10 months)
  • Bucharest – Stockholm, Sweden (took me only 5 days, I was surprised as well)
  • Norway from South to North. I spent a month in total going through it all. 
  • The Balcans, from Germany and all the way down to Albania. 
  • North part of Italy
  • South Spain
  • Algarve in Portugal
  • Do I need to go on?

No matter where you are planning a road trip in Europe, the landscapes and cultural attractions are plentiful. The diversity of a road trip in Europe will strike you and, most likely, will leave you hooked. You’ll find yourself wanting more, driving more, and ultimately, seeing it all. 

I know Europe is smaller than other places, but that doesn’t mean that you can see it all in one go, far from it. Even for a spontaneous road tripper like myself, it’s important to have a plan for a road trip in Europe. 

Europe Road Trip: From Planning to Packing
Norway

Why Road Tripping in Europe is Unique

I truly believe that doing a road trip in Europe is the absolute best way to uncover the mysteries of the old continent. 

There’s so much more to Europe than Paris, Rome and London. I mean, if this is your first trip to Europe, by all means, all the popular things first to your itinerary. Here’s a helpful 3-week Europe itinerary. But if you’ve been to Europe before, then it’s time to get deeper. 

For me, the biggest attractions in Europe are found in small villages and roads that not many cross during their trips in Europe. 

It’s about exploring unique lifestyles and, ultimately, discovering a new world, one that you have never seen before.

Now, travelling in Europe by car is the ultimate travel mode that will guarantee the freedom and flexibility you need to discover it. Generally speaking, Europe has great roads, and you can easily find your route using Google Maps wherever you go. 

Europe Road Trip: From Planning to Packing
Iceland

Choosing the best route to travel Europe

Choosing the best route to travel Europe comes down to your personal preferences and your origin and final stops. Since we are all travelling from different starting points, it’s simply impossible for me to create the best route that we can all use. 

But I’ll help you create your Europe road trip routes. 

There are some things that I keep in mind and research when I plan a European road trip:

  • Scenic routes – Is this road providing the absolute best scenery for my drive?
  • Landmarks – Are there any landmarks close by this road that I want to explore?
  • Hidden gems – what lesser known places are in this region?
  • Cities – Are there any new cities on the route that I want to explore?
  • Accommodation options – Does this route provide suitable accommodation options? If it takes more than one day to cross through a section of the route and there’s no hotel in sight, then we might have an issue. 

Of course, you also need to decide what’s the theme of your Europe road trip route:

Maybe you’re interested in medieval castles – Then you can research castles along the way and then create your Europe itinerary according to their locations

If you’re into wine, then saving the wineries on the route is the way to go, and then follow those. 

Basically, you can choose anything that is of interest to you, from historical paths to architecture, and then chase those locations. 

But regardless of the theme you choose, don’t try to do it all. Driving from Portugal to Norway is either an endless highway pursuit or a 1-year long road trip that not many can attend. 

Budgeting your road trip of Europe

Here are the costs associated with a road trip in Europe:

  • Car rental (if you’re not from Europe or don’t own a car). Make sure that the car rental company allows you to drive to the countries on your itinerary. There’s no border between most EU countries, but there are borders between Schengen and non-Schengen countries. I always use RentalCars to hire a car in Europe. 
  • Country vignettes. Some countries have a vignette (road toll system) in place, which you need to purchase before driving in that country (online or when you arrive).
  • Road tolls. Some specific roads have tolls; this happens mostly in countries where there are no vignettes, but there are expectations. You just need to read the signs carefully. Also, Google Maps does a pretty good job of warning you about incoming tolls on the road. 
  • Parking fees
  • Fuel
  • Accommodation. If you’re planning a summer road trip in Europe, you should consider camping if you want to keep your road trip expenses low. There are so many good camping sites all across Europe. 

Here are my top tips on how to save money during a road trip in Europe:

 – Consider travelling during the week and in the low season. Prices tend to go lower when locals are at work (not on holiday). 

– Avoiding weekend crowds and summer crowds will also result in lower fuel consumption. 

Some places have tolls to deter people from driving in the city during the peak hours (I’ve seen this in Scandinavia).

– Cities can have extra tolls (for instance, you need a low emission zone sticker for German cities) and paid parking. 

– Always check the parking conditions. There’s a big chance of getting a parking fine in Europe. Most parking spots in cities are paid. 

– Check out fuel prices for all the countries on your itinerary. It might be a clever idea to fuel up before crossing a country border in some situations. The more you drive North, the more expensive the fuel price is. 

Europe Road Trip: From Planning to Packing
Croatia

Legal and Documentation Requirements

Check out that you have everything sorted out for your road trip. 

Here’s what you need for a road trip in Europe:

  • Passport. If you’re from the EU and travelling only in the EU, you can use your national ID. 
  • Driver’s licence. If you’re not from the EU, you need an international driver’s licence. 
  • Make sure you have all the visas, and you’re legally allowed to travel to all the countries on your Europa road trip itinerary.
  • Car insurance. You already have this if you’re from Europe, but do check if it covers all the countries you’re planning to drive to in Europe. Some countries, such as North Macedonia, are not covered by your normal car insurance in Europe. 
  • Check with your car rental company the countries you’re allowed to drive before renting the car. You can always see the condition on RentalCars before booking a car. 
  • Travel insurance for each individual. In Europe, EU citizens have international insurance, but if you’re not EU, then you should purchase extra travel insurance. Nobody asks for it, but in case you’ll need it, it’s better to have it, to avoid extra costs.  

Do check each country’s entering condition for your specific citizenship. Also, check out the driving regulations for each country on your itinerary. 

Europe Road Trip: From Planning to Packing
Madeira, Portugal

Vehicle Preparation

Before starting a new Europe road trip, I asses the length of my road trip and then decide on how thorough the preparation for the car should be. 

For instance, if I plan a month-long Europe road trip, I always do a complete checkup on my car. 

That’s what most people call the annual vehicle maintenance checkup, which includes oil and filter changes, as well as tires, brakes and other mechanical checks. 

If I’m planning a week-long road trip, I don’t proceed to do oil changes but still check on my tires and engine stuff. 

In the end, it’s a matter of the total kilometres I’m planning on driving on this new European road trip. Take into account that a regular car needs to get this complete checkup once a year or every 15,000 km. In most cases, nothing bad will happen to your car if you drive past this milestone without the checkup, but it’s not recommended. During my Scandinavian road trip in 2022, I drove over 20,000 km, and luckily, nothing bad happened to the engine, apart from running out of AdBlue (for diesel engines), which you can find at almost any hardware store or even at many gas station (on pump) in Europe. 

One other minor issue I’ve had during longer road trips in Europe is having to change headlight bulbs and tyre pressure. For any kind of lights issues, I try to find a nearby service to change it for me (the difficulty depends on each car model, but car mechanics can do it easily, quickly and without any issues). For tyres, you need to know how to check your tyre pressure and adjust it when necessary. You’ll find air stations in almost all gas stations in Europe, and you can do it yourself for free. 

If you’re the owner of the car, you’ll need some basic knowledge of how the car works to try to keep it in the best condition. Remember that it’s also a matter of your driving style that will determine any future issues. So drive carefully. Remember that you’re doing a road trip, not a speed race. 

If you’re renting a car for your Europe road trip, you’ll need to call your car rental company in case anything bad happens, such as car accidents and car failures. That’s why you should always rent your car from a reputable company with great reviews. 

Europe Road Trip: From Planning to Packing
Norway

Packing essentials for a Europe road trip

You should know that different countries in Europe have different regulations regarding the safety kits in your car. 

To be completely covered, your car should have a first-aid kit, fire extinguisher, 2 emergency triangles, and safety vest. 

Luckily, I never needed this, except for when my boyfriend was attacked by a seagull in Croatia and needed his finger bandaged. The bleeding stopped shortly after. But it’s cases like this one when you need to have the right stuff on hand fast and travel insurance. 

Here are other essential things you need: 

GPS. We are blessed to be living in the era of technology, and we all have Google Maps on our smartphones. Because you’ll be driving, you’ll need one of those phone holders that stick to your windscreen to hold your phone while displaying the map. It’s about 20 EUR in any electronics store. 

Car phone charger. For longer road trips, you need to be able to charge your phone from the car. You can use your regular charger if the phone has a USB cable and connect it directly to your car if the car has that option. If it’s an older car, you’ll need a car USB charger to stick in your car cigarette lighter. 

Snacks. Always stock up on snacks, especially when driving in more remote areas in Europe. 

Clothing. Check the weather for the areas you’re travelling to and pack accordingly. Even if you’re doing a road trip during summer, that doesn’t mean you won’t have rainy days or even colder days in Europe. 

On the matter of what to pack for a Europe road trip, a lot can be said. But here, you have to think about it from the perspective of you’re planning on this road trip. If you’re focusing on hiking, then all your hiking equipment should be part of your packing essentials. 

If you’re planning to make some stops in cities, pack clothing suitable for cities so you don’t walk around in your boots. 

I think this is pretty clear. 

Accommodation

There are four main types of accommodation you can consider doing your European road trip: 

  • Hotels – I always use Booking.com
  • Airbnb – I use this for longer stays or to find better-priced alternatives to Booking.com
  • Campgrounds – in more expensive countries, camping is a cheap and enjoyable alternative (unless it’s rainy, but I’m more picky than your average travel enthusiast)
  • Couchsurfing – I used this when I was younger and broke, but it’s still an option. I’m not just referring to the actually Couchsurfing platform, but think about friends or people you can reach out to online who live in different cities and might offer you a place for a night or two. 

Remember that wild camping is mostly prohibited in Europe, except for Scandinavia. For safety purposes, I wouldn’t recommend wild camping either way. 

Europe Road Trip: From Planning to Packing
Portugal

Navigating European roads

Driving in Europe is easy. All signs are visible, drivers are mostly responsible, and road conditions are good. 

Again, you’ll need a GPS to accurately navigate. As I mentioned before, you cna use your smartphone. Just make sure you have an active internet connection. If your roaming plan isn’y working in Europe or it’s too expensive, I recommend using Airalo. It works flawlessly if you have a smartphone that supports eSims. 

I do recommend always checking specific driving regulations for each country in Europe. Don’t speed or break any driving rules because there are a lot of traffic cameras on all roads, and police are everywhere. 

Don’t try to bride the policemen, because it’s illegal. There might still be some stories online about bribing police, especially in Eastern Europe. However, I advise against it, because you can even end up at the police station in handcuffs. Just follow the rules. 

The more North you go, the more expensive fines are. For instance, you could be fined 200 EUR in Denmark for using your smartphone while driving. That’s why I suggested the phone holder in the essential packing list. 

Dealing with emergencies

In case of an emergency, you can use 112, which is the emergency number vali throughout the European Union (EU). For other states, they might have a different number, which is usually stated when crossing the border. 

If you’re using a rental for car emergencies with your car, you should also car the rental car company. 

If you have any health emergency, your travel insurance will be able to guide and help you. Don’t leave without it. 

planning a trip in Iceland

Europe Road Trip: Conclusion 

As you see, there’s a lot of planning involved in any Europe road trip. 

You need to keep in mind a lot of things, and it can be overwhelming on your first road trip. 

To make things easier for you, I’ll give you a more concise checklist to remind you of all the things you need before you go:

  • Passport (possibly visa)
  • Driver’s licence
  • Road trip itinerary
  • Car condition
  • Car insurance
  • Car vignettes
  • Road tolls
  • Car emergency kit
  • Clothing 
  • Budget for your road trip
  • Emergency procedure (car or health) 

I hope this comprehensive guide helps and serves as your roadmap, setting you on the path to crafting the best European road trips imaginable.

Planning a European road trip is an adventure in itself—one that’s worth every second of preparation. 

A well-planned journey can make all the difference between a good and a great experience. 

By having a solid road trip itinerary in Europe, you can navigate your way through the continent’s most stunning landscapes, hidden gems, and bustling cities. 

So buckle up and embark on one of the best trips Europe has to offer—you won’t regret it.

Additional Resources

If you need more help, read my other guides about planning a trip Europe:

Iulia Vasile

Iulia is a travel expert, blogger, engineer, freelance copywriter, and a curiosity-driven personality. She sees travel as the ultimate tool for self-improvement and personal growth, and that's the main topic of her blog, Juliasomething.com.

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