12 Essentials for a European Road Trip
Let me start off with how we ended up in a brand new motorhome in Italy. We work remotely (no fixed office location) and had been looking at how we can use this opportunity to experience life on the road and travel for longer. Even more so after spending a weekend in a self-converted van Planning a European road trip sounded like the perfect opportunity.
A motorhome hire company (Just Go UK) had posted on Instagram about a relocation tour. Intrigued by this we sent them a message and asked how it all worked and after chatting with them, we were hooked. The relocation tour allows people to pick up a brand new motorhome in Italy (from the factory) and drive it back to the UK. The deal is that you receive 50% discount for up to 30 days’ hire and a free ferry crossing from Calais to Dover. It’s extremely popular and places sell out quickly, but we learned that they had just received cancellation. We were over the moon and booked 22 days for our European road trip to get a brand new motorhome back to the UK from Italy.
Planning a European road trip
We had three weeks to plan everything before we collected our hired motorhome in Italy. We had a lot of planning to do and more questions than I could shake a stick at. What to take, where to go, how long to spend at each stop, what is it like driving abroad. It was a new experience all round, as it was our first road trip abroad.
We had a fantastic time planning our trip and we hope you will too. So here are our 12 essential things to consider when planning a European road trip.
1 – Ask for recommendations
This might sound obvious but ask friends and family if they have driven in Europe. Helping you plan your European road trip will bring back memories that I’m sure they would love to share. Find out where they went, what they liked and more importantly, if they would do anything differently if they went again. You might not include their recommendations in your plans, but it’s a great way to catch up with friends and hear about their adventures, and to learn from their experience.
As our trip was part of the Just Go UK relocation tour, they added us to their Facebook group for everyone bringing a motorhome back from Italy. We found this group essential when we had questions about the specifics of the trip, but we also found some great places to stay and advice on essentials to pack.
2 – Using Google maps
In Google maps it is possible to plot multiple locations and find out the best route to take between them. Key in some locations you like the idea of and watch Google plot the best route for you.
Zoom in to the map a little closer and you might find somewhere you didn’t know existed. Europe is a big place and there are lots of unique places to find. You can also zoom in and look at the roads with Google street view.
The old school alternative to this is buying a big map and sticking pins in it. We really like this idea for long-term planning and daydreaming, but it wasn’t really practical for planning driving routes and timings. The internet wins hands down for that!
3 – Allow for 2-3 nights at key locations
This is a personal choice, but I like to have time to relax a little between drives. When you arrive at a location after a few hours of driving, you will likely want to unpack and relax on the first afternoon and spend the following day exploring. This means you have to book 2 nights in that location in order to have a full day at the site, as you will have to vacate your plot by around 10-11am on your final day. Also check which days you will be there, as we found that although the campsite is open, the restaurant or camp shops may be closed on certain days of the week.
4 – Stock up at supermarkets
We found that stocking the cupboards is key. It’s nice to be able to shop locally for fresh items, but
some places you stay will have minimal shops nearby and the campsite may not have a shop at all. So, while you are driving between locations, take the opportunity to pull over in to a supermarket. It’ll also be cheaper than most campsite shops or eating out every night. Trust me, when you get hungry and there aren’t any places to eat at the campsite, you will be glad you stopped for supplies.
5 – ACSI Camping Card – Find discounted campsites
The ACSI Camping Card is essential and will save you a ton of money when travelling in the low season. The maximum rate for a night is €19. Each site will have days or periods that it classes as low or shoulder season when the discounts will apply. Check the website for when these are as they willvary from site to site.
ACSI campsites can be found across Europe and we have found using sites that accept the card to be a huge cost saver.
It’s also a great way to discover places you might not have thought about driving to. Or to help you find a great campsite to break up a longer drive.
6 – Using the Internet to find campsites
We have used a few websites to find places to stay. As we were hiring a motorhome for the first time, we wanted extra security and electrical hook-ups to be able to work while we were touring, so we decided to stick to campsites rather than wild camp.
There are many websites you can use to find a spot – these are the ones we found most useful.
- ACSI Eurocampings – Great for finding ACSI inspected sites to stay at. Make sure you sign up before you go.
- CampingCard ACSI – ACSI campsites offering discounts for card holders during the low season. You also need to sign up for this one before you go.
- Camper contact – We had a free trial but found it very useful and it is less then £5 for the year.
- Search for sites – Great for finding service points and Aires
- Park 4 Night – More a stopover for the night than longer term stays
- Camperstop – We haven’t stayed at any of the places listed on here, but it seems to be places to park overnight
- Britstops – Free stop overs in the UK. Buy the manual for £31 for the year and show it when you arrive.
7 – Driving tips
If it’s your first time driving in Europe, you will need to make sure you are carrying everything you need to be legally compliant. Each country’s requirements vary a little, but you can pick up a kit from Amazon that has everything you need for driving in Continental Europe.
Then once you’re on your way take your time. When you’re on the road, give yourself extra time before pulling out at junctions, don’t take risks, slow down and enjoy the views.
We have relied on Google maps on our phones some of the time (it’s what we use in the UK) but in some places you might not have access to 4G. So for peace of mind we bought a SatNav from Amazon for times when we are out of mobile range. This one allows us to input the vehicle dimensions, avoid unpaved roads (something we forgot to do at first) and if it is important to you, also avoid toll roads (we stuck to them after our first few days’ driving because they are much easier in a large motorhome, but some people prefer to avoid them to save money and for more interesting scenery). Our SatNav has been a life saver when we have encountered diversions.
9 – Mobile data in the EU (Roaming)
We both currently have 4G Max plans from EE. This allows us to use our data and calls as if we were at home while we are in EU countries and in Switzerland. This is essential when working from our van, as campsite Wi-Fi is poor to good at best. Even when you can connect to campsite Wi-Fi it isn’t always a secure connection. If you are planning a European road trip, check with your provider which plan you are on and if you can change for a month or two while you are on your trip.
10 – Essentials to take
As we’ve been travelling, Rebecca has been keeping track of the most useful bits and pieces that aren’t included with a hired van but are essential to life on the road. Some of them need to be bought in the UK, so check the list and stock up before you go. You can see our full list of Essentials for a European road trip here.
11 – Be Flexible – Plans change
As I’m typing this, we are half way through our European road trip and our plans have changed a few times. We researched campsites and locations as much as we could before we set off (using Google and the ACSI websites), but we have changed our plans a few times since setting off on the road. We were going to stay a night in Pisa but decided that we would run up to the tower and back on our way to the factory instead. Wheeled luggage is great but pulling it for 40 minutes over cobbled streets isn’t the most fun we have had so far. I’m glad we did though, as I wouldn’t have wanted to stay in Pisa for the night, and I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to drive a motorhome around there.
We also changed our plans when we pulled up to a campsite in the Black Forest and didn’t like the feel of it. I’m sure it was OK, but we decided to drive on to the next location and spend the extra time at our next stop instead.
12 – Travel guides- Lonely Planet
With Rebecca being a bit of a bookworm, I’m sure she will agree that sometimes it’s nice to pick up a proper guide book and find some quirky places to visit. It’s also great for when you don’t want to spend the evening on the laptop or phone looking at websites. (It’s also what Rebecca used way back before the Internet and mobile phones when she went Interrailing around Europe as a student.)
Our favourite Lonely Planet guide is Europe’s Best Trips: 40 Amazing Road Trips