Our three-month drive from the UK to Turkey and back was a source of many travel lessons. Here are five sometimes surprising factors to keep in mind when you are planning a Europe road trip.
Don’t try to drive into Istanbul (unless you really have to)
You may be thinking…’but no-one would be stupid enough to do that, right?’ Oops. In our defence, our plan was to drive to Istanbul Atatürk Airport and park there before taking public transport into the historical part of the city (something that worked many other times on our Europe road trip).
In most European cities, the main airports are outside built-up areas and are therefore quick and easy to get to.
The problem was that Istanbul is HUGE so usual standards don’t apply. The day we were approaching Atatürk, there were major roadworks causing huge delays on the main highway…so we tried to take an alternate route.
Bad idea. Amongst other challenges, we ended up facing a roundabout with eight exits, which no rules of the road seem to apply to. It’s a fun story now, but at the time it was stressful.
These Turkish roads were more our scene….
Don’t delay. Some parts of Europe are changing quickly.
For around three or four years before we visited Croatia, we had been told ‘it’s the new Spain! But cheaper and quieter!’ This was true, but not to the extent other people had experienced by the time we finally got there ourselves.
We found Croatia surprisingly expensive and were amazed when every campground and restaurant we visited had their prices advertised in Euros. Back then, Croatia wasn’t even part of the EU. The staff actually had to get a calculator out to tell us the price in the local currency, kuna. And these weren’t just ‘tourist only’ places either.
Further south, our experience in Albania told us that it wouldn’t stay the same for long. A country with beautiful beaches, hot weather, azure seas and stunning roadside scenery….it is only a matter of time before mass Western tourism comes here.
Some of the ‘rustic’ beach towns our brand new guidebook mentioned had already been developed. The handful of built-up beach resorts that cater to the local Balkan crowds in July and August are only a taster of Albania’s future as a Mediterranean holiday hotspot. It will happen, so go, while you can.
Don’t expect Western toilets everywhere.
To be blunt, squat toilets are surprisingly widespread in Europe, most notably in the Mediterranean countries. It’s not a massive inconvenience, but it’s just not something I really even thought about before we went on our UK to Turkey road trip.
France, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, Greece and Turkey were all particularly fond of this variety of toilet. I hear it’s better for posture and all that, so when in Rome….
Don’t forget to research road regulations
While driving in Europe is probably not that much different to what you’re used to at home, each country has their own rules of the road and applicable road fees. Some countries have toll highways, with payment booths at intervals or on the entry/exit ramps.
Others prefer to collect fees via a permit (or ‘vignette’) sticker that must be purchased on entry to the country and then displayed on the windshield. The permit may be purchased for a short time (7-10 days) or monthly/annually.
In a handful of countries, there are some other miscellaneous fees that need to be paid at the border. Montenegro for example, asks visitors to pay a 10 Euro ‘Eco Tax’ on small vehicles of eight seats or less.
I also remember getting charged a small ‘cleaning fee’ at several borders for some water to be sprayed at our tyres. Thank you for that Bulgaria.
Don’t buy groceries before checking out local restaurant prices
Driving ourselves around a country or continent means we can cook the majority of our own meals and therefore save a lot of money. That is usually the case anyway. It was not true everywhere on our Europe road trip.
In Bulgaria and Romania, we noticed after a few days that it was actually cheaper for us to eat out than to buy groceries. We tend to eat relatively simple – buying things like fruit, vegetables, beans, rice and pasta – so it wasn’t a case of us trying to purchase high price branded or imported goods.
It was a nice surprise, though, being able to skip the cooking and washing up every night for more authentic and local cuisine.