TRAVEL | Road Trip Like a Pro - My Best Tips & Tricks for Hitting the Road
On our first European trip together, Ben and I drove from his hometown in Belgium to the southern-most tip of Spain to spend the summer in Malaga. This was the first of many summer road trips in Europe that we did, driving to Sicily (via a ferry at the toe of the boot), Croatia, Barcelona, the Swiss Alps, Vienna, and most recently Iceland and Cappadocia. We’ve also visited much of the east and west coasts of the U.S. by car. While I am all for traveling by train, especially in Europe where it’s so convenient, there really is something special about a road trip that gives you the flexibility to explore.
While we are by no means experts, I’ve come up with some tips and tricks that we stand by for getting the most out of our road trips.
1. Know your credit card
This is especially helpful if you are renting a car. Many credit cards provide primary rental car insurance that covers damage due to an accident or theft. Cards like the Chase Sapphire cover you both at home and abroad. Be careful to read the fine print, though, as some cards require that you use the card to pay for the rental car and decline collision damage waiver that the rental agency might try to sell you.
I had a run-in with a tiny pebble that left a giant crack in the windshield a few months ago, and my credit card took care of everything with the rental agency for me. This tip has saved us lots of extra rental car fees, as well as possible hassle.
That being said, be sure that you follow their rules. Driving in Cyprus, for example, our rental car insurance would not have covered us if we drove into the northern Turkish part of the island. It's always a safe bet to read through the rules before you take off.
2. Star your google maps
In my travel blog posts, I try to always share our favorite spots that I’ve starred on a Google map that you can access. It should be no surprise that I’d suggest using stars to make notes of places you want to visit while making it to your final destination.
While planning our trip and doing my research, instead of making a list, I go right on my Google Maps application on my phone to star each place that I’d like to remember. Start by searching the name of the place in your google maps. Next to “Directions,” you’ll have an option to “Save.” Tap the “Save” option, and Google lets you mark it as a place you want to go, a favorite place, or a starred place. You can also make your own personalized list. Once you’ve saved it to a list, you can add a note to remember why you’ve saved it.
Even when I’m not planning a trip, I always keep my Google Maps close by me so I can save places as friends make restaurant recommendations, or when I see a cute place on someone’s Instagram post that I’d like to remember.
When we’re in the car, it’s easy to see all the places I’ve starred that are on or near our route, and we can make stops and detours accordingly. This is super helpful when planning your daily itinerary.
3. Download your map before you leave your hotel
Google Maps also allows you to download a map directly onto your phone so that you don’t have to rely on cellphone service to make sure you don’t get lost. While we were in Iceland, I was so relieved to have downloaded the map before leaving our Airbnb, as there were huge sections of the country that did not have any phone service. Thankfully, we didn’t get lost thanks to our map always working.
Google Maps also ensures that you’ll find your way even if you’re in a place that doesn’t speak your language. Driving in Greece, Turkey, and Morocco, all countries whose language uses different alphabets was made a breeze thanks to Google Maps. You might be giggling at Siri’s way of pronouncing certain street names.
A word of warning, traffic updates do not work while using the downloaded version of a map. As a result, you won’t be detoured in case of accidents or traffic on your route. Still, it’s much better to be stuck in traffic than lost in the middle of an unknown country!
4. Get a good playlist or podcast series
Ben and I love to get a good podcast series going while we’re on the road. It’s nice to have something interesting that everyone in the car can get into. It’s especially fun to get the conspiracy theories going if there’s some mystery to the story. Some that we’ve enjoyed binging recently are Culpable, the Dropout, Disgraceland, Dr. Death, Slow Burn, and Catch and Release. We also like How I Built This and Travel Genius.
Get yourself an up-beat playlist or two as well, to break up the podcast monotony if it gets too dark or too late and the driver needs a pick-me-up.
I’m always sure to have these downloaded on my phone before we get driving to be sure we’ve got entertainment going even if we don’t have phone service.
5. Double-check the rules of the road
Before you even step foot in the car, make sure you’ve done a quick google search about driving in your destination. For example, in Europe, you stop at the traffic light, whereas in the U.S., traffic lights are often above or even on the other side of an intersection. With our logic, Europeans would be stopping in the middle of the intersection in America. Another important thing to know, if you were driving in Germany, for instance, is that their Autobahns don’t have a speed limit. Even if you’re driving the recommended 80 mph, cars will come out of nowhere and pass you as if you were standing still. Something to know before hopping on these roads! In Europe, the right-of-way rule was confusing to me at first. It’s definitely something you’d want to learn a little bit about before hopping behind the wheel.
Likewise, the last thing you’d want is to realize at the last minute that everyone drives on the other side of the road when you’re planning on hopping in the car after 24 hours of flying. We hadn’t heeded this advice and were lectured at the car rental agency in Cyprus about driving on the right-hand side of the road. Luckily, it wasn’t Ben’s first rodeo, and he took it like a pro. If it were me, I might have opted to take a taxi instead!
6. Have some fun destinations to break up the trip
It’s recommended to take a break every two hours of driving. Make the most by having some fun restaurants, viewpoints, or landmarks to help break up the trip. On our long drives, like the ones from Belgium to Southern Spain (23 hours total), Belgium to Sicily (23 hours), or Belgium to Croatia (15 hours), we always split our drive up into multiple days. On the way to Malaga, Spain, we stopped in Paris, San Sebastian, and Madrid, staying at least a night in each place. Going to Sicily, we stopped in Lake Como, Naples, and Taormina before reaching our final destination. Being a little bit flexible in your road trips allows you to stay an extra day or two, or even to explore something off the beaten path, and sometimes it’s these surprises that make for the best stories of the trip.
7. Be flexible and give yourself a little extra time
Along with the flexibility of exploring outside of your planned itinerary, it’s also to be flexible with your timing in case unexpected events arise. Poor planning on our part during a trip along the Pacific Coast Highway caused us to make a very large detour because a portion of the highway around Big Sur was closed. We ended up driving an additional four hours to make it to our hotel reservations on the other side of the road closure.
Changes and accommodations are bound to happen on a road trip, and it’s important to make the most of them, and not let them get in the way.
8. Drivers license
Check and double-check that your license is recognized if you are planning on driving in a different country. Some countries may require that you have an International Driving Permit (IDP), which is an official translation of your U.S. license. An IDP can be acquired at your local AAA without needing to be a member for $20 and two passport-sized photos.
9. Know the speed limit
You may be used to being on the lookout for police cars staked out with their radar checking passing cars’ speed limit. In many other countries, speed radars are hidden along roads and highways and take a photo of your car and license plate if you are driving too fast. In Turkey, the police have even gone so far as to put a police car cutout with blue lights and all to dissuade drivers from surpassing the speed limit.
Some of our most memorable road trips have been in places where we were a little hesitant to venture out on our own. Sicily was an adventure in itself as we were quickly made aware of the lack of road rules (or the drivers that don’t feel as inclined to follow the rules), including cars passing cars who were mid-passing another car, or driving the opposite way around a roundabout! We were a little unsure about renting a car in South Africa but were so happy to have had the opportunity to venture out of Capetown and into the surrounding areas of vineyards and penguin-populated beaches. Roadtripping through the Swiss mountains, with their extreme switch-backs through the mountain passes, was some of the most beautiful sites I have ever seen.
Do you enjoy taking road trips? What has been your most memorable one? Leave a comment below. I would love to hear where you went and what you did!
If you follow me on Instagram, you can also find video captures of some of our road trips saved in my stories.
Thanks so much for reading and sharing!