The first six months of our sabbatical comprises a huge (think 14,000km+) loop from Germany to France to the UK to Scandinavia, then on to the Baltics, Eastern Europe on to Greece, then Italy and back to France. Most of this loop will be a European road trip in a car that we’re leasing through Renault Eurodrive.
Here’s a rough map of our planned route:
Europe is renowned for its efficient public transport system, so why are we planning to drive?
1. Driving fits our travel style
We’re a family that likes to road trip. This is probably due to the fact that our parents both live 5 hours away from our home in Texas, so visiting for the holidays means a long drive back and forth. We have taken lots of longer trips as well, including a summer road trip though the desert southwest as far as Utah, a trip to Disney World in Florida, and ski trips to North Carolina and New Mexico. The kids have been accustomed to being on the road since they were small so they travel well and do a good job entertaining themselves on the road with books, music, art (and electronic tablets when needed). We enjoy making unplanned detours to explore local sights (think “World’s largest ball of twine”) and driving gives us a real feel for the places where we are traveling.
Road trippin’ in our trusty van
2. Most of Europe has great public transportation (but not everywhere)
Central Europe has great public transportation, but Eastern Europe, not so much. We’re spending about half of our time in Europe in Eastern Europe because it is budget-friendly and allows us to extend our stay on the continent without running afoul of visa restrictions. Visitors to the Schengen Area are only allowed to spend 90 days there in any 180 day period so we’re carefully planning our itinerary so that we do not run afoul of the rules. Some of the non-Schengen countries we plan to visit include the UK, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Macedonia and Bulgaria.
3. A long-term auto lease makes a European road trip easy and affordable
Once we decided on a road trip we had to figure out how to secure a car for this adventure. We considered buying a used car in Europe and re-selling it before we return, but buying and registering a car in Europe without residency would have been extremely complicated (if not impossible). We’d also have to figure out how to insure the car for all of the countries we’d be visiting. Finally, we’d have to deal with all the usual issues associated with buying and selling a used car (mechanical integrity, negotiations, etc). Given all of the hassle and uncertainty around this option we decided to look for alternatives.
Another obvious option is a conventional rental car. The downside of this option is it is expensive for the rental itself, and even more for the insurance. While many credit cards offer rental car insurance the policies don’t typically cover a long-term rental. Finally, most rental car companies don’t allow travel in all of the countries that we plan to visit.
Neither of the first two options looked great. Fortunately we learned about long-term leasing (aka buy-back leasing). France has a program that allows auto makers to lease new cars to non-EU citizens for a period of 21 to 170 days, allowing them to save on taxes when they re-sell the vehicle. Citroen, Peugeot, and Renault all have similar leasing programs.
After comparing buy-back leasing programs we decided to go with Renault Eurodrive, leasing a Renault Kadjar. We chose Renault Eurodrive because their pricing is very competitive and they have many pick up and drop off locations to choose from. We picked the Renault Kadjar because it has plenty of room for our family of five and looks to be a capable and fuel-efficient vehicle.
For approximately $26 per day we are getting a brand new car with unlimited mileage, comprehensive insurance, and roadside assistance covering 42 countries in Europe (including all of the ones we will be visiting). Also, both of us will be able to drive the car without added fees for a second driver. This is a much better deal than we have been able to find through regular car rental companies.
Note: In case anyone is wondering, this is not sponsored content. We plan on writing more about our experience with the Eurodrive program and with the Renault Kadjar that we’ll be driving for 10,000km+ around Europe. (Of course if our friends at Renault want to sponsor us we’d consider in exchange for writing about our experience, which we are planning on doing anyway).
Driving ourselves means that we can set our own schedule, staying longer in places that we want to explore further without having to worry about timetables. We’ll be able to get to places that public transport doesn’t reach, including the far reaches of the Orkney Islands and Eastern Europe. We’ll have access to rental homes and apartments (mostly through HomeAway and AirBnb) that are not near public transport (which often means a better value). And we’ll be able to get far off the beaten path, giving us a chance to immerse ourselves in the local way of life in the places that we’ll be visiting. Maybe we’ll find the largest ball of twine in Europe. 🙂
What are your best tips for traveling from place to place around Europe? Do you prefer public transport or self-drive?