Planning our European road trip

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 stay compliant.  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.

4. Freedom!

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.  🙂

 

Chime in!

What are your best tips for traveling from place to place around Europe? Do you prefer public transport or self-drive?

 

7 thoughts on “Planning our European road trip”

  1. Great article! I also always prefer to drive cars when I plan long trips. In Europe, we always rent a car. I believe that only if you drive yourself then you can appreciate all the charm of the trip

  2. How are you liking the Eurodrive program thus far? Do you ever get tired of dealing with the car? Need to park it somewhere for several days when you’re in a city? We’re seriously considering doing the same thing (but also toying with train travel) for our gap year next year.

    1. We just crossed over 15,000km and are very happy with our decision to go with Eurodrive. In Western Europe we probably would have been fine with trains but traveling from Estonia all the way south to Greece through Central and Eastern Europe would have been a bit more challenging by bus & rail. We really like the flexibility that having our own car gives us and it makes it a lot easier to get to things that are off the beaten path.

      We have not had any major issues with parking so far – we typically book AirBnbs and filter for apartments that offer parking. The one city where we didn’t do that (Athens) we happened to get lucky and find a street parking space near our apartment.

      We leased our car for the maximum duration (170 days) and we are down to the last three weeks with our Renault. After that we’ll be on trains for our last couple of weeks in Europe.

      I’ve been meaning to put together a post on our Eurodrive experience – hopefully I’ll be able to get to that in the next few weeks. 🙂

      In short, we recommend Eurodrive but each family is unique so you have to consider what your travel style is. Our kids have always done well on road trips; if that had not been the case we would have thought twice about driving across the continent with them in the back seat. 🙂

      Good luck with your planning! I visited your blog and it looks like you have a long list of places to visit. Based on our experience I’d caution against moving around too much. We found that it really wore us down to be moving every three or four days. For us it has worked better to stay in one city for five days or longer, although we sometimes mix in shorter stays in between. Also make sure to read up on the 90/180 rule for the Schengen area if you haven’t already!

      1. Thank you so much for your reply! We have just the first couple of weeks sketched out right now (Iceland > Faroes > Denmark > Ireland–the latter because of a pre-arranged home swap), and I like the idea of the flexibility that a car lease would allow in getting off the beaten path. Filtering for parking = such a basic idea, and yet one I had totally glossed over!

        And yes–our list of destinations has only grown since I jotted down that list, but we’re definitely going to narrow it down by… 50%? 70%? I have no idea–but I do know that we’re going to need much more downtime along the way than such a list would accommodate. I am aware of the 90/180 rule for the Schengen area, and am keeping that in mind as we incorporate time in the UK, Ireland, Croatia, etc. Have you ever veered from your plans at all, eg planned to stay somewhere for 5 days and then left earlier because your family was just ready to–or stayed longer somewhere because it was so interesting/relaxing/etc?

        Thanks for your input–it really is helpful!

        1. We arrived in Europe during June and had pre-booked a couple of months of lodging and as we traveled we tried to stay booked at least three or four weeks out for the summer high season. This limited our flexibility a bit but in retrospect I don’t think we would have changed much.

          As we got into September we didn’t have to worry as much about places filling up so we didn’t book as far out, giving us some flexibility to change plans on short notice. At one point we had only planned to spend two weeks in Croatia before heading East to Romania. Once we got to Croatia we were enjoying it so much that we changed our itinerary and decided to spend a month slowly working our way down the Dalmatian coast. (Sadly Bran Castle will have to wait for a future trip).

          The only time we’ve left a city early was due to my error – I thought I had booked five nights in Athens but on the fourth morning I logged into AirBnb and realized that we were checking out that day. That turned out to be a good thing because we had seen most of what we wanted to see in Athens so we made a snap decision to pack up and go to Delphi which was amazing. 🙂

  3. OK if I just refer to you as my travel guru? 😉 I so appreciate your sharing what you have learned! Hope you’ll post about some of the other practical, perhaps less exciting stuff too–like travel insurance, $$ (are you doing anything special with credit cards/points/etc?), family tech (did you buy any new equipment eg cameras, iPads, laptops, etc–what are the kids using for any kind of schooling they’re doing?), packing (did you bring just the right amount of stuff? too much? too little? anything you wish you had included or had left at home?), what have been your best/worst moments as a family/individuals? I could go on and on with my questions…

    1. Thanks for the suggestions on post topics! We definitely want to write about these but getting to all of them may take a while. 🙂

      For now, a short answer on tech / schooling. The kids each have a Kindle Fire that they use to complete assignments using the IXL app and we supplement that with a few other learning resources (Prodigy, Spelling City, Khan Academy) as well as writing/journaling (on paper). We also have a cheap kid-resistant Chromebook that they use for tasks where a full keyboard is needed. We use a Surface tablet for travel planning, blogging, photo management, etc. For cell coverage we’ve had a mostly good experience with Google’s Project Fi.

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