If you’ve been following us for a while, you’ve probably noticed that we have a soft spot for Spain. Since 2018, we have been back there 4 times and if we do the math, we will have spent more than 15 months there...
Road Trip in Europe
Welcome on our page dedicated to road trip in Europe! Here, you will find our best advices to prepare a road trip, some itinerary suggestions but also all our posts related to our different trips (either with our van or with a car + tent combination or even with a bus) that we have done these last 10 years. The complete list of our blog posts can be found at the end of the page.
Alternatively, you can view all our articles in the "Road Trip in Europe" category by clicking on the map below:
Road trip: definition - what if it's not just vanlife?
The word road trip is a generic term which basically includes all modes of transport by road on board a motorized vehicle. We can find in this category the trips by van, RV but also by car, bus or even motorcycle!
However, when we hear the word "road trip" nowadays, the first image that comes to mind is the old school VW bus or the van fitted out like "Dahu". So yes, since 2020 we do road trips in a van... but you know what? We did dozens of road trips before and we didn't have a van ;)
Without any doubt, the van (or the RV) is the "luxury" option of the road trip, you have all your life with you and the space is thought for cooking, sleeping and storing your stuff. But I can assure you with 2000% confidence that it is largely possible otherwise too!
I have great memories of our bus trips through Europe (whether it was our 2 months in the Baltic States or the month of travel with the Interflix pass from Flixbus). And of course, before owning Dahu, we were also leaving with a car and our tent in the trunk. The idea is a bit similar to the van, because we take something to sleep, a burner to cook and we store our stuff in the trunk.
We've probably done a dozen road trips with our car (5 months in France to write Randos Bière in France where we alternated camping and airbnb, 2 weeks in Slovenia with a rental car and our tent, 1 month in Brittany in hiking and camping mode, 10 days in Lofoten where we had our tent but we ended up spending 9 nights out of 10 in the trunk of our rental car because the weather was apocalyptic haha, etc. ...)
As you can imagine, the difference between the van option and the car + tent option is the level of comfort but also the budget. Whether it's for purchase/maintenance or simple rental, a van will be MUCH more expensive... It's up to you to see where you place the cursor of comfort and your possibilities in terms of budget. But sincerely, don't be discouraged by the rental prices of vans, the alternative car plus tent is really great too and allows you to create amazing memories!
At the time of our trip to Lofoten (2019) our budget was tight for the destination... Because yes, Norway is not exactly the cheapest country in Europe. We thought at the beginning to rent a van, but we quickly realized this was not really an option. The rates for renting a camper in Lofoten are expensive (count more than 220€ per day). Clearly, we did not have the budget (and we had our tent anyways so...). In the end, we found a car via Rentalcars from Narvik for 388€ for 10 days, so 5 to 6 times cheaper than the van.
Prepare your road trip: things to think about before leaving
Going on a road trip is not "rocket science" as they say and it doesn't require a lot of preparation. Nevertheless, before leaving it is better to proceed to some verifications:
- Make sure you have all your vehicle insurance up to date (and valid for your destination country) as well as the insurance certificates with you.
- Check your foreign travel insurance coverage. If you have no coverage or insufficient coverage, it may be appropriate to purchase travel insurance. If you are looking for insurance, you can take a look at our travel insurance comparison.
- Do the important checks on your vehicle: tire pressure, fluid levels (oil, wiper fluid, brake fluid, antifreeze, etc.), wipers, lights, etc.
- Think and plan your budget: this will avoid many surprises.
Plan the road trip budget
Preparing your road trip budget is a point that deserves a few extra paragraphs. We sometimes hear sentences like "oh but how amazing, by leaving with your van you can sleep in it, that must allow you to to travel almost for free" :)
Yeah... So indeed, we don't often pay hotel nights when we travel with the van (even if we sometimes rent a small apartment when we leave for a long time, just to do some laundry and to spread out a little more to work better). But after, it doesn't mean by far that traveling by van or car doesn't cost anything. Here are the "classic" expenses of travelers:
- Fuel: expense item number 1 (especially with the current prices)... Here it is not very complicated to estimate. Take the total distance to your destination, add 15%-25% for detours and short visits + an average of km per day on site and multiply by your fuel consumption per 100km. Example: going to Galicia represents 1800km from home. Knowing that we will avoid some expensive tolls, that brings the total to 2100km. We add a few hooks along the way and base our calculations on 2300km. Dahu consumes approximately 7-8L / 100 km (mixed consumption), that is to say approximately 350€ of diesel budget for the one-way trip.
- Tolls: Here it's up to you, either you take them and add them to the budget, or you avoid them and pass on the extra km / consumption to the fuel budget. The web application of the site via Michelin is quite well done for this and allows you to compare the fuel + tolls expenses according to your vehicle model.
- The meal budget: in a van we cook a lot and so we estimate a budget according to the countries we visit.
- A budget for activities / visits: this item is generally not very important for us as our main hobby is hiking ;) But we allow ourselves a small budget for museums, boat crossings, guided tours, etc.
- The budget for accommodation / camping: This point will depend a lot on the country visited but also on your desire (or not) to do a lot of wild camping. For our part, we know that we like the idea to have a shower regularly enough and also places where we can work serenely with the open roof and a good network (in nature this point is often delicate). In short, in our calculations we start from the idea that we spend approximately 50% of our nights in campings / on camper parks. For longer stays (like during our 3 months in Andalusia), we spend about 1/3 of the time in camping, 1/3 in rented apartment and 1/3 wild camping or staying on free pitches.
- A small budget for what we "Extras": a pancake, an aperitif, a paid parking, a small restaurant from time to time, a paid laundry... We count about 50-60€ per week. This amount is of course very variable according to your desires of restaurants - travel habits.
If you want to have more details about our budgets, we have published several special road trip budgets on the blog:
- Budget of our 2 months and a half in Andalusia (by van)
- Budget of our 5 months road trip in France (by car)
- One week road trip in Central Switzerland (van)
- 8 days in the Grisons in Switzerland (van)
- 2 months in Brittany (van)
- 40 days in Turkey (by bus)
- 10 days on the Lofoten islands, Norway (by car)
- 26 days travelling through the baltic states (by bus)
- 2 weeks in Catalunya, Spain (van)
Mistakes when preparing a road trip
Being too ambitious about distances
This point seems trivial, but in reality it is often a real problem for travelers. When you live in the north of France, in Switzerland or in Belgium, planning a 10 days road trip in Andalusia quickly becomes a "very ambitious" project, not to say unrealistic.
From Brussels to Ronda there are more than 2000km!!! So yes, it would be possible in theory to make the road in 2-3 days but you will be exhausted when you arrive, and if we count the return trip that leaves only 5 days on the spot. So it's a trip that will be expensive in gas, tolls and personal energy ;) The solution? Try to find a solution to go longer or go less far. And if you really want to go that far, it may be more relevant to go by train or plane and then rent a car on the spot. Renting can be expensive, but it doesn't have to be more expensive than the cost of the trip itself.
Do not schedule "rest" or "logistics" days
This point is a little bit particular I grant you, but for someone who prepares his first trip in road trip mode this aspect is often largely underestimated. The road trip has the reputation of being the "freedom" travel mode par excellence and we will be the first to tell you that it is true. But be careful, there are still some logistical "tasks" that should not be underestimated: do your laundry, find where to fill up your water, look for a compatible replacement gas tank, empty your waste / grey water. You might think "well, it's not that complicated", but believe me, depending on where you are, these little "details" could lead you to have to plan some pretty big detours.
And even if we put aside practical points, we should not neglect the fact that the road trip is not always a restful one. It can be really useful to plan days with less driving and more rest and relaxation.
Blindly following the advice of your GPS
This point is generally more valid if you are in a van or a camper (although... we experienced it with our car too)... Because yes, our friend Google is generally very reliable for everything related to the main roads, but in the more remote areas it tends to be VERY optimistic on the dimensions and the capacities of a vehicle. We keep quite "special" memories of the super narrow roads of the village of Laxe in Galicia where Google made us enter by one-way streets... We thought we would never leave this village haha!
Another example would be on the island of Tenerife. A wide road climbs from the seaside to the Teide park located at 2000m, so it's quite an ascent. Coming from La Orotava, Google Maps says it's "faster" to take the tiny roads that go up to the peaks by cutting the switchbacks of the main road. Following Google is a VERY bad idea... On the one hand, it's so narrow that it's impossible to cross and on the other hand, our poor rental car and its lawnmower engine almost never recovered (we lost a few years of heart capital and took much longer in the end haha).
In short, using a GPS is good, but also use your common sense and don't enter a road/village if you don't feel it.
Taking too much stuff
That my friends, is probably the most common mistake and it is almost certain that you will make it. We, the first ones, have made it many times! In fact, when we leave with our vehicle (unlike backpacking) we have a bit of a reflex to say "oh, I'll take this, it can be useful". #BadReflex
So yes, in a van, camper or car there is more space than in a backpack, but this is not a reason to take your whole house. The more your vehicle will be cluttered, the more you'll have to deal with the daily hassle of moving things around (all the time) and playing tetris to put everything away (and I'm not even talking about shopping trips where you've bought groceries for a few days and you have to fit them in a vehicle that is already full)! Instead, assume that you will be able to wash your stuff and if you really need something you will find it on the way.
How do we plan our routes?
Planning a travel itinerary is often a step that is seen as a bit of a headache... Where to go, how much time to spend in each place? The methods of "preparation" vary greatly from one person to another. Some people will like to have a well established roadmap, a precise idea of where they will sleep and stops along the way. Others, on the contrary, will put 3 things in the trunk and will leave without a precise goal and will advance according to the envy, the weather and the people they meet.
All methods are equal, but since we have often been asked how we come up with our ideas for things to see on the road, we thought we'd tell you a little about how we usually proceed.
We set a "destination" and an arrival date "max", beyond that we remain flexible!
When we go on a road trip we usually have a destination in mind. Last winter it was Andalusia. But after that, we are great specialists in getting "lost on the road" according to our desires. We left at the beginning of December and had an appointment for the holidays with a friend who lives in Malaga. At the time of departure, we thought we would go down quietly in 3-4 days and enjoy Andalusia before meeting her. In the end? We had a big crush on Catalonia (even if it was chilly in mountain in December) and we will have taken more than 2 weeks to reach Andalusia ;) Not foreseen at the beginning, our "journey" turned into a great trip in itself.
We have the luxury of being able to work while traveling, so our trips can be quite long. We are well aware that if you plan a 2-3 week vacation you won't have as much flexibility for the "outbound" trip. What we mean by this part is more the idea of starting from the principle that the trip can start as soon as you leave your door and that adding "visits" to your route allows to make a trip much more pleasant.
The driving times given by GoogleMaps/Waze do not take into account breaks, lunch stops, etc... From our experience, aiming for 5-6 hours of driving per day is already a lot!
On the spot, we build the itinerary with 2-3 days anticipation
Once we arrived "at our destination", we usually try to plan the next few days according to the weather and our desires of hiking and need of work. When we need to work more, we generally settle in a camping and if not we leave for wilder places without worrying too much about if there will be 4G or not ;) No more seriously, planning 2-3 days in advance helps us to structure our days and it also avoids to ask ourselves daily the question "what are we doing, where are we going, where are we sleeping? In van, we like to be quite efficient in the morning and we usually start our day early. In short, when we go to bed, we usually already know what we will do the next day and where we will sleep the next night. A matter of taste I want to tell you.
To find ideas of things to see and hike it depends of course on the country, but globally the apps like Wikilocs, Google Image and simply the topo maps are good allies. Sometimes, we will also take a look at activity websites like GetyourGuide or Civitatis to see if there are any activities/tours worth doing (either we take tours (especially free walking tours or more historical/cultural excursions) or we use platforms to get ideas of things to see). Oh and weather apps too! Sometimes the weather can be terrible inland and beautiful on the coast or vice versa. To this we add a touch of social networks and also advice from other travelers we met on the road for inspiration.
As we travel, we feed a "MyMaps" map where we put all our ideas and it helps us to build our itinerary. To give you an idea, here is a picture of what our MyMaps looked like during our last Spanish road trip. For each point we put a link for a blog article, a GPX track or an official website in order to find the information faster. We are obviously far from having seen everything, but it was our way to always have "a stock of ideas". Sometimes when we didn't know where to go, we simply went to the next area where we had placed a lot of points ;)
Make your return trip another trip - take your time
When you go on a road trip, it is important to think about the way back and especially to plan enough time to get back. There is nothing more unpleasant than to be stressed to come back. For the return trip, we tend to "drive more" than on the outward journey, but we still try to limit ourselves to 600-650 km per day. We usually try to draw the route of the return and plan one-night stops in nice places without planning any visits/hiking. Example: to return from Rioja we put our village in destination and saw that we had 1300km before us. By looking at the map of France we went by feeling and decided to mark a stop of one night in Aveyron, what allowed to cut in 2 our route.
We would like to suggest you our two books to put in your car ;) Randos Bière en France and Randos Bière en Bretagne are two books that we wrote (and of course tested all the hikes) ;) Note: The only exist in French... it's not advanced literature (hiking routes and description + beer recommendations) With these two guides in your pocket, you should be able to find some great ideas for stops along the way. Of course, if you decide to taste the beer, you won't have to drive again ;) but it's a good opportunity to make a little stop on your way. The complete collection of Randos Bière includes many other destinations such as Switzerland, Belgium, the Paris region or even Quebec. You will find all these books on the website of our publishing house Helvetiq as well as on leslibraires.fr or la Fnac.
Why is Europe the perfect destination for a road trip?
Ahhh the old continent!!! We haven't done many road trips elsewhere in the world, even if our very first experience of this kind of travel goes back to... 2009 when we went to the USA for a month. I am not saying that Europe is the only destination that lends itself to road trips, but I can assure you that it is a region of the world that lends itself remarkably well to it!
The first reason would probably be the great diversity of landscapes and cultures that we have "on the doorstep". If I think about our little life in Switzerland, you just have to choose a direction and in 1000km or 2000km you already find yourself in a totally different culture! Imagine... so much Granada, Stockholm or Thessaloniki are less than 2000km away!
Europe is also a region with many different climates and it will be possible to find an "ideal" destination at any time of the year.
And well, the open borders, the road infrastructure, the campsites, the ease of communication, the (almost) single currency, are all things that make it really easy to move from one country to another.
Some ideas for road trips in Europe according to the seasons
Before finishing this article we thought we would offer you some suggestions of destinations according to the seasons based on our preferences and desires of the moment. Note that these choices are purely personal. Many trips can be made during what we personally consider a "bad time". If you are well equipped and prepared there are very few limits (except perhaps the closure of some roads in winter) ;)
Best road-trip destinations for the summer
Some people associate summer with the beach and warmth (we understand) but for us, the summer months rhyme with "Going up". Whether it is in latitude or in altitude, it doesn't matter! :) We think summer is a great time to explore places like Iceland, Ireland, Scotland, the Nordic countries or the Alps!
In a more general way, we also try to aim for places a little less touristic.... because yes, summer means high season and lots of people. In road trip mode, a lot of people implies that you often have to book your accommodation in advance, stricter regulations on parking and camping, prices at the maximum.
The strong heat of the south can attract at first sight, but believe me, in a van or in a tent, one changes quickly his mind... A heat wave can quickly become unbearable under a tent or in a vehicle.
Where to go on a road trip in autumn?
Rhaaa fall... I'll be honest, it's probably our favorite season to travel with our van! And for the time being, my advice is going to be quite generic, but honestly, fall seems to be the "right time" almost everywhere in Europe!
By going up to the north you will have fresh temperatures, but also exceptional colors (we had been hiking in Swedish Lapland and followed with a roadtrip to Lofoten and it was great). By going south, we gain some degrees and we take advantage of the Indian summer. In Switzerland, France, Italy, I advise you to climb in altitude to take advantage of the incredible orange colors in mountains... In 2022, we had made a superb road trip in Switzerland of one week.
Winter road trip: where to go?
Head south! Andalusia, Greece, the Algarve, the Canaries, Madeira, the southern coast of Turkey... All these places are really great destinations for winter in a van! Of course, if you are well equipped in terms of heating and insulation, it is possible to consider itineraries further north, but personally, more than the cold, it is the length of the days that make the balance towards the south. In winter, the further north you go, the shorter the days will be. On a road trip, this aspect can quickly become a bit annoying because you spend a lot of time outdoors.
The big plus of winter is that you will be "out of season". We lived it in Andalusia and frankly it was the best! Lower prices, much less people on the tourist spots. After that, you have to know that traveling out of season also comes with some additional constraints, especially a lower tourist offer. In Andalusia, only a few campsites remained open during the winter months (mainly on the coast) and in some small villages, winter corresponds to the "vacation" months for many restaurant owners who work in a very seasonal way. In short, you will have to accept to be a little more "autonomous" (sleeping on free camps, wild spots, cooking more often). Far from disturbing us, we rather felt these points as advantages, but we prefer to warn you.
Some road trip ideas for spring
Spring is a very nice season for road trips too! Personally, we would avoid the Alps (not enough snow for winter activities but still too much for hiking ;) On the other hand it's really a great season to gain a few degrees by heading south or to enjoy spots that are usually very touristic in summer with even less people.
I think in particular of Brittany where, on two occasions, we made superb roadtrip between April and the beginning of June. If I had to choose other destinations, I would probably also say the 5 lands region or Puglia in Italy or Turkey (Capadoce for example). It's also a really good season to go hiking in the north of Spain (Asturias, Cantabria, Castilla y León or Galicia). Besides, if I have fun counting, I think that spring is the season in which we have done the most road trips in Europe in the last 10 years... After that, you should know that if your objective is to swim "out of season", it is better to bet on autumn than spring, because at the end of winter the sea is still very fresh (especially in Brittany or in the north of Spain) ;)
If you would like to prepare a road trip in Spain, you can take a look at this blog post.
Useful applications for a road trip
For the road, here is a small list of practical applications to have with you on your road trip:
- Maps.Me : This is probably the application we use the most! 100% free, it allows you to download the map of a country or a region and to access it offline at any time. You can find restaurants, campsites, viewpoints but also hiking trails.
- Park4Night : The reference application to find a place to sleep in a van. To be used in combination with common sense and local rules, it is nevertheless an excellent source of ideas to know where to spend the night and to read the opinions of other travelers before going there.
- Waze and/or Google Maps: A GPS application is not only useful to find your way, but it also allows you to anticipate traffic jams and slowdowns and eventually take an alternative route.
- Windy: A weather application. There are hundreds of them and frankly they are equal for many. We like Windy to see the radar animations and we find that for the wind they are rather good (practical when we plan to sleep in the tent of roof of the van)
- Spotify: Nothing like good music or a podcast to pass the time on the road
- N26 or Neon : A mobile bank to limit fees. There are plenty of them, for our part we have an account from Neon for 4 years now and are very happy with it (for the Swiss residents only).
- Hiking apps : Here the choice will depend on the country... In France it is undoubtedly VisoRando which wins. In Spain we recommend Wikilocs. On our phone we have these two but also Alltrails.