European Road Signs
Whether you're in the fast lane on the autobahn or in a motorhome pursuing whims down country lanes, Europe offers every driving experience. Thanks to relatively short distances, motorists can find themselves driving across three countries in a single day, or from the seashore to the high sierra in an afternoon.
Driving in Europe is on the right-hand side, except in Britain, Ireland, Malta and Cyprus. (Some drivers switch their watches to the opposite wrist to remind them where the center line should be.)
The network of limited-access highways is modern, well-marked and expanding, particularly in Eastern Europe. (The recently opened Vienna-Budapest expressway has reduced a four-hour drive to three.) Many highways are incorporated into the green-sign European route system. The E-4 takes you from Helsinki to Stockholm to Copenhagen; the E-55 from Salzburg to Brindisi. Motorists also can drive directly onto the Channel Tunnel's Le Shuttle trains operating between Folkestone and Calais.
Tolls are charged on Italy's autostrade and France's auto routes, and they can be steep. Britain and Germany generally do not have toll roads. Austria and the Czech Republic are charging tolls through “easy-pass” stickers which must be purchased in advance.
There are many famous scenic drives off the fastest highways. Examples include Germany's Romantic Road from Wrzburg to Munich, France's Route Napolan from the Riviera to Grenoble, and Croatia's dramatic Dalmatian coast drive south to Dubrovnik. Campgrounds are located at regular intervals, many with facilities for motorhomes.
Seat belts are generally required for drivers and front-seat passengers; in Germany and France they are required in the back seats as well.
Note that gasoline is considerably more expensive than in the U.S., where fuel prices and taxes are well below the world average. This is one reason Europeans favor smaller cars and standard transmissions.
Standard international highway signs are used throughout Europe. Speed limits are marked in kilometers per hour (1 kilometer = 0.62 miles). There is no speed limit on Germany's autobahns unless posted (although 130 kph- 80 mph- is the suggested maximum).
You can drive anywhere in Europe with your home-state driver's license.
Travelers from the U.S. who wish to drive in Austria, Greece, Poland or Turkey are technically required to have an International Driver's Permit in addition to their license.
The permit, which translates basic information into nine languages, is recommended in other countries to expedite dealings with traffic officers. (In much of Europe, officers are empowered to fine motorists.)
International permits are available from the American Automobile Association and
affiliated clubs for $10. Applicants must submit two recent identical color photos,
Because Europeans are as RV-happy as Americans, Europe is well-organized for motorhome travel. Its a great travel option for U.S. visitors
Motorhomes allow you to go just about anywhere with all the comforts of home. And of course, motorhome vacations are an excellent way to meet Europeans with similar interests.
Europe welcomes motorhomes to more than 8,000 campgrounds. Excellent facilities are found within many major cities (and street parking is OK for up to 24 hours in most). Campgrounds often have private showers, laundromats and supermarkets. Tourist offices will have detailed information on whats available where.
Renting a reliable motorhome is easy through Global Motorhome, which offers state-of-the-art, European-built campers in six sizes, from 16 feet (Mini) to 24 feet (Luxury). They are designed to go anywhere a car can, managing even the quaintest lanes. They run on diesel fuel and average 18 to 22 mpg.
Prices start at only $129 a day for a two-person Mini, including unlimited miles, all taxes and insurance. A six-person Luxury runs $209 a day. All models (except the Mini) have hot water showers, flush toilets, two-burner gas stoves and a gas heater.
Globals motorhomes can be picked up in Frankfurt, Zurich, Milan, London, Paris or Amsterdam.
For rental information and reservations, call 800-468-3876. For a "Europe by RV" video, call 800-406-3348 or e-mail: email@example.com.
Most visiting motorists rent cars. Major international rental firms are represented throughout Europe. And more than ever, Americans are renting fully equipped motorhomes (see box).
It is highly recommended that you reserve cars in advance, before leaving the U.S. This invariably saves a significant amount of money.
Packages that combine car rental with airfare, rail passes or hotel accommodations- or all three- are another way to save.
Americans often find the comfort of a midsized, automatic-transmission car worth the extra cost over the smaller compacts and minis.
You can rent Hertz and Avis cars through Rail Europe; call 800-324-RAIL.
A number of European automakers also have European Delivery Programs, which make it possible to buy a new car in the U.S., pick it up in Europe and drive it during your vacation. The car is then shipped home at no extra cost.
If you plan to drive, check insurance requirements with your travel agent or local auto club, and with your insurer.
In 1992, customs controls were eliminated within the European Union, considerably reducing delays at major border crossings shared by 15 countries.
Since 1995, a number of countries have followed up by eliminating passport controls as well, under the Schengen Agreement.
Foreign visitors, including Americans, go through passport controls in "Schengen" countries only when entering from the U.S. or other non-participating countries, or fly from one to another, they are no longer stopped for passport checks.
As of January 1998, the European Schengen participants are Germany, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, Spain and Portugal. Austria and Italy also expect to participate fully by April. Britain and Ireland never joined the agreement and maintain full controls.
Centrally located France, an original Schengen signatory, has restored controls and expects to continue them for some time. Greece, Denmark, Sweden and Finaldn are also signatories, as are two non-EU countries, Norway and Iceland, although none of these are yet fully integrated.
Separately, the five Scandinavian countries have ended passport controls on transit among them.
For more, return to getting around