|car rental europe
Please also see our car rental Europe order page.
Surely many of the same companies that rent cars in your country
rent cars internationally as well. The same is not true, however, for motorhome rentals.
Although the car rental fleets and especially the motorhome rental fleets differ substantially from
country to country, the process of renting a vehicle for use abroad is
virtually the same and is best arranged before you depart your home.
Yet the variations in prices, terms and services between and within rental companies — especially from destination country to destination country and from consumer market to consumer market —
are such that you should develop and exercise a keen business acumen to secure the best deal.
IdeaMerge's online car and motorhome rental booking software and our associated webpages are carefully
designed to help you achieve such goal.
Indeed, IdeaMerge's global perspective, our close relationships with suppliers,
our proprietary software and our careful management of foreign exchange costs and risks
typically allow us to offer better total prices and overall terms than do our counterparts.
Car Rental Insurance, Waivers and Other Terms
Rarely does the insurance included by car rental
companies in the basic rental rates cover vehicle damage that results from accidental collision or fire or from natural disaster, vandalism,
or theft of part or all of the vehicle. The insurance included with basic motorhome rental rates, on the other hand, typically does
involve some coverage in these respects.
Regardless, you need adequate financial protection against these unfortunate eventualities.
Virtually all auto rental companies essentially offer such protection by proffering "waivers" which — to one degree or another
and subject to certain exclusions and other limitations — absolve you of financial responsibility with respect to one or more of these types of damage and/or loss.
Which is to say, these waivers effectively introduce or reduce insurance deductibles — alias, excesses.
Typically these waivers are designed to profit the rental company (i.e. in the big picture).
Hence the waivers are usually expensive, confusing and veritably albeit quite reasonably bristling with exclusions and limitations.
Small print aside, the waiver names and the meaning of those names vary considerably from destination country to destination country, consumer market to consumer market, and company to company.
So here's a prime directive: figure out what these waivers mean.
But first things first. Let's not forget about the insurance that's included in the basic rental rates.
The included insurance almost always excludes countries and regions from the domain of its coverage.
Typically it also excludes off-road driving and, more generally, any driving off paved/sealed/bituminized/tarmacked/macadamized roads.
Moreover it certainly involves a litany of other exclusions and limitations — including driver age restrictions (minimum and often maximum).
In many cases the insurance included in the basic rental rates amounts to only the legal minimum of public liability insurance
— alias, third-party or third-party only insurance
(sometimes confusingly denoted TP protection, which acronym is usually reserved to denote theft protection),
also called "green card" insurance in Europe.
Liability insurance is the kind which covers the damage that your operation of a vehicle
might cause to the bodies (bodily injury, BI) or properties (property damage, PD) of people who are not being transported in
(or, perhaps, on or towed by) the vehicle.
In many domains (e.g. in the United States) the people in (or, perhaps, on or towed by) the driver's vehicle (i.e. the driver and passengers)
may be covered in terms of two aspects that might feature in the driver's own automobile insurance policy. The first,
uninsured/underinsured motorist bodily injury (UM/UIM) or the like, covers the driver and his/her passengers for bodily injuries caused to
that driver and/or his/her passengers by a motorist who has no relevant insurance or who has relevant insurance that is under said injured person or persons'
relevant coverage limits and who is at-fault in the accident. In some jurisdictions fault is generally or per the particular consumer's choice not an issue in
this regard; i.e. the relevant insurance is necessarily or by the particular consumer's choice "no-fault" insurance and an individual injured
in an automobile accident is limited in their ability to seek recovery from other drivers or vehicle owners involved in the accident; one's own insurance
(i.e. the "first-party's") pays primarily and regardless of fault. If, however, the no-fault scheme does not apply and if an at-fault driver does have automobile liability insurance,
the bodily injury component of that insurance would pay for injuries consequent of the said fault, up to the maximums of said insurance. The second coverage
that might feature in a driver's own auto insurance policy is
personal injury protection (PIP), which starts paying the medical bills for the insured
and his/her passengers regardless of who is at fault.
The division between liability insurance on the one hand and UM/UIM and PIP on the other is largely considered necessary
because without that division a driver and passenger could scam the driver's insurance company by manufacturing a minor accident and claiming injury or injuries
to themselves. In a few jurisdictions a driver's liability insurance does go to cover injuries sustained by a passenger or passengers due to his/her fault as a driver —
but not if the passenger resides with the driver.
If you own an automobile and you own auto liability insurance, uninsured/underinsured motorist cover, and perhaps said personal injury protection as well,
all or some of these insurances may extend in total or in part to certain types of other vehicles you might operate, including certain types of rental vehicles. Check with your personal insurance agent.
In some countries such extension of personal auto liability insurance is typical, in others it is not.
Usually, though, if such extension does apply, it is limited in terms of its domain; hence it might not extend to situations which occur abroad.
Of course insofar as one is not covered by personal injury protection, one's own medical insurance will likely apply to the cost of one's injuries
from an accident. Typically, however, personal medical insurance, too, has limits in terms of domain; hence it might not extend to situations which occur abroad.
Auto rental companies might offer additional liability insurance (ALI), sometimes called statutory liability insurance (SLI)
or extended protection (EP).
A personal homeowners policy might cover the theft of personal property in a rental vehicle.
Auto rental companies sometimes offer personal effects cover (PEC) in this regard, although it typically excludes the likes of jewelry and expensive electronics.
Before further discussing the waivers and insurances offered by the auto rental companies, let's address the prime alternatives.
Chief among these are the coverages extended by credit card and charge card companies.
To engage this type of coverage, you must use the card to pay for the car rental; simply having the card is not enough.
Read the card agreement carefully and call the card's customer support to learn precisely what the benefits are in relation to the domain and type of your planned travel.
The benefits vary geographically. Moreover, sports cars, luxury (alias elite, exotic, prestige) cars, motorhomes, off-road vehicles, motorcycles and other "specialty" vehicles are typically
excluded from this coverage. Sometimes such coverage applies to collision damage only, i.e. it doesn't cover vandalism, natural disaster,
theft of part or all of the vehicle, "loss of use" (i.e. the amount of money the rental company might claim when a vehicle is out of their fleet for repairs).
Usually such coverage requires you to decline the collision damage waiver (CDW) or loss damage waiver (LDW) or the like offered by the car rental company.
Yet sometimes such coverage applies only relative to deductibles (i.e. excesses) remaining after you have purchased a CDW or LDW or the like!
Regardless, such coverage typically entails a rental-duration limit of 14 or 15 days for domestic rentals and 30 or 31 days for international rentals;
you'd typically have to return the car and commence another rental to effectively extend the coverage.
If you're covered for, say, 14 consecutive days, you might mistakenly void the insurance by agreeing to a 15-day rental.
Ask whether the coverage is "primary" or "secondary."
Primary insurance is preferable, for it lets you file directly with the underwriter of your
credit card insurance. Secondary coverage, in contrast, requires you first to obtain a letter from your personal
auto insurance provider stating what they do and do not cover with respect to the incident in question. You must then forward this letter
along with all the other relevant documents to the underwriter of your credit card insurance.
The secondary coverage will cover the charges that are not covered by your personal auto insurance. It's a hassle.
Regarding either primary and secondary coverage, determine if the card company will let the
auto rental company bill your account directly for any damages that occur. If so, confirm that
the status of such a billing will not require you to pay the charge and will not eat into
your available credit unless ultimately the underwriter of the card's policy denies
your claim. The monetary amount that a rental company equates with certain damages could approximate the value of the entire vehicle.
As such, using your credit card to effectively pay up front for damages could cost you substantially if as a result
you exceed your credit limit or must pay a finance charge or both.
The policies of credit and charge card companies can change overnight.
Immediately before you embark on your trip, confirm that your card still
entitles you to the coverage you think it does.
Take especial note of the card company's requirements for filing car rental loss and damage claims.
Usually they require you to do so within 48 hours or as soon as reasonably possible following a loss.
If such notification is not received, coverage may be denied. Written proof of loss, including completion of a claim form provided by the card company,
typically must be received by the card company within 60 days of the date of loss, or coverage may be denied.
Among the items typically required to document the loss: (a) copy of the drivers license of card member or authorized driver;
(b) copy of card members auto insurance coverage; (c) itemized repair bill; (d) claim form; (e) copy of the rental agreement;
and (f) police report if the damage exceeds a certain amount (e.g. US$ 500).
Travel insurance is available which covers international auto rentals.
See the following: www.travelguard.com,
Regarding all auto rental coverages, note whether they cover at-fault drivers, single-vehicle accidents,
loss of use charges (again, the amount of money the rental company might claim when a vehicle is out of their fleet for repairs),
damage that bumpy roads may cause to the undercarriage of the vehicle,
overhead damage (i.e. roof damage), damage caused in the process of towing something or being towed,
tire damage, windscreen damage, and side window damage.
Again, most coverages exclude off-road driving and more generally any driving off paved/sealed/bituminized/macadamized/tarmacked roads.
Members of certain national organizations qualify for auto rental insurance at reduced costs. For
instance, several rental companies entitle members of the American Association of
Retired Persons (AARP) to discounts and additional liability coverage if the
member provides the company-specific AARP identification number for listing on the
rental agreement. To get this number AARP members should contact the
organization. Members of the USA's National Council of Senior Citizens qualify for similar benefits.
Often such discounts apply to only the more luxurious classes of vehicles, and they may not
apply to one-way rentals.
All auto rental companies require their customers to be of some minimum
age usually either 21, 23, or 25 years.
Sometimes an additional fee applies if renters are less than 25 years old but older than the bare minimum.
Morevoer, many companies deal only with customers
who have held a non-provisional driver's license for at least a year or two.
As for the other end of the age-spectrum, most companies enforce a maximum age limit of 65 or 70 years.
If because of your age or the age of your license you do not qualify, please don't take it personally. It's all about statistics.
For travel in Europe, you can instead consider a
European tax-free short-term auto lease:
most visitors to Europe who are 18 years of age or older — there is no maximum — can lease a vehicle in Europe for as few as 17 days
(actually fewer if you're willing to pay for 17 days).
Regarding international rentals, depending on the law applying at the rental depot and depending on the primary language spoken there,
the auto rental company might require that the customer have an international driving license
— i.e. an IDL, better known as an international driving permit or IDP.
You should contact the relevant rental company and the relevant tourist office, consulate or embassy to determine whether
a company or country requires you to carry an IDP while driving.
A good secondary indicator in this respect is the
posted by the UK's Automobile Association.
Basically an IDP is a means by which police in a foreign country can know — in terms of translations in nearly a dozen different languages —
that your domestic driver's license is indeed recognized as being valid by the proper authorities in your country.
(See the excellent article at Drivers.com.) Hence you must obtain the license while in your home country.
The local office of your auto club (AA, AA, RAC, ADAC, etc.) sells IDPs for the equivalent of about US$ 20.
If you need an IDP, take your license, two passport-sized photos and the requisite cash to the club office.
(Though for about US$ 10 the club may snap Polaroid photos for you.)
If you plan to operate a motorcycle, be sure to have the auto club certify your qualification to do so.
Web searches will bring up a host of websites selling documents that conform to the model delineated in annex 10 of the United Nations
Convention on Road Traffic (1949); but according to Article 24 of that convention, a truly valid IDP is one which is
"issued .. by the competent authority of another Contracting State or subdivision thereof, or by an association duly empowered by such authority ...."
If you cannot identify or arrange proper supplementary coverage from
other sources, you should buy the
collision damage waiver (CDW)
and/or collision damage reducer (CDR; alias excess reduction waiver, ERW)
and/or loss damage waiver (LDW)
and/or theft protection waiver (TP or TW or TPW or TPR)
and/or additional liability insurance (ALI or SLI or EP)
and/or personal accident insurance (PAI)
and/or personal effects cover (PEC, covering luggage, but probably excluding jewelry and perhaps certain electronics and other sorts of items as well)
— or some set of variations on these themes — from the auto rental company.
Special note: It is the opinion of IdeaMerge that damage waivers/reducers are usually a better value in connection with motorhome rentals than they are
in connection with car rentals. We've formed this opinion from anecdotal evidence and because:
(a) the bigger a vehicle is the more likely it will collide with something;
and (b) a damage to a motorhome tends to be more expensive to repair than the same sort of damage to a car, this because the pieces
involved are larger and are not as mass-produced; and likewise (c) the deductibles included in the base motorhome rental rates
tend to be higher than deductibles included in inclusive car rental rates.
There's no such thing as a universal definition of CDW and the other terms peppering the previous paragraph.
In most markets the rental company is largely free to define and call these things however and whatever it likes.
The motorhome rental industry has developed an especially rich set of such terms,
including "SCDW," "VIP," "RLI,"
The IdeaMerge online car and motorhome rental booking software and our associated webpages are carefully
designed to explain these terms clearly and contextually.
Often a waiver termed CDW provides certain coverages against damages or losses due to
collision, vandalism, natural disaster or theft of part or all of the vehicle.
However, in many cases such term is taken literally to refer only to collision damage, whereas
the term LDW is used in contrast to designate the wide spectrum of losses including not only collision damage but
also vandalism, natural disaster, etc.
The term collision damage reducer (CDR) might be used instead of CDW
to indicate more heuristically that a deductible/excess remains involved.
When indeed the CDW or LDW or CDR does not reduce the deductible/excess all the way to zero, the rental company and/or broker might
give you the opportunity to purchase a yet another waiver or reducer or (via another, specialist insurance company such as www.insurance4carhire.com)
an insurance policy which further reduces that deductible/excess — typically to zero. Such further waivers/reducers/policies go by many names,
such as peace of mind (POM) or no worries cover (NWC) or total damage excess waiver (TDEW)
or excess waiver (EW) or excess reduction cover (ERC) or excess reimbursement insurance (ERI).
When the CDW or LDW or CDR does not cover theft of part or all of the vehicle, a theft protection waiver (TP, TW, TPW, TPR)
is typically offered. Furthermore, personal accident insurance (PAI or PI) and perhaps personal effects cover (PEC) may be offerred.
PAI provides the renter and passengers with coverage for accidental death, disability or medical expenses.
Personal effects cover (PEC) typically excludes the likes of jewelry and expensive electronics, and it may
be unnecessarily redundant in relation to one's personal homeowners policy.
Other General Car Rental or Motorhome Rental Issues
Unlimited miles (or kilometers) are common (and virtually the standard) with car rentals and with
motorhome rentals in Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Not so with motorhome rentals in the USA and Canada
(in which cases the IdeaMerge online reservation software computes the optimal mileage solution for you, given the
miles you expect to drive).
Typically there is a surcharge for picking up or returning a car rental at an airport or train station or certain other "premium" locations.
Such surcharge basically reflects costs which are imposed on the rental company by the airport and/or government.
By the way, in virtually all cases motorhome rentals must be picked up at the motorhome rental depot, not directly at an airport or train station or hotel.
If you will be picking up the vehicle in connection with a flight arrival, inform the rental company long beforehand of your flight arrival details
(airline, flight number, expected landing time). Thus
if your flight is delayed the rental depot personnel will know enough to hold your vehicle and perhaps even stay open a bit longer to meet you.
In many countries, regions, states or territories a road tax or road registration fee applies to auto rentals.
Various other imposed taxes or surcharges might also apply. Some governments allow auto rental companies to charge licensing fees
whereby the company can recover the cost of getting license plates for the vehicles.
One-way car rentals are quite common. Usually with European car rentals you can pick-up in one city
and return to another in the same country without suffering an extra charge; returns outside the country usually entail a one-way fee.
In other markets one-way car rental fees are common and costly. One-way motorhome rentals are not commonly supported in Europe (although
they are available within and from Spain, within France, within Italy, within Scandinavia, and from Holland), yet
they are common in the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
Determine whether smoking is allowed in the vehicle, and whether pets are allowed.
Most rental companies place their vehicles into a lettered
or numbered category. Unfortunately, these classifications are not consistent across
companies and they may vary within the companies themselves.
If you need an automatic transmission vehicle, be sure to specify this when placing your reservation.
The transmission type can often be guaranteed, and in many countries manual transmissions are the norm.
Another feature that typically can be guaranteed is air conditioning. In some countries — especially in relation to motorhome rentals —
vehicles without air conditioning are the norm. (Motorhomes often come with engine-generated, i.e. dash, air conditioning but not roof, i.e. 120 V or 220 V,
air conditioning; either kind can typically be guaranteed.)
Otherwise the car and motorhome rental industries are such that
reservations may be made for particular vehicle category only,
not for a specific vehicle. Which is to say, although the various images, model numbers and vehicle specifications presented
throughout or via the IdeaMerge car and motorhome rental pages — especially on the
vehicle-specification pages — are carefully selected to accurately
and precisely indicate the vehicle that you will get, the vehicle model
(and layout) you get might not be identical to what is indicated by said
information. In the very unlikely event that
a vehicle in the reserved category is not available upon the pick-up date, the
rental company reserves the right to substitute a comparable or larger vehicle
with the same equipment and the capacity to accommodate the number persons you have delineated (in terms of, say, adults and children) as being in your party.
In this case there should be no additional charge for a larger
vehicle. However, the higher ancillary costs associated with a larger
vehicle such as ferry charges,
tolls, and fueling costs are to be borne by the customer.
Employing a diesel car in Europe will cut your fuel costs there by almost 40 percent,
because the diesel fuel is cheaper than gasoline and the diesel engines are more efficient than their gasoline-powered counterparts.
However, to get a diesel you may have to jump up a vehicle class, and this may wipe out
any savings you'll realize from the reduced fuel costs. (Most motorhomes in Europe are diesels.)
Try to estimate the number of miles or kilometers you'll be driving. Next, using the expected fuel
efficiency of the vehicles you're considering, figure the amount you'll pay to fuel
each vehicle. Finally, add these figures to the rates charged for the various vehicles.
These days over 60 percent of the new cars sold in Europe are diesels.
This percentage continues to climb. Why?
For one thing, diesel
fuel in Europe costs about 20 percent less than gasoline.
Ireland's Automobile Association (AA) website for
an up-to-date listing of fuel prices.)
What's more, a diesel engine runs about
30 percent more efficiently (and lasts longer, for it has far fewer parts) than its gasoline-powered
counterpart. Hence you save close to 40 percent fuel-wise
by going with a diesel.
By the way, IdeaMerge can guarantee you a diesel vehicle
if you select one for a European tax-free short-term auto lease.
In a diesel engine, the fuel which inheres more free energy
than gasoline is
pressurized in a "common rail," an intake pipe leading to all cylinders.
Electronically controlled injectors allow a precise amount of vaporized fuel to
squirt into the cylinders. Consequently diesel engines offer great work
capacity which is of course good for
larger vehicles, heavy loads and mountain driving and
they consume less fuel while in like measure producing less exhaust.
Admittedly, diesel exhaust long ago gained a reputation for being sooty and smelly.
(As if gasoline doesn't smell too!)
Yet certain other important pollutants especially sulfates have always been
considerably less present in diesel exhaust than in gasoline exhaust.
And technological improvements in diesel-engine efficiency and
especially in the filtering of diesel exhaust have rendered
the diesel engines of today considerably more eco-friendly than gasoline
engines. Gone is the remarkable sootiness.
Gone, too, is the darned glow plug (in contrast to spark plug); now you can start
a diesel as quickly as a gasoline engine. Moreover, all these Renault diesels are
turbo charged such that their acceleration approximates that of
Given the native demand for diesel engines in Europe, diesel
fuel is available there wherever gasoline is available, and the diesel fuel
is of a higher grade than that sold in the United States.
Likewise, fuel stations in Europe provide diesel pumps on the same service
islands as the gasoline pumps. Plastic gloves are even
provided so you need not dirty your hands!
But BEWARE: A diesel nozzle in Europe is considerably wider than either a leaded gasoline nozzle or the even smaller unleaded gasoline nozzle
and indeed will not fit into either such tank.
Consequently a European gasoline nozzle will fit into a European diesel tank.
Therefore, be careful not to put gasoline into a diesel tank!!!
Even a liter of gasoline added to the tank of a modern diesel car can cause irreversible
damage to the injection pump and other components due to its relatively low lubricity. In some cases, the diesel car so abused has to be scrapped because the cost
of repairs exceeds its value. (Diesel in a gasoline engine — while creating large amounts of smoke — does not normally cause permanent damage if it is drained
once the mistake is realized. Similarly, older diesels using completely mechanical injection can tolerate some gasoline,
which has historically been used to "thin" diesel fuel in winter.)
A green pump holds unleaded gasoline or else diesel, a blue leaded gasoline. Diesel pumps are sometimes colored black, sometimes green.
Diesel pumps are chiefly signified linguistically, either with the very word diesel or with one of the
equivalents: gas-oil, gaz-oil, gasolio, gasóleo, dieselolie, mazot, motorina, or nafta.
Many experienced renters make it a practice to reserve the popular and
cheap economy class vehicles. This because rental outlets often run out of such vehicles,
and consequently anyone who has reserved one of them gets a free upgrade.
Rental companies should not charge you more if they're forced to give you a more
expensive vehicle than the one you reserved. If you have no intention of driving
the economy class vehicle you've reserved and if the fleet of such vehicles is
not depleted, you'll probably be able to upgrade but for a charge.
Car rental companies typically offer daily, weekend and "weekly" rates. Weekly rates are usually their best deals,
and in most cases they require only 5 contiguous days to qualify for a (pro-rated) weekly rate. However, if you extend a weekly rate rental
you'll typically be charged the daily rate for those extra days — unless you very carefully negotiate the extension with the rental company and get the
negotiated rate in writing before you agree to it, or unless you book through a service like IdeaMerge and, after giving such service several days notice,
you allow that service to attempt to negotiate the rate and arrange the extension for you.
Hence if you're unsure about your rental duration, consider booking
a duration originally which involves a extra few days; you'll likely be able to get an early return refund if you don't need them.
Yet beware: some companies charge an early return fee, and if the lesser actual duration is no longer commensurate with the weekly rate,
the rental company is likely free to charge you based on a more expensive rate (e.g. a daily rate) than the rate you originally agreed to.
In contrast to car rental companies, motorhome rental companies, tend to offer seasonal rate schedules, and these are usually embellished with certain and various long-term discounts
for durations exceeding various thresholds (e.g. 14 nights, 21 nights, 34 nights, etc).
Rental rates vary widely depending on the country in which the rental vehicle is to be picked up.
Furthermore some countries require the customer to purchase the CDW or LDW or TP. For instance
Italy notoriously requires TP.
Consequently, you may want to rent a vehicle in a country that neighbors
the country you plan to travel in. Switzerland amounts to an interesting case in this respect. Switzerland's average car rental
costs are some of the cheapest in Europe. Moreover,
cars rented in Switzerland come bearing a
sticker or vignette which signifies someone
has paid the necessary annual tax for the privilege of driving that vehicle on
Switzerland's expressways. If your car doesn't
have a vignette but you want to use the
Swiss expressways, you must buy the vignette at a Swiss border station, a Swiss post office, a Swiss motor vehicle service station or garage,
or from a Swiss National Tourist Office.
At the border you can pay in SwF, EUR £'s or USD. You can also pay inside the Customs office onsite by credit card.
The vignette costs about CHF 40 (about USD 37, or EUR 27) for all cars with maximum admissible weight of 3.5 tons or less.
The sticker is valid for 14 months, from December 1 to January 31 the next year
(Of course, many rental vehicles in cities nearby Switzerland, such as Milan and Munich, come with this sticker as
well since their former renters tend to have ventured into Switzerland and opted
to travel the expressways there.)
Austria, Slovakia and other countries
recently introduced similar systems.
See Wikipedia's Vignette page
for more about such vignettes and road taxes.
Fines for toll violations, traffic violations, parking violations and such which become attached to the rental vehicle during the rental devolve upon
the rental customer. In many cases the rental company will in addition charge an administration fee for processing these fines.
In some countries the law requires certain traffic offences be settled on the spot unless the violator presents a bail bond
or unless a resident of the country guarantees payment on the violator's behalf.
Failure in these respects can result in the vehicle being impounded and the driver detained. Most car rental companies include such bail bonds
with the rental vehicle if the law applying to the rental pick-up or return location, or perhaps more generally to part of a likely itinerary,
requires such on-the-spot settlement. Spain used to be infamous for this way of handling such offenses. However,
Spain no longer requires on-the-spot payment of traffic violations or presentation of a bail bond.
The company's policy or offers concerning the initial and final fueling of the vehicle is also
important. There will never be a refund for unused fuel.
In some cases a deposit is payable for fuel and is refunded insofar as the car is returned with a full tank.
The best deal, however, is if the company fills the tank initially and agrees not to charge you
for fuel unless you return the vehicle with less than a full tank; this way you avoid both
the annoying task of trying to return the vehicle with some specific but
less-than-full amount of fuel and the roughly doubled fuel prices that rental companies charge.
This is to say, the convenience touted in a pre-paid fuel offer — according to which you can return the
vehicle with any amount of fuel at no further cost — is outweighed by the cost of the offer;
such offer is just a way for the rental company to line its pockets.
Hence note where the nearby fuel stations are; they tend to be quite far removed from airport car rental depots.
Determine whether amendment or cancellation or no-show fees are associated with a booking.
Cancellation (and no-show) fees and schedules are especially considerable with motorhome rentals, because such business is very seasonal.
Determine whether there is a refund for early return? Such refund is common with car rentals but typical not offered with motorhome rentals.
Determine what the costs are for late return of the vehicle. A one-hour grace period usually applies. Exceeding a grace period by even a small amount
of time might result in a charge for a whole new 24-hour duration, although usually there is an hourly fee applying to the first two hours or so that a car is
late. Motorhome rental pick-up and return are often accounted for on the hotel model: pick-up (i.e. check-in) is slated for the afternoon whereas return (check-out)
is slated for the morning. Some motorhome rental companies, however, account for cost according to calendar days, meaning the time of day of pick-up and the time of day of return
do not affect the price. Generally with motorhome rentals late-return costs are far higher than with car rentals, this because motorhome rental is a smaller,
far more seasonal industry and hence the fleets are smaller than car rental fleets — meaning the specific motorhome rented to you is likely slated to be
rented to another customer the same day or the day after you return it.
Pick up or return of the vehicle outside of the rental depot's standard hours of operation may be possible for a special fee.
Get appropriate authorization the rental company before you engage any repairs of the vehicle.
Of course solicit and keep bills for any repairs which are done to the vehicle during the rental.
Winterization of Motorhomes
Where and when the ambient temperatures of the
low-altitude regions near a motorhome rental depot are expected to be below the freezing
point during a customer's rental, the motorhomes delivered to customers there will typically be delivered winterized.
Winterization typically means that the water is
drained from the fresh water tank, hot water heater and both waste tanks. Of
course this drainage involves the water pipes, toilet, sink, shower,
and external shower (if this latter feature is present). Once the vehicle is winterized as such, no water
should be put into the fresh water tank and it should not be hooked up to the public
water supply. Therefore no water at all is available from such motorhome.
The toilet, however, can still be used as long as windshield
washer antifreeze is poured down to rinse it. Special antifreeze will have
been run through all the pipes and put into the black and gray tanks by the rental company. If the
customer removes the antifreeze and puts water into the system, the tanks and
pipes will likely crack. If this damage occurs, the customer will be responsible
for the entire cost of repairing these systems and for the entire cost of any other consequent damages. If the customer
unwinterizes the vehicle for travel into a warmer climate, typically the customer is
responsible for having the vehicle re-winterized before returning it, lest the motorhome
rental company charge the customer for re-winterization.
Of course upon the pick-up occasion the motorhome rental company can provide instruction regarding
the draining and rehydration of such system.
Car Rental & Motorhome Rental Optional Extras
Again, unlimited miles (or kilometers) are common with car rentals and with
motorhome rentals in Europe, Australia and New Zealand. This is not so with motorhome rentals in the USA and Canada;
but in these cases the IdeaMerge online reservation software will compute the optimal mileage solution for you, given the
miles you tell it you expect to drive.
Child safety seats, luggage racks, bicycle racks, tire chains for driving in snow, and
other such items are not always immediately available; you should book them in
advance and determine whether they cost extra.
If winter tires are required by the law applicable to the pick-up location,
an additional charge may be required either upon booking or upon the pick-up occasion.
Inform the rental company of the age and weight and height of any children that will be traveling in the rental vehicle,
and ask what the applicable body of law stipulates regarding the safe transport of such children.
Perhaps ask whether the you may legally use your own child safety seats in the vehicle.
Don't assume that the childseat you own is legal — or even functional — in relation to car or motorhome rentals, especially international rentals.
We can more precisely address child safety seats in terms of law or, more wisely, in terms
of one or another more general and more conservative (i.e. child-conserving)
consensus about child safety. Nevertheless please note that IdeaMerge is neither obligated
nor qualified to present to clients (i.e. customers) nor to the general public
the full set of relative laws nor the letter of those individual laws;
the comments below, whether about law or consensus are merely intended
to indicate the nature of the general issue of child motor vehicle safety.
In many cases (such as in Canada and the United States) the law applies based on the
state, province or territory in which the vehicle is registered or in which
a particular rental commences. In Canada such law is strictest in Quebec and
in Ontario. Which is to say, these are the only provincial units in Canada
that require booster seats. The general North American consensus considers booster
seats necessary for children weighing 1836 kg (4080 lbs),
forward-facing safety seats necessary for children weighing 918 kg
(2040 lbs), and rear-facing infant seats necessary for children
weighing up to 9 kg (20 lbs). Age-wise these ranges correspond to
4.5 years through 7 years, 1 year up to 4.5 years, and 0 years up to 1 year.
In Germany, however, the high-end figure is more conservative, in the sense
German law puts this figure at up to 12 years or up to 1.5 m tall
(4 ft. 11 in.);
moreover, children under age of 10 may not travel in the front
passenger seat of a car,
the exceptions being: (a) a child younger than 1 year old seated in a
rear-facing safety seat, (b) a vehicle with no rear seats or seats
that temporarily cannot be used, and (c) a situation in which all rear
seats are already occupied by children under 10 years old.
French law puts said high-end figure at up to 10 years.
In Ontario a child need not use a safety seat if (a) his/her weight is over
36 kg (40 lbs) or (b) his/her age is over 8 years (i.e. he/she has turned 8 years old) or (c) his/her height is over 1.45 m (4 ft.
Generally a rear-facing safety seat should not be used in a seat equipped with a functional
frontal airbag. Also generally speaking, children under 12 years old
should sit in a rear seat.
In the context of the whole IdeaMerge website it is appropriate to address
a few more specific cases. The state of Washington in the USA
is relatively strict: children up to 1 year old or less than 20 lbs must be
seated in a rear-facing infant seat; children from 1 year old through 3
years old or 2040 lbs must be seated in a forward-facing child seat;
and children from 4 years old through 5 years old or 4060 lbs
must be seated in a booster seat (in the rear if the front passenger seat is equipped
with an airbag). In the state of Oregon children from 0 through
3 years old or less than 40 lbs must be seated in a child seat, and children
4 years old through 5 years old or 4060 lbs must be seated in a booster
seat. In the state of California, children from 0 through 5 years
old or less than 60 lbs must be seated in an appropriate child
seat, perhaps a booster seat. In the state of Nevada
children from 0 through 3 years old or weighing less than 40 lbs must
be seated in a child seat. In the state of Colorado, children
from 0 up to 1 year old or weighing less than 20 lbs must be seated in a
rear-facing child seat; children from 1 year through 3 years old or 2040 lbs
must be seated in a front-facing child seat; and children from 4 through 5 years
or less than 55 in. tall must be seated in a booster seat.
In the state of New Jersey, a child 0 through 17 months old
must be seated in a child seat; a child 18 months through 4 years old must
be seated in a child seat if riding in front; and a child less than 8 years
old or less than 80 lbs should sit in the rear, if rear seating is available.
In Australia a child from 0 up to 1 year old must
be seated in a child seat, and this seat must be fitted with a top
tether that is in turn attached to a suitable mounting point on the
vehicle; other constraints apply per territory,
but the general rules noted above should nevertheless be applied
and are typically indicated by vehicle rental vendors.
In New Zealand a child from 0 through 4 years old must be seated
in an appropriate safety seat; a child from 5 through 7 years old must if seated in
front be seated in a booster seat or, we are told, secured with an
adult safety belt (although this latter option seems too lax);
and again the general rules noted above should neverthless be applied
and are typically indicated by vehicle rental vendors.
For European rentals, also ask if a parking disc or "blue card"
is included: many European cities require such a disk or card to be displayed on
a vehicle's dashboard while it's parked in certain zones called
If you plan to take a British vehicle to the continent, or vice versa, ask whether headlight conversion
kits are available and, if so, whether they are free of charge.
If renting a motorhome it's especially important to determine
what's included in the rental cost. Most motorhome rental companies
charge extra for bedding, kitchen utensils, and the like.
The IdeaMerge online reservation software is carefully designed to prompt you in these respects and to
clearly incorporate the associated costs into a single, inclusive total price.
Before You Leave Home
If you pre-paid for the rental, you may have paid for the vehicle
and all the taxes and surcharges and optional extras. Regardless, the rental company or the consolidator (i.e. a broker such as IdeaMerge) will send you a
voucher showing the rental details — including a list
of the cost components that have been paid and the cost components that are due to be paid (e.g. upon the pick-up occasion),
and giving detailed directions to and contact information of the actual supplier's (e.g. Hertz's)
exact pick-up and drop-off address(es), this information lending ultimate precision to the general yet accurate
delineation of such locations (e.g. merely "Frankfurt airport terminal 1"") which is typical of an online order process.
Print that voucher and bring it along to the pick-up occasion and to the return occasion. The voucher might be required on the pick-up occasion —
and with motorhome rentals it typically is required on the pick-up occasion; and it might also be a good reference on the return occasion.
Picking Up the Car or Motorhome
When you arrive to pick up a hire car, the counter agent may pressure or simply require you
to buy a damage waiver and/or theft protection or place a large security deposit, or both. Foreign rental depots especially are keen to
ensure quick reimbursement for any loss they might suffer on an international rental.
If the counter agent compels you to buy a waiver contrary
to your printed rental voucher, you'll naturally still have recourse to eventually get a refund from the
company. You may be asked to sign a blank charge slip as a deposit. Don't do it!
Always make sure your signature is associated with a specific amount.
Rental locations often do not accept charge cards, in constrast to credit cards.
If you don't have a credit card, ask how you can pay the deposit.
Debit cards, Euro checks, travelers checks, and cash are typically not accepted forms of placing such deposit.
Typically a vehicle rental company requires that a valid credit card
— with sufficient available credit — be presented upon the pick-up occasion
by a member of the rental party, which member must indeed be present there on that occasion and must sign said rental contract.
Otherwise the company will refuse to allow the rental and, moreover, will consider the rental booking to be thereby cancelled (i.e. by the customer),
making the customer responsible for any applicable cancellation fee — whether such cancellation occurs upon the pick-up occasion or at an earlier time.
More than one card cannot be used for this purpose.
Why do automobile rental locations typically require such a valid credit card upon the pick-up occasion? It's essentially an industry standard. Automobile rental companies
must take extra precaution when renting to a person who cannot present to them a valid credit card, because a person without a credit card is generally considered a greater credit risk
than is a person with a credit card. Remember, the automobile rental company is entrusting to the customer a piece of property worth tens of thousands of dollars
(US or otherwise). One car rental executive used the following analogy recently to describe the situation: "Let's say you're going to your cousin's wedding, and you need to rent
a tuxedo. You can go out and rent one tomorrow, no questions asked. You can go to the wedding and destroy the rental, and you're going to be responsible
for a couple hundred dollars. When you rent a car, the net worth is around $30,000. It's really just a numbers game and we need to have some way of being
sure that the risk is not higher than it needs to be when we rent you a car." Increasingly, some car rental locations
(in contrast to car rental companies in general) do accept debit cards for this security purpose, but in those cases they typically must therefore perform
a check of the customer's credit history.
With car rentals, the security deposit per se is usually just authorized or blocked on the customer's credit card,
rather than actually charged to it.
Motorhomes are on average far more expensive than cars. Therefore in the motorhome rental industry, large security deposits are the norm.
Some motorhome rental companies merely authorize or block these charges, but others actually charge them and (if all goes well) credit them back to the card
after the rental. It remains almost generally true that motorhome rental companies and their various rental locations do not accept debit cards,
cash or travelers checks or the like for the purpose of a security deposit.
If you pay for a rental with a credit or charge card, put the deposit on the same card: this minor
precaution will simplify and expedite the processing of any claim you might have to file.
Consider asking the agent whether you can upgrade to a more luxurious class of
vehicle free of charge. You'd be surprised how often this works. If, on the other hand,
the agent first suggests an upgrade, ask whether it is free of charge.
If offered a smaller vehicle than the one you reserved, demand a discount.
Always refuse to pay more for a vehicle that's more expensive than the
one you reserved. If the agent presses you to upgrade for a price under the
pretense that the vehicle you've reserved cannot comfortably accommodate your party
or, say, negotiate the local terrain you're probably being subjected to the old
bait and switch. The agent may know that
the smaller vehicles are nearly sold out, and if you, not being privy to the same information,
agree to pay for an upgrade, you've been duped.
As mentioned earlier, an additional charge may be required locally where winter tires are required by law.
Before you leave the counter, write the names of any additional drivers on
the contract. If you don't add these names, you may be traveling without proper
insurance when the other person or persons are at the wheel. Usually additional drivers
entail an extra (but perhaps pre-paid) fee per driver; and usually they must be present
upon the pick-up occasion — presenting valid drivers licenses — to qualify.
Of course you must inspect the vehicle. Note if all the optional extras
specified in your agreement are indeed present. Be sure you know where the jack is.
Understand where the spare tire is. Note where the fuel tank opening is. Check out the quality of the tires and the vehicle. Make sure
the headlights, taillights, windshield wipers, seat adjustments, and seat belts work.
Especially look for cut or bulging or bald tires, inoperative brake and turn signal lights, and dysfunctional windshield wipers.
Remember, if you sign a rental contract, you are likely
agreeing that the vehicle is in fine condition. Note, along with the rental
company employee assisting you, any mechanical or cosmetic problems the vehicle exhibits.
If such flaws exist, make sure the staff either fixes those of a mechanical nature or
provides you with another vehicle. Make sure any flaws that are not fixed at this point
are noted on the contract. And take a bunch of photographs of the vehicle from all sides, with several
of the photos unmistakeably showing the rental depot premises in the background.
Note as well how much fuel is in the tank so that you can return
the vehicle with about the same amount. (Take a photo of the fuel gauge.)
Also determine that you have the insurance papers and and contact addresses and phone numbers in
case of an accident, breakdown or theft.
In Europe a European Accident Statement form should be in the glove compartment or the compartment on the driver's side
door. This is the standard form in Europe on which to record the details of an accident.
Note as well the business hours during which you can return the vehicle.
Lastly, memorize the make, model and color of the vehicle, so you don't end up losing it in large, busy parking lot.
Categorically a vehicle rental company reserves the right on any occasion (especially including the pick-up occasion) to refuse to deliver a vehicle or other product
or service, whether these are already booked or not, to any customer whom they professionally consider unfit to operate the vehicle or other product or
whom they otherwise professionally consider as presenting too great of a risk (in terms of safety, security, credit, or any other sort of risk) to the company, the
company personnel, representatives of the company, or the general public, regardless of whether the customer presents such risk directly or by way of a travel partner.
Such denial of vehicle, product or service terminates any existing contract the customer has in
connection with that vehicle, product or service, including any such contract not only with the vehicle rental company but also with any
representatives of that company (e.g. IdeaMerge, holiday autos, etc); henceforth those companies will have no liability in
relation to that contract or those contracts, and no therefore no refund will be due to the customer.
Returning the Car or Motorhome
Upon returning the vehicle, confirm with the rental agent that no damage occurred
to it. Get this fact written on the contract. If you placed a security deposit using your credit
or charge card be sure that the car rental counter agent removes this deposit.
(Motorhome rental companies typically reserve the right to return the deposit at a later date,
because motorhomes are far more complex than cars and hence damages to them are sometimes not
immediately obvious, or because the customer is in a hurry and can't be bothered to remain present during
a complete inspection.)
On the other hand, if an accident did cause damage to the vehicle, note
this damage accurately and precisely on the contract. Take photographs
of the vehicle which show the vehicle from every major direction and which
substantiate that the pictures were taken in the presence of rental company personnel
after you returned the vehicle. Note on the contract the amount of fuel in the
tank. Keep a copy of this contract; keep copies of all the documents associated with the
rental. (In Germany, by the way, it's considered bad manners to leave the keys in the ignition.) If
returning a motorhome, the toilet's holding tank should be empty.
At some locations such as the Frankfurt airport agencies
operate separate pick-up and drop-off desks, usually in close proximity
to each other but often with different hours, the pick-up
desk being open longer. IdeaMerge's managing director Eric Bredesen once waited an hour from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. for the
Avis desk to open at the Frankfurt airport, only to learn he was waiting at
the drop-off desk and that the pick-up desk 100 meters down the hall
had been open since the beginning of his wait.
Don't forget to search the vehicle to make sure you don't leave a personal item behind.
Keep the rental paperwork.
When you return home check your credit card statement, this to make sure no unexpected charges have been made to the card in connection with the rental,
and to make sure any security deposit which was actually charged to the card (in contrast to being merely authorized or blocked on the card)
has been wholly or partially returned to the card as expected.
rv rental europe
Please see our motorhome rental Europe page.
car leasing europe
Please see our car leasing Europe page.
buying a car in europe
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth . . .
Robert Frost, "The Road Not Taken"
It is no longer legal for a person who does not own
a residence in or otherwise legally reside in a country belonging
to the European Union to register and in turn insure an automobile in such
country. Typically a few utility bills and perhaps a property-rental lease in one's name suffice as evidence of such residency.
However, there are four ways around this prohibition: (1)
you can short-term lease a brand new car; (2) you can purchase
a brand new BMW, Mercedes, or Volvo for eventual export via the manufacturer's tourist delivery program;
(3) you can buy a used campervan from an IdeaMerge
business partner in the Netherlands, which company will "carry" the registration and supply
the insurance for you (and they will also sell your vehicle for you, on consignment, if you like); or (4) you can have a close personal
friend or relative who resides in an EU country carry these necessities for you (other persons being extremely
likely to balk at bearing such responsibility).
This said, let's take a further look
at the topic of buying a vehicle in Europe.
We should begin by discussing basic liability insurance, what Europeans call
"third-party" insurance. Drivers in Europe
must at least insure themselves with
third-party insurance; you cannot register a vehicle in Europe without first
presenting proof of such insurance. Note that this
insurance alone does not cover damage to your car, nor does it cover
injury to the occupants of your car (including you). Rather it covers
damage or injury that the operation of your vehicle
may cause to other vehicles, properties and persons. In considering any third-party
insurance, determine if it covers at-fault drivers and additional drivers.
Of course you should also check the
monetary limits of the coverage. Moreover, note if you can settle a claim from your
home country: some insurance companies may require that you stay in Europe to settle a claim.
If you want to cross borders, your insurance should be International Motor
Insurancewhat's commonly called "Green Card" insurance. Green Card
insurance covers your minimum legal liability in a certain array of countries. The Green
Card is actually a folder filled with green documents, one of which is small enough to
be displayed in a clear plastic pocket adhered to a vehicle's windshield. This small
card signifies (to Customs personnel, especially) that the vehicle is
covered by some sort of liability
insurance. Listed at the
foot of the papers in a Green Card folder are the countries in which the insurance is
valid. Be sure to check this list before buying such insurance. If you plan to travel
in Turkey, make sure your Green Card is valid for both the European and
Asian sectors. And if you're headed to Scandinavia, be warned that reciprocal
insurance agreements between Finland, Norway and Sweden require your insurance
to cover all or none of these countries: a policy that on paper excludes one is
a policy that effectively excludes all three.
Another documentthe European Accident Statement formcan simplify
things in case of an accident; get this from your European insurer.
In considering insurance that's more comprehensive, note if it covers
collision damage, fire damage, damage from natural disasters (such as hail),
damage from vandalism or attempted theft, theft of personal items stored in the
vehicle, theft of the vehicle itself, and personal injury. Of course you should
also note the deductibles and limits associated with these protections. Don't be offended if you, as a foreigner, are asked to pay a slightly higher rate
than the locals. Regardless a statement of accident-free driving from
your home insurance company or a copy of your driving record may qualify you
for lower rates. Preferably these documents should account for at least a three- to
five-year period terminating within the last three years. In fact you can get up to 65 percent off
the gross premium if you can prove you haven't filed an accident claim in the past
Independent European insurance companiesin contrast to companies based outside Europeoffer the most
inexpensive European auto insurance, and most have
English-speaking staff. Although some companies may be reluctant or will flat
out refuse to deal with foreign tourists, you should, in the end, have little trouble
finding a European insurer who will sell to you
insurance that is good value. Be sure to try the national automobile club, for many such clubs offer good inexpensive insurance. Green Card insurance purchased on the open market in Europe is sold in one-month increments minimum.
If you can't be bothered to deal with a foreign insurance
company, you can
arrange European auto insurance from a domestic provider before you leave.
Although it's quite unlikely that your current
auto insurer offers such insurance, at least one North American insurance company
does: American International Underwriters, 600 King Street, 2nd Floor,
Wilmington, DE 19086,
tel. 800 343 5761 or 302 594 2175, e-mail ExpatCoverage@aig.com.
programs of manufacturers and brokers offer auto insurance as
an option or part of a package. Unless as incentive this insurance is given free of charge, it
will probably be much more expensive than the insurance available through the other
sources discussed. If you must buy insurance through a motor-vehicle manufacturer or broker, consider opting for the shortest coverage-period possible and securing insurance from another
source to cover the remainder of your trip.
Certain non Green Card auto-insurance policiesdesigned specifically
for foreign motorists, sponsored by one European country or another, and effective
in that country onlyallow you to augment Green Card insurance so that you can
drive in more countries and/or be insured over periods that are not multiples of one
month. Most countries make such insurance available through their embassies or
consulates or through offices located at their
border entry points. Italy, for example, sells
auto insurancegood in Italy onlythat covers fifteen, thirty or forty-five day
periods; but if you want to buy this insurance,
you must do so before you arrive in Italy.
Many people have trouble finding auto insurance to cover them in the Baltic
States or the Russian Federation.
Auto insurance covering only the Russian Federation is available through the agency
Ingosstrakh (offices in several European countries) or
at the border posts at Brest (on the Polish border) and Uzhgorod (on the Czech
border). Contact embassies, consulates or tourist information offices for more
What about breakdown coverage? As discussed in the
Why Drive? chapter, you may be adequately covered if you're
a member of your national automobile club. If not, you can buy European-wide
breakdown coverage from either of Britain's automobile clubsthe Automobile
Association (AA), tel. 01256 21023, or the Royal Automobile Club (RAC), tel.
0800 678000but you must first buy a membership, which is an expensive
proposition. A cheaper and adequate alternative is the coverage offered by the
London-based outfit National Breakdown, tel. 0171
Registering a vehicle is of course another common point of concern. Foreign tourists qualify for "tourist plates." You may have to pay
a nominal registration fee or "road tax"
if you buy such plates, but you should eventually be able to get part of this fee
refunded, a part proportional to the amount of time you spent outside the country
during the registration period. So get your passport stamped at the border when
you exit from and return to the country. You can also get a small refund for returning
the plates themselves.
If you plan to export a vehicle from Europe, you must register it for
export. Vehiclesnew or usedare subject to non-refundable value-added tax (VAT) and
Customs duty unless you register them for export. (Though diplomats and military
personnel enjoy tax-free status regardless.) But beware: a vehicle you register
for export but keep in one country for more than six months may become subject
to heavy taxation and be dutied unless you take certain steps. In Britain, for
example, you must extend the tax-free status of
your registration by the end of six months or else pay a special tax and VAT that sums to
40 percent of the vehicle's value. Germany charges a tax of several
hundred dollars if the duration of your German export registration exceeds three
months; but this tax is refundable if you prove
that you drove across the German border within six months after registering the vehicle.
In most cases the terms of export registration will require you to export the vehicle
from Europe within one year. If you buy a factory-fresh vehicle through one of the
sales programs that I discuss later, you
must export the vehicle from Europe within
one year or else pay extremely high taxes and possibly surrender the vehicle to
European authorities. If you do qualify for a tax-free purchase, most likely
you'll have to pay the tax up front and await upon export a refund from
the Customs office of the country where you registered the vehicle.
One particular should be made clear at this point. You may have noticed the
above discussion implies you can buy a vehicle, avoid the VAT tax by registering
it for export, and all the while plan to sell it before leaving Europe. It's not that
simple. Such a vehicle cannot be re-registered under non-export registration unless the
new owner pays the back VAT tax. If it were possible for Europeans to register
such vehicles without paying tax, they could pay foreigners to buy vehicles for them
and thus avoid their country's VAT. Technically the buyer will be responsible
for paying the tax, but in effect you'll absorb the cost of the tax because you'll have
to lower the asking price to appeal to the tax-paying European public. Still there is
one way to avoid this tax altogether if you must sell an export-registered vehicle before
you leave Europe. Any non-European citizen traveling in Europe can, with written
permission of the owner, drive a properly insured vehicle. Therefore if you sell
the vehicle to another non-European traveler who intends to export it under its
current registration, you can avoid the tax. (If
you sell such a vehicle to a traveler who doesn't plan to export it, he or she won't be able
to register it as a vehicle not for export without first paying the back VAT tax;
essentially, then, you'll pass the bucknot cool.) If you find such a buyer (and that's a
tall order), you can figure the remaining insurance cost into the price of the vehicle,
give the buyer the registration and Green Card plus a signed note stating that the
person can use the car as they wish and a signed note stating that you sold it to this
person. Leave the date on the bill of sale open;
the buyer can eventually complete the bill when he or she gets back home.
Most vehicles manufactured abroad that conform to your country's emissions,
safety and bumper standards spend no time on the European market; instead their
manufacturers immediately export them to your country. One exception is
the case of dealers who service US and Canadian military bases; they may stock
US-version vehicles. Of course you'll find such dealers in the immediate vicinity of
a military base.
Be skeptical of claims made by any other European
dealer or private individual that a vehicle either complies with or needs only minor
adjustments to comply with these standards. A vehicle that does comply should bear
a label that clearly states this fact. Manufacturers affix such labels in readily
visible positions in the engine compartment and/or on the vehicle body inside the
driver's door. If such a label is not present
but the vehicle is nonetheless in compliance with your country's standards, you
should obtain a letter of conformity from the manufacturer's representative in your
countrynot from a dealershipbefore buying the vehicle with the intent to export it.
You can order factory-fresh, conforming vehicles through domestic- or
European-based brokers, through your local dealer, through a manufacturer's
office in your country or abroad, or through a dealer in Europe. Although in several instances you'll need to place such an order some ten months in advance of delivery, usually three or four
months suffice, and some orders can be filled in
just four weeks or lesswith brokers being able to fill certain orders in as few as three
days. Indeed in many cases lead-time time will be shorter than the duration your domestic dealers are able to quote. Note, though, you may be required to place the order in an individual's name rather than a company's. What's more, for one year or so after you buy a European vehicle
factory-direct the manufacturer may prohibit you
from selling it outside Europe. Such a policy deters profiteering.
The manufacturer can handle all the insurance, registration, shipping and importation paperwork for you. And not
only do some manufacturers pay for your European motoring insurance but some
may sweeten the deal with free or cut-rate airfare and hotel accommodation. Ask
about rebates (discounts) and warranties. Customers importing to the US will likely qualify for factory rebates, but European
warranties are usually void in the US. Customers importing to the UK often get no discount and a shorter warranty period than offered through UK dealers. If you're told you'll receive a valid
warranty, inquire as to its validity and duration in your country and ask if an extended warranty can be purchased. If the warranty is void in your country, ask if you're still entitled to
certain free parts and service. There should be few hidden costs: one price will likely include
the sticker price, auto insurance, tourist registration fee, dealer preparation fee (which covers the cost of the factory's final inspection), catalytic converter,
marine insurance, and ocean freight. This total will probably be about 10 percent
less than the price you'd pay otherwisealthough brokers may offer deals that
are better. Of course this percentage is strongly dependent on the exchange rate. I've already discussed how you can further increase your savings by securing insurance separately. And I've outlinedand will later detail for three specific localesthe registration process. If you register a car in Germany yourself, for example, you can save EUR100 to EUR155. It'll take an hour and give you a memorable insight into German bureaucracy. Delivery charges always apply to sites other than the factory. The charges and site selection for
non-factory pickup vary from company to companyand change frequently; be sure you're
working with up-to-date information concerning these. Some brokers, it's worth pointing out,
customarily deliver vehicles at or very near Amsterdam's international airport. If you are buying a German vehicle, you will save you as much as EUR525 (depending on the vehicle type) if you pick it up at the factory. Furthermore vehicles designated
for factory delivery require less leadtime. And most manufacturers offer tours of the factory.
An aside. If outside Germany you take delivery from
a German manufacturer, you still have to fill out paper work that registers the vehicle
in Germany. No big deal. But here comes the tricky part. German law requires a
vehicle's registration and insurance to cover the
same duration. Therefore on the day you take delivery you cannot register your
vehicle for the duration of your trip, buy expensive factory-offered insurance to cover a period shorter than the registration
period, and drive off. Rather, you must either (1) buy the expensive insurance for the
duration of your trip, (2) leave the vehicle at
the site while you spend a day or two shopping for insurance, or (3) insure and register
the vehicle for the same short period with the intention of driving to Germany
during that period, buying more insurance and extending the registration. If you
hadn't planned on traveling to Germany during the initial stages of your trip, each
option entails an expense in terms of money or inconvenienceor both.
You must arrange the financing. Be sure to arrange this financing before
you place your order: banks may hesitate to extend a loan for a vehicle delivered
abroad. Usually customers buying a vehicle for export to the US must place a, say, 5 percent deposit with the order, with full
payment due some forty-five days later. Customers exporting a right-hand-drive vehicle to the UK or Ireland may be asked to pay a series of deposits, something like 25 percent with the order, 65 percent once the vehicle has been built, and 10 percent upon delivery. If you can, use a credit card to pay the deposit(s).
A caveat, now, for ye from Britain or Ireland wanting to buy from a
European dealer a right-hand-drive vehicle for export to your country. European car
manufacturers realize their greatest profit margins in the UK, and thus they
very much prefer that you buy on your own soil. In turn their
dealers will use various tactics to direct your focus homewards, such as
quoting very long delivery times and requiring onerous deposits. The European
Commission in Brussels points out it is illegal for a producer to prevent
its dealers from selling to people from other member states, and
manufacturers have stated they give their dealers the power to sell to
whomever they want. And that's the pivotal point. Apart from considering the
prefer to sell to local customers because they're likely to bring the
vehicle back to the
dealer for maintenanceand maintenance is where dealers make most of their
profit. By quoting ridiculous delivery times and such, dealers pay lip service
to the above-mentioned law while they exercise what
they see as their bottom-line right to choose whom they sell to.
End result: UK buyers
won't have much luck shopping on the continent. You might have better luck
outside Belgium and Holland and Germany, whose low prices and proximity
to the Britain have attracted the bulk of British buyers and whose dealers
have thus prepared to fend you off. But of course travel costs mount as you
look elsewhere, red-tape tends to be worse, and language difficulties may
be more likely. Best for now to go through a broker.
Surely as the European market unifies further, individual UK residents
will find more success buying on the continent, but likely in turn the
price disparities and thus the savings will decrease. If you do succeed by one means or another
in buying a car on the continent and you register it for export, you will
qualify for tax exemption
in the country of purchase simply by using the car before you export it;
a drive from delivery point to port suffices. You'll also need an
insurance cover note for the journey; typically a £40 premium.
Your Customs will want to see proof that the vehicle is yours, that it is
insured, and that you have used it abroad. You'll be given a month to pay
the VAT. Of course you'll have to register the car at home and apply for a
tax disc. For more info there are at least two useful booklets out there.
How to Permanently Import Your Vehicle into Great Britain is
available from your local registration office or by ringing 0171 202 4087.
Value Added Tax Motor VehiclesIntra-EC Movements By Private
Persons is available from HM Customs and Excise, Central Processing
Unit, Parcel Post Depot, Charlton Green, Dover, Kent CT 16 1EH.
Lead-free fuel is now almost universally available in Europe. Therefore
you should experience no problems driving a vehicle with a catalytic converter. Still,
if your itinerary is unusual, ask if you should wait until you return home to have
the catalytic converter fitted; the manufacturer will pay for such delayed
installations. Waive the installation of expensive and removable options like CD
players: theft of such accessories is common
across Europe and notorious at sea ports. Although most marine insurance covers
the theft of these items, settling claims can be a pain. Otherwise choose every useful option that doesn't boost the price out of your budget. When you try to sell the vehicle a few years later you'll get a better price. Just three years ago ABS, airbags, central door locking and power steering were quite rare. Now they are standard. Shy away from special-edition models, however. These are differentiated by extras that add little utility, such as spoilers, light alloy wheels and sporty pin striping. When you try to sell such a vehicle people will compare the price with tables listing the prices of standard vehicles.
Before you close the deal get
the price and delivery date in writing, insisting that the price be fixed on the date of the order. Ask that the seller's responsibility in the event delivery is delayed be clearly expressed and put in writing. At the very least you should ask the manufactuer pay
for your lodging if a delay requires you to wait. Finally, confirm the date with the factory.
You need to address several more points before you hit the road with
your brand-new vehicle. Upon taking delivery insist on receiving a detailed invoice (and registration, if you aren't registering the vehicle yourself). Tell the clerk that you have a first-aid
kit and warning triangle: these are expensive to buy at the factory or dealership. Next be sure everything on and in the vehicle (including the jack
) works and that you know how to work them. Check the lug wrench. Check
the spare tire. Check the fluids. Fuel at the factory or dealership is expensive; get the
minimum amount necessary.
After you finish driving the vehicle in Europe, you'll just drop it off at the
designated site. (Before doing this, however, you need to educate yourself about
shipping issues; I discuss these in the next chapter.) You probably won't see your vehicle
again until you pick it up later at
a local port or dealership in your home country.
Brokers tend to offer cheaper deals than the manufacturer's
representativesdealers or otherwisein your country.
As for your local dealer, he'll initially discourage you from taking delivery
abroad, but once he realizes that you're serious,
he should happily assist: the dealership probably won't make money on an
overseas delivery, but, inevitably, they'll profit
by performing the maintenance on the vehicle and by gaining a customer who is
more likely to buy from them in the future.
Below is a list of brokers. It's worth checking out what each has to offer.
Here's a list of the US offices of European
If you bring home a vehicle that doesn't satisfy your country's emissions,
safety and bumper standards, you'll fight a maze of paperwork and pay for expensive
shipping, Customs and conversion fees. Despite all these costs, you can still
realize bargain savings. Bargains endure because European-version models run the
gamut from plain and moderately powerful to luxurious and faster than hell; while
the models marketed outside Europe tend to be on the luxurious and racy end of
the spectrum. Of course with lower-end models come lower sticker prices. And
most new European-version models come with a kill switch installed, making the
vehicle very difficult to steal. But be careful not
to buy a vehicle whose body style is not safety-approved by your country.
BMW's Z-1 roadster, for example, is illegal in
the US no matter what emissions and bumper modifications are done to it.
Lower sticker prices are not the only savings you
can realize: over time, lower-end models tend to require smaller and less frequent
expenditures on maintenance and fuel.
Still, shipping and importing a vehicle is very tricky business. As such, I
devote the next chapter to the subject.
Big Savings at Import Time
Whether the vehicle you import does or does not satisfy your country's
emissions, safety and bumper standards, you may be able to realize further savings.
To illustrate one component of these potential savings let's take the example
of a hypothetical US citizen takes delivery of a Volvo
C70 Light Turbo Auto Coupe Turbo in Europe and thus pays US$33,970 instead of the US$37,570 he
would've paid to his hometown dealer. In addition, citizens of the US must pay a 6
percent luxury tax on the amount of a vehicle's
cost that's over US$36,000. Therefore, our US citizen saves US$3600 on the
purchase price and another US$94 in of luxury tax$3694 in all. As with customs
duty and sales tax, the US government calculates luxury tax based on the price paid
for the vehicle minus the depreciation it
incurs abroad. Therefore, even if your vehicle is slightly above the US$32,000 mark, you
can bring it under the threshold by driving it
a sufficient distance in Europe.
As for depreciation, it's your responsibility to claim a certain amount and
to back up your claim with a reasonable argument: the government won't volunteer
to downgrade the value of your vehicle. You can calculate the depreciation of your
vehicle using whichever generally accepted accounting method suits you.
However, the best method for a car that's less than
a year old is the 200 percent declining balance (or double declining balance)
method, which lets you depreciate a car's value by a full
20 percent regardless of whether it's been driven for only a day or for up to
355. To prove the value of your vehicle you need to provide documentation of the
price you paid for it, the date of the purchase,
and the corresponding odometer reading. Although the methods for calculating
depreciation are defined in terms of time only (based on the assumption that the
average vehicle is driven 14,000 miles per year), Customs officials will take distance
and damage into consideration.
The mention of damage brings up a noteworthy point. If during your trip
the vehicle you buy and plan to import becomes damaged but remains drivable,
wait to have the repairs done until after you return home (assuming you don't have
to stay in Europe to settle the claim). The damage will make the vehicle's
dutiable and taxable value just that much less. In such a case, of course, you'll need to
provide a police report to prove that the damage occurred after you purchased the
In addition to the subtraction for depreciation, US Customs allows citizens
to subtract their and their accompanying family members' standard US$400 Customs
exemptions from the dutiable value of the vehicle. With the value of the vehicle
finally determined, US Customs applies a flat duty rate of 10 percent toward the
first US$1000 before applying one of the following rates to the remaining amount:
2.5 percent for autos, 3.7 percent for motorcycles up to 700 cc, and 25 percent
for trucks valued at US$1000 or more.
US citizens employed abroad or government employees returning on TDY
or voluntary leave may import a foreign-made vehicle free of duty provided they enter
the US for a short visit, claim non-resident status, and export the vehicle when
they leave. Military and civilian employees of the US government returning at the end
of an assignment to extended duty outside the Customs territory of the US may include
a conforming vehicle among their duty-free personal and household effects. The
vehicle must have been purchased abroad and been in its owner's possession prior
to departure. Generally, extended duty is considered to be duty lasting 140 days or more.
Some states and territories may consider vehicles to be
used if they were kept abroad for a certain amount of time
before importation (the usual threshold is ninety days). Because some of these states
and territories don't place a sales tax on used vehicles, you may be able to avoid such
a tax by keeping your vehicle in Europe for a few extra days. Contact your local
department of motor vehicles to determine the exact taxing policies concerning
Apart from the luxury tax, the US government imposes no federal tax on
post-1985 automobiles that have a combined fuel-economy rating of at least 22.5
miles per gallon; other vehicles, however, may be subject to a federal gas-guzzler tax.
Private Party or Dealer?
Unless you buy a vehicle direct from a manufacturer or broker, you'll have to
decide whether to buy from a private individual or from a dealer. As I
mentioned earlier, the vehicle you buy in Europe
will be subject to VAT unless you register it for export. Technically, this means that
used vehicles bought from individuals are also subject to VAT. In other words, the
seller should calculate the VAT, include it in the selling price, and eventually pay the
tax portion of the selling price to the government. As you might expect, however,
in many cases private sellers neither include the VAT in the selling price nor report
the sale to the government. Thus one advantage of buying from a private seller is
that you may be able to avoid much if not all of the VAT. Moreover, vehicles
available from individuals are usually cheaper
than those available from dealers, regardless of tax considerations.
You can find such vehicles for sale on the streets (especially around
universities), through ads in the classifieds, through
bulletins posted on community or university boards, at auto flea markets, at police
and post office sales, and at US military bases.
Although private parties may offer lower prices on vehicles, dealers may
offer warranties and services which more than compensate for their higher prices.
Some dealers, for example, can authorize repairs at facilities throughout Europe; and
they may even offer to reimburse you for such repairs. Furthermore, some dealers offer
to buy-backunder certain termsthe vehicles they sell; these dealers are
most likely to offer a warranty and good service. Finally, most dealers will also help
you insure and register any vehicle you buy from them.
You're likely to be asked to pay in cash if you buy from a private
individual. But if you don't want to walk around
with tons of cash on you, there are other options. You may be able to make a wire transfer
of funds from your account back home into the account of the seller; before you
go abroad, ask your bank what's involved. Many sellers will accept traveler's
checks since these give you the same credibility
as a certified check. And some dealerships may even let you use a charge card such
as the American Express card
See Appendix B of this chapter for a discussion about how to evaluate a
vehicle. And see the Preventive Maintenance
chapter to learn how to perform proper preventive maintenance on your vehicle.
But which is the best European country or city in which to buy and/or sell
a vehicle? The answer, of course, largely depends on you and your itinerary.
Still, the grand-scale state of Europe's
automotive market is worth analyzing here.
Despite the ongoing homogenization of the general European market,
striking disparities persist within Europe's
automotive market. European Community law stipulates that EC citizens are free to
buy and sell vehicles in any EC country and at the local prices. But by making it
difficult to permanently import a foreign vehicle and by keeping the public in the dark
about the price disparities, cabals consisting of national governments and their pet
domestic manufacturers have successfully discouraged cross-border shopping.
What's more, European automotive manufacturers wield maximum leverage in the
market because auto dealers in Europe tend to sell the products of just one or another
manufacturer. As such the dealers don't play the mediating role that they otherwise
would. The widely varying taxes imposed by the various countries add another twist to
the price disparities. In high-tax countries such as Denmark and Holland, manufacturers typically
reduce the wholesale price to dealers so the overall retail cost will remain affordable.
Thus you can take advantage of not only the after-tax price
disparities but also the before-tax disparities.
However, in some countiresAustria, Denmark, and the Netherlands, for examplenon
residents cannot buy auto insurance. This makes it impossible for a you to register
a vehicle in these countries unless you first secure insurance from a company at
home or in, say, Germany. But you don't necessarily have to register the vehicle
right away: you can ask the owner to give you written permission to drive the vehicle
for a specific time under his or her insurance and registration, giving you the
leeway you need to insure and register the vehicle in another country.
Italy is another special case: it's illegal for non residents to buy a vehicle
in Italy unless it's registered for export.
Naturally businesses have cropped which exploit the above disparities. So-called re-importers buy vehicles in European Union countries where prices are relatively low and sell them in the European countries where prices are high. Many re-importers sell in Germany. Auto Bild, which is published there every Friday, routinely lists names and addresses of re-importers as well as agents in other countries who will ship vehicles to order. Often you can save as much as 35 percent on the price of a German new car re-imported from Portugal, Spain or Denmark. Automakers don't like this business, of course, but in Germany, for instance, dealers are required by law to honor the one-year factory warranty on BMWs, Audis and VWs that have been re-imported from Italy, France or Spain. In the last three years, re-imports have become so popular that German automakers raised the prices of their cars abroadespecially in Italy where most of the re-imports originate.
Perhaps unique to Germany is the institution of the Jahreswagen. These are vehicles which have been sold at a discount to automaker employees and their dealers and which in turn are sold a year or so later at further discount. These tend to be in excellent condition. Both dealers and automakers provide lists of available Jahreswagen. (Ask for Jahreswagen-Vermittlung.) The German BMW website in our links offers an interactive page dedicated to the listing and sale of Jahreswagen. Also, actual Jahreswagen markets are held.
Along with sales price, factors such as geographic location, the English skills
of the population, the quality of the vehicle population, the ease of insuring and
registering a vehicle, the cost of airfare, and
the typical traveler's itinerary have conspired to make Britain and
Germany by far the most popular places for non Europeans to conduct the business
of buying and selling a vehicle in Europe. Therefore I'll culminate this chapter by describing in detail how to buy a vehicle in
London and in Germany.
But before I focus on these three specific places, I'll discuss the topic of selling
a vehicle in Europe. Since the selling process virtually mirrors the buying process,
I need to make only a few specific points about selling.
For one thing, the spring season amounts to a seller's market; while the
fall season amounts to a buyer's market. For another, it
is legal to sell a vehicle outside the country you bought it in; though
because the buyer in another countryif a citizen of that
countrymay have to deal with substantial hassles and expenses
associated with importing a vehicle, it
may be easier and more lucrative to sell
the vehicle in the country where it's registered. Of course, if you plan to sell
your vehicle to a traveler who'll register it like you didas a tourist's
vehicleimportation won't be an issue.
The case of Germany, however, demands special attention. The German
government will force a citizen who buys a German-registered, tourist's vehicle to
pay the registration fees that the government originally waived for the tourist. And
regardless of where the vehicle is registered the German citizen must immediately
submit a tourist-registered vehicle to a meticulous inspection of its mechanical and
structural integrity (a "TÜV" inspection).
The citizen must pay to fix any significant flaws discovered by this
inspectionincluding rusty body parts. On the other hand,
the German government waives the registration fees and
TÜV inspection for non Germans who buy a vehicle from a
tourist. Thus, Germans will tend to offer much
less for your vehicle than will non Germans. It's also worth noting that
German-made vehicles are in high demand outside
Turning to London, consider running a free add in the
Loot, London's most popular classified ad paper (tel.
01891 888888; deadline at 2:00 p.m. each day); or in
Exchange and Mart (tel. 01202 671 171, FAX 202 678 156) or
Auto Trader (tel. 0181 543 8000), two other weeklies.
Three other effective mediums may be Southern
Cross magazine (tel. 0171 376 0211, FAX 0171 938 4943; deadline for
Wednesday publication is noon on Monday), TNT
Magazine (tel. 0171 937 3985; deadline for Monday publication is noon on
Thursday), and New Zealand News UK (tel.
0171 930 6451, FAX 0171 930 8780; deadline for Wednesday publication is noon
on Monday); all three are weeklies that cater specifically to Aussie and Kiwi
travelers. (Don't dial the leading 0 if calling
from outside Britain.)
If you place such an ad, do so several weeks in advance, explaining when
you'll be in town and asking interested parties to mail their name, address and phone
number to you at the American Express office (if you have an American Express Card
or traveler's checks) or some other address where you can receive mail.
Of course you can always sell your vehicle to a dealer, but you probably
won't get a good price.
If you want to buy a vehicle in Europe and drive it around the continent and/or
Britain before selling it, several factors combine to make London an
excellent starting and/or ending point for your
trip: (1) English is the native language, so all transactions will be that much easier
for you; (2) the "tube" (or subway)
renders London's motor-vehicle market easily accessible; (3) London is home to a
truly phenomenonal, concentrated and thriving market where campervans (or
"combis") and motorhomes change hands
between spirited travelers, mostly Aussies and Kiwis (or "combi trippers"), who are
beginning or finishing their grand tours; (4) several automotive repair and
insurance services in London cater specifically to combi trippers; and (5) as I detail near
the end of the Itinerary Planning
chapter, London is the best place to start and end
a grand tour regardless of your mode of transportation.
On the downside, right-hand-drive vehicles (steering wheel on the right,
gear shift on your left) make up the bulk of London's vehicle population. Driving
a right-hand-drive vehicle on the continent makes it extremely difficult to pass
other vehicles unless you have a passenger in the left front seat who is acting as your eyes
or unless you're driving a vehicle that has a seat high enough to let you see
over the majority of vehicles. Furthermore, you
must adjust the headlights of a right-hand-drive vehicle before taking it to the
continent. Although a headlight conversion kit,
containing specially shaped adhesive black plastic that sticks to the glass and alters
the direction of the beam, will make this procedure easy; such kits are widely
available in Europe. It may be legal to drive your right-hand-drive vehicle on the
continent, but transporting it over or under the
English Channel will cost you more than simple passenger fare. Finally, note
that the vehicle population in England is of poorer quality than the vehicle
populations of the Netherlands and Germany.
If you want to know how to get from here to there in London, get a
Mini London AZ Street Atlas and Index; it's used
religiouslyeven by the residents. The Atlas illustrates and indexes every street,
alleyway, tube line and tube stop in London. You can pick up an
Atlas in one of the countless shops and bookstores in
London or from a bookstore in your country.
Before you search London for the perfect vehicle, you need to understand
what an MOT certificate is. To keep dangerous vehicles off the road the British Ministry
of Transport (MOT) subjects every vehicle to an annual inspection. If a vehicle
passes inspection, the MOT issues a certificate to the owner. Make sure the vehicle
you're considering has such certification. If you plan to either keep the vehicle in Britain
or return to Britain to sell it, it's important
that the MOT certificate will be valid for the duration of your trip. If the
certification runs out, you'll have to pay for a
new inspection and any required repairs. Moreover, the longer the certification is
valid the easier it will be for you to sell the vehicle in Britain.
If it's a used van or caravan you're after, one London spot demands your
attention: a stretch of Market Road two blocks west of where it intersects Caledonia
Road just south of the Caledonia Road tube stop. As you stroll up the slight grade of
Market Road and the tops of the vans and caravans that line it begin to appearmirage-like
at first and then snapping, like a 60s flashback, into salient super reality you'll
feel the buzz of being in a truly holy place. The place is called The Van Marketthe
capital letters reflecting, apart from the aforementioned sacredness, a certain state
of organization, but an organization which arises soley from the individuals who
go there to buy and sell. Although London's city officials have forced the Market
to move from place to place over the years, countless groups of intrepid travelers
continue to sniff it out, making it, ephemeral as it is, an apotheosis of the European
budget travel scene. Most of the vans are VWs
in the US$1500 to US$3800 (£1000 to £2500)
range. Such vansif they're in excellent conditionget about 24 mpg (10 kpl). The
sellers sleep right there in their vans and caravans, showering at the adjacent tennis
club for £1.5. Of course this concentration
assumes a social dimension; indeed, it's not a bad place in which to wile away a
few days before you sell your vehicle.
Many of the buyers begin their tour in late June, crossing to Calais and
heading down the coast to Pamplona and the famous San Fermin Festival (a.k.a.,
The Running of the Bulls), where they intend to meet some of their new Market Road
buddies. Well, those buddies bring some buddies who meet up with their buddies who
. . . And out of the seven-day frenzy of drunken bovine virility that is San
Fermin come sundry convoys of van trippers, their ultimate goal to converge on and help
fertilize Munich and the Oktoberfest two-and-a-half months down the road. A
recent summer saw one such convoy grow to twenty-three vans.
The Market crowd does tend to be young, but when I happened to check it
out one October day I met a friendlyand very normalmiddled-aged
Australian couple who were selling their van after
a tour of Europe.
Of course there are also dealers in and around London. Here's a partial list.
The following company rents Honda motorcycles and sells them with a
buy-back option that promises repurchase of the vehicle at 80 percent of the
If you're looking for a car, Market Road
may be worth checking out, but you'll probably have better luck shopping
elsewhere. Try stopping in the New Zealand News UK office, address 25 in the alley
of shops just west of and running parallel to Haymarket, off Piccadilly Square. On
the board just inside the front door, travelers and others post messages
concerning, among other things, the following: vehicles for sale, vehicle insurance and
repair, travel partners, tour packages, and jobs. It's a good place to check out
regardless of your transportation plans. While in the office, you might as well pick up
free copies of New Zealand News UK and
Overseas magazine. Travel articles aimed at
the Kiwi expatriate crowd fill both and make interesting reading for any traveler.
Another free weekly publication you should grab in London is
TNT Magazine, which caters to Australian expatriates and
contains travel articles as well as classified ads listing vehicles for sale.
Southern Cross is a similar magazine; it seems to
contain more classified ads listing vans for sale than do the others. You can also check
the various papers. The best for classified ads is the
Loot, updated and available every day from newsstands. Also try
Exchange and Mart and the Auto
Trader, both published weekly. (Note that British
classified ads give odometer readings in terms of miles.) London's tube is so
comprehensive that you should have little trouble
getting to private residences to check out cars.
The following establishments will perform a thorough inspection and testing of
a vehicle before you buy it. These guys are good; unless you're a mechanical
whiz, you'd be wise to enlist their services.
As I mentioned already, you cannot register a vehicle anywhere in Europe
until you present proof of its insurance. I recommend the following insurance agency;
they act as a broker to arrange insurance from any one of a multitude of British
Also try contacting the British Automobile Association Insurance
Services, Ltd., Fanum House, Basingstoke, Hampshire RG21 2EA, England, tel.
01256 20123; or the RAC Insurance Services, Spectrum House, P.O. Box 700, Bond
St., Bristol BS99 1RB, England, tel. 01800 678000.
Apart from proof of insurance, you need to secure two other documents
before you can register a vehicle in Britain. The first document is the bill of sale.
Usually the bill is simply a hand-written note
from the seller. The note should describe the vehicle, the vehicle identification and
license numbers, and the price you paid; both parties should sign and date it.
Second, you need the Vehicle Registration Document; also get this from the seller.
If the registration document is in the process of being replaced at the time of sale,
you can apply for a free Certificate of Registration (form
V379) at the local Vehicle Registration Office. European
governments recognize this certificate in place of
the registration document; you should keep it in the vehicle always. Unless your
insurer tells you otherwise, take the bill of sale
and the Vehicle Registration Document to the Department of Transport, Vehicle
Registration Office, 1 Zoar Street, London SE1 OSY, near the London Bridge tube
station. This office will present you with a
Certificate of Registrationproof that you own your vehicle. You'll have to register
the vehicle for a minimum of six months and pay a minimum registration fee (or
"road tax" as the Brits call it) of £72.50
(US$US110). This fee is refundable in proportion to
the amount of time you spend outside Britain during the registration period.
For the following reasons, Germany is an attractive country in which to buy a
vehicle: (1) most people in Germany speak fluent English; (2) Germans tend to
take excellent care of their vehicles; (3)
each vehicle is subject to an extremely thorough inspection every two years; (4) the
many US military installations in Germany amount to good places in or around
which to buy and sell vehicles; (5) virtually all vehicles in Germany are designed for
driving on the right side of the road; and (6) Germany is centrally located on the
Like the governments of Britain and the Netherlands, the German
government requires vehicle owners to regularly submit their vehicles for inspection. New vehicles are checked after three years, and after that every two. However, unlike the analogous inspections conducted by Britain and the
Netherlands, Germany's inspection evaluates a vehicle not only on the basis of the threat
it poses to public safety but also on the threat it poses to the reputation of German
engineering and manufacturing and to the German sensibility. In fact, a
vehicle showing rust will fail. The Germans call their inspection a
"Technischer Überwachungsverein" or
"TÜV". The basic TÜV, fee is about EUR30.
The government stamps the due date of the
next inspection on the rear license plate of each vehicle. In classified ads,
"TÜV 5/04" means that the buyer must submit the
vehicle for inspection in May 2004. In Germanyagain, unlike in Britain and
the Netherlandsa vehicle registered to a tourist will not become subject to
government inspection unless someone buys it and
registers it as a permanent German vehicle instead of a tourist's vehicle. This policy
is so because Germany assumes that any tourist registering a vehicle will export
the vehicle from Germany. Thus you have one reason to buy a vehicle whose
TÜV inspection is imminent: the German citizen
selling the vehicle will be trying to avoid the cost of a new inspection and therefore
will tend to offer a good selling price. Of
course, buying such a vehicle can also work
against you. Such a vehicle represents a greater risk because almost two years will
have gone by since it last passed a TÜV.
And unless you plan to ship the vehicle home or sell it to another traveleror to
someone else who won't register it in Germanythe same phenomenon that you
originally took advantage of will erase any
savings you realized in the purchase price; in
other words, you'll have to lower the price commensurate with the impending
inspection. Because, as I explained earlier, you
should avoid selling the vehicle to someone who must re-register it in Germany, this
second point doesn't carry as much weight as you might think it would. Apart from the
TÜV document, there's another document that can clue you in on the mechanical
integrity of a vehicle. That document is the ownership book, or
Kraftfahrzeugbrief, that the manufacturer issues with each new
vehicle. The ownership book lists all the past owners
and any major repairs done to the vehicle.
But where to find the vehicles? Frankfurt, being a hub for Lufthansa, is a
popular point of entry into Germany. There are many showrooms on
Hanauer Landstraße and Minzer Landstraße.
For no hassles comparison shopping, stop by a few big dealerships on Sundays: they'll let you look at the vehicles but aren't allowed to try selling them to you. Shopping around may pay off, as prices within Germany vary by as much as 15 percent. Most dealers' profit margins come in at 15 percent as well. As another option remember the re-importers I discussed earlier, and the Auto Bild publication which comes out every Friday and lists them. And don't forget the Jahreswagen phenomenon I described early on.
University towns amount to good places in which to buy a cheap vehicle.
All students know English; and if you throw in a promise to mail them a Green Bay
Packers or Toronto Blue Jays or Wallabies or All Blacks T-shirt, they're likely to
help you get the vehicle insured and registered. Note that the university school year
in Germany runs from mid October to mid July. Go to the student union, the
Mensa, and look for a bulletin board with
vehicle ads posted on it. Also check the streets around the university. The German
equivalent of "For Sale" is "Zu
Verkaufen". You'll find a flock of
VW cars for sale in front of the Art Institute on the
Hardenbergstraße in Berlin. Because of its historic
interest, large university, and nearby US military bases,
Heidelberg is a good place in
which to base your search. Note, however, military bases amount to better places for
selling a vehicle than for buying one; the soldiers tend to ask more and pay more
for vehicles than do the German citizens. Munich is another university town
replete with historic and cultural attractions.
Vehicles up for sale line Munich's Leopoldstraße just past the Siegestor
Arch in the Schwabing section of town. And used vans and caravans are usually up
for sale at Munich's wonderful Thalkirchen campground. Moreover,
Munich's Bodensee Straße (street) harbors one of
the largest concentrations of camper dealers in Europe. The following towns and cities
are home to large universities as well: Bonn, Bremen, Cologne, Dusseldorf,
Frankfurt, Freiburg, Goettingen, Hamburg,
Hannover, Karlsruhe, Mannheim, Marburg, Meersburg, Nurenburg,
Stuttgart, Tuebingen, Ujm, and Wurzburg.
Auto flea markets take place each weekend in many cities. Because the
transactions that occur at these markets do, in fact, occur between individuals, you
may be able to avoid the VAT by buying at such a market. Usually these markets take
place on the grounds of outdoor movie theaters near the edges of cities or towns. If this
is the case the market is an Autokino
Markt, kino being the German word for a
movie theater. Otherwise, the market is a
Private Automarkte or AUTOPRIVAT. You'll
be charged a small fee to enter these markets. Ask at local tourist offices or service
stations about the times and locations of upcoming markets. German police and
postal services hold auctions several times a
year. Vehicles sold at these auctions can go at unbelievably low prices. Call or stop by
the local German police or post office and ask about such auctions.
There are also the Jahreswagen markets.
To read the classifieds, you must know some German. Table Buying.1 is an
alphabetically ordered list of terms that are typical
in car ads. (Of course, German classified ads present odometer readings in terms of
kilometers. Remember that 1.67 kilometers equal one mile.) If you see the
letters "gew" in an ad, it means a dealer
placed the ad; the word "privat" means an
individual placed it. In VW ads the word
"export" does not mean the vehicle is up
to export standards; rather, it designates a luxury model. By the way, it may help
you to know that ß in the German alphabet
is pronounced "ss", not "b".
Table Buying.1 Typical Words Used in German Car Ads.
|1 Hd. ||one owner
|3 Leigen ||camper has 3 beds
|50 PS ||50 horsepower
|68tkm ||68,000 kilometers
|ATM ||new motor
|Bestzustand ||very good condition
|Bj. 84 ||Built in 1984
|Dachst. ||pop-up roof
|einwandfreier Zust. ||mint condition
|Gasheizg. ||gas heater
|guter techn. und opt. Zust. ||excellent condition
|Hubdach ||pop-up roof
|in gut. Zust ||in good shapeV
|mit zusatzlicher Campingeinrichtung ||additional camping equipment included
|Neu bereift ||new tires
|Neu bremse ||new brakes
|Neu kuppelung ||new clutch
|TÜV 95 ||Next inspection due in 1995
|TÜV neu ||just inspected
|TÜV uberpruft ||TUV inspected
|VB ||asking price
|VB 20% unter neupreiss ||asking 20 percent under the new price
|VW Automat ||VW Automatic
|VW Kafer ||VW bug
|viele extr. ||many extras
|wie neu ||as new
Watch out for catalytic converters. Since July 1, 1997, automobile taxes have tripled for vehicles that don't have a G-Kat (geregelter Katalysator), and penalty taxes are expected to rise in line with new environmental legislation making its way through Brussels.
Regardless of how you go about buying your vehicle, note the phone
number used to place classified ads. If you decide to sell your vehicle in Germany, you
can place an ad in the paper before you return.
Of course you'll need to insure a vehicle before you can register it. The
word that designates insurance in German is
Versicherungs. Of the myriad insurance companies in Germany, most can deal
in English. Some insurance companies, in fact, cater largely to US military
personnel. German auto-insurance providers, however, do not base premiums on vehicle
or driver age but, rather, on vehicle horsepower and the length of time a driver
has held his or her license. What's more, some companies charge higher premiums
If you buy a vehicle from a German dealer, the dealer will have the proper
vehicle-registration forms and can fill them out
for you. You'll need to show him your passport (stamped with your residence
permit, Aufenthaltserlaubnis), if you officially reside in Germany);
proof of the vehicle's insurance; and, again
if you officially reside in Germany, your residence registration
(Anmeldebestauml;tigung) stamped by the appropriate residence-registration
Otherwise, apply for the vehicle-registration forms at the local
Kraftfahrzeug-Zulassungsstelle (or Kfz-Zulassungsstelle,
Motor Vehicles Department)
In Frankfurt this office is at Am Römerhof 19,
near the Rebstock Bad and the Rödelheim intersection, tel. 069 212 42 750.
Probably somebody at the Department will be able to speak English.
(Note if you live in Germany: German license plate numbers always begin with
a letter or letters designating the community where the vehicle is registered,
so you must register it where you live.)
With the registration forms in hand and filled in, it's time to
go get your license plates at the Motor Vehicles Department mentioned above.
Bring along the vehicle and all those documents I just described,
plus your driving license(s) and three more documents:
the Kaufvertag, the
Kraftfahrzeugbrief, and the
Kraftfahrzeugschein. Buyer and
seller must sign the Kaufvertagthe contract
of sale. Stationary shops sell this simple form, but usually the
seller supplies it. Each
party should keep a copy. The
Kraftfahrzeugbrief proves ownership of the vehicle and
lists each owner, but the seller doesn't sign it. The
Kraftfahrzeugschein is another ownership document and is
meant to be kept it in the vehicle.
If you are a tourist, you should request Zollnummer or tourist plates:
registering a vehicle
under such plates allows you to avoid German registration fees.
The clerk will ask you
to fill out a few forms; the department officials will conduct a cursory
inspection of your vehicle (not a full TÜV inspection);
you'll pay a nominal fee; and you'll receive the proper
papersincluding your vehicle's tourist-specific registration,
Zulassungsschein, if you've registered as such. If you have
obtained tourist-registration, the clerk will have cut off the lower
right corner of the
Kraftfahrzeugbrief, invalidating it based on the assumption
that you will export the vehicle. Keep this document if you plan to sell the vehicle
in Germany. Finally, go to the local Customs office (the clerk will tell
you where it is) and pick up your tourist plates. German Customs will
charge a nominal fee for the plates, but the fee is refundable if you
return the plates in good condition.
Germany does of course impose a tax on motor vehicles. When you register
your vehicle, "application" for this tax will automatically be made. This is
a road tax and is levied once a year on all vehicles. You pay the tax to your
local Finanzamt if you reside in Germany.
Vehicles registered for export do not suffer this tax.
The tax amount depends on the vehicle's size and environmental impact.
Although I present in this chapter a substantial if not sufficient amount of
information about how to buy, insure, register and sell a vehicle in Europe, you may
be wise to search out more information from more sources before you embark on
such an enterprise. Certainly before you leave for Europe you should confirm with
the appropriate government department, embassy or consulate all crucial points that
are uniquely subject to change at the hands of governmentimporting/exporting
policies being a primary example. To hunt down contacts not listed herein, try calling
your local libraries and asking if they stock a phone book and/or newspaper from
the city or country you plan to buy a vehicle in. Because university libraries cater to
foreign students, they're likely to have such resources. Using the relevant yellow
pages, you can look up the addresses and phone numbers of auto-insurance companies
and auto dealers; using the relevant newspaper or newspapers, you can study the
classified ads to determine the deals being offered
by dealers and individuals. To find a particular phone number, it'll be easier if you
call the relevant tourist office, embassy, or national chamber of commerce: they
usually stock directories. The US Armed Force's
newspaper Stars and Stripes (tel. 703 697 6695 in the US; tel. 06155 601
349/447 civilian, tel. 348 8349/8447 military, FAX 0429 29332 in Germany) is an
excellent source for classified ads in English.
Unfortunately, the paper is not distributed in the US. But if you call the US number
listed above, the staff may send you some recent classified-ads sections free of charge.
You can also check the classifieds in the Army
Times, tel. 800 424 9335 or 703 750 8900.
You might want to compare the prices charged for vehicles in Europe to the
prices charged for the same vehicles near your home. In the US the
N.A.D.A. Official Used Car Guide and the "Blue
Book"both available at libraries and
bankswill help in this comparison. Note, however, that European models may differ in
composition if not in name from the models marketed in North America; if you
have questions concerning such a discrepancy, call the manufacturer.
Appendix A Evaluating a Motor Vehicle
When a vehicle catches your eye, evaluate it as I describe below. If the owner
can easily help you complete this evaluation, he or she is probably a responsible
owner with a good mechanical understanding of the vehicle; in other words, he or she
probably took good care of it.
When the engine is cold, open the
radiator cap and inspect the coolant; it shouldn't be rusty colored. Also,
greenish-white stains on the radiator cap suggest pinholes and the prospect of growing
Look for dark stains or puddles underneath the vehicle: they indicate leaks
from the cooling system, transmission, or engine. Other bad signs include
excessive residue of lubricants on the engine,
transmission, hoses or other under-the-hood components.
Rust, if it eats through the vehicle,
can let deadly exhaust fumes inside. And if left unchecked, rust can compromise the
structural integrity of the body and suspension. Lift one of the front floor carpets to
check the condition of the sheet metal underneath. Inspect other vulnerable areas
such as wheel wells and rocker panels, the door edges, and the trunk floor. If you place
a small magnet against these areas, you can tell if plastic putty patches cover rust
or accident damage.
Fresh welds in the underbody, ripply body
work, a part whose color or fit doesn't seem quite right, new
paint on a late-model vehicle, or fresh undercoating on
an old vehicle testify that it's has been in an accident.
A vehicle with 31,000 kilometers or less should have its original
tires; new tires may indicate an odometer that's been
tampered with. Uneven tread wear indicates an accident or poor wheel alignment.
Uneven tread on the front tires may signal serious suspension damage.
Grab the top of each tire and shake it; if you feel play or hear a clunking
sound, suspect loose or worn wheel bearings or suspension joints. Look behind the
front wheels of front-wheel-drive vehicles to check the covers on the
universal joints: torn or missing covers are expensive
Check the shock absorbers by pushing down hard at each corner of the
vehicle and then letting go. If the vehicle needs more than one rebound to level off,
the shock absorbers may be worn.
Step back about ten feet (three meters) and check if one side is lower than
the other. Do the same looking perpendicular to the long axis of the vehicle, noting if
the front or rear sags. A lopsided vehicle may need new
A saggy driver's seat suggests heavy use. On a low-kilometer vehicle the
pedals shouldn't be brand new or worn flat.
Musty odors in the vehicle suggest a water
leak that may be hard to find and costly to fix.
When you drive the vehicle, roll the windows down and turn the radio/stereo
off so you can better hear any odd noises. You shouldn't have to push the brake
pedal any further than three inches above the floor to stop the vehicle. Speed up to 60
kph on a flat stretch of road; apply the
brakes firmly, without locking the wheels;
repeat: the vehicle should stop quickly and in a straight line. With the engine idling,
press firmly on the brake pedal for thirty seconds. The pedal should feel firm and
steady; if it sinks to the floor or feels spongy,
the hydraulic brake system may be leaking.
A clutch that doesn't engage smoothly could signal trouble. The pedal
shouldn't have more than two inches (four and a
half centimeters) of play. You can test the clutch by turning on the vehicle, setting the
parking brake, and slowly letting out the clutch as if to drive away; if the vehicle
stalls without the clutch slipping, it's a good sign.
Test the transmission by going through all the gears. At the point that
you would shift up to the next gear, don't
shift up. Instead, take your foot off the accelerator; if the transmission pops out of any
gear upon deceleration, it's faulty. Do this in reverse gear too. If the clutch doesn't
engage until the pedal is all the way up or if the pedal doesn't have an inch or so of
free play at the top, you could face an expensive clutch job.
An automatic transmission shouldn't slam into gear or slip as you drive. With
the engine warmed up, let it idle in Park. Inspect the dipstick for the
transmission fluid; the fluid should be reddish, with
a faint odor of chestnuts. A dark brown color, a rancid smell, or metal particles on
the dipstick signal trouble.
With the engine warm, accelerate to about 60 kph, take your foot off the
accelerator for a few seconds, and then accelerate fast. A friend should be with
you, watching out the rear window. Black exhaust may mean only that the fuel
system needs adjusting, but blue exhaust means that the vehicle is an oil-burnerthe
engine will probably have to be rebuilt or replaced. Persistent billowy white
exhaust means coolant is getting into the engine's combustion chambers, probably through
a blown gasket or a crack in the cylinder head or engine block. (But white
vapory exhaust upon start-up on a damp, frosty morning is nothing to worry about.)
The vehicle should hold the road nicely.
Steering should be smooth and precise, without much free play or
vibration. Have your friend stand behind you in the road, watching as you drive
straight ahead (if possible through a puddle so
you can just look at the wet tire tracks to see if the front and rear wheels travel precisely
in line); if the vehicle sidles along like a crab, an accident has probably bent the body
or frame; give up on such a vehicle. If the vehicle's steering just pulls to one
side, however, a wheel alignment may be all that's needed.
Here are some other important things to determine when you test a vehicle.
With campers, check if there's a built-in, two-burner stove with a
detachable propane tank. Besides being convenient and odorless, propane refills are
obtainable all over Europe at stores, service stations and campgrounds. An electric
refrigerator would be another plus in a camper.
shipping to/from europe
For purposes of economy, much of the discussion in this chapter assumes
that you're a US citizen. Still, the majority of the principles and a substantial amount
of the details here presented in terms of the US apply to citizens of other countries
as well. I begin the chapter by discussing the pros and cons of shipping a vehicle
to Europe. Then, I describe how a US
citizen can import a vehicle that does not meet
US standards. In the last section of the chapter, I explain how to arrange shipping.
Any person planning to ship a vehicle should read that last section.
Shipping Your Car, Van or Motorhome to Europe
Shipping your own car, van or motorhome to Europe and then bringing it back by freighter will cost at least US$3000 return.
One interesting alternative to freighters is Cunard Line's
Queen Elizabeth 2. This grand passenger ship
accepts vehicles as accompanied baggage. The cheapest way to get your vehicle over
on the QE2 is to opt for the so-called
Relocation Package. That is, one-way passage on the
QE2 in at least a C5 cabin, with one-way vehicle passage and passage for up
to two pets included in the fare. (Nothing can be stored in the vehicle.) For a
double occupancy C5 cabin this would cost US$3823, US$4173 or US$4603 per person, during the
low (April and early May sailings), shoulder (late May, early June and
November sailings) and high (late June through
October sailings) seasons, respectively. No cabin mates are assigned, so double
occupancy means your party must pay for the whole cabin. For a single occupancy
C5 cabin the cost would be US$5763, US$6293 or US$6963.
This offer of included vehicle passage substitutes for the one-way airline
ticket that otherwise accompanies a one-way ticket on the
QE2. The airline ticket covers travel between London and New
York, with connections to 117 cities in North America for an additional US$275, US$375
or US$475, depending on whether it's an eastern, central or western city; there's a
further option to fly the supersonic Concorde one way between London or Paris
and New York as part of the package or at a reduced fare. Air Package fares are
available for all cabin classes, not just the C5 and above, and so can be considerably
less than Relocation Package fares. Apart from the Relocation Package, there is no
option to travel one way on the QE2 without
in effect paying for the airline ticket; you either use the air ticket or lose it.
If you opt for a one-way Air Package but still bring your vehicle, Cunard
will charge about US$2550 for the vehicle if it's no more than 5500 pounds, US$1195 if it's
a motorcycle. During low season the minimum cost of doing this will be
$4840, which means the flight to New York in effect costs you about US$1000an
expensive flight. If you travel return, the cheapest cabin fares are US$2963, US$3203 and
$3513 per person for double occupancy (again, depending on the season); US$4713,
$5133 or US$5653 for single occupancy. You pay the fare for the higher season of the
two crossings. Cunard will tack on US$4120 for a vehicle not over 5500 pounds to
travel return, and double the one-way rate for motorcycles. The cheapest cost for
traveling return and shipping a car both ways is US$8063 double occupancy, US$9813
Rates vary for vehicles that weigh between 5501 and 8000 pounds.
Cunard accepts no vehicle weighing over 8000 pounds or exceeding any of the
following dimensions: 6 feet high, 20 feet long, or
6 feet wide. All vehicles must be thoroughly steam cleaned just prior to being placed
on the ship. And a vehicle cannot have more than just enough fuel in its tank than
safely will get it to a fuel station after
disembarking; this translates to, say, no more
than one-quarter tank. Marine insurance is available for US$1.53 per US$100 value of the
vehicle. Bicycles cost US$45 each way; dogs, US$500; cats, US$300; birds, US$200.
All QE2 fares include your onboard meals and entertainment. The
QE2 makes the five-day crossing from New York
to Southampton, England, twice a month from April to October and much less
frequently during the remainder of the year. Space
on the QE2 is limited however, so make
reservations well before your sailing date. You can contact Cunard Line at 555 Fifth
Avenue, New York, NY 10017-2453, tel. 800 7-CUNARD or 212 880 7545 or 212
880 7500, FAX 212 949 0915.
Taking a vehicle to Europe and selling it there is an option you may want
to consider. Europeans are nuts about anything that smacks of Americana.
Many Europeans would consider a Harley or a
big 'ol model from Detroit the find of a lifetime; in other words, you may get a
very good price for it. However, don't casually approach such an endeavor; you must
thoroughly investigate your responsibilities,
as well as the costs Europeans would face in buying and importing your vehicle.
Contact the Customs officer at the nearest embassy or consulate of the countries
you want to ship and import to.
Shipping a motorcycle over or back, or both, is more practical than
shipping other motor vehicles. Shipping a motorcycle to Europe costs as low as US$350
one way and is generally less than half as expensive as shipping a car. And since
a motorcycle relates more intimately to both the road and your body than does a
car, your comfort and safety depend more on the particular bike you ride than the
particular car, van or motorhome you drive: you may not get a good "fit" buying
or renting a motorcycle. In addition, motorcycle rentals in Europe are more
expensive than car rentals, averaging about US$100
per day plus mileage; and they're not easily available in every country.
Similarly, motorhomers who've converted their vehicle into their castle
may not want to pay US$170 a day to visit real castles in a modest European
surrogate. Remember, however, that a larger North American model will be significantly
more expensive to fuel and difficult to maneuver than a typical European model. And though
American manufacturers such as Airstream, Holiday Rambler, and Winnebago
maintain representatives in Europe, their networks are not impressive, and spare
parts are difficult to come by. What's more, your vehicle's electrical system won't jive
with European standards. As such, you'll need to install a transformer before you go.
If you forget to do this, a soldier at an American military base in Europe might be
nice enough to procure one for you. One of very few European companies that sell them
is Trueblood RV, Justinianstraße 22, 60322 Frankfurt, Germany, tel. 69 34 53 54.
In addition, since most European motorhomes sport chemical toilets feeding into
small removable holding tanks, few European campgrounds offer facilities for
emptying the large built-in tanks gracing most
North American models. Instead of removing the tank and gayly skipping to
the campground's receptacle, youassuming you're conscientiouswill find
yourself in frequent intimate relations with something less than an attraction, a
modern-day wonder nonetheless, the municipal
sewage treatment plant; but, hey, you will be
off the beaten path! See the "Camping"
section of the Accommodations chapter for more on the availability of dumping
Before you make a decision, read the beginning of the
Buying chapter to come up to speed on insurance issues.
Compare the insurance offerings I relate in that
chapter to the insurance sold by International Insurance Underwriters,
tel. 800 248 4998, a GEICO affiliate.
If you do decide to ship your own vehicle, you need to gather the
necessary paperwork to satisfy US and foreign Customs. US Customs needs to determine
that a vehicle shipped abroad is not a stolen vehicle. As such, you need to present
Customs with two copies of a notarized title. You'll also need a
Shipper Export Declaration form and a Declaration of
Dangerous Goods form. Stationary stores sell
these forms, but only in US$15 pads of one hundred. You'll have to deliver your vehicle and
the proper documents at least three days before the vehicle's scheduled departure.
For details, citizens of the US should contact the US Customs Service Trade
Operations, 1301 Constitution Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20229, tel. 202 927 0300.
While inquiring about such issues, ask how you can get an oval nationality sticker for
your vehicle: "AUS" signifies it's registered
in Australia; "CDN", Canada; "NZ",
New Zealand; and, you guessed it, "USA",
the United States.
But what about foreign Customs? Customs documents, issued in accordance
with the terms of the UN Customs Conventions, are still required by a number of
non-European countries in order to avoid
the payment of the often substantial deposits demanded for the temporary
importation of a vehicle (whether via a
land-locked point of entry or a sea port). If you're
a member of your national motoring club, the international organization it
belongs toeither the AIT or the FIAwill
extend to you such a document, the "Carnet
de Passages en Douane", that, in lieu of
deposits, guarantees foreign governments that the organization will pay any
Customs duties and taxes required if you don't re-export your vehicle. But before
providing this document, your club will require
you to place a deposit with them; the idea
being that it's better to leave your deposit with someone you trust rather than in the
hands of some capricious if not corrupt foreign government. But to repeat, European
countries do not require such deposits or
guarantees. Nevertheless, contact the nearest embassy or consulate of the country
you're shipping to and ask for copies of any mandatory forms and instructions for
getting cargo through their Customs. While you're at it, ask how
long it takes to clear their Customs and what steps you must take
to export from their country.
One option that's much easier and less expensive than shipping your vehicle
to Europeand more popular and practical each yearis a home and vehicle
exchange. From 1988 to 1992 the number of Europeans visiting America grew steadily
from about 5.5 million to nearly 8 million; while the number of Americans traveling to
Europe wavered between a high of 8 million (in 1990) to a low of 6.35 million (in
1991). I'm sure many of these Europeans would've loved to swap homes and vehicles
with you. The biggest hurdle for such an arrangement is trust: the easier it is for
both parties to establish the more practical this option becomes. Several organizations
arrange such swaps and provide the kind of professional third-party assistance that
is the catalyst of this trust. I list these organizations in the
Alternative Accommodations chapter. If you have a motorhome, a
couple of services can help you arrange to swap it with motorhome owners in Europe:
Vacation Home Exchange Club, P.O. Box 650, Key West, FL 33041 USA, tel. 800
638 3841; and Camper Exchange, Inc., P.O. Box 947, North Bend, WA 98045
USA, which for a fee of US$60 will send you a list of potential caravan swappers in
With a little work, however, you may be able to make all arrangements for
a home and/or vehicle swap. If you're an academic, work for an international
company or firm, or belong to some other reputable international organization
(such as a church or a medical society), contact some of your European colleagues. If
you can tap into the so-called electronic
superhighway, send out messages asking for information about potential
international swaps; and keep an ear or an eye tuned
for individuals or new services that offer European homes and vehicles for
If you succeed in securing someone else's vehicle in Europe, you should
obtain written permission from that someone and carry it in the vehicle always, along,
of course, with proof that the owner has properly insured and registered the
vehicle. You need to carry a special form of
authority, an Autorizacao certificate, if you
plan to drive someone else's vehicle in Portugal; get the form at a registration office
in Europe, or contact your local motoring club or a Portuguese tourist office or
embassy. If you lose any of the registration or permissive documents, contact the police.
Importing a Non-Conforming Vehicle
If you plan to import a European vehicle that does not conform to your
country's vehicle standards, you need to do some substantial homework. If you know
exactly what vehicle you'll be buying abroad, you should be able to determine all
the costs associated with importing it. On the other hand, the slightest
misunderstanding by any party involved in such an
enterprise can result in unexpected and overwhelming costs to you and you alone.
US citizens must deal either directly or indirectly with three separate
government agencies, each with its own agenda: Customs, which I addressed largely in
the previous chapter, will concern itself with establishing the value of your vehicle
and placing a proper duty and federal tax on it; the Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) will concern itself with establishing that your vehicle does not pose an
unacceptable threat to the environment; and the Department of Transportation (DOT)
will concern itself with establishing that your vehicle does not pose an unacceptable
threat to the immediate safety of the population. In the end, a US citizen importing a
vehicle must be able to prove to Customs that he
or she has satisfied the requirements of the other two entities; otherwise the
citizen will face long delays and high
port-storage fees while he or she arranges the
necessary paperwork and modifications to the vehicle.
The US EPA does not restrict the importation of vehicles manufactured
before EPA requirements took effect. Such vehicles include gasoline-powered
passenger vehicles manufactured before 1968 and motorcycles manufactured
before 1978. Any person may import such vehicles without bond, under the
applicable declaration category on EPA Form
The US government does not permit
individual US citizens to import non-US version vehicles other than those
described in the previous paragraph. Instead, an
individual must enlist an Independent Commercial Importer (ICI) to handle the
importing. The ICI must possess a currently valid qualifying certificate of
conformity for the particular vehicle the
individual wants the ICI to import. The ICI will
be responsible for performing all necessary modifications, testing, and labeling, as
well as providing an emissions warranty. In Table Shipping.1, I list the seven ICIs
authorized by the US EPA.
Table Shipping.1 US EPA-authorized Independent Commercial Importers.
Any US citizen planning to import a non-US version vehicle should use
these ICIs as a primary source of information. Never buy a non-US version vehicle
without first speaking with an ICI who assures you they can bring the vehicle into
compliance for a certain price. The ICIs are remarkably helpful; after all, they stand
to make lots of money if you contract their services. An ICI will even suggest
certain vehicles that are good deals and tell you how to locate such a vehicle in Europe.
One ICI contracted by the US military is Import Trade Services, Inc. As such,
ITS maintains an office with seventy employees near the Frankfurt airport
(Kelsterbach) in Germany. Contact Kay Lester at
Langer Kornweg 16, 65451 Kelsterbach, Germany, tel. 06107 8051, if you determine
which vehicle model you want only after you arrive overseasa likely scenario.
It's worth noting that Ken Shaffer, owner of ITS, tells me his company
must either flatly turn down or at least discourage roughly nine out of ten people
who solicit its services. The rejection rate is so high because, as with all ICIs, ITS lacks
a license to modify certain models and because the cost of modifying some models
is so high that ITS would not be serving its customers' best interests if it agreed
to modify such vehicles. Not all ICIs may exercise the same integrity concerning
the second point, however.
US citizens can call the EPA Imports Hotline at 202 233 9660 for
information regarding ICIs that may have obtained
approval since the issuance of the list that I reproduced as Table Shipping.2. For further
information US citizens should contact the US EPA Manufacturers Operations
Division (EN-340F), Investigation/Imports Section, Washington, DC 20460, tel. 202 260
2504, FAX 202 260 6089; or the EPA Investigation/Imports Section (6405-J),
Washington, DC 20460, tel. 202 233 9660, FAX 202 233 9596. Canadians should
contact the Road Safety and Motor Vehicle Regulation Directorate, Transport Canada,
Ottawa, ON K1A 0N5, tel. 613 998 2174, FAX 613 998 4831, and ask for the
brochure Private Importation of a Motor Vehicle into
Canada. Also, Canadians should contact Revenue Canada, Customs &
Excise Travelers Division, Connaught Building, 5th Floor, Ottawa, ON K1A 0L5,
tel. 613 954 6370, FAX 613 954 1765, and ask for the brochure
Importing a Motor Vehicle into Canada.
Regardless of your citizenship, the emission requirements of your state
or province or territory may be more strict than those of your national government.
So before importing a vehicle, you should confirm with the appropriate state or
province or territory authorities that the vehicle and your plans to modify it are satisfactory.
Now it's the US DOT's turn to enter the picture. In planning to import a
vehicle, you must determine that your government considers the vehicle model and
model year eligible for importation. An owner attempting to import a vehicle
ineligible for importation must pay to return the vehicle to its point of origin or
surrender the vehicle to Customs for immanent destruction. US Federal regulations
49 CFR, parts 593 and 594, specify the
petitioning process and fees required for a US
citizen to obtain such a determination of eligibility. For additional information or
details on these requirements, contact the US Department of Transportation, National
Highway Traffic Safety Compliance (NEF-32), 400 Seventh Street SW, Washington,
DC 20590, tel. 202 366 5313, FAX 202 366 1024; or contact some of the RIs I list
in Table Shipping.2. (All the previously listed ICIs are authorized RIs also.)
Table Shipping.2 US DOT-authorized Registered Importers.
Eastern United States
Western United States
*affiliated with Import Trade Services USA, Inc., one of the ICIs.
In the US the importer (you if the vehicle being imported is a US version,
an ICI otherwise) must file form DOT
HS-7 at the time of entry, indicating whether
the vehicle conforms with applicable safety and bumper standards. You can obtain
this form from Customs brokers (see the last section of this chapter) or at ports of
entry. The importer must enter non-US version vehicles under a DOT bond equal to
150 percent of the vehicle's dutiable value. The government requires this bond in order
to ensure that the vehicle is brought into conformance within 120 days after
importation. The bond is in addition to the
regular Customs entry bond. Bonds may be difficult to obtain and can be expensive;
the issuer may require security deposits equaling 50 percent or more of the bond's value.
Unless specifically excepted, the importer must sign a contract with a
DOT-Registered Importer (RI) who will modify the vehicle so it conforms with all
applicable safety and bumper standards and who can certify the modifications, just
as an ICI can do for the EPA-required modifications. The importer must attach a
copy of the RI's contract to the DOT HS-7
form and furnish these documentsalong with the DOT bondto the Customs Service
at the port of entry.
Other documents that you need to present upon importation include
the shipper's or carrier's original bill of
lading, the bill of sale, foreign registration,
and any other documents concerning the vehicle. Note the following words of
caution from the US Customs Office.
Of course there are two ways to send freight: by air and by sea. Shipping by air, with
the exception of a few carriers such as Lufthansa, is expensive. Furthermore,
shipping a car, van or motorhome by air is impractical. Shipping by sea is less
expensive, but it takes much longer. Shipping to or from the East Coast of North
America takes about two weeks by sea; while shipping to or from the West Coast takes
about three to four weeks. Shipping to or from Australia or New Zealand takes about
eight to twelve weeks by sea. Always allow for delay: your items could be delayed
clearing customs; a dock workers strike could be on; and an item like a vehicle may
be seriously damaged or else stolen in transit.
Before I further discuss the mundane subject of shipping, I must reiterate
one delightful option: Cunard Line's Queen Elizabeth
2, which accepts vehicles as accompanied baggage. See the first
paragraph of the first section of this chapter for a detailed description of the
At the end of this chapter I list several shipping companies. If you make
your own arrangements to ship your vehicle, contact some of these companies.
Begin the correspondence by asking whether the company is a broker (or freight
forwarding company) and not just a carrier.
Brokers maintain rate contracts with airlines and cargo ships, contracts that make their
prices less than those of carriers. Besides, shipping lines often refuse to carry cargo
that's not booked through a broker. What's more, brokers know the
ins and outs of Customs issues. As such, brokers have rapport
and leverage with Customs officials at home and abroad; if your shipment has
trouble clearing Customs, a broker can usually clear up the problem over the phone.
If you're unfamiliar with Customs rules and shipping, I
highly recommend using a broker. Lufthansa Airlines, however, is
one carrier that offers competitive rates and service.
Regardless, the carrier that either you or a broker eventually enlist should offer
a payment protection scheme against their going out of business. If a carrier tells
you that they do offer such a scheme, get a copy of the protection policy in writing, and
read it thoroughly before you make any arrangements. The best schemes are the
Customer Payment Guarantee or CPG (operated by the Association of
International Removers) and the IMMI (operated by
the overseas division of the British Association of Removers). Any member of
these associations has a proven track record in the industry. US citizens can call the
Interstate Commerce Commission to help determine the integrity of a broker or a carrier.
When investigating the cost of shipping a particular vehicle, you'll need to
tell the shipping company the exact weight and dimensions of the vehicle, where
you're departing from, where you want to go, and what your schedule is. Ask about the
costs of air freight (for motorcycles) and/or sea freight (for motorcycles and other
vehicles), shipping insurance, preparation for
shipment (fuel drainage, oil and transmission fluid drainage, battery disconnection,
crating, steam cleaning and waxing), other port and handling fees, special
delivery and return, documents, and the time it
will take to ship the vehicle. Also ask about reduced rates from certain
ports (Amsterdam, Antwerp, Rotterdam and Hamburg are among the cheapest).
Finally, ask if the freighter takes passengers; many do. I'm told that the
companionship, food and lodging on a freighter are
wonderful. With the crew and, usually, about twelve other intrepid travelers, you dine
on delicious food; and you stay in your own spacious and well appointed outside
cabin with a huge window (instead of a tiny porthole).
Be sure you understand the terms and conditions of the marine insurance
available. Watch out for the following in a marine insurance policy: exclusions
for bruising, scratching and denting; exclusion of accessories such as stereos;
high deductibles; and anything less than complete coverage from the moment you
hand over the vehicle until you touch it again back home. Always ensure that a
company with offices or settling agents in your
home country underwrites your marine insurance: it's essential that the policy
allows you to settle claims in your home country. The best way to confirm this allowance
is to get the name and address of the settling agent in your home country before
you book your shipping. Remember to ensure your vehicle and any accompanying
items for their full replacement value in
your home country.
You may have to put your vehicle in a crate and arrange to get it to a
terminal. You can crate the vehicle yourself or
have a dealer, packaging company or freight company crate it for you. One good
solution is to have a trucking company package and send it, but ask to watch the
packing. Brokers will arrange to get the crated vehicle to the terminal; this will cost
extra, but it's the simplest way.
If you have a motorcycle that you want to crate, you can get a crate from
a dealer for about US$50. Make sure there's no mud or grass on the machine.
Customs officials worry about contaminates that may come in on dirty items. The June
1986 issue of BMW Owner's News contains instructions for building a
reusable crate. You do this by bolting the top, sides
and bottom of the crate together instead of nailing them together. Here's a real
killer: every motorcycle has identification numbersone on the engine and the other
on the framewhich Customs officers must be able to see to match them with your
title. If they can't see these numbers, you'll
have to uncrate the bike. To avoid this inconvenience, cut a hole in the crate so the
serial number can be seen.
When shipping from Europe, consider surrendering the vehicle at the dock
or shipping agent's warehouse. If instead you have the vehicle picked up, you may
open yourself to trouble. Marine insurance doesn't take effect until the vehicle
has arrived at the warehouse, and the insurance covering the vehicle in the meantime
may require you to stay in Europe to settle a claim if an accident occurs during
that short transport.
Before surrendering a vehicle, there are several things you should do. For
one, try to gage the vehicle's fueling so that you leave little fuel in the tank: the
shipping company will drain the fuel before
loading the vehicle. To safeguard against the importation of dangerous pests, the US
Department of Agriculture requires that the undercarriage of imported vehicles be
free from foreign soil. As such, your vehicle must be steam sprayed or otherwise
cleaned thoroughly before shipment. And have your shipper or carrier notify you of
the freighter's arrival date, and be sure to inform Customs of this date: this info
will allow Customs to quickly clear your vehicle.
Note that if you leave the vehicle in port storage for more than three days
you'll pay a steep daily storage charge. Customs clears shipments at the first port of
entry unless you arrange for a freight forwarder in your country to have the vehicle sent
in bond to a Customs port more convenient for you. Customs ports exist in
virtually every US state.
Theft is a major problem at ports and during transit. As such, remove loose
or detachable parts of your shipment; and do not use your vehicle as a container
for personal belongings. Indeed, many shippers and carriers will not accept your
vehicle if it contains personal belongings. Regardless, you must declare the
entire contents of your vehicle to Customs upon importation. Failure to make such a
declaration can result in you being fined and your vehicle and its contents seized.
And you may incur a personal penalty and your vehicle may be seized if
anyone conveys illegal narcotics in your vehicle.
If you do go ahead and put possessions in your vehicle or in the crate that
the vehicle is in, make sure you have proper insurance. Marine insurance falls into
three main categories: if you insure your
entire consignment against loss and theft,
you can only make a claim if everything
disappears; coverage against loss and theft of the entire consignment or any one
package allows you to make an acceptable claim if all or any
complete package (suitcase, etc.) doesn't arrive; coverage against loss
or theft of either of the above plus any individual item or piece of goods out of
a package allows you to make a claim for
anything missing. You can also elect to have your loss and theft policy cover
breakage of professionally packed items and/or owner packed items.
Besides arranging the proper insurance to cover your possessions, you
must take care in packing these items. Note that suitcases and trunks often get marked
or scratched on the outside. It's acceptable to lock such luggage and keep the keys,
but the keys must be available at the destination when the luggage arrives. Weight
does not affect the shipping cost, but movers are more likely to drop heavy containers.
If you have many books or heavy items, split the load so each container (or "tea
chest") is half full of heavy items and half full
of light items. Most important, always pack boxes tight and to the top, filling in
gaps and holes so that nothing can move. Ultimately, freighters carry all cargo in
sealed steel containers, some of which travel
above deck. The temperature changes during a voyage can be extreme, causing
condensation. Clothing, books, etc., wrapped in
plastic can arrive covered in mildew. Wrap items in paper or clothes instead.
Marine insurance policies exclude damage caused by atmospheric temperature extremes.
Life doesn't happen along interstates.
It's against the law.
William Least Heat-Moon,
Traveling by motor vehicle offers unparalleled access to the land and to the
people and creatures that inhabit it. If you take adavantage of this power and weave your itinerary with a spirit of adventure, with
a desire to learn about places and people
and about yourself, with a willingness to
shed the familiar, a willingness to change, you'll find it quickened by the unexpected;
you'll feel it assuming wonderful dimensions; you'll put it on and go go go, and it'll fit
like a glove.
Traveling by motor vehicle offers unparalleled access to the land and to the
people and creatures that inhabit it. If you take advantage of this power and weave your itinerary with a spirit of adventure, with
a desire to learn about places and people
and about yourself, with a willingness to
shed the familiar, a willingness to change, you'll find it quickened by the unexpected;
you'll feel it assuming wonderful dimensions; you'll put it on and go go go, and it'll fit
like a glove.
Of course you can vitalize your itinerary simply by the tried and true method of
leaving the beaten pathand I do heartily recommend this tactic.
has run rough-shod over the expanse of Europe for untold thousands of years.
As a result,
there are lots of beaten paths. Many of these paths are hard to avoid; many are
glorious and should be sought.
What's most remarkable, then, about the state of the continent is its
ubiquitous and seemingly irrepressible natural
beauty. From the verdant Pyrénées to the
savannah-like wilds of Hoge Veluwe National Park in the Netherlands, from the
dusty plains of Southern Spain to the misty and precipitous fjords of Norway, from
the stretching lochs of Scotland to the angel-hair falls on the sculpted cheeks of
Swiss valleys, wonderful nature waits both on and off the beaten path.
As for Europe's civilization, it hasn't yielded fully to the virus of
pyramid-bedecked strip malls, coast-to-coast
culture-clones, and all the homogenizing effects
of 20th-century machinery. In the villages of France, people yet ride rickety black
bicycles with a baguette strapped across the rear rack; and groups of old men sit-out
the afternoon on corners along the main roads, recounting and making and becoming
stories. In Scotland and Wales and Ireland, farmers still call to their children the
ancient Gaelic language. Alongside tidal rivers in Portugal, knotty-knuckled
fishermen stand, leather-skinned and wincing, in the heavy afternoon, their fingers
moving furiously to untangle nets, everything elsefrom their thick-soled black shoes
to their greasy blue-gray pants to their bent backs to the hang of their necks to the
slow sideways turns of their heads in the dense shadows of their hats to the oil blue
skyseeming sapped of time and swollen with the ocean's inertia; jazz drifts from
the restaurants there and drops in the street. Levity is the rule not far away in
Spain, where past low white-washed houses on dusty dirt streets, black-clad men
beneath thin black hats ride high in the saddle
and hugged from behind by women whose long dresses caparison the horses too.
Even in tourist-choked Venice you can stroll as the lone anachronism in alleyways
under windows open to the ever coming and peaceful night, the meal-time
cling-clangs and banter of ghostly Venetians the
repast of your haunt. This must be exactly the
way it was, you'll think.
Indeed, from our perspective ghosts still pass for neighbors in Europe: they
live on and compose the physical and cultural fabric of the continent. But as such,
these ghosts are dynamic and cannot be captured by canned descriptions or
preconceived notionsalthough they will play along.
Consider the words of esteemed historian Daniel J. Boorstin.
Modern tourist guides [circa 1961] have helped raise tourist expectations. And
they have provided the nativesfrom Kaiser Wilhelm down to the villagers of
the Chichacestenangowith a detailed and itemized list of what is expected of
them and when. These are the up-to-date scripts for actors on the tourists' stage.
Yet if you let the natives tender their story instead of encouraging them to
reinforce yours, you may even make friends with a few. In
fact they rather than some bookshould function as your primary guides.
Nevertheless, you should use a good guidebook or two. Indeed, I
specifically designed this book to go hand in hand
with one by leaving out detailed descriptions of sights, accommodations, etc.
Guidebooks should function as the islands of
information from which you launch journeys of true discovery. In other words,
sometimes it's best to put your trust in a guidebook
and sometimes it's best to put the guide away.
Besides, you don't want to work too hard at having a good time: such work
can be a pain and it tends to be misguided. Remember the fecundity of the
unexpected I spoke of in the Why Drive? chapter? How
the wise travelerindeed the true travelermust ultimately surrender to it?
Here's what intrepid traveler and novelist Lawrence Durrell had to say about that.
Journeys, like artists, are born not made. A thousand different circumstances
contribute to them, few of them willed or
determined by the willwhatever we may think.
An example of this fecundity is a visit I made to the little town of Dômme,
in France's Dordogne River valley. I happened to meet an American woman at
one of the valley's many caves that house prehistoric paintings. She told me I
must go to Dômme. She didn't offer much more
advice, just that I should go. I'd planned to go to Bordeaux that day; I went to
Dômme instead. Well, the view of the valley
from the bluff Dômme sits on overwhelmed me as much as a stretch of peaceful space
can. Later in my journeys I met a guy who became a good friend, and I told him
about the view at Dômme; I was proud to
possess this relatively esoteric piece of travel
knowledge, and I enjoyed relating the experience, wrestling with it to draw some
meaning, verbally painting its picture, making it
mine. When I returned home, that friend sent me a letter with this quote by one of my
favorite writers, Henry Miller.
Just to glimpse the black, mysterious river at Dômme from the beautiful bluff at the edge
of town is something to be grateful for all of one's life. I believe that this great
peaceful region of France will always be a sacred
spot for man and that when the cities have killed
off the poets this will be the cradle of poets to come
it gives me hope for the future of
the race, for the future of the earth itself.
The Dordogne will live on just as dreams live on and nourish the souls of men.
It was as if back there at Dômme I'd looked at a great painting for the first
timewith no preconceptionsand felt exactly what the painter had felt when he created
it. Indeed, many artists and art historians abhor the trite explanations which plaques
or tapes afford the museum-goer. Such connoisseurs prefer to open themselves to
the art rather than to some canned description of it; they trust primarily their own
reactions; they know this approach is their only hope of maximally experiencing the
art. It's like when you nudge a child and say, "Go take a look": you may want to
describe a wonder to the child, but you know it's
in their best interests to let them discover it for themselves. Once a writer describes
a place and once you've read that description before arriving there, the place, in
at least one way, is lost to you forever: your impression of that place will always
be distilled through the eyes and words of another. Not an altogether bad thing,
but not the type of thing that makes for discoveries. My original ignorance of that
natural work of art that is the view from
Dômme, my original ignorance of Henry Miller's
or any other writer's or traveler's description it, lets me claim my experience of the
place as my own; it let me experience a discovery. And long after I left Dômme,
that ignorance let me truly connect with the very thoughtsseemingly still wet in
the brainof one of my favorite writers. Sometimes it's better to learn about a place
after you've traveled to it.
Still, most of us already have a collection of knickknack notions about
Europe, ideas that we tend to employ as the linchpins of our itineraries. Of course
these ideas work just fine to support a
bric-a-brac set of experiences, but they give way
under an itinerary laden with reality. And that's what we're after isn't it,
reality. But how to come up with an itinerary that will sop
Well, since the ideal teachers are waiting all over Europe, and since I'm just
as likely as you to bias the itineraries I come up with, and, what's more, since it'd
be hypocritical to define a path when it's my stated goal to help you leave the
beaten path, I'm not gonna delineate specific itineraries. Besides, there are already a
handful of guides that do this. But not only are such itineraries suspect
spiritually, they're suspect practically as well: it's virtually impossible to properly
treat the continuum that a motor vehicle opens to you. Famed Czech author Milan
Kundera captured the essence of these basic faults when he wrote,
A route differs from a road
is merely a line that connects one point with another. A route has no meaning in
itself; its meaning derives entirely from the two points that it connects. A road is a tribute
to space. Every stretch of road has meaning in itself and invites us to stop. A route is
the triumphant devaluation of space, which thanks to it has been reduced to a
mere obstacle to human movement and a waste of time.
In attempting to strike the right balance between interacting with the
locals (or, for that matter, with your fellow travelers), using a guidebook or two,
using your own head, and surrendering to the fecundity of the unexpected, you'll
naturally imbue your travels with the kind of spirit that makes for invaluable
Nonetheless, a systematic analysis of more mundane issues is necessary to
manage that effort and let it work its magic amid the unavoidable constraints of
time and space and resources, constraints that suggest certain patterns for the grand
scale design of your itinerary. In later chapters
I provide the kind of nuts-and-bolts information that should prove helpful if
not essential in this grand-scale planning. You might notice that I include no
topographical and very little road-condition
information in them. I omit the first kind of info because I don't want to waste your
time with verbal descriptions of landscapes when maps can pictorially give you much
more precise, thorough and immediate information. A picture is worth a thousand
words, right? Even non-topographic maps are filled with clues about the nature of the
landscape: you can bet that the more winding the roads the more problematic and
interesting the landscape.
It's worth noting here that mountainous countries such as Austria, Norway
and Switzerland boast mountain tunnelsoftentimes marked on maps by
dotted lines which allow roads or trains to carry motor vehicles through. Many of
these tunnels are disconcertingly long and many run below natural passes and in an
essentially parallel relation to a much older road which painstakingly but beautifully
negotiates the vertical as well as the horizontal. I detail all these in the country chapters.
In Switzerland especially it's often impossible to "make good time" unless
you use the expressways and tunnels. Check your Switzerland road map carefully
when planning your schedule. But besides realizing the limits that the
hyper-meandering roads impose, you should realize the
potential they offerincreasingly breathtaking views on every turn. Plan to drive
for driving's sake, and try to minimally constrain yourself with time-related
issues. Ask yourself this question: Why do I want to drive quickly and horizontally
Switzerland's postal coaches are famous for challenging the third
dimension and thus providing unrivaled service to the
extents of the country. Experienced chauffeurs with special training captain
these coaches (which have three independent brake systems) on half- and full-day
excursions along the backroadsboth high and low. You can even take hand luggage of
up to 50 kg (110 lbs.) free of charge.
As for road conditions, virtually none of the roads in 1990s Europe constitute
a prohibitive threat to your safety or your plans; their condition should play little
to no role in the planning of your itinerary. Go where you want to go.
To form the bulk of each country's chapter, I combine information
regarding customs requirements, concessions for hostellers, toll roads, mountain passes,
fuel considerations, unique road signs, rules of the road, driving tips, parking tips,
bank hours, shop hours, national holidays, BBC broadcasting hours and corresponding
radio frequencies, and how to handle breakdown or accident or other emergency
situations. Countries with toll roads demand more attention if you want to avoid
paying tolls. Mountainous terrain of course, as alluded to earlier, demands especially
careful planning because of the up-and-down and winding nature of the
roadwaysand the unusually slow and
difficult-to-predict pace of travel that results.
But don't get hung up now on the details. It's both more realistic and
more cost-effective to address many of these issues when you're out on the road
rather than when you're at home. Why overwhelm yourself with info you're likely
to forget before you need it? For one thing, your instincts will quickly process most
of the driving situations you'll encounter; and what's too complex for them will
probably be easy pickings for your analytical
side. Hey, besides this or any other guide, you've got untold millions of years of
evolution going for you.
What's more, saving some studying and decisions until later tends to jive
with the spirit of adventure and the fecundity of the unexpected that I discussed
earlier. Indeed, it's arguable that you should
minimize the planning you do each travel-day. There's so much to do and see in
Europe that you'll never be at a loss for
wonderful new experiences: everything will tend to fall into place. This tendency is
especially strong in a motoring tour. Despite all
the flexibility that a motor vehicle gives you, it also constrains you. The reasonable
per-day distance associated with motor travel is much less than that associated with
rail travel. Immediate options are limited: the next day's destination should lie
within roughly a two hundred-mile radius. The route that tends to emerge and often
makes sense is some sort of circuit or circular route. As such, the next destination
usually emerges as obvious.
For those of you without much time in which to travel, adhering to a
practical circular route may keep you from experiencing the kind of variety that you
want to experience. Well, by putting your vehicle on a train or by dropping off a rented
or leased vehicle somewhere other than where you picked it up, you can effect
linear itineraries. Driving an essentially
straight route allows you to experience great variety at a leisurely pace and in a
relatively short time.
The French rail system, SNCF, offers a service called
"Trains-autos-couchettes" that can take you and your car and
passengers overnight to destinations in Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal,
Spain, and Switzerland. Finland's trains also provide such a service. In fact, the train
systems of most countries offer some sort of auto-train service (called "Motorail"
in English, "Autoreisezuge" in
German, "Treni per Auto
Accompagnate" in Italian, and "Trenes de
Autos" in Spanish). Look for signs reading "auto/train"
and depicting car-carrying flat beds or box cars. See
the Motorail chapter for detailed descriptions of the Belgian, French,
Italian and Spanish services.
Apart from offering the merits of a linear route, the advantages of traveling
by Motorail include savings on gas and tolls (you'll take toll roads if you want to
make the best possible time; figure about US$0.10 per mile, US$0.06 per kilometer) and
the avoidance of wear and tear on your vehicle and yourself. Motorail trains make far
fewer stops than typical trains; you travel faster and without having to change trains.
Of course traveling overnight by train frees the daylight hours for other pursuits.
Some sort of sleeping accommodation is compulsory on most overnight
Motorail services. These accommodations range
from, say, first class single-bed sleepers costing US$160 to second class couchettes holding
six berths costing US$16 per.
But the savings don't necessarily stop with the above. The European-wide
hotel chains Ibis, Mercure, Novotel, and Minotel grant reduced rates to
SNCF (not just Motorail) travelers, as does Avis.
Several ferry services do the samebut for Motorailers only. These include the
following which cross between Britain or Ireland and the continent: Brittany
Ferries, Hoverspeed, Le Shuttle (through
the Chunnel), P&O European Ferries, and Stena Sealink. See the
Motorail chapter for further mention of these reduced
fares. Motorailers will also get discounts when plying the sea between France, Corsica
or Sardinia on SNCM Ferryterranée, and
between Spain and the Balearic Islands on Transmediterranea.
Stena Sealink also offers tickets combining Motorail service with
their Landbridge ferry service that connects Ireland to the continent by way of Britain.
The offerings include one-way ferry passage plus one-way Motorail travel, return
ferry plus one-way Motorail, and return ferry plus return Motorail. Let's take one
example: return ferry to Britain plus one-way Motorail between Rome, Italy, and
Calais, France. The corresponding fare for two adults who initiate travel during the
period early July to early September is approximately US$840; each additional adult
pays about US$192; each child 4–11 years of
age, about US$103. The return ferry service
alone for a car, van or caravan plus driver and
up to four extra adults costs something like US$339 during roughly the same period.
Whether a linear route will save you money depends on several factors.
Let's say, for example, you got a good deal on a return flight to London and you
want to taste a little of England before getting a
car and driving at a leisurely pace to Rome. Let's also say that you have three weeks
to get to Rome and back to London. Finally, let's say you lease a
Renault for free delivery in Calais. One option would be to
pay the US$190 return charge to leave the car in Rome, before returning to Calais by train
at a cost of about US$190 per adult (not
including the roughly US$75 charge for a sleeper), not to mention children, or by plane
to London at a cost of US$250–350 per
passenger (if you buy the plane ticket on the London market, where tickets are
exceptionally cheap). Another option would be to make flight arrangements into
London and out of Romearrangements, however, which may cost much more than
a simple return flight to and from London. Motorail allows you to take delivery of
the car in Calais, drive it to Rome, and put it on an overnight train back to Calais at a cost
of about US$450 for the car and the driver, US$135 for each extra adult, US$68 for each
extra child 411 years of age, and, say, US$75
per person for a two-berth sleeper.
Regardless of whether you plan to travel a circuitous or linear route,
you'll have to start from a city. But you do
not need a motor vehicle to see a European city. At least you don't want to begin
your trip by doing lots of driving in a city: not only is it unnecessary, but it's also the
most difficult driving you'll encounter in Europe. Plan to see the city in the days
before you get the vehicle or in the days after
you return itor both. I recommended you do both. A vibrant city may be just what
the doctor ordered to battle the jet lag at the beginning of your trip; while as a
more experienced European traveler, you'll be more relaxed at the end of your trip
and able enjoy the sophisticated side of a place like Paris much more than you were in
Once off the beaten path you should have little trouble finding quality and
relatively inexpensive accommodationseven during the high season. Unless you plan
to rent a property or properties, consider making few accommodation reservations,
some to cover the nights you'll spend in the city or cities you fly in or out of and
some, perhaps, for your first day or two on the road, just to encourage a smooth
start. Abstain from developing a detailed
schedule. Also, think twice before driving on
a holiday weekend. Not only are the roads more crowded on such weekends but so
are hotels and restaurants. The Easter holiday and the two weeks around it play host to
the worst crowds and trafficespecially in Southern Europe. On the other hand,
many interesting festivals take place around holidays. My advice is that you plan your
trip to include a national holiday but that you don't plan to travel much during that
To estimate distances, mark your map's scale on the edge of a piece of
paper and then move the marked edge around your general route, adding the miles
or kilometers as you go and using your imagination to add miles or kilometers to
winding sections. Most atlases and maps, however, boast tables relating driving
distances between major cities.
If you plan to do the classic grand tour, consider circling south early in the
year, enjoying the early season warmth and avoiding the high season heat,
humidity, crowds and prices.
The further south you go the more prevalent becomes petty crime. Most
European countries don't experience a high incidence of vehicle theft. Unless
you're driving a very expensive vehicle, thieves probably won't consider taking the
vehicle itself. The taxis in Western Europe are evidence of thisthey're
Mercedes Benz. Still, the South is noted for its high
incidence of theft from vehicles. The cities
of Seville, Spain, and Naples, Italy, are infamous hotbeds of such crime. Instead
of taking your vehicle into Naples, stay on the Ischia or Sorrento Peninsula and take
the catamaran or aliscafi to the city.
Otherwise, try parking out of view of the streets in such cities, or park on the street but
near a place where traffic police are working or in front of banks or embassies where
security measures are in place already. Parking on the even the busiest street in
broad daylight won't help. Thieves, usually in packs of three or four, cruise the
streets looking for foreign-registered vehicles, which they pilfer in a matter of seconds.
No matter where you are in Europe, don't leave any valuables in your vehicle
if you can help it. Leave the glove compartment open and emptied. If you have
a hatchback, take off the shield that conceals the trunk space. Pull down the back
seat that gives access to the trunk. Consider leaving the passenger door
unlocked: thieves will get in a locked door easily,
but they may break a lock or a window doing it. In short, don't tempt; make the
vehicle look as if someone else beat the thief to
You can even make your vehicle repulsive to certain thieves by leaving a
life-like, rubber tarantula or snake in full view on the front passenger seat or on the
open door of the glove compartment. This advice may sound ridiculous, but even
the most hardened criminal has his phobias. And besides, you'll get a kick out of
knowing that youwho most petty European thieves would take to be a fumbling,
naive touristmight be able to freak out one of these jerks.
On top of these tactics, you should take care to avoid a more much more
rare type of thief, the type that's not deterred
by the prospect of a confrontation with you. From Madrid comes a story about
how such thieves might operate. The rental agencies at Madrid's airport park their
vehicles in unprotected and unsupervised areas.
This being so, thieves in Madrid have learned to puncture the tires of these vehicles,
wait outside the parking area, follow the exiting vehicles, and rob them when the
unsuspecting driver pulls over with a flat. Always be wary of roadside help offered
by anyone other than a police officer or civil guard. If someone stops to help, ask
them to contact the police for you. And conversely, don't
you stop to help a stranded motorist: in the more marginal parts
of Europe, roadside brigands are known to feign car trouble then rob you and/or
steal your vehicle when you stop to help.
Undoubtedly you'll hear horror stories about driving in Italy. Try to
evaluate the source. For example, on my first tour
I met a family from Oregon who'd just finished driving in Italy; they resounded
that driving in Rome was ridiculous chaos. Two days later, however, I met a
couple from Manhattan who laughed and said driving in Rome was a breeze. Fewer
deaths occur per million registered vehicles in Italy than per million registered vehicles
in the United States. After driving extensively in Italy I'll say this: The cars move fast,
but the streets in the cities are surprisingly wide, and the highways are fine. Italy,
after all, is the home of the paved road. I'm from Iowa; some people call me "Corn
Boy"; I've had fun.
Although I want to abstain from giving specifics, there are at least two
campgrounds in Italy that demand special mention.
One of these is in Florence, immediately below and to the right of the Piazzale
Michelangelo as you face the city from the Piazzale.
The view from the Piazzale at sunset is unforgettable: the River Arno running from
the grapey night, hugging the bluff's base, passing the silhouetted mountain that
is Brunelleschi's magnificent dome, cutting through the city's plateau of desultory
red roofs, suffering bridge after antique bridge, and, in a long French kiss with the
dying day, taking on before the folded arms of the horizon's hills the glow of memory
a tableau of time. The view from the campground is essentially
the same. The other campground worth mentioning is across the lagoon from
none other than Venice. Camp on the shore and look across to the glorious city. From
the campground entrance take the regular boat service across the lagoon for a
ten-minute approach to the city that'll have you
pinching yourself, thinking that such things were reserved for movie stars.
If, on the other hand, you choose to park at Venice's huge Tronchetto
garage, you may be met on approach by a man seeming to be an employee and who will
direct you to the right side of the garage, away from the Vaporetto dock. He'll try to
help you with your bags and usher you to a water taxi charging rip-off fares of
about US$100. If you balk he'll claim that the boat line you want is not in service. Just
ignore these lowlifes and head to the left side
of the garage for fairly priced parking and a cheap boat ride to the city center.
Looking to the east of Italy the question arises: How to do Greece by car?
This is a good question. Currently, the best answer
may be that you shouldn't. The problems in the former Yugoslavia make the
most direct overland route to Greece very problematic, and traveling across
the Adriatic accompanied by a vehicle means a costly ferry ride. Regardless, the
myriad-island nature of Greece doesn't lend itself to driving. And the Greek roads are
generally the worst in Europe. Perhaps as a direct result of these poor roads, Greece
endures Europe's second highest incidence of motor-vehicle fatalitiesand the
worst accident rate in terms of the number of
collisions per vehicle. Furthermore, the ports at Bari and Brindisi, Italy, are infamous
for their thieves; think twice before you leave your vehicle at one of these ports.
But when will you have a better chance, right? You'll have a better chance if you
fly in or return to London, where a return flight to Greece costs less than US$150.
Persons using train passes should consider doing Greece separately as well. Train travel
in Greece is slow and frustrating; the bus system is much better. Note that by
going to Greece later in the year, you can avoid the big crowds and the high prices that
go with them. Furthermore, you can avoid the uncomfortably hot days and nights. May
is considered the best month in which to visit Greece. By October the rains
returnbut only one day a week on average.
And averaging 60° Fahrenheit, nights are
cooler and more comfortable in May and October (on average, 12° Fahrenheit cooler
than July and August, 6° Fahrenheit cooler
than June and September). Ferries serve some Greek islands on a daily basis and some
on a weekly basis. If you want to maintain maximum flexibility in your travel plans,
consider traveling only to those islands that the ferries serve daily.
You can travel to Turkey by motor vehicle via the Istanbul routean
expressway bypasses the cityor by ferry. Note that Turkey's train system is quite
bad; buses there offer much more timely and extensive service and cost only about
$1.50 per hour. Perhaps the bus travel is so good because Turkey's roads are
surprisingly good; don't hesitate to drive in Turkey.
I mentioned earlier that theft of vehicles is not a problem in Western
Europe, but this is not the case in Poland, for example. Poland suffers (or
benefits, you might say) from a very high rate of theft
of western vehicles, which, once swiped, are taken to Russia and sold. (In Poland
the taxis are not Mercedes Benz!) The same
is true for Prague, in the Czech Republic, and for the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia
and Lithuania. In these places consider parking near a train station in outlying areas
or towns that tourists don't frequent. Thieves hang out where the tourists hang out.
You can take one of the frequent trains (there's usually one every hour) into the
major metro areas, where you don't need a vehicle anyway. The ride will cost just a
few dollars. I once left my car for four days near the train station in Plzen, the birthplace
of pilsner beer and the home of the world-famous
Pilsner Urquell brew. From there I took a US$3 train ride the remaining
one hundred miles into Prague. To read the train schedules, however, you should
know that in Slavic languages like Czech and Polish the preposition
Do, do, or go, pronounced "doe," means
to (literally, until), as in "departing to"; while the
preposition om, pronounced "ott," means
from, as in "arriving from." There's a good
chance, however, that thieves won't rip-off
your vehicle if you drive into the major metropolitan areas of these
countriesespecially if it's ugly and you're careful. Of course
a deterrent such as "The Club" or an installed kill switch (standard now on
many new European-version vehicles) will help, as will turning your wheels all the way
to the curb and engaging the steering-wheel lock.
If you plan to drive a BMW or the like, you may be justified in fearing the
criminals of Southern and Eastern Europe. As such, one compromise option to
consider in the initial stages of planning your
journey is the following: take the trains in Southern and Eastern Europe and drive
in northwest Europe. Not only is crime more prevalent in Southern and Eastern
Europe, but the train tickets are much cheaper
there as well. For example, the number of kilometers you can travel per dollar in
various countries or sections of Europe are as follows: Turkey40 km; Eastern
Europe17 km; Spain13 km; Italy12 km; France10 km; Germany8
km; Scandinavia7 km; England6 km. To take advantage of these price
gradients, you'd have to buy point-to-point train
tickets or single-country passes instead of inter-country passes. Besides the issues
of crime and rail fares, there's the issue of language. The populations of Southern
and Eastern Europe do not speak English with anywhere near the frequency or skill as
do the populations of Europe's northwest. In the northwest you can realize the full
potential of your motor vehicle by getting out to meet and actually
converse with the people who don't see tourists very
often. I've already mentioned that it's better to
buy a vehicle in the northwest. Well, if
you do buy, staying in that region with the vehicle will keep your fuel costs down,
and if any problems ariseand they are less likely to arise in the more temperate,
industrialized and Anglicized northwestyou can deal with them much easier.
Defining the limits of your itinerary on a more geological basis, however, may be the
best approach. Here's an idea: Don't drive south of the great mountain ranges (the Alps
and the Pyrénées) or east of the former
Iron Curtain. You'll want the motor vehicle in the mountains, however, to propel you
up into beautiful scenery and hard-to-get-at hideaways.
The criminal, economic, and cultural issues which prompt consideration of
the above compromises are complex and generally not weighty. I don't want to give
the impression that enough circumstances, dangerous or otherwise, exist to justify
a broad recommendation of these compromises. On the contrary, I recommend
that you resist, in spirit at least, such compromises, for they are based largely on
fear and fear aloneand fear is usually overblown and much more likely to
sabotage your trip than are criminal elements or monetary or cultural constraints.
There's another grand plan which combines train and motor vehicle travel, a
plan which is not basically a compromise
and which does arise from weighty issues.
Because a motor vehicle is usually a liability in major cities, you may want to use
the high-speed trains to dart disjointedly to the major cities you wish to see, doing
this either before you get a motor vehicle or after you return one. You can use the
motor vehicle to explore the smaller towns and the countryside. This way you'll
experience all the major facets of the European travel infrastructure and subculture,
avoiding the most negative aspects of each while exploiting the most positive. The one
drawback to this plan is the unbalanced nature of the itinerarya continuous series
of cities followed by a continuous series of small towns and countrysides. Although
I hesitate to call such series monotonous, they may not constitute the proper
balance for you. You can be flexible, however, using the train to go to some smaller
towns or countryside stops and using the motor vehicle to make an occasional
excursion into a larger town or city. You may also want to combine this plan with the
compromise of taking trains in Southern and Eastern Europe and driving in northwest
Moving north we come to the land of my forebears: Scandinavia Norway's
cost of living is the highest in Europeyou'll pay US$30 a night for a bed in an Oslo
or Bergen hostel. Surprisingly, however,
I've spent less money per day there than in any of the other countries I've visited. Why
the paradox? Norway, Sweden and Finland sanction or tolerate tent camping on just
about any unfenced landeven if privateas long as you're 100 meters (about 100
yards) from any dwellings, stay no more than two nights, and pick up after yourself. The
long summer days in Scandinavia make camping there easier still. Bring a good
sleeping bag though: it can get cold. I've spent three-fourths of my Norwegian nights
free-camping. However, for safety's sake, I recommend that you do not free-camp. I recommend that you
camp only in secure camping places designed to accommodate campers.
Norway's scenery is truly
incredible, especially her fjord countrymaybe the world's most salient precinct of the
possible. And the civilization is ideally and wonderfully integrated: In Norway
you always feel close to nature, but never far from civilization. If you do go to
Norway, be sure to visit Oslo's Frogner Park. Over 150 granite and bronze statues
sculpted over some thirty years by Gustav Vigeland stand in the parkthe most
remarkable collection of sculpture in Europe, in
my opinion. Admittance to the park is free of charge.
Late spring or early summer is the best time to visit Scandinavia. The longest
days occur in late June, when it's light until midnight. There
is snow in the summer, high atop the fjords. In fact, you can ski
in the summer near Stryn, Norway, about six hours by car northwest of Oslo. Check
the Norway chapter for information about road closings.
Of course you'll have to end your motoring tour in a city or town. Note
that Paris makes a good transition point. Not only is Paris one of the best places in
the world in which to hangout without a vehicle, but if you plan to continue
traveling you may be able to sponge a still-valid Eurailpass off one of the many
travelers who fly home from there. With this
ticket you can get to Ireland and travel around it for free. This trick is illegal, however. If
a conductor or ferry operator asks for your passport and compares it to the name on
the pass, you may be in some trouble. I'd say such an investigation is quite unlikely
and that by far the biggest threat associated with such chicanery is the threat to
your good conscience.
Several factors coincide to make London the best place in which to transition
or conclude a grand tour. First, you'll make many Aussie and Kiwi friends while
traveling on the continent. Most of these folks base their travels out of
BritainLondon especiallywhere they've come to
spend a couple of years. Late in the summer they tend to return to Britain to work and pay
for their summer fun. As such, you can travel the Isles with these temporary Brits or
stay at their place and avoid the high costs of London's accommodations. And it's
likely that after showing this book to these notoriously high-spirited travelers, you can
persuade them to chip in and help you buy a motor vehicle in which you can then
travel the Isles together. The market will be a buyer's in late summer. Second, London
is the home of the cheap flight. Off season you can fly from London to Greece for the
aforementioned US$150 return, or to Moscow for US$300 return, or to Bangkok for US$300 one way,
or to Sydney for US$425 one way, or to Auckland for US$550 one way, or to New York for
$150 one way, or to Chicago for US$275 one way, or to Los Angeles for US$200 one way.
Third, your command of the local language will allow you to make complicated
arrangements for extensions to your trip. If you
do plan an extension to your trip, stop in Stanford's Travel Bookshop, 12 Long
Acre, London: they claim to offer the largest selection of travel literature in the
world. Fourth, note that in the beginning stages
of a trip you'll be psyched to try other languages, but by the end you'll pang for
good 'ol English. Finally, a special note for budget travelers on a
serious budget: unlike those on the continent, most hostels
in Britain and Ireland take Visa and MasterCard, so if you're running low on funds, you
can finance more of your traveling with a credit card.
Also contributing to the above argument are three factors which make
Britain an outstanding bookend to a grand tourwhether it stands at the beginning or
the end. First, Britain does not honor Eurailpasses but it does offer many
exciting alternatives. Second, the English Channel and Britain's left-side driving
convention tend to make transporting a vehicle between Britain and the continent an
unwise venture. Finally there's the weather. Rain falls in Britain and Ireland an average
of two to three times a week all year
round. Don't get too cute and go to the
Britain or Ireland with sun and warmth figured into your plan; sun and warmth are not why
you go there. Although the waters that surround these islands buffer them
from grand climate changes, this just succeeds in making the weather consistently
blah. But you can work the isles'
blahness to your advantage by realizing that most people equate high temperatures with
good weather and good times. The vast
majority of people visit the Isles in July and
August when the temperature is highest. But
what's this? It rains much more in July and
August than it does earlier in the year. And in
the South of England and in Ireland it also rains less in September and October than
it does in July and August. A tour bus operator in Killarney, Ireland, told me that
in July and August up to 150 tour buses work the Kerry Peninsula; while in October
there are only five or so a day. He also noted the fortuitous nature of the colder
temperatures: the days tend to be clearer after
the night frosts. Of course, the lower temperatures and smaller crowds mean lower
prices and fewer hassles as well. Strongly consider combining the
world-famous Edinburgh Festivalheld from mid August to early Septemberwith a
September and October tour of the isles, but make your reservations in the spring for
accommodation in Edinburgh during the festival. As for spring around Britain,
you'll love England and Holland in late April and May if you're into flowers. Note also
that June is considered the best monthweather-wisein which to visit Britain.
Here are some other major European festivals and happenings.
Nothing has done more to take a sense of civic identity, a feeling of community,
from small-town America than the loss of old hotels to the motel business. The hotel
was once where things coalesced, where you could meet both townspeople and
travelers. Not so in a motel. No matter how you build
it, the motel remains the haunt of the quick and dirty,
William Least Heat-Moon,
As travelers are becoming more sophisticated, intrepid, and
value-conscious, they're looking for accommodations
that promise a real connection with the
European people and landscape and with fellow travelersa connection that the
modern-day hotel or motel doesn't foster. Well, between hostels, pensions, camping,
rentals, homestays, farmstays, home exchanges, volunteer work, paid work,
and study there are increasingly many such accommodation options to choose from.
Hostels began in 1920's Germany as lodges for fattening and cheering up German youths who'd suffered through World War I and it's aftermath.
Hostels are much more than that nowalthough on occasion they still play host to swarming
school groups. Today, hostels operate Europe-wide in the cities, in the
villages, in the countryside, in castles, on islands, along the beaches, on sailing
ships, and in the mountains. Many are spartan, but a considerable number rival
hotelsoffering single rooms, doubles, triples, and
quads, apart from the classic summer camp-style bunkhouse arrangement. Most have an
area for socializing. Some even sport bars. One hostel I've stayed at, nestled near the
base of small medieval town gracing the lip of a yawning Provençal valley, boasts a
crystal clear swimming pool extending into a vineyard and serves up a delicious
mealcomplete with all the wine you wanteach night. And the average hostel
charges just US$12 for a night's stay. As such,
hostels attract interesting and fun people of all ages from all over, who either seek out
or find themselves caught up in hostelling's unparalleled and positive social
dynamic, people with whom you'll exchange travel advice, jokes, addresses, cooking
duties and more, people who'll contribute to and share some of the best days of your life.
As travel guru Rick Steves says, "Hostelling is a philosophy. A hosteller trades
services and privacy for a chance to live simply
and in cooperation with people from around the
Most people associate hostels with the college-age crowd. It's true that the
clientele slants toward the young; but middle-class families, school groups, the
elderly, and professionalsyoung and oldfrequent so-called "youth" hostels.
Only Bavaria's hostels still impose an age restriction (26 years and under). I've met
a jazz musician, a sculptor, an architect, and a private detective in hostels; I've
met actors, engineers, Australian Golden Oldies rugby players, teachers, welders,
writers, lawyers, doctors, nurses, computer programmers, a group of fifth graders in
former East Germany who bashfully practiced their English on native speakersa friend
and mefor the first time; I've met families; I've met ninety-year old women; and
I've met several people who work for the same international business consulting firm
I once did. If people are as worthy of exploration as are continents, then each hostel
is like a Pangea, a supercontinent or conglomeration of continents, waiting for
you to discover it. In this sense hostels transcend the physical continent of Europe
and become destinations in themselves. Often you'll hear people describing their
travel plans in terms of hostels: "I'm going
to [this or that] hostel," they'll say.
A remarkably high percentage of hostellers basically travel by
themselvesand it's worth noting of this subset that
a fantastically high percentage are young women. I say
"basically by themselves" because a phenomenal and universal
tendency exists for lone travelers to bond and band together. Often such bands end
up traveling together for several days or weeks or months even, splitting up with
great memories and no hard feelings whenever this or that member decides to go his or
her own way. It does take a measure of courage to travel alone, but this fact helps
explain why lone travelers tend to be even more interesting than people who travel in
groups or with old friends. On many occasions I've sat drinking beers or eating
dinner with a group of five or six travelers who were all traveling solo. These groups
have always been unanimous in concluding that solo is
the best way to travel. Indeed, solo travel results in
such an unusual and marvelous dynamic that you'll wonder if
it'll change for the better the social approach you take at home; unfortunately, though,
I think it's unique to the travel circuit. In fact I've found that when I travel with even
just one friend, we tend not to meet as
many people: we're usually having a good time as is and so don't
need to meet others. It's this common
need, combined with a desire to interact, that's the catalyst of the
wonderful hostelling dynamic. What Arthur Frommer said is remarkably true:
hostels are the "most dynamic travel facilities
And a hostelling "circuit" truly
exists. On myriad occasions I've run into people I'd met one or two months previous and
a thousand or two thousand miles away. Or I've met someone who'd met someone
I'd met. You follow? The circuit amounts to a true and powerful, albeit transitory,
community that springs from its fun-loving, gutsy, intelligent, multicultural and
multinational elements and is catalyzed and intensified by amazing surroundings
and the transience inspired by the plurality of those surroundings. Indeed, the
hostelling community is one of the most modern communities on earth, analogous to a
manifestation of the burgeoning virtual-community that exists traveling fiber
It all reminds me of John Cllellon Holmes' description of Jack Kerouac
Though they rushed back and forth across the country on the slightest
pretext, gathering kicks along the way, their real journey was inward; and if they seemed
to trespass most boundaries, legal and moral, it was only in the hope of finding a
belief on the other side.
But apart from recognizing the inwardly spiritual journeys that many hostellers
are on, you sense a collective and unmistakable vibestill spiritual in its nature,
but outwardly sowhen you're tossing back a few cold ones with, say, a couple of
Germans, some Italians, a South African, two Swiss, an Aussie, an Israeli, a couple
of Canadians, a Kiwi, three Belgians and a Swede; it's like in e.e. cummings'
Enormous Room, but with the players brought together by the power of peace instead
of war; it's the answer to and the result of centuries of conflict; it's the super reality
of a new world, the salty stuff of living history; and you drink drink drink it down.
Of course, not every hostel will jive with your sensibility or catalyze a
profound tickling of your spirit. Rely first on word of mouth and second on the
Many hostels belong to the Hostelling International organization. Such
hostels denote themselves with the stylized logostandard worldwidethat I show in
the General Driving Info chapter. To stay in such hostels you should get a Hostelling International (HI)
membership card. You can still stay in these hostels if you don't have the card,
but you'll have to pay a bit more. The card costs US$10 for persons under 18 years of
age, US$25 for adults 18–54 years of age, US$15
for persons 55 years of age and up, US$35 for families with children under 16 years
of age, or US$250 for life. See the
Documents chapter for instructions on how to order
Aside from the lower rates at hostels, a membership in HI entitles you to
numerous substantial discounts. As part of each country chapter, I list those HI
discounts that relate to driving and to ferry
passage. Other HI discounts include reduced prices for museum admission, sporting
equipment rental, and more. Even if you don't plan to stay in hostels, you may find
that these discounts make membership in HI worthwhile.
Furthermore, hundreds of HI hostels operate in wonderful spots across
Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US. I bet you never even knew they were
around. Such domestic hostels offer a great way to cheaply travel your home country
while you act as unofficial ambassador to visiting foreigners.
Thanks to a new international computer system, you can now make
reservations with participating HI hostels in over seventy countries by calling one source;
in the US the number to call is 202 783 6161. You can use Visa or MasterCard to pay
for the reservations. A US$2 reservation fee applies. However, only make reservations
if you must: your plans are likely to change. (Remember the fecundity of the
unexpected.) For example, do make reservations for popular big-city hostels
during the high season. And always make reservations in Paris, or else get to the
hostel before 9:00 a.m. Some hostels, though, don't take reservations.
Hostels operating separately from the HI organization are known as
"independents" and, of course, require no
membership card. The services provided by these hostels tend to be better than those of
HI hostels, the rules less limiting, and the atmosphere more fun and easy going.
But of course this rule doesn't always hold true.
Apart from hostels located in the center of a major city, almost all offer
free parking. What's more, nearly every hostel sports a well-equipped kitchen (with
pots, pans, silverware, dishes, ovens, refrigerators, etc.) where you can cook your
own food. Often I team up with other hostellers to cookand clean up afterrather
impressive meals. Many hostels also offer coin- or token-operated laundry
facilities (soap included gratis). Of course the
sink or a laundromat is always an option. (Laundromats sell soap.) Hostels
provide the pillows and blankets; but many HI hostels require a "sleep sheet", a
sewn-up sheet that you sleep in. If you don't have
a sleep sheet, the hostel will provide oneusually for a small fee. You
could claim you have a sleep sheet and then proceed
to use, say, your sleeping bag; but for your comfort, and to avoid these small
charges piling up, it's worth making your own sleep sheet and bringing it along.
You should bring a pair of ear plugs too; the little foam kind are the best. These
beauties will add at least one hour of sleep to each
of your nights in a hostel. Even if you're in a room with five other people, ear plugs
will make it sound like an empty nest. Buy your ear plugs at a pharmacy at home or
in Europe, or get them free of charge when you order something such as a sleep sack
or neck pouch from Europe Through the Backdoor.
You might also want an eye mask;
North Americans can buy a mask and ear plugs from the marvelous
Magellan's Travel Essentials catalog.
Hostels have a reputation as being places of theft, a reputation that's
largely undeserved. No budget traveler ever comes home and rattles off a list of all the
hostels where nobody stole something from them, but be sure they'll tell you of the
hostels where such a theft occurred. In other
words, these things tend to get blown out of proportion. Many hostels offer lockers
for your usesome with a coin-operated lock, some without a lock. I bring a chain
and padlock that I use on lockers without locks and to lock my pack to something if
there's no locker at all. Never have any of my possessions been stolen while in a
hostel. Yet I'm careful: I take a clue from nature and sleep with my valuables between
my legs, and I don't leave other things in view if I can help itout of sight is out of
mind. The overwhelming number of hostellers wouldn't think of stealing your stuff, but
it only takes one to ruin your day.
Many hostelsusually only HI hostelsenforce a daily lockout, from,
say, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. During this time the staff cleans the place. Usually a
lockout means that you can't enter your room, but it may mean you can't enter any part of
the hostel. Lockouts are an infamous drawback to hostelling, but at least they
force you to get off your butt. Don't worry, the operators of the hostel will let you
leave your possessions in the room, or, if you're gonna check out later that day, they'll
store your possessions in a safe place. To keep costs down, some hostels ask each guest
to perform a small chore each morning; try to do it with pleasure.
Pensions constitute a major alternative to hostelsespecially in the South.
Pensions are cheap hotels, often as cheap or
cheaper than hostels; but they cater to travelers rather than the down and out, and as
such the room-quality tends to be much better than you might expect. (Be sure,
however, to check before you pay.) You either get your own room and key or share a
room with other travelers. A chief advantage over hostels is that you can come and go
as you please. What's more, pensions tend to be located right in the thick of the
action. They don't, though, offer the cooking or laundry facilities that most hostels do.
If you plan to stay in a combination of hostels and pensions, and if you plan
to adhere to common budget-travel principles, you should budget at least US$30 a day
to cover your lodging, food, drink, sightseeing, metropolitan public
transport, and miscellaneous expenses.
Most Europeans view camping as being cheap, socially oriented
accommodation rather than the rugged, back-to-nature
experience that North Americans tend to picture. As such, organized campgrounds
are good places to meet the middle class sector of European society, a somewhat
different crowd than you'll find in hostels or
hotels. Still, since Europeans are relatively reserved, European campers probably
won't come up and introduce themselves to you; you should make the first effort.
European campgrounds usually itemize feescharging for each person,
tent, vehicle and trailer. Campgrounds there are rated on a four-star scale; and apart
from the basics, four-star operations are likely
to provide several of the following: laundromat, grocery store, restaurant,
bar, disco, swimming pool, water slide, sauna, tennis courts, fitness facilities,
miniature golf course, horseback riding, a
library, and a playground. Many campgrounds also offer mobile homes or bungalows for
rent. Unless you plan to rent one of these, don't worry about reservations: European
campgrounds are never "full"; the operators
will pack you in if need be. But beware that most campgrounds lock the gate for
the night at about 10:00 p.m. and for lunch from noon to 2:00
p.m. Also, most don't provide picnic tables, and, sad to say,
disallow campfires. Though the toilets can be perplexing, I'd rather let you discover
their wonders for yourself than force you to suffer through a description here. As
for the showers, expect all varieties; and if using one that's token operated, make
sure you know how much time a token gives you.
So many well-marked campgrounds dot the European landscape that
finding them is usually a no-brainer. Look for the international camping sign: either a "C" with
a tent superimposed or else a stylized trailer. Greece, however, denotes
campgrounds with a sign reading "EOT."
And if you find a campground labeled "FKK"
or "Frei Körper Kultur" (literally translated, free body culture),
you've found a clothing-optional campground. The major
cities, too, harbor popular campgrounds. For instance, Thalkirchen campground on
the Isar River just twenty minutes outside Munich is a wonderful spot, bordered
by the river and within a forest and boasting cafes and bars and an international
clientele. Most budget guidebooks describe the best campgrounds in and around the
bigger cities or otherwise-popular spots. If you plan to do lots of camping, however,
a special guide may be worth its price.
Also, many of the tourist offices will send you detailed information about campgrounds.
We at IdeaMerge suggest that our clients do not plan to rely solely on any one campground guide nor even on any collection
of such guides (whether they be in book form, software form, or online) to determine the location or quality of
appropriate campgrounds. Such a guide — especially if it is provided free of charge by the motorhome rental
vendor, tourist office or another entity — should not be considered suitably thorough and up to date, although in many cases they are very useful.
Even if a vendor’s policy is to provide such guide with every rental vehicle, they occasionally run out of supply
because too many clients lose or abscond with the guide, or for other reasons beyond the vendor's control. IdeaMerge therefore
suggests a sort of rule of three: use at least two published guides (in book form, software form, or online), and
rely on your own on-the-ground research (e.g. following local signage, questioning local people, and so forth) to complete
the picture. Market forces usually take care of the rest because they result in campground locations per the general demand
and thus near where you are most likely to desire such location. Neither IdeaMerge nor the vendor is responsible to assist
in locating or recommending campgrounds to clients. Any assistance IdeaMerge or the vendor does give in that respect should
not be interpreted as sanctioning or signifying the suitability of the services or products provided at the campground,
although IdeaMerge never provides such support unless we believe the company or institution we name is reputable and
engaged in the business or service they purport to. Inclusion or exclusion of mention of such entity by IdeaMerge does not
necessarily signify the suitability of their services or products.
Camping, of course, is a huge money saver.
Discreet free-camping, though explicitly prohibited in
certain countries, is tolerated almost everywhere in Europe.
Sweden officially sanctions free-camping, and Norway and Finland tolerate it in principle.
The people of those countries consider free-camping a right: everyman's right
(allmansratten), they call it. To properly exercise that right, as it were, a person
camps in their tent on unfenced and uncultivated land, at least 150 meters (just over 150 yards) away
from any dwelling, stays no more than two nights, and cleans up after himself or herself.
Note that Allmansratten does not apply to motorhomes.
I've camped on Norway's wooded hills, on precipices high above fjords, on the
shores of fjords, and even within the city limits
of Oslo. When hygiene became an issue, I'd duck in to an organized campground
and either bum or pay for a shower. Furthermore, I took advantage of the long
summer days in the "Land of the Midnight
Sun," often setting up camp in daylight
between 11:00 p.m. and midnight. (By the way, Europe in general is on a much
higher latitude than the US; as such, the summer sun sets much later there.)
When not in Scandinavia, you could take your chances and
free-camp unannounced in some discreet spot or you could do the right thing by asking permission
of the land owner. If you choose the second option, chances are your host will
engage you in a fascinating conversation and, if you're lucky, invite you to dinner. Of
course you can sleep in your vehicle if you like.
For safety's sake, however, I recommend that you do not free-camp. I recommend that you
camp only in secure camping places designed to accommodate campers.
Many motorhomers spend the night in the parking lots of tourist attractions under the pretense
that they're waiting to get in early or, say, of supermarkets or marinas. Even more
popular are the rest stops along expressways. Many of those are designed to facilitate
overnight stays. In England you're supposed to pay a small charge to stay overnight
at such stops, but the charge is rarely enforced. Again, however, for safety's sake, I recommend that motorhomers
stay overnight only in secure places designed to accommodate such campers.
Most European motorhomes have chemical toilets with detachable
cassettes designed to be emptied in special receptaclescalled "Chem WC"
unitsinstalled at most campgrounds, or into a regular toilet. As made clear in the
Shipping and Importing chapter, because
irremovable holding tanks are not common on European motorhomes many
campgrounds don't have a North
American-type dumping station. Campgrounds or other camping
facilities with such a station are denoted by the trailer pictogram and/or the
(German), "scarigare" (Italian), or
"vidoir" (French). The German auto club
ADAC (see the Germany chapter) publishes and
distributesfree of charge to members of affiliated clubsa list and map of such
dumping stations. For a charge, some campgrounds will allow you to dump
without staying overnight. Don't dump these tanks by a highway or in a fieldthis is
highly illegal. If you must, visit a municipal sewage treatment plant to do the job.
Most campgrounds provide central drinking-water taps with a hose
connected so motorhomers can fill their tank. Bring
a length of hosehaving a half-inch fittingso you can fill up from a distance.
Virtually all European motorhomes are wired with 10 Amp circuits that,
given the 220 Volt standard, allow you to use up to 2200 Watts (that's 10 x 220) of
power at any one time. Note that an appliance such as a hair dryer can demand almost
this much power. And where the voltage is lower, you'll have even less power to
play with. Though in the mid eighties Europe went to a standard known as
CEE 17 for campground sockets and plugs,
many campgrounds are not in compliance. Still, most will provide free of charge any
adapter you might need to interface a
European model vehicle to the camp's system.
(See the Packing chapter for a discussion
of electrical standards.) Some campgrounds offer a meter at each site, charge you
to hook up, and then charge per kilowatt-hour. Others impose an inclusive
charge. Since you may have to park quite a distance from a socket, bring a 25
meter connecting cord designed for outdoor use.
See the Documents chapter for
a discussion of the camping carnet document. See the
Packing chapter for a list of necessary camping equipment.
Rental arrangements usually require more lead time than do hotel arrangements,
sometimes as much as eight months. And although some rentals are available for
one- or two-day stays, most require a stay of a week or more. What's more, you may
be asked to pay extra and in advance for maid services and the like that are
normally included in the price of a hotel room.
And if you must cancel, you might lose the entire prepayment. Once you arrive
you'll likely be required to meet with a property manager, local agent or neighbor to
obtain the keys, turn on the utilities, and
arrange phone service. Still, a rental can be well worth all this.
A popular option in France is a country cottage or
France is a French government agency that was created after WWII to help the French
rural economy stay afloat. It serves as a sort of rental agency for private property
owners who want to supplement their incomes. The units, usually in small villages or in
the countryside, must meet certain government standards.
Another helpful source for thousands of inexpensive rural rentals
in France is the Maison des Gîtes.
In Italy you can stay in a working seminary or other religious institution
for about US$20–30 per night.
If you want to physically inspect a property before you rent it, you can book a
hotel room for the first day or so and then shop around for a rental. Apart from inquiring
at the local tourist office, you can try stopping by the local train station: most of
the main train stations host real estate agencies. You can also go direct to the
manager of a large rental complex. Don't expect much, however, if you're operating in
the high season.
If you're looking for a flat in Britain, the following translations of ad-speak
will prove helpful.
If you want to take the easy way out and pay more money, try the
property rental agencies in the Links.
Homestays and Farmstays
Rather than renting your own hideaway, you can arrange to stay with Europeans
in their homessometimes for a charge, sometimes not.
organizations help arrange homestays:
American International Homestays, Borton Overseas,
Friendship Force, The Hospitality Exchange,
Global Social Venture Network,
SERVAS, Worldwide B&B and Exchange Services.
Also take note of the People to People series of directories by Jim Haynes, and
the International Meet-the-People
It's especially common for farmers to host travelers who want to stay for a
week or morein the farmhouse itself, a guest house, or a barn-like structure. As with
a typical homestay, there's almost always a charge for such accommodation.
One option that gets easier and more popular each year is a home and vehicle
The biggest hurdle is trust; the easier it is for both parties to establish the
more practical this option becomes. Several organizations arrange such swaps and
provide the kind of professional, third-party assistance that's the catalyst of this
It's ultimately your responsibility to screen
potential tenants and to take whatever precautionary measures you deem
necessary. Make sure your homeowners insurance covers damage done by temporary
tenants and includes liability insurance to
protect you in case a guest is injured in your
home. If you rent to or exchange with strangers, make sure the contract stipulates that
they pay for the replacement value of
anything they happen to damage. Consider asking for a security deposit as well. There's
really nothing stopping you from including motor vehicles in the swap. If you
do include vehicles, first OK this with your auto-insurance provider, and confirm
that the other party has done the same.
If you're an academic, work for an international
company or firm, or belong to some other reputable international organization
(such as a church or a medical society), contact some of your European colleagues.
If you succeed in securing an exchange, consider exchanging lists of friends, too.
And if you agree to exchange vehicles, get the agreement in writing, and carry it in
the vehicle always, along, of course, with proof that the owner has properly insured
and registered the vehicle. You need to carry a special form of authority, an
Autorizacao certificate, if you plan to drive
someone else's vehicle in Portugal; get the form at
a registration office in Europe, or contact your local motoring club or a
Portuguese tourist office or embassy. A similar requirement is made by Turkey. If you
lose any of the registration or permissive documents, contact the local police. Don't
swap for a French-registered vehicle, however: in France it's illegal to drive a vehicle
not registered to you and not bearing a person it is registered to.
Apart from the saved cost of accommodation, the
spiritual rewards of volunteer work can be enormous. Recently I
volunteered for a two-week stint (usually the
minimum required stay) on an archaeological dig in France. The work was hard
but interesting (Neanderthal artifacts); and the project provided a great opportunity to
eat, drink, and play with the natives. And we ate and drank and played a
lot. I made many friendsdespite the fact that I
was the only one on the dig who didn't speak, or at least have some background in,
French. It was also a nice way to take a break
You may want to work for pay while in Europe. Technically speaking,
European governments require most foreigners to obtain a work permit before working
for pay in Europe. Contact Council Travel, Travel CUTS, or STA Travel (see the
Documents chapter) to obtain European work permits.
If you plan to stay abroad for an extended length of time, you should consider
subscribing to Transitions Abroad. This no-nonsense, information-packed
magazine addresses, among other things, all the
subjects discussed in this chapter. Furthermore, TA's annual
Educational Travel Resource Guide is the most thorough
directory available of volunteer-work, paid-work, study-abroad, and living-abroad
resources. TA's mission statement is the following:
The Fédération Internationale de l'
Automobile (FIA) and the Alliance Internationale de
Tourisme (AIT) each sponsor alliances of various national
motoring clubsincluding the AA, AAA, CAA, and NACsuch that
participating clubs reciprocate their benefits to
members of allied clubs. Depending on its affiliation, your club will give you an
FIA and/or AIT booklet as your entitlement to
these benefits. In each country chapter, I note and provide the address and telephone
number of the applicable clubs; still, AAA members might as well ask for the
brochure "Offices to Serve You Abroad".
In addition to assuring your reciprocal membership in dozens of European
motoring clubs, the FIA and AIT booklets
contain letters of credit which help cover such costs as vehicle repair and medical
and legal fees. If you don't belong to an
FIA or AIT-affiliated club, you can effect the
above coverage by paying freesome low, some relatively highfor temporary
membership in foreign clubs.
Some of these clubs sell separate breakdown coverage. For instance, you can
buy Europe-wide breakdown coverage from either of Britain's automobile
clubsthe Automobile Association (AA), tel. 01256 21023, or the Royal Automobile
Club (RAC), tel. 01800 678000but you must first buy a membership, an expensive
proposition. A cheaper and adequate alternative is the coverage offered by the
London-based outfit National Breakdown, tel. 0171 499 0039.
Many countries require of you, the foreign driver, no license apart from
your domestic drivers license. However, certain countries require of certain non-resident drivers
an International Driving Permit (IDP) in addition.
You should contact the relevant tourist office, consulate or embassy to determine whether
a country requires you to carry an IDP while driving.
A good secondary indicator in this respect is the
posted by the UK's Automobile Association.
Basically an IDP is a means by which police in a foreign
country can know in terms of translations in nearly a dozen
that your domestic driver's license is indeed recognized as being valid by
the proper authorities in your country. (See the
excellent article at
Is it really necessary that you obtain an IDP
if you plan to drive in the aforementioned countries? In practice of course it
depends on the particular police officer who might happen to pull you over.
The vehicle leasing company (e.g. Renault Eurodrive) doesn't care whether or not you have an IDP; it's up to you whether
you cover yourself in this regard.
The local office of your auto club (AAA, AA, CAA, etc.) sells IDPs for
about US$20. If you need an IDP, take
your license, two passport-sized photos and the requisite cash to the club office. (Though for about US$10 the
club may snap Polaroid photos for you.) Ten minutes later you'll be able to
legally drive on any European roadassuming you're at least 18 years of age. If you
plan to operate a motorcycle in Europe, be sure to have the auto club certify your
qualification to do so. The USA's AAA now has a Webpage whereby drivers
licensed in the USA can obtain an IDP:
AAA's application for IDP.
Web searches will bring up a host of Websites selling documents that conform
to the model delineated in annex 10 of the United Nations Convention on Road
Traffic (1949); but according to Article 24 of that convention,
a truly valid IDP is one which is "issued .. by the competent authority of
another Contracting State or subdivision thereof, or by an association duly
empowered by such authority ...." The US State Department says it has
empowered only the American Automobile Association (AAA) and the American
Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA) to issue IDPs. (The AATA offers IDPs
through the National Automobile Club.)
Whether you rent, lease, buy or ship a vehicle, you'll surely get Green
Card auto insurance in the process, the kind that explicitly covers you in several countries instead
of just one. However, as I describe in the
Buying chapter, even Green Card insurance excludes certain European
countries from the domain of its coverage. And if you buy your own insurance to cover
a vehicle you ship to or buy in Europe, you'll have to buy it in minimum
one-month increments. Fortunately, certain
non-Green Card auto-insurance policiesdesigned specifically for foreign motorists,
sponsored by one European country or another, and effective in that country
onlyallow you to augment Green Card insurance so you can drive in more countries and/or
be insured over periods that are not multiples of one month. A country may make
such insurance available through its embassies or consulates or through offices located
at points of entry. Italy, for example, sells auto insurancegood in Italy
onlythat covers fifteen, thirty or forty-five day
periods; but if you want to buy this insurance, you must do so before you arrive in
Italy. Finland, Norway, and Sweden, on the other hand, form a common border
insurance area: insurance that does or doesn't
cover you in one of these countries does or
doesn't cover you in the others. Scandinavian regional insurance is sold at border
entry points of each Scandinavian country; minimum validity 30 days, maximum 1 year.
It used to be that Green Card insurance was the only true blanket coverage
available, but besides the Scandinavian agreement, many other countries have
recently agreed to join one alliance which recognizes as valid in any member state the
auto insurance sold in such states. Countries
not party to this agreement are Albania, Andorra, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia,
Gibraltar, Greece, Iceland, Malta, Poland,
Romania, Slovenia and Turkey. A Green Card is compulsory in Andorra, Bulgaria,
Poland and Romania; and it's strongly recommended for travel in Greece, Italy,
Portugal and Spain. A Green Card covering Turkey should be valid for both the
European and Asian sectors.
Despite all the other insurance options, good 'ol fashioned Green Card
insurance is still preferable: the documents that come with it are familiar to
officials Europe wide and are very useful when reporting a traffic accident.
If you plan to buy auto insurance in Europe, you should, if possible,
secure from your auto-insurance provider a statement of accident-free driving. By
presenting such a statement when you buy your insurance, you can qualify for
As discussed in the Renting chapter, vehicles using Swiss expressways must
be graced by a special sticker or vignette.
You can buy this vignette for 40 SwF at Swiss National Tourist
offices, Swiss Customs posts (the border), Swiss post offices, or Swiss garages.
At the border you can pay in SwF, EUR £'s and USD. You can also pay inside the
Customs office onsite by credit card. The
vignette is valid until the end of the January of the year after you buy it, is non transferable,
and should be thoroughly affixed to the windshield. If you buy it from the person
stationed for this purpose outside the office (who accepts only cash), they
will insist on affixing the sticker. If you buy inside the office you can affix
the sticker yourself. You must obtain a separate
vignette for a trailer or caravan. If your vehicle doesn't bear a
properly affixed vignette and the Swiss police catch you driving on an
expressway, you'll be subject to a 100 SwF fineon top of
the vignette's cost. Expressways offer the
only hope for speedy and level motor travel through mountainous Switzerland.
Still, it's not absolutely necessary to use the expressways there; I
abstained on one trip. You have
to ask yourself this: Why do I want to travel quickly and horizontally through
Switzerland? Carefully study your map and the Switzerland chapter to determine if
you want a vignette.
Austria, Slovakia and other countries
recently introduced similar systems.
See Wikipedia's Vignette page
for more about such vignettes and road taxes.
If you're renting or leasing a vehicle or buying one direct from the factory,
bring any vouchers and copies of any agreements or other contracts. And of course
if you're shipping and importing, you'll need the proper documents for Customs, etc.
Never leave the ownership papers (called a "Grey Card") or the
insurance papers alone in the vehicle. In fact,
you should make photocopies of these papers and of your domestic driver's license
and IDP and then stash them in the same safe place (a neck pouch or money belt,
for example) you keep the copies of your passport and birth certificate. If you're
missing one of these documents when police pull you over, you'll be fined on the spot.
If you'll be driving someone else's vehicle, you should get written
permission from the owner. In Portugal, however,
you must obtain an Autorizacao certificate
also; to get one, contact your local motoring club or a Portuguese tourist office or
embassy, or stop in a European vehicle-registration office. Again, make and stash
photocopies of these documents.
Health and Security
Buying travel insurance is the closest thing to buying a guarantee for a hassle-free
trip. Such coverage can include personal liability, personal accident, hospital
benefit, medical expenses, evacuation, money loss, baggage loss or damage, travel delay
or interruption, cancellation, legal expenses, and loss of passport expenses. A friend
of mine took ill on her trip and spent ten days in a British hospital; besides the fact
that her regular health insurance covered the bills, she got about US$150 a day from
her travel insurance. Of course you must determine for yourself if the risks justify
Beware of package travel insurance plans that span health, baggage, autos
and the like: they usually duplicate insurance that you already have and contain too
many exclusions. Check if your current health care covers you abroad, and bring
along any medical insurance claim forms you may need. Also check how your
credit cards may cover you. Baggage insurance benefits for lost or stolen
articles tend to
be lousycovering up to, say, US$1000 only and excluding items like cameras, jewelry
and currency. Airlines may automatically cover each passenger's luggage
to a similar degree.
Motor vehicle rental and leasing
companies also offer baggage insurance. As such, develop a list of the areas in which you
are now not adequately covered. Next, call the travel insurance companies I list
below. Determine if these companies can offer a piecemeal, customized package. I
recommend that you consider purchasing the insurance from a company that's
underwritten by an insurance company in your home country: this will ease the settling
of any claims when you return home and, sorry to add, will cover the costs of
transporting your body home if you meet your end abroad. Regardless, determine (1)
if you're covered for personal effects left unattended in a locked motor
vehicle (specify if you'll be traveling in a
camper van), (2) the maximum coverage of any single article, and (3) if sports
activities such as skiing or hang-gliding are covered.
The International Travelers Hotline of the United States Centers for
Disease Control will tell you what inoculations you may need for a particular destination.
Consider bringing a record of all your inoculations in case
you decide to continue on to less developed areas of the world.
Bring your eyeglasses prescription: it's possible you'll lose your glasses.
My old glasses are probably still on the shore of the Geiranger fjord in Norway; if you
find 'em, let me know.
Hostellers and/or Students
To stay in hostels that are affiliated with the Hostelling International (HI)
organization, you should have an HI membership card.
See the Accommodations chapter for more on hostelling.
The International Student Identification Card (ISIC) entitles students under
26 years of age to big discounts on everything from museum entry to ferry passage;
it may also provide limited travel insurance.
Be sure to get this card if you qualify.
Campers should consider getting a Camping Card Internationale
(CCI)sponsored by the FIA, the AIT and the
International Federation of Camping and Caravaning (FICC) and commonly called a
"Camping Carnet". Some campgrounds require
that one CCI per campsite be deposited with the office. Some demand either a CCI or
a passport. (Though you should carry your passport with you at all times.) For
campground managers, the CCI amounts to a guarantee of payment: if you damage
anything and/or leave without paying, the campground will turn in your card
and eventually receive compensation. For you, the Carnet provides
several million SwF worth of insurance against any damages you might accidentally cause to the campground;
and in some cases it entitles you to discounts.
Accommodations chapter for more on camping.
If you'll be hostelling, camping, or staying with families or friends,
consider bringing some of your favorite recipes,
or researching recipes that are representative of the areas you'll be traveling to.
If bicycling, write down the make, model, and serial number of the
bicycle. Do the same with the address of the lock insurer.
If you're bringing an expensive, foreign-made item such as a camera
or camcorder, you should either take the sales receipt with you or register the item
with Customs before you leave your home country. Such documentation allows you
to prove upon return that you didn't buy the item abroad, and thus ensures that
you don't have to pay duty on it.
Don't forget a list of contacts in Europe and addresses and phone numbers
of people who you want to write to or call back home.
Business or calling cards are especially respected in Europe; they'll
open many doors.
If you plan to land a job in Europe, don't forget your résumé and letters
For motorhome travel soft-sided, collapsable bags are
the best sort to use, because they can be stored within the vehicle
without taking up much room. See our relevant Locations page for
information about whether or not the rental depot will store luggage for you.
Most European countries maintain a standard electricity supply of 50 Hertz
AC frequency at 220 or 230 Volts. However, certain areas of Greece use 110 Volts; parts
of Italy, 115 Volts; parts of Spain, 120 Volts; parts of the Netherlands, 127 Volts;
parts of Portugal, 210 Volts; and Britain and Ireland, 240 Volts. Most of Europe
employs a standard two-pin plug; in Britain and Ireland, however, a three-pin plug is
standard. Oftentimes, however, 110 or 115 Volt outlets are employed in
bathroom sockets, to lower the chance of lethal injury due to an electrical device
Unfortunately most North American appliances are designed to operate on
60 Hertz AC at 110 Volts and with plugs that don't fit in European sockets.
Check whether the appliances (shaver, hair dryer, camcorder, laptop computer, etc.) you
plan to take can accept the necessary voltages and frequency; if they can't, you may
need to buy a transformer. Most camcorder battery rechargers are designed to
accommodate world travelers and thus accept a wide range of voltages and frequencies
(in other words, they are "autosensing")
and come with a two-pin plug adapter. Newer-model laptop computers autosense as
well. Many hotels provide electric razor and toothbrush sockets that supply the
North American standard 110 Volts, but they're intended for these low-wattage
items onlydon't plug a high-wattage appliance, such as a hair dryer, into one of
these sockets. If you need a transformer or plug adapter, try contacting Magellan's
Travel Essentials or Franzus.
You can purchase two- and
three-pin plug adapters abroad as well.
Some camcorder tips
- Keep the sun at your back in most
- Don't zoom in and out too much.
- Pan slowly and zoom consistently.
- Don't shoot too long; keep it short and
- Don't start a scene with a pan. Establish
the scene first and then, if you must, pan.
Change the pace of the filming. Begin scenes differently: fade in and fade out,
but not every time; begin with a zoomed shot, then increase the angle (and vice
versa). Don't overlook the details of a place: flowers, food, signs, vehicles,
faces. Mix in staccato shots of minutiae
with the hackneyed and unimaginative slow-pan. Occasionally interview the
participants in the video as to their
impressions of the place. Ask what surprised them most: this'll preserve
first impressions that are naturally telling
but too often forgotten.
- Some people don't like to be filmed. You
must strike a balance between getting the
shot, not offending the subjects, and not
compromising your own experience. Try not to let the camera affect the shot. The
most poignant and truthful videos are shot
when the subject is unaffected by the recording device. Although at times it's
great fun to get people playing to the
camera, this quickly becomes tiring when
watching two hours of videoassuming you're not working with great talent. I
once missed filming an Aussie girl during
a dusk wine-drinking fest on the Spanish
coast of the Mediterranean; she was
perhaps one of the most brilliant gabs I'll
ever meet, and I missed recording her.
- Label the camcorder with your name and
address, and label the tapes themselves. If
one or both items are lost, at least there's
hope that some nice person will return them.
- Consider bringing a backup battery.
Some camera tips
- Keep the sun at your back in most situations.
- Recall the rule of thirds when taking
landscapes: avoid aligning the horizon across the middle of the picture; align it
across the bottom or top third.
- Incorporate people into most of your
pictures. It makes the pictures more
interesting. What's more, unless you photograph them, you
will forget the faces of many people you'd swear you'll never forget.
- Mix in some close-ups with the
- Consider making lots of black and white shots.
- Label the camera with your name and
address. If it's lost, at least there's hope
that some nice person will return it and
the precious film inside.
A waist pouch works great for carrying both palm-sized camcorders and
cameras, among other things. Beware, however: the pouch is an instant signal
that you're a tourist. This signal is bad if
you're trying to be hip, but it's also bad if you don't want to be singled out by
thieves. Trouble is, it's pretty hard not to look
like a touristno matter what you do. (Baseball hats, shorts and running shoes are
other giveaways.) But who are you trying to fool? I wouldn't worry about it. During
one trip, I wore a waist pack containing my camcorder and some money and
credit cards wherever I wentnot too cool, but great for getting good shots. Just be
careful in crowds. By applying some tape around the clip or tying the loose end of the
strap to a belt loop, you'll thwart most thieves.
A hint for North Americans: don't call it a "fanny" pack; trust me on this one.
Consider bringing a voice recorder to record your impressions. If you're
traveling alone, a voice recorder is easier to operate while driving than is a
camcorder. Also bring some music for the car.
If you absolutely must, bring an alarm clock. Magellan's sells tiny
alarm clocks designed for travelers.
Things for the Vehicle
All drivers in France must carry in their vehicle a reflective vest/jacket/waistcoat
and warning triangle. The fine for not carrying these is about EUR 150.
Similar rules apply in other countries. For instance, Spain requires at least two warning triangles
per Spain-registered vehicle and
at least one reflective vest/jacket/waistcoat per occupant of such vehicle; two warning triangles must be
deployed for each person who is attending such vehicle on the side of the road in Spain.
We recommend that our customers carry at least two warning triangles
per vehicle and one reflective vest/jacket/waistcoat per vehicle occupant.
France now requires that two certified alcohol breathalyzers be present in every motor vehicle.
The fine for not carrying the breathalyzers will be EUR 11.
The breathalyzers cost about EUR 2 and can be purchased in France at supermarkets, fuel stations, drugstores, and auto dealerships, or online.
You can study the
UK Automobile Assocation
website to learn more about compulsory equipment per European country.
Here are some further special tips in this respect:
- Carry spare bulbs of the correct wattage
for your lights: bulbs may be difficult to
obtain abroad. In Spain and Germany and certain other
countries it's compulsory to carry a spare
set of bulbs.
- If you plan to drive on the continent with
a vehicle that's designed for driving on
the left side of the road, or in the British
Isles with one designed for the right side,
the headlight beams should be adjusted before you make the switch. Headlights are designed to point slightly to the outside of the road, so they don't blind oncoming vehicles. Of course
you can buy a headlight conversion kit in
Europe. The kits are sold at service stations near borders but may be provided by ferry companies, cost about US$5 and consist of specially shaped
adhesive black plastic which sticks to the
glass and alters the direction of the beam or clip-on beam deflectors which do the same. Alternatively you can rig your own conversion by placing duct tape or the like over the refracted portion of the glass.
Motorcyclists should do the following:
- Get a helmet that has a full face cover; all
European countries require a rider to wear
- Bring a good motorcycle lock.
- Bring a jacket that is warmer than you
think you'll need.
- Buy the best brightly colored rain gear
you can find; it can double as a
- Bring heavy boots and waterproof
- Get crash bars: they may save your legs if
- Buy a luggage rack, hooked rubber straps,
and a plastic bag to secure and cover your
luggage; or else buy a lockable luggage carrier.
- Pay extra for an electric starter: it'll save
much effort and anxiety.
- Replace a side kickstand with another
type: side kickstands sink into many
- Forego buying a tank lock: such locks
rattle and are a pain to get open.
- Carry spare light bulbs and spark plugs:
the plugs consistently foul.
- Replace with a better one the cheap
rearview mirror that's standard on most motorcycles: otherwise it'll constantly
vibrate and quickly come loose.
Bring the maps and brochures that the tourist offices sent you, or maps you
bought yourself. But remember, maps are cheaper in Europe.
If you're physically handicapped and have a wheel chair placard, bring it along. You'll
be afforded the same rights in Europe that you are at home.
Bring booster cables, a flashlight, pliers, screwdrivers (both flat- and
Phillips-head), open-end wrenches, electrical
tape, duct tape, a wire hanger, and a pocket knife. Also bring chalk: if you get in
an accident and have to move your vehicle, you can mark the position of the
tires before you move it.
You might want to bring a magnetic box in which you can place an extra set
of vehicle keys and stick somewhere on the underside of the vehicle.
A compass might come in handy.
Bring some clear plastic to use as a temporary window in the event that
one gets broken. Duct tape will work to fasten the plastic to the vehicle. In fact duct
tape will prove useful in many an emergency.
Consider bringing a container and siphon to siphon gasoline in case you
run out. But don't worry; there's no lack of fuel stations in Europe.
Consider bringing a rubber tarantula or rubber snake. You can leave one of
these on the front passenger seat to repel
thieves. Who knows? It might work!
The incidence of vehicle theft is high in the city of Prague and in Poland.
Consider bringing a car-theft deterrent like "The Club" if you have one. Whether
you buy such a device specifically for your trip depends on the insurance and vehicle
you'll have. Usually, renters and leasers are adequately covered by theft insurance;
others may have to purchase auto-theft insurance at a substantial cost.
Van-trippers and motorhomers, you should buy a large airtight container, fill
it with water, soap, and dirty clothes, and let the motion of your vehicle do your
washing for you. (Laundromats are quite expensive in Europe.) And don't forget lengths
of hose and electrical cable as described in the
Always split your valuables into two separate places, such as a dummy wallet
(containing spending money for the day) and a neck pouch or waist pack. A neck pouch
is more comfortable and accessible than the admittedly more secure money belt.
Keep one or more credit cards in each of these carrying devices: if one of the carriers
is stolen, you can use the other card. You can order neck pouches and money belts
from Europe Through the Back Door.
If you have traveler's checks, keep the bulk of them in one
place and a list of the check numbers in another. Put a note tin your wallet telling
potential robbers what you think of 'em: in case of
a robbery, you can hand over wallet and feel pretty good about it. If you want to use
a shoulder bag, get one with a long strap so you can put it securely across your
opposite shoulder. You might even want to use safety pins to pin your pockets and
pack zippers shut. Don't use padlocks on pack zippers; the thief will just take the
whole pack then. A rubber wedge can function as a door lock where the latter is absent
Budget travelers, why make your backpack the most expensive thing you
have and the biggest target for theft? Backpacks are made for hiking miles and miles
of rough terrain. You probably won't be doing much of thatespecially if you
driveunless, that is, you plan to do overnight hikes. (In Switzerland and other
countries communal huts are to be found spaced along the beautiful alpine trails.) The
pack will spend most of its time at your feet or locked away at a hostel or pension.
Consider getting a canvas backpack, sea sack or duffle bag instead. You can find these
at your local Army Surplus store. Not only is such luggage cheaper, it gives you the
aura of a salty sea-dog. Sure it'll require you to pack light, but note the virtues of
light packing that I describe later.
A cell phoneeven a fakealways provides a measure or two of security.
Bring your favorite toiletries: you probably won't be able to find them in Europe.
Don't forget any medication you may need, including aspirin.
Ear plugs will add hours of sleepespecially on the plane and in the
Along with your prescription, consider bringing an extra pair of glasses
or contactsespecially if you'll be driving in Spain, where drivers are required to have
a backup pair in the vehicle.
Bring a journal to record your experiences and thoughts and the addresses
of people you'll meet. This is very important.
An audio tape recorder will let you capture impressions and conversations while
Phrasebooks work best as an icebreaker. The natives think it's hilarious
to see their language condensed as such, and they appreciate your effort to learn.
Open it up, hand it over, and listen to 'em roar; you'll be off to a good start.
A book of poetry might be apt. It's amazing how inspiring a group of
friends, a bottle of wine, and the Swiss Alps can
be. Try Rimbaud.
Bring along a good paperback, preferably one with a travel theme.
To push the budget-travel envelope consider making your own postcards
using tourist brochures obtained in Europe, thin cardboard, knife or scissors, and glue.
The results are amazingly professional-looking. But sure the cardboard isn't
thicker than the normal postcard material, or you may end up paying more in extra
postage than you save by not buying postcards. By the way, postcards cost only US$0.30 or
so. Or get doubles made of photos while abroad and send extras as postcards.
Bring a cheap solar calculator to calculate exchange rates, fuel efficiency, etc.
Sewing machine oil is great for cleaning Swiss Army knives.
A roll of clear Scotch tape will let you repair worn novels. And if you want to
tear out a few pages from your guidebook to carry with you, go ahead and then
tape them back in later.
Campers, you can exchange empty propane cylinders at campground or
sporting goods stores. Propane refills are available all over at stores, service stations
Consider bringing a Nerf football, a baseball and gloves, or a frisbee.
Foreign pastimes intrigue Europeans and thus
serve as great icebreakers. If you can make balloon animals,
you can be a star street performer wherever you go.
Two suitable plastic cups will add class to wine drinking sessions.
Dental floss can also function as a cheese slicer and as emergency thread.
Ginger is said to stave off car sickness. It comes in capsules,
but ginger tea is more a enjoyable vehicle.
Applying pressure to the point on the wrist where the pulse is typically taken can
also do the trick.
A Palestinian-style scarf, 1 x 1 meters, can function as a sun hat, a rain hood,
a table cloth, a towel, a sling, padding, a pillow, a laundry bag, a rope, etc.
A small plastic hook with a suction cup will be handy in bathrooms
where hooks are absentan all too common case.
Bungee cords are handy for attaching miscellany to your pack.
Consider bringing a fishing pole. Some great streams and lakes exist in
Europe. Furthermore, a fishing pole gives a
traveler instant credibility with natives
everywhere across the globe.
It might be better to leave the family pet at home. An imported animal must be
put under quarantine for six months in some countries.
If you want a knife for protection (though I don't recommend carrying
one), make it a dive knife: Customs officials are used to seeing these.
Better yet, consider bringing a Maglite flashlight: useful for camping
and for inspecting your vehicle, and basically innocuous—but quite a
nasty club should you need to display or swing one (holding the nub end).
You may want to consider "traveling
light". The less you have the less you have to
carry and worry about and the less you have to lose. And to reduce your belongings to
the essential is one of travel's most sublime and surprising pleasures; the old nomad
in you will well up and grin. Below is a list of items that are widely considered
Usually you can bring a bicycle on a plane free of charge. Go to a bike shop and get
a used bike box for free. To get the bike in the box, you'll have to remove the handle
bars, pedals, and rear wheel. So you can reassemble the bike when you arrive and
disassemble the bike when you leave again, bring along the tool you used to
disassemble the bike. Throw away the bike box when you arrive; you can pick up
another from a bike shop just before you leave.
Here's what you need for long distance bicycling.
the following replacement parts:
Note that in the absence of panniersand by employing the light packing
approach described previouslyyou can save about US$100 by purchasing a simple
canvas sea sack instead of panniers. Four or five bungee cords can secure a properly
packed sea sack to the rack over the rear tire;
but get at least one extra, just in case. A large plastic garbage bag can protect the
sack from rain.
If you currently have bike insurance (such as that associated with a lock
guarantee), check if it applies abroad.
The most reasonable advice I can give you about avoiding jet lag is this: Don't try
too hard, at least not until you get to your destination. Your body is a very
smart machine and is not easily tricked. As such, there is no sure-fire, esoteric formula
for beating jet lag. Forget the eating and sleeping changes that some people preach
you should practice the week before you go; just get excited and enjoy your
flightthat's what it's all about. There are some reasonable measures to take,
however. Consider drinking carrot juice before the flight: carrots offer the best resistance to
the oxygen deficiency which can occur at 10,000 feet and above. Avoid
carbonated drinks, cabbage, beans and cauliflower: these cause gas, which expands with
altitude. Drink lots of uncarbonated liquids, eat lightly, don't drink coffee or
alcohol, eat little or no sugar, and try to cop a
two- or three-hour in-flight nap. Sounds like a recipe for right living, eh? But maybe
that blows your idea of fun.
When you land in Europe, not only will you be displaced in space and time,
but an unpredictable combination of fatigue and adrenaline will create a sense of
unreality that may be interesting enough in itself to keep you awake. And this is
exactly what you must do: stay awake. You can help matters by immediately
spending two hours outdoors: the natural light
will begin re-tuning your body clock. If you make it to the local bedtime, chances
are you'll have beat the jet lag; you'll wake the next day and be back in phase.
Besides, with Europe at your feet, you'll never
have a better reason to stay awake.
There is, however, at least one good book on the subject.
Overcoming Jet Lag, by Charles F. Ehret and Lynne
Waller Scanlon, offers a three-step program (used by the US Army) to counter jet lag.
Berkeley Books; US$8.