It’s 3.30 pm and I am sitting on the bed of our AirBNB with Roberto sleeping next to me. We drove 15 hours non-stop yesterday, we had little to eat, and we slept in a fully packed car, without being able to incline our seats. I woke up every hour, sometimes because of a cramp in my leg, sometimes because trucks where driving by at full speed, one time because I found out there is a red flickering light in the car I had never seen before, and another because I though demetors might find the car.
We have been on pretty many road trips since we met. The first one was in 2010, and it was also the longest we ever did; from Italy (Turin, Milan, Aosta), to Switzerland (Bern and Costanz), through Germany (Munich and Berlin) to the Netherlands (Leiden, Amsterdam and Utrecht) and back through Belgium, Luxembourg, and France (Cevennes).
Then we moved to the Netherlands, and since then we’ve been on many more road trips to go back to Italy and to explore the Netherlands.
While driving yesterday we thought of gathering some tips for any of you guys who is planning on going on a road trip. I hope these tips will help you organising your trip.
1. Check oil, water, gas, etc. and all documents before leaving
Obvious, I guess, but very important. Do it a few days before departure, to avoid last minute panic attacks.
- Get informed about highway rules in other countries
When we drove to Switzerland we knew you had to buy an “admission” sticker and put it on your car window, but we had no idea where to get the sticker from. We drove through the border and still had no sticker. I was really worried we would get a big fine for passing the border without the sticker. Fortunately I found out they sold them at the first service station. It would have been easier if I had informed myself before leaving.
Another example is the French law: you need to have a Breathalizer in your car at all times. Who knew that was necessary to drive through a country safely?
- Prepare food in advance
Before leaving go grocery shopping and prepare your meals for the day or days you will be on the road. The food they sell at the service stations is not convenient, and it is not the healthiest either.
I always bring lots of fruit and vegetables that are easy to eat: apples and bananas (only when it’s not too hot), and tomatoes and carrots. I also usually make a few sandwiches.
Bring a few bottles of water too, since they’re pretty expensive on the highway. Stopping for breaks to us means two things: bathroom and coffee!
- Bring a (heavy) blanket
Whether it’s August or February, you will want to bring a blanket. In 2010 we stopped to sleep a few hours in a service station in France; it was only the beginning of September, but at night the temperatures dropped and we just couldn’t sleep more than two hours because we had only a very thin blanket and we were freezing.
- Bring good music (obviously)
We like pretty much the same music, so we are lucky on that part. But try to change CDs and allow everyone to listen to their favorite artists. We usually do that who drives decides.
Personally, I like to bring some more upbeat CDs for the day, and a little more calming music for the night when Roberto is sleeping. He listens to 80s rock whenever I try to sleep, but usually I manage to fall asleep anyway.
- You don’t have to drive 130 km/h because everyone else is
When you are driving long distances you will notice, especially around big cities, that people are in a hurry. Everyone wants to go at full speed, and sometime you are surrounded by a swarm of cars who want to drive as fast as they’re allowed to. If you don’t feel like driving 130, and feel safer driving 110 instead, don’t do it, slow down and drive at whatever speed you feel safe.
- Dress comfortably
Put on you pajamas if you want, no one will care. I usually wear leggings, a long shirt and Toms at my feet.
- Be flexible
Not everything might go as planned. Try to be flexible: if you printed out your itinerary, but for some reason you cannot follow it, find another way and enjoy that moment. I feel like this when something unexpected happens (unless I have little time, then I get very nervous).
- Save coins for the tollbooths
This might be different in other parts of the world (let me know if it is!) but in France, for example, you will pass from tollbooths where you have to through your coins in some sort of basket. It will be much faster and easier if you will have the money ready.
10. Don’t trust the GPS
We threw out the GPS of our car the day we went to see Jack Johnson in Vigevano (Italy) and he (or better, she) let us drive through tiny roads between rice fields and finally just wanted us to keep making a U turn into a wall.
We also got lost in Brussels one time, and we drove the wrong way on a big road, which scared the heck out of me.
We dusted off our 2001 maps of Europe, France, and Northern Italy, and bought a map of the Netherlands and Belgium. Since then we never had a problem finding our way.
These were the tips came to our minds while driving. If you have any more tips let me know!
(I wrote this post a few days ago, but didn’t manage to finish it until today. We have arrived in Italy now. If you want to follow what we’re up to, check out my Instagram)