How to plan a road trip abroad

Now this is our language!! We bloody love a road trip and have plans to go on many many more. We have travelled down the West coast of Italy from Venice down to Naples, and have flown across the USA in one ginormous trip, checking off Florida, Vegas, LA and Boston. (Check out our travel posts to read all about the specifics of these and what we got up to!) In this post we are phrasing road trips as any holiday that checks off multiple destinations in one – whether you travel by car, trains or planes.

We think travelling across a country in one big trip lets you tick off so much more of the country that you might not have had the opportunity to without, and can be the most jam-packed exciting way to get around. Road tripping can be absolutely exhausting, but it’s one of those things that you can make your own way with, choosing to stick in some rest days, pool days, or to go all out and never stop. You can totally make your own rules and tailor your perfect trip. This post is all about how to plan your foreign road trip, points to consider, and to give you the ammo you need to be able to create your perfect road trip and decide if it is the right thing for you. Let’s get into it!

Think about your country and stops

The first step is going to be choosing what country to explore – or even multiple countries. Think about logistics and what cities or places within the country you’d really like to see. Are they close together? If not, could you add in a stop in the middle for a night or two to make everything flow better? When we were looking at driving through Italy, we added in cities to make sure no one journey would be more than a couple of hours. If you don’t want to add in any extra stops, consider changing up your mode of transport – a train could be quicker than driving or you could fly between stops like we did in America. The beauty about road tripping in a car means you can see the less touristy, more outback areas along the way. So many places are steeped in lakes, mountains and outright beauty that are so worth seeing. Do a whole bunch of research on blogs, Google and Pinterest to see what people have done previously and what they liked about their adventures. Sometimes the longer routes will let you see the waterfalls and the real hidden gems, so it’s not always as simple as drawing a straight line! Get old school and have a look at Google maps, and everything you’ll be near across the drives. You might find castles, viewing points, national parks.. factor them in!

Have a look on Skycanner (more on this in the resources section at the end of this post!) to find the cheapest flights from your chosen country. You’re likely to want to add on an extra stop to the beginning or end of your trip to save potentially hundreds of pounds on the initial travel to the country.

Choose your mode(s) of transport

Are you comfortable driving abroad? What are the most scenic routes going to be in your destination? One of the best parts of travelling across a country is the journey itself; seeing all the countryside, lakes, seas, towns, and villages as you make your way across. I can’t think of anything better than driving through the mountains of Tuscany, windows down, music blasting and surrounded by sunshine and nothing but blue skies. Some destinations have infamously stunning train journeys that could be quicker, more scenic or just more fun than driving everywhere. The things I would do for a ride on the Orient Express! You could always mix and match your modes of transport and catch trains, cars and flights in a combination.

If you’re hiring a car, you will get a surcharge through dropping the car off at a different rental branch than the one you picked it up from. We’ve seen this tends to start from about 90 euros extra to the price of hiring the car. We find it important not to skimp on rental cars and the cheapest option often has much more hidden costs and less accident/damage coverage. It makes sense to get a reliable car made for the roads you want to take it on, and spend a little extra for added protection. Always take photos or your rental car as soon as you pick it up and note any scratches and marks so you are not charged for them. Renting a car allows you to take different modes of transport on different legs of the trip and can give you more freedom. However, if you’re travelling from the UK and travelling to close European countries, it could save you a lot of money and security to bring your own car. See how much European insurance will cost and weigh out the benefits and cons.

Determine your route and accommodation

Now you have a country, stops and transport in mind, plan out the route and choose your accommodation. If you’re hiring cars on different legs of the trip, you could factor in a camper-van and park near some lakes for a night or two. (Always do your research into where is affordable/free and safe to stay if you’re wild camping.) If you’re driving the whole way you will have to find hotels with parking nearby and will often have to stay a little further out of city centres – this was never an issue for us on our trips. Just double check you’re also close to public transport or easy taxis if you will need them to get around.

We chose a mixture of cheaper hotels, Airbnbs and some worth splurging on. We decided to stay in smaller, cheaper places when we were closer to big cities as generally prices are inflated anyway. You can avoid city taxes if you stay a little further out of the city, and often will get better value for money on the whole. When you’re in the countryside you’ll often find the best deals – we spent more in Tuscany to rent out a bloody stunning bungalow nestled in the mountains, with a sunset-trapping terrace and pool. This was bang on the middle of our road trip and was a great place to escape all the bustle of the Italian cities and just relax. Having done this here and not so much in America, I would personally say it’s 100% worth scheduling in a few days to relax and not feel like you always have to be out and about. We drank our body weight in wine, chatted, lounged and wandered the mountains. And it. was. perfect!

Plan for everything!

It’s always a good idea to plan for more eventualities than pure perfection, as it’s just unlikely everything will go the way you wanted if you’re out and about for long enough! We’ve had burst tyres, lack of public transport, need for pharmacies and oh sooo much more on our travels. If you’re out for a long time and potentially in the outback of certain countries, add in some contingency plans. Bring a physical map/tourist language book and extra power banks. Check your hire car has roadside assistance, or check the numbers you’ll need in case of this and save them to your phone. Have a look at the nearest supermarkets and towns to your travels and keep note of them. Take pictures of all your documents and make sure the most important things are locked away or on you as much as possible. If you’re travelling around a lot there is much more room for things to go off plan, so just have a think about the things that are most important in an crisis. (I don’t even know what I would have done without Jack with a completely burst tyre in the middle of Tuscany haha!)

Should I consider using a tour operator to plan my road trip? (Or take me on a road trip?)

I wholeheartedly think planning your own foreign road trip can be the most fulfilling and personal way to do it; tour operators planning your route for you will cost more and will never be quite as personal as doing it yourself. They do come with some benefits though, like doing all the research for you and – if you’re on a group road trip – travelling with other people and tour guides. If you go with reputable tours you’ll always be looked after and never sent to unsafe places, and should be given support and advice along the way if needed. There are so many tour operators and some of them will provide all the transport for you and stick you with a bunch of like-minded people. Whereas others will provide you with tickets, routes and you will do the rest.

Although it takes more research to do it all yourself, the amount of money saved and the fact every single bit of it can be curated to suit you makes it more appealing to me. I would happily go on a road trip tour, and think tours in terms of excursions can be the better option across some destinations. But in terms of mapping out a holiday, I think we’re all capable and should give it a go!

Road trip resources

  • Car hire comparison – We suggest checking out the websites Holiday Autos and Expedia to see what cars are available to hire and the costs in dropping the cars off to a different destination.
  • Flight comparison Skyscanner is our current favourite website to see the cheapest flights to your chosen country. Search your dates and country into the Skyscanner search feature, but do not specify your destination as specific as the city – leave it at the country. Your search will show you the cheapest airports to fly from at that time. (Sometimes it’s best to search your flights separately as one way flights!)
  • Trains – We always use the Trainline website for European travel – they tend to have great deals (not hard against the state of the UK train fares) and are always trustworthy and simple to work out.
  • Hotels – We always check Expedia and Airbnb when looking for accommodation – and then add in some other searches to check we’re not missing out on better deals or holiday sites for our chosen destinations. Expedia allows you to collect nectar points on all travels, along with member sales and internal points collecting. (It is free to become a member and you receive different tiers after booking holidays.) Airbnb is a good judge on whether it will be cheaper or better value to stay in an apartment or villa on your holiday.
  • Insurance – If you are hopping across borders on your road trip, consider getting a years worth of travel insurance as it will be often be a better deal than buying separate insurance covers for every country. We use to find the cheapest cover for any one trip.
  • Check the travel website to see travel requirements, restrictions and how long you’ll need left on your passport to travel to your chosen country. This is really helpful logistics information and can also let you know what jabs you might need to get, and what to be aware of when away.

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