Travelling by car in Europe: How to prepare?
- You should be thoroughly prepared for any long car journey abroad.
- Check the condition of your car, don’t forget essential documents, pack efficiently.
- Get as much information as possible and be prepared in advance for possible complications.
Before any extended trip abroad, be sure to check your car and its equipment carefully. You won’t go wrong if you leave your car in the hands of the experts at the garage. However, you can check the basics yourself.
The basics are working and clean headlights, well-functioning brakes and shock absorbers, and sufficient fluids and fuel. Also check the validity of your MOT. The following list will help you check the roadworthiness of your vehicle.
- Operating fluids – engine oil, coolant and brake fluid
- Air conditioning and pollen filter
- Washer fluid – summer or winter mixture
- Brakes and shock absorbers
- Fuel shortage
- Validity of technical inspection
Mandatory and optional equipment
Check what equipment is compulsory in the countries you will be driving through and at your destination. In many countries, for example, a fire extinguisher is compulsory. This is definitely recommended.
Reflective vests for everyone in the car should be a given, as should a warning triangle and a first aid kit. All of these items must be easily accessible, not crammed in with luggage. Also pack a torch, tow rope and, in winter, a shovel and snow chains.
Even if you have a sat nav, you won’t go wrong if you also pack a paper car map just in case. A good tip is the meticulously crafted offline Google Maps for the whole of Europe, which you can download for free from the app of the same name.
It’s also a good idea to have 1 litre of oil and around 3 litres of distilled water with you in case of a spillage. We also recommend packing a spare car key. A broken or lost key far from home is a really big complication.
Get a car charger for your devices.
You can find the mandatory equipment in European countries, along with the amount of motorway tolls, in the articles on each country.
Keep your tyres well inflated before driving. Pay attention to the correct pressure for the load on the vehicle. You can usually find recommended tire pressure readings on the inside of the fuel tank, on the driver’s door pillar, in your car’s manual, or on the Internet.
The tread depth of the tyres is important. For summer tyres, most countries have a minimum tread depth of 1.6 mm. However, tyres with a tread depth of at least 3 mm are recommended for safe driving on wet roads. Winter tyres should have a minimum tread depth of 4 mm.
Make sure you have an inflated spare wheel or a tyre repair kit. A working jack and wheel spanner are essential. Some cars also require a wheel reducer for the safety wheel bolts when replacing the wheel. If your car does not have a built-in tow bar, make sure you carry a bolt-on towing eye.
If you have to change a wheel while on the road, it is recommended that you check the bolts for tightness after a few miles.
What to prepare before departure
Check the validity of your documents and vehicle documents well before you leave. Plan your journey carefully, allow for stops to stretch and refuel. Last but not least, you need to pack everything you need efficiently.
When planning a trip abroad, find out what the tolls are in the countries you’re passing through and whether you can buy a vignette online in advance of your departure, saving you time and hassle along the way.
It’s also useful to find out the speed limits in each country in advance.
Before you travel, prepare all the necessary documents listed below and check their validity well in advance.
- Driving licence
- Citizenship card or passport
- Insurance card
- Vehicle registration card
- Green card*
- Document of accident insurance, if you have it
- Proof of travel insurance, contact details of the insurance company’s helpline
- Authorisation to use the vehicle in the case of a rental car or company car
- European accident report form
* The Green Card is an internationally recognised proof of the existence of third party liability insurance, known as compulsory third party liability.
Make sure you take out travel insurance with an insurance company before you travel to cover your medical expenses in the event of sudden illness or injury abroad. In addition, insurers offer cover for things like lost or stolen luggage, adventure sports or permanent damage after an accident. Don’t forget to make a note of the insurance company’s helpline contact details.
Check your car insurance documents and check with your insurer to see what your assistance packages cover and whether they also cover complications with your car abroad. If you don’t have breakdown cover, we recommend taking out short-term cover for your holiday abroad.
If you are travelling in a rental or company car, be sure to get the car owner’s power of attorney to use the car for your trip. Have the power of attorney in English. Check the signature on the power of attorney. In the event of a roadside check, accident, etc., the police may have doubts about the origin of the vehicle, which can be very unpleasant. Proving that you did not steal the car can then take some time.
Be sure to check the current entry requirements for COVID-19 before you travel.
Packing and luggage
The luggage compartment of the car is not inflatable. A car full to the ceiling may be a problem in the event of sudden braking or a car accident. If luggage is not well secured, for example with straps or netting, it can seriously endanger the lives of passengers in risky situations. For large volumes of luggage, opt for the roof box or towing box route.
There are rules on how to arrange luggage in the car so that safety principles are maintained as much as possible and passengers are not put at risk in the event of an abnormal situation.
- Place heavy items in the luggage compartment at the bottom and as close to the seats as possible and secure them securely if possible.
- Place lighter items in the second layer.
- Place the lightest and softest items at the top.
- Do not place heavy or dangerous items on the back plate.
- Place essentials such as food, drink and mandatory equipment in the glove compartments, on the edge of the luggage compartment or under the seat.
It would seem that packing is the easy part, but appearances are deceiving. Depending on your destination, consider what is essential and what you can do without.
Going on the road
It’s time to hit the road. You’ve planned your journey, your car is ready, you’ve packed your belongings and essential documents and stowed them properly in the boot of your car.
It is essential to be well rested for the journey. It is not wise to head out for the night after a full day of packing and preparation. If you are not sure whether you could manage the long journey, plan to spend the night about halfway through the journey at a nice place in the passage country.
It is up to you whether you choose to travel during the day or overnight. It is most often recommended to start early in the morning after at least 6 hours of sleep.
Even if you are travelling in warm weather, choose shoes with a sturdy heel and a ridged sole for driving. There is nothing worse than driving in flip-flops or barefoot. Flip-flops simply slip off the pedals or can even get wedged between the pedals.
Beware of proper handling of the air conditioner to avoid catching a nasty cold or strep throat. Do not point the vents directly at each other and keep the difference between the outside and inside temperature to no more than 6 to 8°C.
Always keep snacks handy. Keep to a drinking regime, ideally consuming plain water, which serves to prevent fatigue.
At night, when using your navigation or phone, set the device to night mode to avoid glare and eye fatigue. Watch out for microsleep and try to maintain a conversation with your passenger if possible.
It’s ideal if driving doesn’t rest on the shoulders of just one driver and you can take turns along the way. A rest break or driver change is recommended every 2 to 3.5 hours. Monitor your ability to concentrate and take a break at the slightest doubt.
You can take a short nap, stretch, do a little warm-up, or fortify yourself with coffee or an energy drink. Be careful with these drinks, however, as they can only delay fatigue, which will come on much stronger later.
Problems along the way
It’s not uncommon for a problem to occur along the way. Whether you’re dealing with a technical fault with your car or even a traffic accident, try to keep calm and cool. Everything can be solved. Most EU countries use the same 112 emergency number.
If you have a technical fault or breakdown with your vehicle, call your insurer’s helpline. The number for the assistance service is shown on the green card.
If the breakdown occurs while you are driving, in any case, pull the vehicle into a parking lane first. All crew wear reflective vests and move behind the barriers. Place the warning triangle on the edge of the roadway so that it is clearly visible to approaching drivers in a timely manner. It should be at least 50 m behind the vehicle in a village and at least 100 m behind the vehicle on the motorway.
Carry a telephone and contact details for an assistance line. The insurance company is able to provide assistance abroad. Your vehicle can either be repaired on the road or towed to a garage.
In the event of a traffic accident, turn on your hazard lights immediately and keep them on at all times. As in the event of a breakdown, have the whole crew wear reflective vests, place a warning triangle and move to safety.
First aid should be given to injured persons and the ambulance, police and possibly the fire brigade should be called. Use the single emergency number 112.
- Take foreign currency with you in change. It will come in handy, for example, to pay for toilets at petrol stations.
- Download offline Google Maps for your destination country. You can do this for free in the app of the same name.
- Prepare something to put your trash in for the trip.
Traveling with kids
Long journeys can be challenging with children and it’s a good idea to be thoroughly prepared. Remember that even children must have valid photo ID, i.e. a passport or ID card. The child’s photo should match the real one. Before travelling, check the correct adjustment and position of the child car seat.
If you are starting your journey at night or early in the morning, cover the children with a blanket. When travelling in hot weather, be sure to get suitable window shades to prevent unpleasant glare from direct sunlight and to prevent heatstroke. Be sure to pack medication for childhood sickness, such as Kinedryl.
An organiser at the back of the seat, for example, is also useful to give children good access to drinks, snacks and toys. Keep an eye on children’s drinking habits. Have water or, even better, wet wipes ready to wipe dirty hands and mouths.
Entertainment is key when travelling with children. In today’s modern age, a tablet with fairy tales comes in handy to keep longer journeys running smoothly. Place it in a suitable holder. Many children also enjoy listening to audio stories. Older children will appreciate their own headphones with music or a story in an mp3 player.
Along the way, play word games, sing, give puzzles or count cars or objects of a certain colour, look for features in the landscape, etc. You can find plenty of inspiration for children’s car games on the internet.
Sitting for long periods of time and dangling legs out of the car seat can cause uncomfortable tingling in children’s legs. However, small children will find it difficult to explain the crossed legs. The same applies, for example, to the discomfort of excessive sweating in the car seat.
Frequent breaks are therefore essential when travelling with children (unless they are sleeping). There are rest areas with a playground where restless children can have a little fun along the way. You should factor these stops into your timetable in advance to avoid the stress of being late.
Chasing behind the wheel
Obey the traffic laws and speed limits of the country you are in. Forget aggressive driving, drive calmly and relaxed.
Leave out typically British driving habits such as unnecessary driving in the left lane, not keeping a safe distance or even tailgating. In the event of a motorway queue, create a ‘lifeline’ in the middle and remember the rules of zipping through the narrows.