The Secret to Planning the Perfect Road Trip
There’s something about planning a road trip that ignites universal excitement in all who seek escapism, spontaneity and adventure. Whether your journey takes you three days or three months, cross-country or cross-continent, a road trip is the perfect opportunity to relax, discover and appreciate the incredible world we live in.
Planning the route
Planning your route can be as easy or as complex as you want, it all depends on where you're roadtrippin' and what you want to experience along the way.
Over the years I've mapped out a variety of different journeys: interrailing around Europe, island hopping the length and breadth of Thailand and this summer, driving Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro and back to Croatia again in a Ford Fiesta! The golden rule of route planning: never double back on yourself if you can help it. Be mindful of all the destinations you want to hit before booking flights - try to map your journey in a straight line or a loop if possible. Check out our itinerary and self-made route from summer 2017 for inspiration:
Renting your car
First things first, you can’t set off on your epic odyssey without organising the most important part: the car. A full driving licence is essential for car hire in Europe, and while the required length of time to hold a licence varies from one company to another, my advice would be to make sure whoever is driving is 100% confident behind the wheel. You’ll be driving on the opposite side of the road in the vast majority of destinations outside Ireland, with a strong possibility that you’ll also have CRAZY drivers riddled with road rage to contend with.
It’s important to do your research for car renting well in advance; almost no agencies in Europe (or, in fact, the rest of the world) accept cash or debit card payments – you’ll need a credit card which can present a problem if you’re young and fresh out of college like me! Lagoon car rental in Reykjavik, Iceland have no problem with debit cards, and this summer we were lucky enough to find a single company in all of Croatia who accepted this form of payment. We had no problems with Unirent during our trip and handed our tough little car back with no extra charges. Having said that, there was an issue with returning our deposit (which we still haven’t received); Unirent blamed the bank, the bank blamed Unirent, so I would be a little reluctant to fully recommend them because of this.
- Always take pictures of your rental car before first use – keep the proof on your phone just on the off chance that the hire company try anything dodgy when you go to hand it back.
- Another factor to bear in mind is that collecting or returning your rental car during off-peak or anti-social hours often incurs an additional charge; this may be something to consider when planning your flight times and overall route, particularly if you’re on a tight budget!
- And whatever else you might cut costs on, pay whatever extra it is for a GPS or Sat Nav – this will be the most valuable asset on your adventure.
If your route will take you across national borders, you may need to arrange the relevant paperwork with the car rental agency. Check this out with the company before starting.
During our Balkan adventure, we travelled between three states and passed a significant number of tolls along the way. In certain places these fees can only be paid in cash, so it’s always handy to keep a supply of coins (in a variety of currencies where necessary!) with you in the car.
Be mindful of more police and speed cameras than usual around border crossings. We had a run in with a questionable (read: corrupt to the core) pair of Montenegrin border police just after crossing from Bosnia, and I’m quite certain that the only reason we escaped without a serious fine was thanks to our Irish passports!
Where to stay
Some tips to think about before booking...
- Does your hotel or Airbnb come with free parking? If not, I would advise finding somewhere that does. In Europe, street parking can get notoriously expensive, and whatever extra you might pay for a hotel with this facility I promise you would pay at least twice as much on parking machines.
- Use sites like Hostel World, Hotwire and Airbnb for booking along the way – there are some great last minute deals to be found, particularly if you’re flexible on dates.
- Be realistic with the time you spend in each stop along your journey. Sometimes rushing around to see all the guidebook sights and attractions almost takes the joy out of ad adventure. Stay open to spontaneous changes of plan and don’t get caught up in ticking things off your bucket list; often the best stories unfold by accident!
And last but not least, never underestimate the importance of picking the right person to travel with.
There will be times when you're too hot, too tired, too hungry. There will be times when you are lost and the GPS is not cooperating and nothing is going right. There will be times when you arrive at your Airbnb and it is most definitely not what was pictured online. There will be the odd time where you will probably want to kill each other, but these times are barely fleeting and always end in laughter and a great memory if you share them with a good travel partner.
If you have any questions about the specific places we visited on our Balkan journey or want some further advice on planning your next road trip, island hopping or interrail adventure, drop me a message!