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40 days in Europe with a rental car

We are three ladies and one man, thinking about renting a car in ORY, Paris and keeping it as we spend 40 days traveling through Paris/France, Spain/Portugal, Italy and Germany, Amsterdam and back to ORY, Paris June 7 to July 17.

We all love road trips and would love to have the freedom to choose where to go and how long to stay without having to keep track of train/buses schedules. I know we'll have to park the car when visiting the larger cities, like Rome, Venice, etc. We want to spend more time around rural areas, mountains, and so on. At the same time I have read some comments about the hidden cameras, speeding, tolls, etc. I would love to read your comments and suggestions. Thanks in advance!

Posted by
18487 posts

At the same time I have read some comments about the hidden cameras, speeding, tolls, etc

All of that in spades in Italy. Read up on ZTL's, zones in virtually all Italian cities and many small ones where you'll get a ticket mailed to you after you get home. Can not drive into specific areas of city centers. Since it is a local ordinance, every city is different, so you need to prepare for that. Stay out of bus lanes. Everything is camera enforced with a record of your license plate. Ditto highway speed limits, and yes, France and Italy have toll booths on the motorways, Switzerland and Austria use vignette stickers you have to buy entering, in lieu of toll booths on motorways.

All drivers should have International Drivers Permits as a supplement to their drivers licenses. Acts as an official translation of your license. Get them at AAA.

You might look into leasing for a 40-day trip.

Posted by
1220 posts

We are consummate road-trippers and that is a LOT of places in 40 days. We went to France, Italy and the Netherlands for 5 weeks last summer, and spent 2 ½ of that driving from Paris ORLY to Nice (and we spend 4 nights in one place, otherwise less). I can't imagine making it all the way to Portugal and then Italy and back up to Germany while spending any quality time anywhere, unless you just want to literally see it all from a car window. We then used trains in Italy, and the Netherlands. I would say, decide on what experiences you really long to have, then narrow them down to the bucket-list essentials, then decide on the transportation that makes the most sense. As RS always says, plan as if you are going to return. We all over-plan at first; its so hard to eliminate places!


Posted by
7038 posts

It seems like you should nail down your itinerary first. Then decide when/where the car would make sense (and where it clearly won't make sense). You've got 6 countries in 40 days many kilometers do you plan on covering? Folks on this forum have written about leasing vs. renting a car for long periods...sounds like something worth considering.

Posted by
8 posts

Thank you so much Sam, Jessica and Agness, I appreciate your comments! You've given me a lot to think about. At this point I'm trying to see if renting/leasing is a better option. I agree that we don't want to try to do more than is practical. At the end we want to enjoy the trip and have a great experience. If you have any more suggestions please share them this is very valuable to us. Thanks again!

Posted by
24933 posts

What I'd suggest is that you pick one country that is a definite and get hold of a comprehensive guidebook to that country. You can borrow a not-quite-current one from your library for this part of your trip preparation. Rick's book are very good once you've decided where to go, but he does not attempt to provide full coverage in most of his complete-country books.

Skim through all the sightseeing stuff in the book. Make lists of "I really don't want to miss that!" sights and of "Sounds cool if we are in the area" sights. Don't forget the "being there" aspect of Europe's fabulous historical cities and towns as well as the scenic rural areas. Allowing for the fact that every time you pick up and change hotels it will probably take you at least half a day, how much time do you think you'd need in just the "Don't Miss" sights in that one country?

I can tell you that any one of France, Spain, Italy or Germany will probably provide enough sights to fill 40 days, just by itself. So now you have to decide whether you want to focus exclusively or almost exclusively on that one country (with maybe a few quick cross-border runs if it's convenient) or you want to cover just part of that first country and extend your range into another (ideally neighboring) country.

Since you're planning a summer trip, I'd encourage you to give some thought to the weather. You may want to plan places to escape from the heat, such as these:

Italy: places at altitude in the Dolomites
Spain: the far north from the Pyrenees to Galicia
France: Normandy, Brittany, and places at altitude in the Alps.
Germany: the far north (Berlin can be very hot, you may well have to go farther north)
Portugal: the north may be temperate enough; I'm not sure.
Amsterdam: probably OK

If you find your list looks a lot like this: Paris - Amsterdam - Rhine/Moselle - Munich - Alps - Berlin - Venice - Florence - Rome - Nice - Barcelona - Madrid (which would surprise me greatly, but everyone is different), I'd still say you're trying to cover too much territory. Plus the car would be a mistake for most of the trip. Trains go much faster than cars between major cities, you don't have to pay to park them, and there's no risk that you'll receive a flurry of very expensive traffic tickets after you return home.

An issue to consider when you are a group of four is that the common advice is to rent the smallest car that works for your group, because country roads and streets in historic cities can be very narrow, plus there's the parking problem and $$$ cost of fuel. But a car adequate for four people may not have enough luggage space for four people's bags. Now you have a problem, because when you stop in the middle of the drive to your next hotel (for lunch or to sightsee), you absolutely must not leave anything visible in the car. Theft from parked cars, especially at touristy destinations, is an issue in Europe as it in the US. Will everything fit in the trunk of that nice maneuverable car you rented?

Basically, what I'm saying is that it's prudent to have very good reasons to travel by car in Europe, not just to do it because that's what American do at home. In general, the less territory you cover, the more likely the car is to be a good idea.

Posted by
3387 posts

You've gotten some great advice from the previous posts...all I'm going to add (as a rental-car-in-Europe enthusiast myself) is that Europe is bigger than you might think. We drive a lot in Europe and it always takes longer than we think it will to get anywhere by car.
Even with 40 days you are planning a crazy amount of driving. Paris to Madrid is over 800 miles; Lisbon to Venice is somewhere around 1400! I suggest you go to, type in some of the proposed legs of your trip, and see what the driving time is like. I recommend taking their estimates and increasing the time they say it will take by 30 - 50 percent...traffic on motorways in Europe can be quite congested especially around the major cities you mention. Just make sure to know realistic times before you commit to this.
Also make sure to factor in the price of gas (can be a lot more expensive than the US, if that's where you're from) and parking. Parking can be quite expensive in cities - Paris, for example, will run you about $30-40 per day if you park in a garage inside the ring road.

Posted by
8 posts

Thank you Acraven that is a lot of good advice that we will take into account before making our final selection. I have driven in Spain before and many years ago between Amsterdam and Southern Germany and had a great experience, but we need more recent experience travelers to advice what is best. Thank you Anita, you added some very good advice as well. I appreciate it!
Please feel free to share your wisdom with us! Happy travel!

Posted by
3043 posts

One other thing is to check on the cost of leasing vs. renting. Sometimes there are savings and other benefits for leasing. Check with AutoEurope. They use the Peugeot Leasing Program.

Almost forgot. Don’t use that page to get a quote. You must call AutoEurope’s toll free #.

Posted by
2916 posts

If you do decide to do a full 40 days with a car, leasing will probably make sense. The cost advantage to leasing over renting generally increases as the number of days increases. We leased years ago for 30 days, but otherwise we've rented when it's been 2-3 weeks.

Posted by
8 posts

Thank you Phillip and Robert, I will check with them and see about leasing over renting. Really appreciate your comments!

Posted by
5612 posts

Check to ensure you can rent a car for 40 days. Some companies may not allow you to rent for more than 30 days. Yes there are traffic cameras all over Europe. I’ve gotten camera tickets in both Spain and Germany. In Germany I was notified by the rental car company and it charged €15 to let me know. I then had to pay the fine. In Spain, I received the ticket in the mail about a month after the trip ended and paid it online. France had a large number of toll roads and Spain and Italy have some too. As someone else post noted out, watch out for the no car zones. I too like to travel where I want, when I want. If possible,I try not to have a car in larger cities. Parking is at a premium, costs €15 or so per night, and some cities like London and Rome have a daily fee just for driving in the city. If passing through Austria ensure you have an international driving permit (mandatory) as it will check for it at the border when you get your pass to drive on the interstates. Also remember that trunks are generally smaller in many European cars so use the smallest and minimum number of suitcases you can.

Posted by
15450 posts

I'll just mention a couple of things to consider. First Europe is big. France is only slightly smaller than Texas and Spain isn't much smaller than France. Driving on the main highways (often toll roads) can be fast but if you want to see the scenery and small towns/villages your speed limit will usually be 80 kph on the main roads and down to 50 kph going through populated areas.

Second, you're planning to go in high season. If you need 2 or 3 rooms together and at least one room with two beds, winging it may be a challenge - even if your budget is very elastic. I'd make a list of the larger cities that you definitely want to visit and string them together in a line (straight or circle). BTW others here have said that if you lease a car, you can return it in another country without huge dropoff fees - so open-jaw flights might be an option. Figure how many days you want in each city and how long (without stopping or detours) it will take to get from one to the next. Then you'll have an idea of how much time you have left and allocate that to each "leg". Book hotels for all the major stops. You can probably wing it through the rural areas just booking a day or three ahead - as long as you've done your planning and have a list of places you'd like to stay. Otherwise you may end up either (1) wasting lots of time in one place trying to find a place to stay in the next place or (2) driving around trying to find a place to stay at the last minute. Seems to me that most of the people on the forum who wing it are either a single person or single couple with limited basic requirements for a room or people staying in hostel dorm rooms in big cities.

Lastly, 40 days is a lot and it's also a little. It's a lot of time to be constantly on the move. Even with a car, a string of 1 and 2 night stays can be both tiring and stressful. Remember that you'll need time now and then to relax for a few hours, to do laundry, to shop for necessities (don't underestimate how long it can take in a foreign country to find something - I once spent an hour looking for nail polish remover in Austria until I asked some English-speaking locals - not sold in groceries or pharmacies but in specialty hair and nail stores. And it's a little considering the huge area you've indicated and the multitude variety.

Posted by
375 posts

Parking can be SO complicated in larger cities, especially if you want to park it for the time you're staying there.

You might be glad to have some "down time" on the train as you travel between city/regional locations, like from Paris to Avignon or Barcelona to Madrid or Geneva to Nice.

There are places you need a car: like Provence or Dodogne. You can pick one up at a rental agency (like at the airport) when you need it. Lots of cities have Uber to get you around towns or from train station to hotel.

The Trainline app makes the whole train thing easy. Also, my husband really liked app for really easy downloading of maps that are useful offline.

Posted by
8 posts

Jaimeelsabio, Chani and Shawn, thanks for your suggestions. Wow! So many good pointers are giving us much food for thought. I appreciate you sharing and will take in your recommendations and advice as we make our plans. Thanks again!

Posted by
46 posts

Whenever we travel by car in Europe we start with a Frommers travel guide. The last time was in France with Frommers 25 Great Drives in France. I have seen them for other countries as well. They have the country broken into many 3-5 day trips in different areas showing things to do and mileages. Most travel is on small roads. We use that with a Michelin map and it has worked out quite well. After we decide what areas to go we develop a list of things to do on each mini road trip and go from there. Sometimes we use the major roads to get from one area of the country to another. We have done the same thing in Germany. Hope that helps!

Posted by
8 posts

Thank you Jim, Great suggestions. I've visited their web page and I can see it will be very useful as we plan. Thank again!