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Is there a German word for "road trip"?

A month or so ago, I requested some ideas for a road trip in the US on the Beyond Europe forum. Got lots of great ideas, but there was an interesting discussion about what constitutes a road trip. Does it count if you fly to a destination, then rent a car and travel around? Or must it be entirely by car in order to be an authentic road trip?

Anyway, what I'm getting at is that I was listening to a German podcast yesterday and they were talking about traveling to various countries. One of the podcasters mentioned going on a road trip. However, instead of saying it in German, he actually used the American phrase "road trip." So I was curious whether there was actually a German word for this or if most Germans use the American phrase. Does Germany even have that American concept of "road trip" where you go off on a long meandering trip by car with spontaneous stops along the way?

Posted by
556 posts

Nope I would say there is no German word for road trip like I understand it. My understanding is more like the American concept - go on a trip by car with planned or not planned stops along the way.

Posted by
3727 posts

The German tourist board has 3 routes to follow by car: The Castle Road, The Romantic Road, and The Fairytale Road. I guess you can say these are German road trips.

Posted by
6048 posts

Thanks, Mignon - that's what I was wondering.

Barbara, I don't think those meet the definition of "road trip." That's just a trip by car to specific destinations. But I was actually more curious about the German language and if there was a German word for "road trip."

Posted by
556 posts

"Barbara, I don't think those meet the definition of "road trip." That's just a trip by car to specific destinations."

Hm just thinking. You are going from one sight to the other (planned) and I think some Germans would say road trip. Sounds fancy and modern because no German word. Other Germans would probably say we are going on a trip along the Romantic Road (or whatever).

I'm sure every German having a different understanding what a road trip is :-) And you maybe know that Germans love using English words and giving them a different meaning :-) :-)

Posted by
633 posts

Out of curiosity, I looked up how Jack Kerouac's On the Road would translate, since it is the most iconic road trip I could think of. The word used was Unterwegs, but following up, that seems to mean more "en route" or "on the way." This is a fascinating cultural detail, btw. Thanks for sharing and bringing it to our attention!

Posted by
1257 posts

"Expensive." At almost $8.00 a gallon. I do enjoy driving with the top down in the Alps though. Germany/Europe I think is definitely more environmental and cost conscious when it comes to driving.

Posted by
15857 posts

“Ausflug” or “”Rundgang” are pretty close, but are more general, like tour or excursion; not specifically referring to driving oneself around.

The Eastern Sierra, from Bodie down to Bishop ( including Tioga Pass into Yosemite) is a popular road trip destination for German visitors. The Mono Lake Committee information center in Lee Vining, at the base of Tioga Pass, offers a brochure titled something like “Rund um Mono Lake” which roughly would be “[driving] all around Mono Lake”; in other words, sightseeing the area by driving.

But I suspect there is no exact equivalent in German because Germans are more likely to think of driving on vacation in Europe as a means to an end—-going specific destination to spend time there—-rather than an end in itself, as in, “the journey is the destination”. That is something they would associate more with a vacation in the US ( especially for visiting the western US and national parks), so for that they just use the English term “road trip”.

Posted by
8909 posts

Those routes you named do have German names. The Fairy-tale route is the Märchen Strasse, Romantic Road is the Romantische Strasse, Castle Road is Berg Strasse, Wine road is Wein Strasse, the Half-Timbered Route is the Fachwerk Strasse, etc. etc.

Road trip would be Auto Reise. One could say Ausflug or Ausfahrt, but those aren't really correct. Hopefully our German forum members will jump in here.
There is also the popular Kaffee-Fahrt, which is a bus trip, usually for seniors, where they go on a bus tour to another town, castle, tourist attraction, etc, and then have coffee, cake, maybe a small lunch.

Posted by
2269 posts

One principle of translation that every undergrad student is taught is "We don't translate words, we translate concepts and expressions". If in a particular language there is no single word for a given word of the source language, you simply follow this principle and find an equvalent expression for the underlying concept.

Often, but not necessarily a multi word one. One could, of course, translate "road trip" with one word, for example, as suggested by Ms. Jo above, "Autoreise". But you wouldn't use that in as many contexts as is used "road trip". In many cases, you would just leave out the "Auto-". Because especially when someone makes a round trip, the speaker of German think first of all of the car and not of the train. So, when applying the American concept of "road trip" (s)he would resort to what the linguists call the "principle of markedness": "Ich mache eine Reise durch Spanien" (unmarked expression, unexpressed but implicite presupposition "by car") in contrast to "Ich mache eine Zugreise / Reise mit dem Zug durch Spanien" (marked expression, differentia specifica overtly expressed).

Posted by
13702 posts

"Does it count if you fly to a destination, then rent a car and travel around?"

Absolutely, in my book.

I post some on the Road Trips forum on Trip Advisor and common Western themes for US based travelers as well as international travelers are:

  • Denver -> Black HIlls -> Yellowstone and Grand Tetons -> Rocky Mountain NP -> Denver
  • The Big 5 National Parks in Utah from a landing point of SLC or Las Vegas
  • A SW RT - Phoenix or LV to Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Page (Antelope Canyon) Bryce, Zion

For people living on the East Coast unless someone has unlimited time you can't do one of the big National Park trips in the usual 14 day vacations that most Americans have as you'd use half your time getting to your destination. NYC to Rapid City SD is 1700 miles so a good 3 days in the car one way unless you are road warriors. Ditto those of us that live in the Mountain West. It's 2,800 miles from where I currently live to where I used to live in FL. If I want to do a swing thru the SE, I'd have to fly to start my road trip or include a week on either end for the drive to/from.

As a child we did do Road Trips solely in the car but you just didn't fly much in the 50's and 60's.

Obviously for International visitors or for US based folks who want to "road trip" around Europe, you have to fly to the start.

Posted by
13702 posts

I messaged a German friend who is also on the TA Road Trips forum. She and her husband are avid road trippers both in Europe and in the US when they can get here but have of course been hampered by the inability to travel here due to the pandemic. She is from Munich so may have a different take than other parts of Germany but this is what she said:

"No, there is no really german term for "road trip". Germans like to have english words for everything, even if they don't speak english. So for example, a cell phone is called "handy" in Germany. And so we use the english word "road trip" also, only if we want to speak really german we say "Auto-Reise" or "Auto-Fahrt"."

The last two are what Jo referred to in her post as well.

Posted by
6048 posts

And you maybe know that Germans love using English words and giving them a different meaning.

Mignon, ha, yes, I have heard of the concept. :) When I was learning German, I was amazed at how were so many English words that were put to a new use in German (or some English words that were put together in strange ways - like a Pullunder).

historiangifford, yes, that definitely is an iconic road trip! I love that book.

Road trip would be Auto Reise. One could say Ausflug or Ausfahrt, but those aren't really correct.

Ms. Jo, yes, when I ran it through a translator, it popped up as Autoreise, but I'm assuming it's not really used since the German podcaster did not use it. And Ausflug to me means a trip or journey but not necessarily by car (Chima's song "Ausflug ins Blau" comes to mind). I like the idea of the Kaffee-Fahrt, though!

One principle of translation that every undergrad student is taught is "We don't translate words, we translate concepts and expressions".

sla019, that really makes sense. I listened to a Zoom lecture last year by Damion Searls, who translated Maria Rainer Rilke's “Letters to a Young Poet" with the Letters to Rilke from the ''Young Poet'.” I never realized how complex translation was till I heard him discuss the difficulties of translating German to English, in part because of the contexts, who the audience is, and even the difference in grammar application. He said that in German, nouns are more dynamic than English nouns as English tends to use verbs and adjectives to describe things. As an example, a phrase in English - “I was terribly afraid” - would be better translated in German to “An enormous fear rose up in me.” He said that in German, the “fear” is doing everything. Very fascinating stuff.

Pam, I still inherently think of "road trip" as a US thing. I've driven through many countries in Europe, and I never felt like it was a road trip although that could be because I had to travel so far to get there. For example, I took a "road trip" this year from Minnesota, through North Dakota, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Nebraska, South Dakota and back home. But when I talk about my trip to Scotland next year, where I will be flying into Glasgow and then renting a car and driving through a lot of the country, it does not feel like a "road trip" to me. But that's just me and maybe it's because as a child, those were the only trips we took for vacation. With seven kids, my parents could not afford to fly anywhere. :)

Posted by
32 posts

Interesting topic!

I'm in Germany as we speak🤗, and fixing to take a road trip... of sorts. Germany is much smaller than the US, so road trips never cover quite the distance or duration what one thinks of in the US. Add the cost of gasoline, and preference for train travel by many, and it becomes clear why we don't have a specific word for this concept. That said, the closest word I'd use for roadtrip is Ausflugsfahrt.

Posted by
556 posts

As said no German word for road trip :-)

Ausflugsfahrt - yes could be but is still not close to the meaning of a real road trip. And as mentioned by far not as cool as road trip :-) :-)

Ausflug - not even close to road trip. Ausflug is a tour you can do with a car, train, bicycle .. whatever. Typical German is a Sonntagsausflug (family trip on Sunday). If I'm going from Munich to Tegernsee I could say I'm doing a Ausflug to Tegernsee.

Rundgang - even further away from road trip because you do it by foot (Gang rsp. gehen means walking). Downtown Munich (or anywhere else) I could do a Rundgang. Simply means I go for a walk and come back from where I've started because Rund means round.

Autoreise - means traveling with a car. But can't think that every anybody would use it. Common is for example Autoreisezug - simply a train carrying you and your car. I think still in operation once a week from Munich to Hamburg. Might be more trains still but honestly no idea.

Autofahrt - no would not use for a road trip (and I'm German and from Munich as well). Autofahrt only means driving with a car.

Ausfahrt almost like Ausflug but if one is saying Ausfahrt and I know this person is talking about travel I know he/she is using a car. Actually Ausfahrt means exit :-)

And this is Hochdeutsch (high German) so there is no different meaning in other parts of Germany.

Well our habit using English words has been mentioned :-) Handy is funny but I think 'Public Viewing' is worst :-(

Posted by
14470 posts

Agree that "Public Viewing" is the worst, say, the " Public Viewing " at the Brandenburg Gate pertaining to soccer matches, especially when one knows its connation in English.

@ Mardee..." very fascinating stuff " How true in terms of linguistic translations of German to English and English to German as that applies to literature, such as tackling Rilke, likewise between French and German, and keeping mind the "contextual comprehension"

Posted by
8909 posts

Handy is not English. The German word for Hand, is Hand. I prefer using Handy to saying Mobile phone or Cell Phone.

Posted by
292 posts

Another German here. I agree with the general sentiment: We have no word for this. I, personally, would say "Roadtrip" when speaking in German for this concept. Everyone in my circle would understand both the literal meaning and the conceptual idea. Also, a lot of people do road trips when they visit the US--so it is a familiar concept, just not a local one that we do at home.

At least in this case, we borrow the word but do not change the meaning of it. I also learnt something today: I never knew that "public viewing" had a different meaning in English. If people are curious for other weirder borrowings, they should look up the video clip of our former Chancellor saying Sh*tstorm: This word is totally OK and not considered obscene in German and actually is in the Duden even (the German dictionary), but we have also changed the meaning of it to mean a very specific type of internet controversy.

There are many people who find the amount of English we use in German to be problematic, but I have to say, I like it. I think it just makes our choices for how to express things more varied.

Posted by
556 posts

"Handy is not English. The German word for Hand, is Hand"

The word is an English word - something or someone is very handy. But (and this is what we are talking about) Germans took their own word Hand put a modern sounding y at the end and voila the German word for cell phone is born. Sounds English and therefore must be cool.

Posted by
292 posts

I personally have always "felt" that Handy is a loan word (just my own internal language sense, I have no idea if that is true), but this article (in German) points out the confusing and unclear etymology.

Also, I thought to check the ADAC (our automobile association) to see whether they have descriptions of road trip like things, and found this suggested "Roadtrip durch Deutschland". So, that agrees also with the broad consensus that we use the English term.

Posted by
75 posts

Another German here. I would not use the term "road trip" in a German sentence but instead "Autotour". Maybe it's specifically East German, no idea. If you have a look at the brochures of travel agencies you will find the word "Autoreise" or "Rundfahrt".

Posted by
292 posts

For the sake of demographics: I am originally from NRW and under 40, both of which obviously influence my language. “Autotour” for the record also sounds natural to me, though I would not think to say it.

Posted by
556 posts

Yes agree Autotour sounds ok for me as well and coming very close. Although it does not (in my opinion) exactly catch the spirit of a real road trip :-)

I'm already above 50 and grew up in Munich - I would rather use road trip.

Posted by
6048 posts

I never knew that "public viewing" had a different meaning in English.

For what it's worth, I didn't realize that public viewings had another meaning in Germany. :) Public viewings are very big in the US, although more and more people are being cremated with a memorial service. Interesting that it refers to sporting events in Germany.

This is all really interesting. I do think Germans can use English words with impunity given how much of our language comes from Germany. I read something once that said over 25% of English words are Germanic.