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Driving experience in Europe

We are planning a trip to Czech Republic and Germany and we are planning on renting a car in Cz. Rep. because it would be more economical than taking the trains. I have never driven in Europe and I am nervous about driving there. I would be interested in knowing what kind of experiences other first time drivers had. How long did it take you to get comfortable driving? Would you do it again?

Posted by
31435 posts

Nestor, As the others have mentioned, an I.D.P. would be a really good idea, especially given the fact that it's so inexpensive. Be sure to factor in the cost of C.D.W. as that's not cheap. If you go with less comprehensive insurance, you could be faced with a huge bill if there are any "mishaps" (there have been a few posts on the HelpLine about that topic). If you're going to be travelling through any other countries, note that some require a highway tax Vignette. Not having that will result in fines. I agree with the previous reply that driving is fine if you'll be going to smaller locations not well served by public transit. However for travel to larger cities, a car is a bit of a "headache" in terms of parking, etc. You could possibly use a car for part of the trip and public transit for the rest? Happy travels!

Posted by
9110 posts

After figuring out where reverse is, it's the same as anywhere else. The first time I did it....... I had a heck of a time figuring out where reverse was.....after that it was the same as anywhere else. Maybe half a million miles later.......reverse is always a puzzle. I guess I'll keep chipping away at it until I get it down pat. Nothing to it, actually, except........ Study up a little on international signage and you won't have a problem.

Posted by
2876 posts

I've driven in Germany and the Czech Republic and I'd agree with Ed that the driving is pretty much the same as here. Most international road signs are obvious, but not all. For instance, in Germany a blue-and-white sign with an arrow marked "einbahnstraße" means "one way street." Don't ask me how I know. (In German, the funny looking capital B stands for two s's.) If you want an automatic transmission, reserve one well in advance. Manual transmissions are pretty much the rule in Europe. You'll hear that there are no speed limits on the autobahns. That's true in most rural areas - as you'll find out - but there definitely ARE speed limits when you approach towns or cities. Watch for the signs. A GPS can be a big help. Most rental agencies offer them these days.

Posted by
12040 posts

At least in Germany, it's easier than in the US. Your fellow drivers are a little more predictable. And unless you're trying to find the home of your long lost cousin Fritz in Nirgensdorf, it's difficult to get lost- there's signs to point you just about anywhere you might need to go. Like Ed said, familiarize yourself with European road signs and you'll probably be fine. The "priority on the right" rule spooks a lot of beginners, but as a tourist, you'll rarely drive on roads where it applies. One quick tip- when you see the sign with name of the town you just entered, realize this obligates you to drop your speed to the urban speed limit, 50 km/hr. There may not be a speed limit to otherwise alert you to the change... and there's often a speed camera just waiting to nail you.

Posted by
5497 posts

"We are planning a trip to Czech Republic and Germany and we are planning on renting a car in Cz. Rep. because it would be more economical than taking the trains." In the CZ Republic, cost is not a reason for the car. It's US $15 each by train from Cheb, near the German border, to Prague. It's $14 from Prague to Cesky Krumlov. Gas alone will cost you more. For Cheb to Prague fuel is $39, according to viamichelin.com, and $38 for the Prague to Cesky Krumlov Check train prices yourself at the CZ railways site: http://www.cd.cz/en/

Posted by
497 posts

Thanks for your replies. Four of us will be travelling which includes 2 teenagers. So train fares multiplies quickly. I also wanted to visit 7 towns or cities while there and the car does offer more flexibility and convenience than trains. I've already done the lugging luggage through the train station, to the subway and the hotel with kids. My biggest concern was understanding the signs and getting from one town to the other. The rental company does not offer GPS system so I wonder if I'll be fine without it.

Posted by
2876 posts

Get good Michelin maps and have one of your teenagers be the navigator and you'll be fine without a GPS.

Posted by
4637 posts

Learn international traffic signs. Expect to drive manual shift. Have international driver's license. You get it for $15 in AAA in this country. Zero tolerance of alcohol behind the wheel (at least in CZ). If not posted otherwise speed limit on CZ freeways is 130 km/h, on other roads 90 km/h, in towns 50 km/h. Be prepared to pay traffic fines on the spot. Roads are narrower than in this country especially rural roads. With the exception of freeways the same distances take longer to drive in CZ or Germany than in this country. Expect more aggressive drivers. Driving make sense if you want to see several small towns, castles etc. For travel between big cities I would recommend train to avoid hassle with traffic jams and parking.

Posted by
5497 posts

"...the car does offer more flexibility and convenience than trains." OK, well that's entirely another matter. It's not really about cost. You prefer the car for other reasons and are willing to pay a good bit more for the car.
I don't wish to persuade you to ride the trains. But for the sake of clarity, I'll defend the trains on cost. 4 adults x $29 for the segments I provided would be $116 vs. gas at $77. But let's say you're traveling 4 times further than in my example; you'd be at $464 for trains vs. $308 for gas. So if you can spend less than $156 to rent/insure a car and cover parking expenses for the week or whatever period of time you'll be there, then you'll save with a car. But I think you have at least $400 - $600 in rental costs, right?

Posted by
11798 posts

I haven't driven in the Czech Republic but have driven plenty in Germany. In general, it's no big deal. The highways are good and signage is clear. I prefer a manual transmission diesel. Diesel gets amazing gas mileage (with no noise, vibration, or smell that you might equate with diesel - you just have to make sure you put the right fuel in). Manual transmission gives you better performance from the smaller engines. You need to learn the signs before you travel. Within a day of driving they become intuitive. There are a couple of unwritten rules, chief among them stay out of the left lane except to pass quickly and get back over. I drove for years without a GPS using Michelin maps. After my first driving experience in Italy, I picked up a GPS and will always pack it now because it will take you right to an address or public parking near a destination (or gas, restaurant, ATM, etc.). I'm not sure if you need an IDP (international driving permit) for Czech, you can Google IDP and find out. If so, it's cheap and easy to pick up at a nearby AAA office. The IDP is simply a translation of your driver's license but doesn't replace it. Austria requires a sticker showing you paid a tax to use the Autobahn, IDP, and a safety vest. You can pick up the sticker and vest as you cross the border (not sure if they call them truck stops but that's what they look like to me). Czech may have similar requirements so you should also find that out ahead of time.

Posted by
12040 posts

"My biggest concern was understanding the signs and getting from one town to the other" Don't worry about it. On all the priority roads, there's signs everywhere that tell you which way the next town lies. Many of the road signs are similar or identical to their counterparts in the US, or else easy enough to figure out. However, here's a few important ones that may not be immediately obvious: Priority road: Means that you don't have to yield at any unmarked intersection: http://wwwcdn.net/ev/assets/images/vectors/afbig/priority-road-traffic-sign-clip-art.jpg Do not enter: http://wwwdelivery.superstock.com/WI/223/1598/PreviewComp/SuperStock_1598R-69554.jpg Speed limit: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/2/2e/Zeichen_274-56.svg/220px-Zeichen_274-56.svg.png Autobahn (meaning, you're on an autobahn or approaching one): http://www.porscheperfect.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/06/autobahn-sign.jpg Autobahn Kreuz (where two autobahns intersect): http://www.bilderkiste.de/galleryscript/gallery/fotos/f-000391.jpg All roads lead to Ausfahrt... no, actually it just means "exit": http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_Eg7K8tnyPqk/SgEqN_2AT4I/AAAAAAAACIY/ewOG_fw7XY8/s400/ausfahrt.jpg And finally, the number one reason you can't completely trust a GPS in Germany... with all the road construction, you WILL see this sign:
http://img.churchphoto.de/photos/347/med_1154193447-134.jpg It means "detour". If you use a GPS, turn it off when you see this sign. Follow the signs, not the GPS!

Posted by
290 posts

All the Czech driving advice so far given is good. But remember to always drive in the right hand lane on the freeway unless passing. Cars will come up on you really fast in the left lane with lights flashing at you to get out of the way. The roads & signage are very good. I'm there every year & wish some of the California roads were as good. Remember to drive with your headlights on if you get a rental car that does not automatically have them come on. Really pay attention to the speed limits....especially when entering a town limit on a country road.

Posted by
3696 posts

I have driven many times in Germany as well as in Czech and had no problems....very easy to navigate even without GPS, but if you have one it is worth taking and just load in the Europe and Eastern Europe maps. I also have had trouble finding reverse...I remember one car in Nice I had to push the stick shift down, and another I had to pull it up.... very stressful however, until you figure out your car...then its a piece of cake. I do love how the Germans drive as it is very predictable and as I am here now in Florida I have to put up with two cars side by side on the freeway blocking all others, just chilling out in the fast lane...it is totally annoying when I know how orderly driving can be! So, yes, definitely stay in the right lane unless passing, use your turn signals and do not pass anyone on the right and you will do fine.
When I am comparing the price of train vs car... if you want to visit a lot of towns on your own time you cannot compare point to point tickets on a train....it is a completely different trip. The only thing you can compare it to is hiring a personal driver....in which case renting your own car is cheaper.

Posted by
188 posts

I rented a car in Ostrava and drove around in Czech Rep this fall dropping the car off in Prague. I had a Tom Tom, cost about $200 last year unlimited maps forever to Europe and USA not absolutely needed but found very useful would not go without it now. If you reserve early you can get a very cheap Bus or Train ticket from Prague to Nurnberg or Munich then rent a car again there. Bahn.de has the details.
One note Capital One cards now exclude the VAT from any collision claim reimbursement. this can run over 20%.

Posted by
2828 posts

If you have a GPS unit in US, you could buy just an European map for it (most unites manufactured after 2008 can be upgraded/updated via Internet, some with an SD card, others with a cable that connects to your computer). As for the signage: take one hour to study some international traffic signs that are used Europe-wide. In Europe, signage rely much more on pictures than text (so you will never see a "right lane MUST turn right" in a highway, for instance. Get particularly familiar with the priority signs, the directional signs (blue circles), the prohibition/regulatory signs (the "overtaking forbidden" and "no cars in this direction" do not exist in US in their European form.

Posted by
638 posts

Be VERY careful with your speed in Czech, I and several others I know have gotten caught in speed traps. My fine was 100 euros. The signs change and all of a sudden-there are the flashing lights, and like someone else said, you pay on the spot, and I'm not sure if you can use credit cards.

Posted by
112 posts

My experience is 2 weeks driving in Portugal, and I had no problems at all. Drivers there are said to be the worst in Europe (I had heard), but I had no issues and loved the ability it gave me to go off the beaten path. No problem with signage (lots of pictograms); I rented an "automatic" which also offers the modified shifting (clutchless) that came in handy on some hills (had to use 1st gear to get up the hill to my hotel once), because I didn't trust myself to drive a manual shift if there I was in less than ideal conditions. It cost me a bit more to rent an automatic, but it was worth it for my peace of mind.

Posted by
2828 posts

To avoid speeding tickets, just be extra attentive to road signs, reduce speed from 130 to 80 (for instance) fast, not over 2km, and drive always at the limit (or below if needed), but never above the limit, no matter what (drivers behind you flashing, many people overtaking you on the left etc.) My philosophy is a truly better safe than sorry when it come to speed limits. I NEVER gamble on the "oh, everybody is going 100, not 80, so should I".

Posted by
813 posts

Here's my 2 cents....
Study up on the parking signage-when you can park for 30 min or under and not at all can make a difference. Also learn the 'detour' (umleitung in German), and a few others, then you'll be fine. A word of caution about the GPS. While it's a great resource, many GPS have the tendency to randomly take you off the autobahn and through a small town, then back onto the autobahn or sometimes the backwards way into a city. Make sure you ALWAYS follow the signage on the autobahn or the local city has posted, they are taking you the best way. It can't hurt to keep a printed map with you so you can cross-reference the GPS when it tells you to randomly turn around or take a turn that doesn't make sense.

Posted by
2828 posts

@Kathy: that is true. GPS units are godsends, but you must still be a bit careful. Essentially, knowing their routing. I drive a lot, have used and tested multiple GPS units, and figured out the ones with live traffic information are far less likely to send you through unreasonable routing. Naviteq and TomTom have cartographic bases more reliable when it comes to road hierarchy than Garmin, which can be tripped off by routes that appear faster, but aren't when accounted for traffic lights or stop signs. But Garmin with real-time traffic updates is also reliable.