For many Americans, a chance to visit Europe is the vacation of a lifetime. Whether you want to check out London with its historic buildings and unique culture, relax in the sunshine in Greece, explore Italy or maybe even see where your ancestors came from, there are loads of reasons to make the trip across the Atlantic, and it has never been cheaper, either! Of course, once you get to your country of choice, you are probably going to already have a lot of things in mind to see and do, and while compared with the US, places like England and Sweden may look tiny on a map, when you’re there things suddenly seem a lot further away than you may have imagined! For this reason, most people prefer to hire a car, and while this is generally an option for most American license holders in accordance with the laws in the country you are visiting (you may have to be over 25 or have a certain number of years’ driving experience), this doesn’t automatically mean you’ll find it easy on the roads.
Here are some reasons to prepare before you attempt driving anywhere in Europe for the first time:
Road Signs Can Be Baffling
While Europe is united, it is by no means standardized when it comes to road signs. This means if you are familiar with how the colors and symbols work in Germany, things will all change should you cross a border. It doesn’t take long to read up on what the traffic safety controls in the country you are going to look like, and it really pays to do this so you can understand when you are reaching a junction and things like what color sign points to a major road and what will take you down a scary country track. You should also work out the conversion ratio between miles and kilometers, because with the exception of Britain, everywhere in Europe displays distances and speed limits in the metric system. Of course, while in Britain the signs may all be in English and tell you things in familiar mile measurements, here you’ll be driving on the opposite side of the road, which isn’t really something you can prepare for in advance but is worth thinking about!
Many people who visit Europe plan to go through more than one country (another reason why understanding the different traffic control equipment used in different places you’ll visit is important), and while this can be easy to do, you may find that there are places where you can cross borders without even being aware you have done it right away! If you are planning to tour, really research your route so you know at what point you might leave Germany and enter the Netherlands, for example, and stick to your plan so you don’t end up straying between countries where you didn’t intend to.
Driving in Europe can vary between being remarkably easy and pleasant to downright terrifying depending on where you are and how far off the beaten track you venture, so read up and plan ahead as much as you can!
Travis Finn, the author of this article, works with, Bo Phillips, leading providers of work-zone safety equipment. He is fascinated by Astronomy and often visits the planetarium to observe the movement of the stars.