Europe is a veritable patchwork of countries, cultures, cuisines, landscapes and languages. This makes it the perfect setting for a varied, exciting and diverse road trip (the best kind, we think!), and also offers intrepid travellers a bit of a challenge, so to speak, with border crossings and different road rules.
To help you get the absolute most out of an unforgettable Euro road trip, here’s a guide to the quirks of driving through multiple countries in continental Europe - and the most motorhome-friendly places to go.
The Schengen Area makes it relatively simple to travel around Europe. It is the result of an agreement originally signed in 1985, and effectively turns a large swathe of the country into a common area which requires just one visa for travellers and no border checks between member nations. On the roads, you can more or less drive straight across borders between Schengen countries. You may find yourself subject to police checks, but not full immigration procedures.
The Schengen area includes most countries in Europe (26 of them, to be exact), listed here. Currently, several more are in the process of joining. Travellers often confuse the EU and the Schengen Area - they are two separate groups. Some countries like Switzerland are Schengen nations but not in the EU, while others like Croatia are in the EU but not Schengen nations.
If you are travelling across non-Schengen borders, whether by road or on a ferry to and from the United Kingdom or Ireland, you will find yourself subject to the usual external border checks. A visa will be required (a Schengen visa if you are entering the area, or a visa for the individual country if you are going the other way) and you will need your passport at the ready. Ensure you have all papers in order well before approaching the border.
While each nation does have its own rules of the road, they thankfully remain similar in most places, so there are no huge changes to adjust to, except one: all of continental Europe drives on the right-hand side of the road, but the UK and Ireland drive on the left. Mercifully, you’ll have some time spent on a ferry to mull over the switch.
A few rules which extend across all or the majority of nations in the European Union (and are good rules to follow even where they do not apply legally) are:
Seat belts must be worn in all vehicles, and children must use appropriate restraints.
Mobile phone use is allowed only in conjunction with hands-free systems.
Driving while intoxicated is illegal. Limits vary between countries, and some allow no alcohol at all before driving - which we think is a good guideline to follow, particularly when dealing with foreign roads.
Pictorial road signs are also similar across the countries, though of course the languages used change. Most are easy to interpret thanks to universal symbolism.
Speed limits do vary between countries, but thankfully are clearly signposted! The autobahns in Germany have no speed limit, France has different limits on its highways for different weather conditions, and in Italy, most locals disregard the limits altogether. Note that speed limits in continental Europe and Ireland are listed in kilometres per hour, while in the UK they are in miles.
Motorhome lifestyle across Europe
Europe in general is quite motorhome-friendly, accustomed as it is to nomadic travellers. Here is a quick rundown of some of the best spots and services available to those tripping in a campervan or RV - particularly those on a budget!
France and its Aires
The highways of France are home to a network of Aires de Service, free or very low cost rest areas where a motorhome can stay overnight and access basic services like waste disposal and water, sometimes toilets. Often the water will have a small charge, as will electric hookups if they are available - but aires are a very affordable way to travel, and they make France a great choice for motorhome travellers. Similar motorhome stops are available in other Euro nations, but France does it best.
Scenic Scotland’s Wild Camping
Scotland has a lot going for it when it comes to motorhome camping. Not only is it stunningly beautiful, but its Outdoor Access Code, enshrined in law, means that wild camping is allowed on the vast majority of unenclosed land public or private (recent bylaws exclude parts of Loch Lomond National Park), provided the campers leave no trace of their stay. Wild camping is best done in a self-contained vehicle as it requires taking away all waste. It must be done in small numbers and for no more than two or three nights. Explore the incredible landscapes of Scotland on the cheap with a motorhome rental!
Right to roam in Norway
Like Scotland, Norway is a breathtaking nation with an ancient right of freedom to roam which has become part of its law (“allemannsretten”). This means that free camping on uncultivated land is largely allowed under these conditions: you are at least 150 metres from dwellings, you stay no longer than 48 hours, you heed signs requesting no overnight stays, you don’t put out awnings or chairs and you follow the rules around campfires in summer. There are also many low-cost aires and campsites, should you wish to take advantage of prime spots and facilities. Wherever you stay, you will enjoy the beautiful sights of Norway, from the coastal fjords to the the lakes, mountains and midnight sun.
We hope our quick rundown has set your mind at rest regarding the logistics of a European motorhome road trip - now, let your imagination wander! Where will you go?