I don’t know about you but I often start thinking about where I’d like to travel to next long in advance. Some of the places in the running this year are Ireland and the Basque Country. But, when the idea of a road trip around Italy came up, it sounded like the ideal way to spend a week or two this summer.
However, as I learnt the hard way, road trips take a lot of planning to ensure that everything goes smoothly. The first road trip my husband Gastón and I took in 2016 around Portugal couldn’t have been planned any worse. We still had an amazing time, but now, having made all the mistakes in the book, I know exactly what to do and what not to do when it comes to planning a road trip.
My TOp Road Trip TIPS
Road trips are a great way to explore different countries without the timetable of an organised tour. But, planning a road trip isn’t just about deciding where to go. Here are my road trip tips to make sure you don’t forget anything:
Don’t Book ANYTHING Until You DECIDE ON a Route
Before you book any flights or accommodation, consider which places you want to visit. From there, work out a route that takes in all these places with the least amount of driving. Depending on which country you’re visiting this may mean starting and finishing in the same place. Or, it could be easier to start at one point and finish somewhere else.
Due to some miscommunication, when Gastón kindly surprised me with flights to Portugal for my birthday in 2016, he had booked two return tickets to Porto. As we both wanted to visit Lisbon and the Algarve, it meant doing a much longer trip than we would have had to if the return flights were from an airport in the south. So, don’t make the same mistake we did and make sure to plan your route first!
Do Take The Dates Into Account
As road trips involve visiting lots of different places, you need to consider what times you’ll be where. Research into local festivals and events to avoid overbooking, or to make sure you don’t miss out on the fun, as we did when we arrived in Porto two days after the 2016 Festa de São João. But don’t worry, we made it to São João in 2017 and had an incredible time!
Don’t forget to book accommodation with parking
Booking accommodation with parking was one of few things we actually got right on our road trip to Portugal! Just make sure to select parking as a filter when you search for accommodation. And also double check that the description of wherever you’re staying mentions parking.
Needing a parking spot can mean that your accommodation is a little out of the way in some locations. However, it’s also an opportunity to explore more of the wider area when the centre isn’t on your doorstep. The last stop on our Portugal road trip was Porto, where we stayed in an apartment near Heroísmo metro station. Some reviewers complained that the 20-25 minute walk was too far. However, we enjoyed the chance to visit less touristy bars, bakeries and parks on the way to the centre.
Do Research Petrol And Toll Costs
In terms of food and accommodation, Portugal is an economical destination in Europe. So it was surprising to see that the cost of petrol was higher than in Barcelona. However, the really big surprise was the huge bill our rental company gave us at the end of our road trip to cover the cost of driving on toll roads.
We’re used to paying tolls in Catalonia if we head to the mountains or the Costa Brava. Here, drivers pay tolls by card or in cash to operators or machines in specialised toll points. And, if you want to avoid toll roads, there are always slightly longer toll-free routes.
However, in Portugal, the toll system is completely electronic. There, they use cameras to read your car’s registration as you pass through check points. You are then sent a bill which you have to pay at a local post office. As we rented a car, we had to pay our toll fees to the rental company, with no choice but to believe what they told us. Now, having since read more about the Portugal toll system, we realise we were overcharged. But at the time we were clueless about how the system worked.
To make sure you’re not caught out like we were, research into the cost of petrol and toll roads. You may even be able to find toll-free routes or the cheapest places to fill up your tank on the way.
Don’t Forget to update your sat nav
If you’re planning a road trip outside of your home country, chances are that you won’t have access to Google maps on the road. This means that your sat nav (satellite navigation) will finally come in handy after years of being forgotten in favour of your smartphone.
However, unlike your phone, sat navs don’t update themselves on a regular basis. To ensure that your sat nav includes the fastest routes and new roads, it’s crucial to update your sat nav before you head off, as we learnt the hard way. After picking up our rental car in Porto, we planned to stop off in Óbidos on the way to Lisbon. Óbidos is less than three hours from Porto, but our out-of-date sat nav said it was a six hour drive. When the people we asked at the rental company didn’t know how to get there either, we had no choice but to change our plans.
Do Bring The Necessary Documents and Cards
If several people are planning on driving then you all need to bring up-to-date driving licences. And, if you’re driving abroad you’ll also need to check that you can drive there with your licence. For example, some countries don’t allow drivers who’ve held a licence for under two years to drive on their roads.
If you are hiring a car then you’ll need a credit card to cover your deposit for the rental car. Not only did I forget to take my credit card to Portugal, even if I had taken it, it wouldn’t have been valid as I had never activated it. We were close to having to look into public transport when we tried Gastón’s debit card as a last resort. Somehow the machine accepted it as a credit card. But, as it wasn’t possible to freeze the deposit amount, we had to pay added insurance as well as a large cash deposit.
It’s also worth remembering that the credit card often needs to be in the driver’s name. This isn’t a problem if the card owner has a licence, but if not then this could stop you being able to rent a car.
Learn from my Road Trip Mistakes
As you can see, when it comes to planning a road trip. we made every mistake in the book,. And now, armed with this advice, you can learn from the mistakes we made and make sure that your next road trip goes a lot smoother than ours did!
Are you planning a road trip this year? Or are you a seasoned expert with advice of your own to offer? And, if any of you have done a road trip around Italy I’d love to hear your recommendations for where to go!