We noticed that you're using an unsupported browser. The TripAdvisor website may not display properly.We support the following browsers:
Windows: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome. Mac: Safari.

Europe Road Trip - Spain (Madrid) to Greece via Baltic state

Jerusalem, Israel
Level Contributor
107 posts
28 reviews
Save Topic
Europe Road Trip - Spain (Madrid) to Greece via Baltic state

Hi, I'm planning a 3 week road trip - with a rental car (unfortunately they seem to have canceled the ferries to Greece from Israel, so i wish they would resume this by next summer - in which case maybe I could take my own car) with my wife and our 2 kids to Europe. This will be our first trip to Europe (except England).

The plan is to begin in Spain (possibly Portugal) Drive through France (via the French Riviera/Monaco) continue to The Swiss alps and then back into Italy - Venice, from there The idea is to go via Slovenia, Croatia to Bosnia (Sarayevo or maybe Mostar) and then Either via Serbia and Macedonia - or via Montenegro to Albania, to Thessaloniki Greece.

I absolutely love road trips (my wife less than I, not sure about the kids - will be 8 and 5)) and have traveled through all 48 of the contiguous American States.

My questions are as follows:

A) Is this feasible time wise? Will there be no time to see anything/relax/enjoy, my wife wants only 3 or so hours driving average each day. (Google Maps is says its about 38 hours - though I may also want to choose some slower scenic roads) Is this reasonable or too much?

B)Will this be a logistic nightmare? Crossing borders in the countries outside the Schengen zone?

C) Any safety concerns, whether Crime/ possible tensions in former Yugoslavia countries / Road safety?

D) Last but not least, In America I have never had a problem finding decent budget priced highways on the road. I have heard some conflicting information about the feasibility of finding such motels each night on the road. I certainly don't think I could book a motel each night, unless I work out exactly where I will be each night, But obviously with family we don't want to end up having no motel to sleep in. I understand in France and other places there are Ibis and others, but what about Baltics and everywhere else I will be?

What do people do lodging wise when roadtripping in europe? Or is this not even done so much in Europe? I doubt my wife cares to camp or sleep in car...

Thanks for any input!

* I'm not really sure where to post this as there does not appear to be a Europe wide or even Baltic wide forum, It was suggested I post in individual countries, but this is about many countries in Europe, so I hope this roadtrip forum is appropriate, even if it seems to be mostly focused in USA, if I have posted incorrectly feel free to move it or suggest where I should place it.

israel
Destination Expert
for Tel Aviv, Galilee, Israel
Level Contributor
14,858 posts
62 reviews
Save Reply
1. Re: Europe Road Trip - Spain (Madrid) to Greece via Baltic state

There too many countries for just one trip. I suppose you want to see and explore not only to drive. Fly to Barcelona, drive along the coast to France and Italy. That way you could aso visit places. The Ibis chain is very good but depending when you do the trip you might need to book in advance.

Lewes, United...
Destination Expert
for Road Trips
Level Contributor
19,702 posts
38 reviews
Save Reply
2. Re: Europe Road Trip - Spain (Madrid) to Greece via Baltic state

Hi love2trav.....

Welcome to the Road Trips forum. Yes, this is absolutely the correct place to ask your questions as it covers multiple countries.

Firstly, I have to agree totally with shoshi, far too many countries, far too far a distance to cover in a road trip, and even more so as you will have young children with you. Europe is not like the USA with regard to a road trip. You will not find the wide open spaces and network of great roads, like interstates or otherwise that go for miles, untroubled by towns, congestion, traffic, etc. You just cannot cover the ground, and if you really wish to 'get' Europe, would not want to do so.

The other key point to mention is that not all car rental companies will allow you to take your car into all the countries on your list, but a few will. Wherever you end up going, you will always need permission from the rental company to take the car to other countries so you have full insurance cover and other paperwork, and so you have the mandatory extra safety kit each country demands. Some rental companies charge a fee for some of this, if they do, it's cheaper to buy the stuff yourself.

It seems you have a one way trip planned, starting in Spain and ending in Greece. Your chance of finding a car rental company prepared to allow you to do as you plan is extremely unlikely, and if you do, you will pay a really hefty international one way fee for the privilege. Hertz may be the only company that would consider your plans as they stand, and have the network to make it possible.

You will need an IDP if you have an Israeli DL for several countries.

The borders crossing times between non Schengen countries depend on time of day and route, major truck routes can be very slow. There are a few minor safety concerns in any of the countries, not just or necessarily restricted to former Yugoslavia, but most are easily dealt with by savvy travellers, Break ins to steal your luggage can happen anywhere, for example.

However, your delays won't just be restricted to border crossings. Long distance travel avoiding towns and cities is almost impossible, and as a tourist, why would you do this? So many interesting European cities are great for tourists on foot, just awful for drivers negotiating their way around, and Italian cities in particular have severe restrictions. Parking can usually be very hard to find and extremely expensive. All things you need to consider, I'm afraid.

You have not said what time of year, that would impact the feasibility of your trip, too. In mid winter, you might not want to drive too many of the mountain road or in areas that get reliable snow or ice. In high summer, then just winging it and expecting to find budget motels or similar along the way would be risky. The Accor chain has the largest amount of hotels anywhere in Europe and there are several budget chains under that global umbrella group, Ibis is fine, there are cheaper brands, too. Just check their website.

What do I do when road tripping in Europe in terms of where to stay? A mix of pre booking and not, and usually we aim for small charming B&Bs or inns, which may well be higher in price than your budget, especially in cities. I use the TA hotel side, among other resources, to check for places to stay that suit my own needs.

Please, may I recommend you have a rethink and answer some of my questions. Come back here with a more realistic plan, and I will happily make some decent suggestions of what to see/do, etc that should work. In the meanwhile, do some homework by looking at the destination forums on TA to get a flavour of places.

SWT

Ljubljana, Slovenia
Level Contributor
1,524 posts
Save Reply
3. Re: Europe Road Trip - Spain (Madrid) to Greece via Baltic state

I have to say I completely agree with SWT, this is simply too much with not enough time and with a rental car virtually impossible. You have to understand that in Europe the big chains have subsidiaries or franchises in each country and they are separate companies with locally registered cars, making cross-border transfers very difficult and this has a profound effect on cross-border drop-offs, as they are prohibitively expensive even when leaving a car in a neighbouring country, let alone on the other side of Europe, which is going to cost a fortune, not to mention the insurance issues of driving through a couple of non-EU and "Eastern European" countries, which rental companies do not approve of.

That said, Renault does have a program where you basically buy the car from them and then they buy it back from you at the end, a sort-of short-term lease, it may be cheaper to do in your case, however I am not sure what the formalities are, you may just as well have to return your car to where you collected it in such an arrangement. It would at least eliminate the insurance problem, though.

PS: It's Balkan, not Baltic :)

Jerusalem, Israel
Level Contributor
107 posts
28 reviews
Save Reply
4. Re: Europe Road Trip - Spain (Madrid) to Greece via Baltic state

Hi, Thanks for all the helpful tips, this is really a great forum with helpful people!

I think (sadly) that all of you are actually are right, also my wife has been telling me that my plans are too much. I guess I will have to keep it shorter and hope that I will be able to do many more trips to Europe to see the other parts. The reason I say "sadly" is because I am a complete roadtrip junkie, I Have traveled all over America except Alaska (which I hope to do one day) and HA. There is something fun about driving your way through all the states. In America my focus has never been the big cities, I was born in NYC and I absolutely love to explore the beautiful country side, scenic views, smell the fresh air, stop at a quiet lake and go fishing or boating, Last time I traveled the states, I also bought a national park pass and did many of the National Parks and various state parks. Of course I also enjoy seeing small old towns, and clearly Europe has a lot to offer in this regard, beautiful old towns much older than any in USA. Also There are some cities that you simply can't go nearby and not see some sights/museums etc there, Like Paris, Rome, Venice etc. (I had Sarajevo in mind also as I really wanted to learn more about the history there - but I think I will listen to you guys and not make it to the Balkans this trip (oops mixed those up thanks for the correction RTT).

What is the status of European roads? I know various countries have some pretty impressive highways (autobahns etc.) is it really hard to navigate Europe avoiding cities that one does not wish to see? Is the traffic there worse than in USA? Ugh I would hate to be stuck in tons of traffic throughout my trip.

It seems I need to explore the rental car issue more, the Renault and other leasing programs may just work for me, but they can only be picked up/returned in France (or nearby countries like Italy and Spain at a hefty surcharge) but theoretically with the leasing option you can drive through almost all European countries.

My wife wants to go in the summer when the kids at least won't miss any school, but it seems that it may be harder to find vacant motels, and they will probably be much more expensive? I don't want to do it during winter and deal with closes mountain passes or snow tires, maybe we should aim for either fall or spring?

Sussex, I will attempt exactly as your requested, I really really appreciate your offer. I have been doing a bit of thinking over the weekend, and this is what I'm coming up with, so please do share any advice, better ideas etc.

I'd prefer to start in Lisbon ( maybe more realistically I could start in Madrid or even Barcelona as suggested, though I would hate to leave out one country at the end that I'm unlikely to ever get back to)

In Spain I would be interested to spend maybe a day or two in Barcelona and explore the Catalon countryside, (town of Besalu and a number of others seem nice) Then cross into France and drive along the French Riviera, through Monaco to Italy,

In Italy would wish to pass through the Tuscany countryside, See Rome briefly (1 or 2 days) then up to Venice (again 1 or two days) and on to the Swiss Alps (Interlaken, Gimmelwald, Grindelwald etc. and maybe Lucerne briefly) from there make my way to Paris, drop off the rental car, spend the next few days at Euro-Disney and Paris before flying back to TLV.

Ironically on google maps, when adding Lisbon as the start point, and then Paris as the end point, (to make up for cutting out so much of the original Madrid-Greece trip, this new trip ends up just about the same amount of hours! (4313km 40 hrs) If I begin from Madrid it is estimating 35 hours (3688km), or begin at Barcelona (and don't get to see much of the Spanish countryside) it's only 29 hours (3067km) not including whatever excursions we would do in the Catalon/Barcelona region.

Are Break in's likely to happen in Europe? In America I usually have a good idea which areas to avoid, and of course not be conspicuous, neither my wife or I are flashy jewelry types anyway.

In terms of license, I could get an IDL though I also have a NY State license, I wonder if I'd need a IDL with that.

Is driving/parking a problem in small towns (other than small roads)? or only in the big cities? I assume in places like Rome, and Venice, we will find a hotel/motel on the outskirts of the city and use public transportation to tour the sights, in Paris I would give the car back right away anyway.

I guess if my wife will agree to take the kids out of school for 3 weeks, so we would not have to do this in summer, the best would be spring, maybe fall. Would it be really insanely trafficked/crowded/expensive in summer?

In America they have those roomsaver and other cheap motel guides which usually work reasonably well, is there anything like this in Europe, or will I have to spend time either searching online each day, or driving and looking for a decent and reasonable Accor or other motel, one by one? Are there as many just off the road (or nearby) motels as in America or much less? I just don't want to end up wasting so much of our time searching for motels, though I would rather be flexible and not have to plan to be at specific places each night. I will have a look at the TA hotel site. and may end up doing it mixed like you said, some pre booked some on the fly.

Also I have heard that many of these motels are more like hostels or B&B's with shared bathrooms, is it hard to find without a shared bathroom? I love the ones with bunk beds so kids and us can all be in one room. The ones by Paris, Rome and other major cities I'm sure I will need to book anyways.

Any ideas, what else to do/see etc? If I have not answered everything, or in any case have not made everything clear feel free to ask for more specifics.

Thanks a billion to all of you! I'm really excited about this!

BTW if any of you are interested in my FB, I have tons of great pics from my USA (and a smaller amount from Israel and Australia) roadtrips.

Lewes, United...
Destination Expert
for Road Trips
Level Contributor
19,702 posts
38 reviews
Save Reply
5. Re: Europe Road Trip - Spain (Madrid) to Greece via Baltic state

Thanks for taking the trouble to post a long reply. It has helped me get a feel of what you are after, or perhaps not after.

Please may I therefore sound something of a warning. This isn't to put you off doing your road trip, far from it. I wish to encourage to you do it and really enjoy yourself, hence my comments.

Firstly, I really do feel you need to get a guidebook or two for Europe as you really don't seem to have much of a feel or understanding about the area. As I said from the get go, Europe and thus European road trips are hugely different undertakings from those in say the USA or Australia. For a start, Europe is much more crowded with towns, villages, cities, etc far more closely bunched together. While there are lots of fast roads, many are either toll roads or they need vignettes to drive on them. Most roads anywhere will be in good condition, but you will have to go at a much slower pace on by roads as reduced speed limits are frequent as you reach a community, and increasingly enforced anyway. Those wide open spaces of huge horizons and slowly changing backdrops just don't exist in Europe - which is yet another reason to go!

Is traffic worse that the USA? Yes, far worse, if you confine yourself to big cities. These old cities have narrow roads, planned long before the arrival of the car. Inner cities can have restrictions to keep non local cars away from them, and parking can be a nightmare and expensive. For these reasons, a road trip, especially for a first timer, is not necessarily the correct thing to do if you are confining yourself to just big cities. However, if you wish to explore the beautiful countryside and enjoy time in small towns, then a road trip can be a really ideal way of seeing far more than you would if you flew, took a train or used public transport. Most large cities are avoidable as they have some kind of beltway or perimeter ring road around them, enabling you to miss the city centre. To visit cities as part of a road trip, I'd recommend you find lodging on the outskirts with free parking where possible, then take local public transport to the centre to see the sights. Most European cities have good and possibly inexpensive public transport.

In Europe, less is more. Don't try and do too many countries. As you are in Israel, it's not far to reach most parts of Europe, so my advice would be to concentrate on one country or just a few, and explore that country in more depth and don't try and drive all the time. Then come back another time to do another country.

Have you looked at car rental prices at all yet? Most of your thoughts are along the lines of international rentals. This will be very expensive. A loop drive will be much cheaper.

Also, don't get fixated on those driving times. They will be in all probability wrong and very conservative anyway as they won't allow for congestion in towns and cities, and any stops for fuel, comfort breaks, meals, etc. It's much better to plan to drive what may look like 3 or 4 hours in a day, but will take all day once you've allowed for those stoppages and some sight seeing along the way. There's almost nowhere you could drive in Europe that takes all day to reach where you'd not pass by or near to somewhere worthwhile stopping for!

I have absolutely no idea where you got your information that you would encounter, as a normal default, shared bathrooms in any kind of hotel, motel, B&B or other kind of accommodation in Europe. Apart from budget or student hostels, this hasn't been the case for many a year in my experience!

I still think your itinerary needs work. Until you have a more concrete and realistic plan, I can see no point in me making suggestions of other places to visit or attractions, scattered all across Portugal, Spain, Italy, France and Switzerland!

SWT

Edited: 19 August 2013, 17:56
6. Re: Europe Road Trip - Spain (Madrid) to Greece via Baltic state

-:- Message from TripAdvisor staff -:-

TripAdvisor staff removed this post because it did not meet TripAdvisor's forum posting guidelines with prohibiting self-promotional advertising or solicitation.

We ask all of our members to keep their forum messages free of self-promoting advertisements or solicitation of any kind - members affiliated with any tourism-related business should not include commercial contact information or URLs in their forum messages.

To review the TripAdvisor Forums Posting Guidelines, please follow this link: http://www.tripadvisor.com/pages/forums_posting_guidelines.html

We remove posts that do not follow our posting guidelines, and we reserve the right to remove any post for any reason.

Removed on: 31 August 2013, 14:09
Edited: 31 August 2013, 14:09
Jerusalem, Israel
Level Contributor
107 posts
28 reviews
Save Reply
7. Re: Europe Road Trip - Spain (Madrid) to Greece via Baltic state

Hi SWT,

I have taken some time to reconsider my trip as you suggested, I will elaborate after addressing the rest.

A guidebook sounds like a good idea, I will try to get a few.

I have looked into the vignette thing, my understanding is that after I make my final decisions of which countries to visit, I need to look into which of those countries has the vignette and how to order or purchase them, I believe I can do most online. The alternative would be to avoid the fast roads in those countries, taking the slower roads is something I have done much of in America, it's much more intimate and scenic, but I'm not sure if I want to take the chance of not having to have the option to take the fast road, or I fear I may mess up and enter a fast road by accident. I assume there are generally alternate roads in all areas?

Aside from vignette tolls, all the others have an option to pay in cash (credit card?) I assume Euros for most countries, maybe I would need to switch to chf in switzerland. Or are there roads which need a transponder like EZ pass?

In Australia I recall even the fast highways would often turn back into regular highways with crossroads and traffic lights at certain points along the way, then change back. Is this what normally happens in Europe on the fast highways every time one approaches a town?

Yes, that sounds right, If i simply wanted to go from city to city, I would use the trains, which are apparently excellent in Europe. But for me the main fun is inbetween the cities.. the countryside, the small towns, so I guess I will just have to prepare ahead for lots of traffic.

Yes, the less I get stuck in big cities the better, I will find lodging on the outskirts and then hopefully there will be some public transport to the center (I should write centre for you, btw my wife is from Australia)

Your right, Israel is pretty close, it's a darn shame we have been here 10 years, and barely explored Europe, We had to focus on returning to our families in Australia and USA, but enough is enough ever since I started planning this trip, I realize there are simply so many places I wish to see in Europe, we will need to do many trips in the coming years.

I tried a few sites for car rentals, across countries, as long as the countries were not too far apart it did not seem prohibitively expensive, but then again some of the sites did not give all the information and said that you must call them when doing international rentals, or they said when you make your booking they have 3 days to let you know of any additional fees... so it can be hard to compare, the other option is as I believe you mentioned the French leasing options, I have no idea why this is only offered by the French, but all 3 French car manufacturers (Renault, Citroen and Peugeot) seem to have a similar plan, (The last 2 are anyway the same company, but they have slightly different options) since my plan is for 3 weeks (their minimum) it seems to work out well, affordable prices, full insurance etc, and fees for picking up or returning in nearby countries are clear (though somewhat expensive)

I think in the end what I will do is make it the shortest option that I had considered, that is start in Barcelona, after a short time there cross into France via the French Riviera, across to Italy (Rome and Venice passing through Tuscany) from Venice a brief tour of the Swiss Alps, and then to return the car on the outskirts of Paris, spend a day or two in Euro Disney and then 2 or 3 days in Paris.

I am afraid you will still say that is too much, at 29 hours (I understand this is an estimate and with traffic and slower roads it will be longer) it comes out to just over 1.5hrs of driving each day, of course some days (city) there will be no driving, and others we will do more, probably a number of long driving days. Is this reasonable or I still need to cut out more?

Besides the cities, I'm looking to explore briefly some cute small towns, mostly spontaneously, but if there are some highly worth exploring I can plan them in advance, and of course I am looking for National (or other) Parks, either ones wit nice driving routes, but even more ones with short and scenic "loop" walks.

I have heard there are some nice gorges at the Cevennes in France, but I have not yet had a chance to research parks or other things to do.

Thanks again SWT!!!

Jerusalem, Israel
Level Contributor
107 posts
28 reviews
Save Reply
8. Re: Europe Road Trip - Spain (Madrid) to Greece via Baltic state

I'm thinking With any luck maybe it will be more like 23-25? Days...

Lewes, United...
Destination Expert
for Road Trips
Level Contributor
19,702 posts
38 reviews
Save Reply
9. Re: Europe Road Trip - Spain (Madrid) to Greece via Baltic state

Well, with 23-25 days for the trip, and a now perfectly reasonable wish to get from Barcelona to Paris via southern (and maybe a bit of central) France, some of northern and central Italy and Switzerland on the way, I think you can pull together an achievable route.

However, more questions:

How long do you wish to spend in the cities? To allow time to drive without just a fast, boring dash but have time to enjoy the road trip element as well as the cities, and see some smaller destinations for variety and added interest, I'd suggest:

Barcelona - 3 nights

Rome - 4 nights

Venice - 3 nights

Paris - 4 nights.

However, if you wish to add Florence, which that would need a further 3 nights, that only leaves 8 nights at most on the road. This may sound a lot, but you still have lots of miles to cover and tons of possible sights, equally worthy to the cities, to consider along the way.

If you just rent a car, then you'd pick it up as you leave Barcelona, and drop it when you reach Paris. If you go down the leasing option, I don't know if you can pick it up in Spain, so you might need to fly first to somewhere like Toulouse, Perpignan or Montpellier (the closest towns of size to Barcelona for you to have a chance of finding both international airports to get from Tel Aviv airport to, plus a French car manufacturer's retail outlet).

Do be aware that the possible pitfalls of the leasing option include the fact that, in the unlikely event of a breakdown or accident, you have to hang around to get the work done with no replacement car, and, to meet the leasing terms, you will likely be forced to use an approved repairer. How wide the network for that will be away from France, I have no idea. It could mean losing time and having to get the car to somewhere well out of your way. In terms of financial benefits, do the sums carefully with a full comparison of the rental cost, which, as you've already discovered, means a considerable amount of follow up emails or phone calls to get the correct bottom line.

Anyway, respond to my latest thoughts and I can fill in more gaps later.

SWT

Edited: 01 September 2013, 13:28
Jerusalem, Israel
Level Contributor
107 posts
28 reviews
Save Reply
10. Re: Europe Road Trip - Spain (Madrid) to Greece via Baltic state

Great, this is all seeming to be true and realistic, actually i am going to answer your questions and then bring up one other possibility that I came up with.

I think at this time, I will skip Florence, as I will already be passing two other special Italian cities. I may try to cut the cities by one day each as I wish to explore the countryside a bit.

I was not aware of that regarding the lease car, though they are brand new cars so it should be pretty unlikely, unless there is an accident. Speaking of which so many of these forums and guide make driving in Europe (Italy, France, Spain etc.) seems very intimidating, though being that I have plenty of practice driving in NYC and Israel, I doubt it should be much of a challenge. In any case, as I have a better idea of my plans and dates, I will have to do the research into the rental vs lease.

Now for my alternate option, shows up as 22 hours (Google).

Rome - Venice - Swiss Alps - Amsterdam (via Eastern France and Luxemborg) - Paris via Belgium.

This adds Netherlands and Belgium (each of them I would want to spend only a day or two in - ie for the Netherlands a day in Amsterdam and a day in Veluwe NP) but saves about 8 hours of that driving time from Barcelona.

The reason I'm considering this is because I see the driving time to Amsterdam, instead of going direct to Paris from the Alps is only about 5 or so hours more.

I can pick up the car in Rome for an extra $280 (with lease option) or alternatively -my wife would love to see the Palace in Monaco, so I could fly to Nice, pick up the car there at no extra charge, get to pass Monaco and the remaining French riviera, see the Leaning tower of Pisa, and on to Rome (an extra 2 days). I could then end up in the 2 smallest countries (Monaco and Vatican City) on this trip.

The other thing my wife just brought up is that she wants to see Pompeii ruins near Naples. about 2.5 hours south of Rome.

Speaking of Rome, my initial itinerary, would include - Coliseum, Roman Forum, Jewish Quarter, and Vatican city museum (Sistine Chapel), (possibly also Pantheon if there is time). I believe we could do This in 2-3 days.

Cheers