Over the past few years, road tripping has actually become my preferred method of travel, and I’ve spent hundreds of hours behind the wheel chasing epic views, stunning sunrises, and hard-to-reach hikes. While most of my recent road trips have occurred in the US and Canada, my most recent trip to Scotland with Hertz reminded me just how much freedom and flexibility exploring Europe via car allows you.
If you’re looking to visit Europe’s cities, then, by all means, stick with public transport. European airports are notorious for having incredible access straight to their respective cities, so you can feasibly stay in one city without needing a car. Likewise, if you’re looking to do a full Eurotrip tour and visit a bunch of cities, you can hop around quite quickly and affordably with busses, trains, and even cheap flights. However, if you want to really get outside of that bubble and deeply explore individual countries in Europe, then a road trip is definitely the way to go. Not convinced? Here’s why:
1. Most Adventurous activities aren’t easily accessible via public transport
Maybe it’s because I’ve already visited a lot of the big cities, or maybe it’s because my priorities have shifted towards seeking out more outdoorsy and adventurous destinations in the past few years, but I tend to find that the places I seek can’t be reached easily via public transport, if even at all. When Corey and I visited Norway a few years back, we set our sights on hiking Trolltunga, an epic 28km hike out to one of the most iconic ledges in Europe. Because it’s actually impossible to get to the trailhead with public transit, we opted to make our entire trip to Norway a road trip, allowing us to explore more of the country at once, and get access to Trolltunga, Priekstolen, and many more amazing hikes.
2. You control your schedule and aren’t at the mercy of public transport schedules
Find a great hike that you can get access to via a bus from the city? Or what about a charter tour that visits a unique spot outside of your base city? While they might be able to get you to your destination, you’ll be completely reliant on their schedule, with often times little to no flexibility in your plans. Love your destination and want to stay longer? No can do! The bus is leaving. Twisted your ankle on a hike and want to head back to your hotel early? When you rely on public transport for access to outdoor activities while traveling, a change of plans due to weather or an injury often leaves you stranded, or at the mercy of strangers.
During our day exploring the Isle of Skye in Scotland, Caitlin and I were taking pictures near the Old Man of Storr when we were approached by a mother and daughter who needed a ride back into town. They’d traveled to Portree via train, and taken the bus to hike the Old Man of Storr that morning, but had decided to call it quits when it started raining and would have had to wait for 3 more hours on the side of the road for the bus to come back on its schedule. It was luckily our only gloomy day of the trip, but because of this there weren’t many other people around and this mother daughter duo might have been stranded in the rain for hours if we hadn’t stopped. Having complete control over your own schedule by having a car at your disposal can entirely change whether your travels are smooth or exhausting.
3. Escape the common tourist loop
I hate crowds with a passion. Unfortunately, with many popular destinations in Europe, they seem to be a package deal that is hard to escape. Having a car gives you two options - you can either seek out destinations that are more difficult to reach, and therefore will have inherently fewer people, or you can head to a more popular location early in the morning before the crowds arrive. I’m a big fan of heading out in the wee hours of the morning to catch the sunrise somewhere special, leaving you with tourist free destinations, as well as the best lighting for photos. We took full advantage of this in Scotland, using our car to get popular destinations early before everyone else, and then spending the rest of the day winding around backroads and finding hidden gems.
4. Sights are closer together, with less time spent driving long stretches
When put in perspective, the relative size of individual countries in Europe pales in comparison to the US and Canada. I recently moved to northern Idaho, and it actually takes over 8 hours to drive from one end of the state to another (a fact that shocks most friends who go to Boise and want to quickly pop in for a visit). I’ve been on many a road trip in North America where you spend an entire day driving from one destination to another, whereas in Europe the sights are closer together, the total driving time is shorter, and that means there’s more time for activities and action-packed days. I’ll acknowledge that I’m an ambitious traveler, apt to cover wide distances and many sights in one day - but the proximity of everything in Europe helps make that much easier to accomplish.
In just one day in Scotland, we drove from Edinburgh to Aberdeen, to Inverness, and eventually all the way to Portree on the Isle of Skye. Was it a lot of driving? Yes - but it was interspersed with tons of incredible stops, often times only a few hours apart or less. Sure we didn’t make it to our hotel in time for dinner, but stopping at a Scottish pub for fish and chips and listening to the locals go on about how you weren’t a local even if you’ve lived in their town for 65 years was priceless.
If you’re on a road trip somewhere, chat up some other friendly travelers and hear there’s another can’t miss spot nearby, you have the ability to head over and see it. When you’re the one behind the steering wheel, you’re in control, and any change of plans, no matter how whimsical, is totally possible. In fact, road trips allow you to be as whimsical as you please, and in my eyes, the more the better! You can switch up your itinerary as much as you like, or choose to have none at all, wandering aimlessly, exploring tiny backroads, and discovering underrated hidden gems.
If you’re planning your next trip to Europe, and are interested in deeply exploring a country or two, turning it into a road trip adventure is by far the best decision you can make. Our rental with Hertz made it incredibly easy to explore Scotland on a decidedly quick jaunt, and I wouldn’t have done it any other way. Driving on the left-hand side and some of the tiniest roads I’ve ever seen certainly added to the adventure of it all as well haha.
Stay tuned for my Scotland guide coming soon!