There are many ways of getting around a destination, each enjoyable in its own ways, but some styles are better suited for some places –
- Full-on self driving road trips – Driving in a loop (by starting and finishing at the same place) for many days, across many countries, states or counties.
- Staying in the one place and taking day trips to sights around there
- Combination of driving and transit systems so we’re driving within a region and taking bus, train or flight across long distances.
Self drive road trips
Road trips are an amazing way to get more intimate with a region or a country. Some of the benefits are –
- Driving through the scenic country sides, little towns and villages bring us closer to the place and it’s people, unlike flights and trains between metros.
- It’s easy to stop anywhere, maybe to look at farms, eat at a little family cafe, shop at a roadside fruit stall or just take a picture.
- Road trips lend a great deal of flexibility. If you’d like to spend a little more or less time in a place, it’s a lot easier to change plans on the fly.
Self driving road trip is a great way to travel Europe, Australia, New Zealand and US. We’ve taken self driving road trips in Ireland, Iceland, Scotland, Central Europe, Idaho, Alaska, US East coast, New Zealand and Australia etc.
This style is best suited for places where
- Roads and signs are well marked.
- Apple and Google maps work well for navigation (one or both work well in many countries).
- Language is less of a barrier either because most people know some English and signs are understandable.
- The route is safe with low crime rate and no roadside gangs waiting for cars to pass by.
- The drives are scenic and there is a lot to see and do.
- Destinations are close together so we’re not driving over a 2-3 hours a day for the most part.
A few things to keep in mind on self driving road trips
- All airports have car rental companies but book before leaving home. In most places, it can be hard to get a car when you get there – it could take a long time and be more expensive.
- It’s possible that your credit card (used to rent the car) covers your rental car insurance. Check your credit card company before leaving home and save on the car insurance cost.
- Gas prices vary significantly, check the prices ahead of time so there are no surprises.
- Be sure to check if your credit card works in all the countries you’re driving through.
- In Europe when crossing from one country to another you need to get a sticker at the crossing. They have to be bought at the country entrance checkpoints. Prices vary by country. Keep enough money because some places only accept cash.
- Check road conditions at local blogs and trip advisor.
- In some European countries the roads are very narrow. Driving on the opposite side can make is unnerving for the passenger. For such roads, it’s helps to rent smaller cars.
- Check allowed mileage on the car. We haven’t seen mileage to be an issue, but it doesn’t hurt to ask the company.
Hired car with driver & guide
In some places it’s better to hire a car with the driver and guide. Some of the reasons for doing so may be
- It’s cheaper to rent a car with a driver.
- It’s safer to have a local guide because they know the local happens and can handle the issues better. For e.g. Thieves, bandits(on some Kenyan highways), political events(our drive in Bolivia between two political uprisings), corrupt cops(common in many developing countries), mafia drug lords(our drive in Michuakan to see the monarchs)
- Easier if we don’t know the local language at all and it’ll be hard to follow signs. Although if navigation apps work, it may not be an issue.
We used this format quite often when the kids were younger. The driver is sometimes the guide too, at other times they have an english speaking guide. In addition to driving they help with the itinerary, tickets, translation, shopping, bargaining and findings food we will enjoy. Here are some examples of when we found this format to work best –
- In Mexico we stayed in the heart of Mexico City and our guide took us to day trips out of town. He was very knowledgeable, resourceful and safe to be with. His company took it upon them selves to ensue a safe and fun trip.
- In Beijing it was easy to rent a car driver and guide for a day right from the airport.
- In India this is the most convenient way to travel. Even locals use this format regularly.
- Cambodia is very inexpensive and there are many good guides that have a ton of information to share.
- In Turkey it was perfect to have a fully guided trip so our guide/driver stayed with us the entire time and traveling the country with us. Ibrahim was a great host and knowledgeable in the country’s (and the region’s) history, current events, culture, shopping, you name it. He has had many Indian vegetarian clients, so he was great at finding us wonderful Turkish food throughout the trip.
Some cities and countries have extensive public transit which is convenient, safe inexpensive. More importantly it’s a great way to mingle in with the locals and really feel the vibe. We used public transit and tours for our trips to London, Paris and Italy.
London has an extensive public transit system that includes local, national and international trains, busses, ferries and boats. Its was convenient and inexpensive to buy the an Oyster card at the airport, use it for the trip and return it back at the airport to cash out the balance. The websites are great for planning trips and the airport has a all the printed maps once could need. Mostly we use Apple Maps for transit.
On some trips, no one format is ideal. So we make a combination of many modes of transport. In Japan there is great public transit in the cities and between cities. However, in the country side it may be hard to travel alone without knowing the language. It’s safe but we weren’t sure we could get by on our own with two kids. So, we had a fully guided stay while using guided cars, trains, mini bus etc. However, we travelled on our own for the last few days using public transit and that works great too.