Hitting the open road is the quickest way around to feel free and experience the perception-shifting, stress-erasing effects of travel. (And hey, meditating on any of these dreamy landscapes is a mini-vacation for your brain, too.) Of course, road tripping in the USA is pretty straightforward (Have a car? Let’s go!)—but doing it in a foreign country requires a bit more planning to pull off.
Beyond the basic checklist you should have for any international excursion (like getting vaccinations if you need them, securing visas, and telling your cellular carrier and banks you’re going abroad), I’ve learned through my own travels that putting in a little legwork ahead of time goes a long way on the open road. So before you start planning your #feelfreefeed adventure abroad, add these tips to your travel checklist. They’ll make your trip safer, less stressful, and totally enjoyable for everyone—backseat drivers included.
Lusting after a road trip abroad? Here’s how to do it like a travel pro.
When you’re planning your trip…
Factor jet lag into your overall travel itinerary. If you’re road-tripping outside your usual time zone, allow enough time after you arrive to fully recharge and get on a somewhat regular sleep schedule. You may be tempted to hit the road immediately to see as much as possible, but trust me on this one: You’ll feel a heck of a lot better (and safer) knowing you have some solid shut-eye under your belt. It will set your trip off to an energized start and, more importantly, could potentially save you from dozing off behind the wheel.
Check the local driving laws and requirements in the country you’re visiting. While some countries are cool with your US-issued drivers license, others may require you to get an international driving permit (IDP) before renting a car. They’re pretty easy to obtain through AAA, but be sure to allow enough time for your application to be processed. Insurance is an additional expense, but in my opinion it’s better to be safe than sorry (especially if you’re traveling in a country where the driving rules are different than they are in the US). And always Google the local driving laws before hitting the road—some places have very specific road rules you may not even think of.
Strategize your car rental. Renting a car from the airport might seem like the easiest option, but it’s not always the cheapest. Instead, see whether there’s a cheaper pick-up point in a nearby city. The amount of luggage you’ll be traveling with is also a factor when booking your rental car. If you’re packing light and not carrying valuables, you can probably opt for a smaller vehicle with a windowed hatchback, which can save you some money. However, if you’ll be carrying lots of gear or are traveling with valuables, a car with larger trunk or covered rear space may be the better option—you can toss your stuff in and not worry about someone breaking in while you’re away from the car exploring.
Look for travel warnings. Local holidays, bad weather, and, sadly, recent terror attacks are all factors when it comes to plotting your route. Check online to make sure you know about any restrictions or road closures well before you get behind the wheel. They may affect the lodging you choose, too.
Factor in extra fees. Getting hit with unexpected fees can be a total buzzkill, so check them ahead of time, especially if you’re on a tight budget or plan to cross country borders. And remember, not all highways are freeways. Some major auto routes may carry hefty tolls, so be prepared with some local currency in case the toll booths don’t accept credit cards.
Once you hit the road abroad…
Double-check the type of gas your rental car takes before filling up. This is so basic, you may wonder why I’m including it. But, as my friends and I learned the hard way on a road trip in Sweden, sometimes the gas type listed on the rental car key fob doesn’t match the type listed on the car’s actual fuel tank cap. Doing a quick check can save you the major headache of having your car suddenly sputter out on the side of the road.
Research local dining customs. Just as restaurant serving times vary across the US, dining availability can vary from city to city in other countries. There may be breaks during the day when dining establishments are closed altogether (hello, siesta), meals may only be served during certain hours, or dinner service may end earlier than you’re used to. To ensure you always have a place to eat, research hours of business and make reservations ahead of time, even if it’s the same day as your visit. (That’s an especially important point if you plan to visit smaller towns with fewer dining options or specialized spots, like wineries). You can always cancel if your plans change, and it’s better than having to eat granola bars for dinner.
Make a snack-and-wellness pack. Speaking of granola bars, make sure you’re always equipped with a few familiar healthy snack options that can hold you over if you aren’t able to stop for a meal or have a hard time finding a place to eat (see above). Gas station offerings vary from country to country, but you should be able to find some version of these nutritionist-approved snacks wherever you go. And to ensure minor ailments like headaches, stomach upsets, and car sickness don’t slow you down, pack a small stash of your go-to remedies. Pharmacies in other countries generally carry different products, and you may not be able to read the ingredients to ensure they’re actually what you’re looking for.
Prep your wellness supplies. If you’re planning to bring special supplements or medications on your trip, check to see if they’re heat-sensitive before you pack them into the trunk and go off exploring. If they do have a max heat rating, stash them in a travel cooler or self-cooling bag (Frio makes a variety of sizes that you just pre-soak in cold water) to keep them safe on hot travel days.