Driving abroad… your essential guide

Keep the wheels on your holiday

Keep the wheels on your holiday

Your suitcase is packed and it’s time to leave Britain behind and head for your holiday haven of sun, sea and fun… but are you ready to hit the road when you get there? Here’s our guide to getting the best deals on hire cars, the cheapest fuel prices and staying safe on the roads of Europe and beyond.

While a two week sojourn on a cigarette butt-strewn patch of Benidorm beach may have satisfied our parents, improved access to hire cars has given modern-day explorers a wanderlust to travel beyond the promenade and discover worlds where locals speak the national lingo and some dishes even come without chips.

However, this has also exposed Brits to unfamiliar roads and sometimes bizarre motoring rules that can easily take the best of drivers straight to the scene of an accident or expensive date with a local law-enforcement officer. Check out our guide and make sure the wheels don’t fall off your hard-earned holiday.


Hire car hidden costs

So, you’ve booked your accommodation, secured seats on the plane – all that’s left to organise a hire car… simple! Wrong. Forget the alluring headline figure that Google spits out in response to your request for mid-size family transport in Spain – add the potential of hidden charges and you could be paying £100s more than you expected.


These are all legitimate costs that hire companies charge for add-ons, but a little planning will help slash your bill.

Check out the infographic, above, detailing a few of the potential costs you may incur when hiring a car then scroll down to find our tips for beating these hidden extras.

Beating the hidden costs

You’ve seen how much you could be paying in addition to your basic headline figure, but don’t despair – here are our tips to beat the hidden costs.

Book early

What: Hiring a car might not be the most glamorous part of booking your hols, but once you’ve secured your accommodation and flights, organising a car should be your top priority. Booking early could save £100s.
Hire car hidden cost: £140.00-£700.00 depending on location and time of year.
Beat the hidden cost: Figures from TravelSupermarket reveal leaving your booking until you get to the destination airport could cost as much as £100 a day more than if you’d reserved your car a couple of months in advance. A compact family car hired now for a week-long trip to Portugal during August will cost £37.00 per day, while booking at the time of the trip will result in a daily tariff of around £138.00. Other countries are less expensive, but expect to pay at least double the early-booking rate. Save cash by getting a quote for your hire car right now from APH.com

Excess insurance

What: Arriving at the desk to collect your hire car could rapidly become a traumatic experience as the commission-led representative assaults you with a machine gun-like volley of insurance-related acronyms. The common theme will be that anything from a scratched bumper to a chipped windscreen could cost you several thousand euros/dollars unless you buy the particular add-on insurance that he/she if offering. At this point, many tired travellers with understandably succumb to panic and agree to purchase. These ‘policies’ will typically cost around £25.00-£30.00 per day.
Hire car hidden cost: £175.00 (approx)
Beat the hidden cost: There’s nothing wrong with wanting peace of mind – so get it on your terms. Buying a standalone excess policy before you fly is likely to cost around £2.99 per day, according to TravelSupermarket.com – while annual cover can be purchased for less than £40.00. Get a standalone excess insurance quote here

Have cash on your card

What: Have space on your credit card: If you’ve saved cash by purchasing a standalone excess insurance policy, the car hire company will usually want to ring-fence or charge a refundable deposit on a credit car – to cover any excess charges that you can claim back later from your insurer. The amount is usually somewhere between £300.00 and £500.00. Charging or ring-fencing the cash on your card is normal, but if you’ve maxed-out your credit card, the ‘deposit’ will be declined and you’ll be forced to lose your car or take the operator’s own expensive policy.
Hire car hidden cost: £200.00+ including the standalone policy you’ve already bought.
Beat the hidden cost: Contact the hire firm in advance – by email, so you have it in writing – to find out how much they’ll need to ring-fence and make sure you have the funds available on your card’s balance.

Child seat hire

What: Hiring child seats will cost you from £5.00/day. Bad enough for just one child, but if you’ve a brood of them populating the back seat, you could be looking at more than £100.00 on seats alone.
Hire car hidden cost: £35.00 per child per week
Beat the hidden cost: First option to slash the cash is take your own seat with you. Many airlines will let you take it for free – or for a small charge. For example:
British Airways will let you check in a stroller and one child seat for free
easyJet offers a free service allowing you to check in a child seat or booster seat for each infant under two years old, along with one of either a booster seat, buggy, pushchair or cot. You can also use the child seat on the plane, providing it fits in the 42cm space between the arm rests on the aircraft seats – go to SeatGuru.com to double-check this ‘armrest’ measurement for the plane you’ll be on. Get full info on easyJet’s child seat policy here.
RyanAir’s website says two pieces of infant equipment are carried free of charge (per infant/child). This equates to a pushchair plus one of the following: car seat, booster seat or travel cot. Read RyanAir’s latest policy on child seats here.
You could also consider buying a BoostApak. It’s a clever booster seat that folds into a handy backpack. It’s suitable for most kids aged from 4-12. It costs £44.95, but will make a clever investment the kids will love to carry. Buy the BoostApak here.

Sat-nav hire

What: You might be an expert traversing the back streets from Accrington to Clitheroe, but navigating your way through the Pyrenees might require a little GPS-powered assistance. Borrowing one of these from your hire car firm is likely to be a costly decision, with charges up to £14.00 per day.
Hire car hidden cost: £50.00+ per week.
Beat the hidden cost: Upgrading your current device with foreign maps could cost you as much as £50, but if you have a GPS-enable smartphone, you can use apps such as NavFree which turns your phone into a free sat-nav device for around 50 countries. Don’t worry about huge data charges , either, the service uses pre-loaded maps and that work offline. A great way to cut the cost of hiring a car.


What: Some hire car companies have targeted fuel as a prime way to boost their income. It won’t appear on the headline cost either, so make sure you’re fully aware of how much you’ll be charged before you book. A particularly expensive option is to charge you for a full tank in advance, but not give any refund on unused fuel. Many people won’t use all the fuel, plus operators will charge big premiums compared with the cost of petrol and diesel from local filling stations.
Hire car hidden cost: £50 per week.
Beat the hidden cost: This ‘full to empty’ policy is particularly prevalent in Spain, but look out for it in all destinations. Only hire cars from firms that operate a ‘return as found’ fuel policy – allowing you to benefit from cheaper foreign fuel prices. Get your quote now from APH.com

Pay with a credit card

What: When you pick up your holiday hire car, it’s likely the firm will charge a deposit. Always pay this using a credit card. Never hand over a debit card – this will give the hire firm freedom to dip into your bank account at will and extract whatever they want.
Hire car hidden cost: £?? Difficult to put a figure on this, but it could run into hundreds if you have a dispute with the hire car firm over damage.
Beat the hidden extras: Using a credit card acts as an extra buffer between you and the hire firm – allowing any contested charges to be frozen while you dispute them – debit cards offer no such protection. The Consumer Credit ACT 1974 also makes the credit card supplier jointly liable in disputes. Additionally, insist the firm charges you in the local currency, because many hire car companies will convert to sterling using rates that are heavily biased in their favour.

Check and check again

What: Holiday hire cars have a tough life and operators are keen to extract as much revenue from of them as possible. As such, you might find that vehicles are scruffy, scratched and even have mechanical problems.
Hire car hidden cost: £300+ if your deposit is lost over spurious damage claims that weren’t your fault.
Beat the hidden cost: Make sure you spend a good 10 minutes looking over the car for damage and checking it for mechanical problems before you drive away. Insist the agent marks all scratches, scuffs and dents on the ‘diagram’ before you sign for the car. It’s a good idea to photograph the car too – using your smartphone to do this should insure that ‘exif’ data is recorded (this invisibly embeds a digital footprint to the photo, including date and location it was taken) which could be invaluable in the event of a damage dispute (use Google to find an exif reader). Also, you must check the spare wheel to ensure it’s not damaged, or punctured – otherwise you could end up paying for another driver’s carelessness.

Don’t hire a car

What: Many people hire a car and then only use it for travel to and from the airport and hotel. If you’re staying in a lively costal resort, it’s likely that you’ll have a beach, restaurant and shops within a few minutes of where you’re staying.
Hire car hidden cost: £100.00+ (after accounting for alternative travel)
Beat the hidden extras: Use Google Map’s Streetview feature to take a virtual tour of amenities near your accommodation. You might just realise you’ve got all you need on your doorstep, or if you do want to take a trip, check out local buses etc. Beat the cost of hiring a car by getting an instant airport transfer quote from APH.com.

Licence to drive

Does your licence entitle you to drive when you reach your destination? Here’s the info you need.

Keep on the right side of the law as well as the road

Keep on the right side of the law as well as the road

Driving in Europe: A UK driving licence is accepted in all EU countries, but you must make sure it’s valid and has the correct information on it. Details such as your address can be changed for free at Gov.uk – but you could be fined up to £1000.00 if the police catch you first.

Photocard licences need replacing every 10 years, so make sure yours isn’t about to expire during your holiday. Old-style paper licences are also perfectly legal to use in Europe, but make sure you carry some form of photo id to ensure trouble-free encounters with local cops or officials.

Driving outside of Europe: Heading beyond the highways of Europe could mean you need an International Driving Permit (IDP). These are required in around 140 countries including America and Thailand. If you fail to obtain one, you could be refused your hire car.

There are two types of IDP, with the version you require dependant on where you’re travelling to. Visit this AA page to discover if you require an IDP and, if so, the version you’ll need.

The IDP does not replace your driving licence, so you will need to take it with you. Failure to carry your licence could result in breaking local driving laws – or being refused a hire car.

How to get an IDP
The permit lasts for a year and you can apply up to three months before you travel – with the start date past-dated to when you need it. You can get an IDP from the AA and RAC, but the fastest way to obtain one is from the Post Office. You’ll be able to get one over the counter at selected branches. Beware of any other websites selling these documents, they’re probably fakes. Here are the details you’ll need to buy yours:


Top tips for driving abroad

Follow these simple tips to ensure your holiday motoring is safe and fun for all.

German AutobahnsImage credit

German AutobahnsImage credit

Drive on right: Be prepared to drive on the right. Most of Europe does, with only the Irish Republic, Cyprus and Malta staying left like us. Local hire cars will be left hand drive (LHD), so this will make it a lot easier to adjust. Changing gear in a manual LHD car is something that many find difficult to get used to. Pay special attention when pulling out into traffic and negotiating roundabouts, it’s easy to forget where you should be looking and what lane you should head for.
Top tip: If you’re worried about changing sides, hiring an automatic car will ease some of the pressure. Avoid town centres for a few hours, allowing you to get used to driving a ‘left-hooker’.

Navigation: The last thing you want to be doing while concentrating on driving in a foreign country is attempting to navigate, too. That’s why having a sat-nav will be essential to ease the strain. Follow our top tip below to save cash, too.
Top tip: As you’ll know from our section on cutting hire car costs, renting a sat-nav can be a pricey business, follow our advice and download free navigation maps to your smartphone using an app such as NavFree. These maps use GPS, so you can leave your money-munching data services safely in the off position.
Top tip 2: Be aware that in France it’s illegal to use sat-nav equipment that has data for locating fixed-position speed cameras.

Toll roads: It’s not just France where you’ll find tolls… many other countries around the world have roads, bridges and tunnels where you’ll need to pay a tariff. Make sure you always carry the equivalent of a few pounds in local currency because some tolls can’t be paid using credit cards.
Top tip: Use this Michelin route planner to check for tolls on your route.

Local laws: While our domestic driving laws often appear to have been created by non-drivers, rules and regulations in Europe and beyond can be equally confusing.Make sure you do your homework on local laws before you travel…And if you were considering driving while wearing your favourite blindfold in Alabama – don’t! It’s illegal, apparently.

Top tip: Head to the AA’s country-by-country guide to driving laws.

Penalties: Don’t think that just because you’re in a foreign country you’ll be able to escape punishment for motoring misdemeanours. A new EU law means that the DVLA must now give a driver’s name, address and previous convictions to any country that asks for them – the first time this information has been made available to cops outside the UK. The country where the offence was committed can then send you a penalty ticket and demand payment. Demands made to Brits for offences committed abroad can’t be enforced in the UK, but unpaid penalties could result in problems if you subsequently travel to the issuing country.
Top tip: France and Spain are particularly aggressive when it comes to chasing foreign drivers – and they’ll charge huge fines for relatively minor indiscretions.

Fuel prices around the world

See how much you’ll be paying for fuel around the world with our handy guide.

How much will you pay for fuel while abroad? We've got the answers

How much will you pay for fuel while abroad? We’ve got the answers

If you’re planning a road trip, you’ll need to know how much to budget for fuel. Here are the average fuel prices per litre (in sterling to make the comparison make more sense) for holiday hotspots around the world. Prices taken from June 16, 2014 Global Petrol Prices report.

fuel prices around the world

Fuel prices per litre around the world
Graphic: Liz Winstone

Keeping the kids happy

With recent research revealing that motorists are 12 times more likely to be distracted by kids than by talking on a mobile phone, it’s essential to keep them happy while you’re dealing with the additional stress of driving on foreign roads. Here’s our essential travel kit for kids while driving abroad.

Portable DVD player
Pick up a cheap portable DVD player from eBay to keep the kids happy in the car and apartment.
How much: From £25.00
Where: www.ebay.com

phone4sStuff your phone full of child-pleasing apps. Do it before you go – then turn off ‘data’.
How much: £free
Where: App store and Play store

Nook-Tablet1Don’t risk your iPad with suncream covered fingers, look for a cheap used Nook or similar.
How much: From £30.00
Where: www.ebay.com

MP3 Players
mp3_playerLet the kids enjoy 1D in the privacy of their own head – saving you from the Harry and chums.
How much: From £25.00
Where: http://www.argos.co.uk

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4 comments for “Driving abroad… your essential guide

  1. Michael
    26/05/2015 at 11:55 am

    it’s illegal to use sat-nav equipment that has data for locating fixed-position speed cameras even from smartphones.(France, Germany, and Switzerland) How enforceable is this law? Do the police ask for your phone if you are stopped? Does anyone have experience with this?

    • Pete Barden
      26/05/2015 at 1:52 pm

      I have heard that they will see if detection is ‘active’ but have no real first-hand experience.

  2. Claire Bennett
    03/07/2014 at 12:04 am

    Yay just saved £70 after reading this and realising i could take my own child seats for free.

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