The Real Cost of a European Road Trip

As much as I adore traveling by train in Europe, there’s nothing like having the flexibility of a car when you’re exploring a new region. So when my mom and sister flew over to Europe to visit me, we decided to renting a car was the only logical option for our week-long trip around France and Spain.

And unsurprisingly, it wasn’t cheap.

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Renting a car with Hertz

We rented a car from Hertz for $300 USD for one week via autoeurope.com which offered the cheapest price. We specified that we wanted a larger car with an automatic transmission.

We ended up being very pleased with the car: a roomy, brand-new Peugeot mini-van with a built-in GPS (SUCH a lifesafer).

At first the car freaked us out a bit as it ran on diesel fuel and sounded like a dump truck, but once my mom got used to the roaring engine we felt very comfortable with the car and were especially pleased with its built-in GPS. (It made my job as the navigator so much easier!) And as my mom is a lifetime mini-van driver, I know she felt safer driving a larger vehicle.

We opted not to purchase travel insurance as it cost almost 300 euros extra (more than the car rental itself!) That was perhaps imprudent, but as nothing happened to the car it was the right choice for us.

Overall I was very pleased with both the car and customer service we received from Hertz.

The roads

The roads are impeccably well-maintained in France. There’s not a billboard or pot-hole in sight, and the interior of France is actually eerily empty and rural. Driving was easy and we didn’t have any problems with aggressive drivers.

Costs on the Road:

Toll costs: 100 euros ($130 USD)

The toll-booths: Warning- the tolls in Europe are finicky and expensive. None of the toll-booths would accept my French debit card because they mysteriously didn’t take Maestro. And because the toll-booths only accept chip-in cards we weren’t able to use our American cards either! We quickly learned to keep a lot of cash in the glove box (especially coins), as some of the tolls cost up to 20 euros.
If you are road-tripping in Europe, carry lots of cash (at least 50 euros in smaller bills at all times.)

Gas costs: 200 euros ($260 USD)

Gas costs: We filled up several times during our trip, as well as filled the tank up completely before dropping the car back off at Hertz in Paris. Considering we drove from Paris to Spain and back, a grand total of more than 1,100 miles (1,900 kilometers), I was pleased with the amount we paid for gas (around $260 USD)- I had assumed this cost would be much, much worse.

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The route:

Our journey began Paris, took us down the French Atlantic cost in La Rochelle and Biarritz and continued all the way to San Sebastián, Spain. On the way back up we spent two nights in Sarlat and then returned to Paris.

European Road Trip

The unforeseen costs:

The biggest unforeseen cost of our trip didn’t have to do with driving, but I was shocked at how expensive it is to travel with three people as opposed to two. When booking hotels online, there was often not an option to book for three people so we simply showed up to the hotels and explained our predicament. What often happened was an added cost of about 50 euros a night- ugh.

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The views from the car in beautiful Basque Country.

The total cost: $690 USD (for just car costs alone!)

Rental ($300 USD), Tolls ($130 USD) Gas ($260 USD)

Trip regrets: I made the rookie mistake of planning way too fast of a trip; because of the ridiculous amount of destinations I wanted to see, we ended up driving for five hours every other day. I also regret only staying one night in Biarritz which ended up being our favorite place on the trip. Overall we clocked 20 hours of driving in one-week which was needless to say, excessive.

Also, the trip ended up being too expensive. Hotels, meals and driving all add up quickly, especially when you’re paying in euros. Towards the end of the trip we were stressing out over our finances- we had drained my mom’s checking account, so I cashed in almost 600 of my own euros. Ouch.

Trip highlights: Despite some stresses, the trip was amazing. Not only did I have the chance to see my family after months apart, it was wonderful showing my 13-year old sister Europe for the first time. Renting a car was definitely the right choice- I loved being able to pull over and stop in little towns on a whim, as well as journey to activities that would have been a hassle on public transportation. Plus, when you’re road tripping in France, you can make pit-stops at 16th century châteaus if you so choose.

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Though it can be pricey, road-tripping in Europe is an incredible experience I would recommend to most travelers.

Important info: 

If you’re not used to driving a manual car, definitely request a car with an automatic transmission in advance. Most cars in Europe are manual so it’s important to ask ahead of time.

We had a great rental experience with autoeurope.com. It was the cheapest car rental site we could find but the service and car itself were great.

Keep A LOT of cash on you; Europe has many cash-only tolls. I would recommend keeping at least 50 euros in smaller bills and coins in the car.

Even if you opt out of the car rental insurance, it’s important to have insurance of some kind. I’ve used World Nomads for years and highly recommend it.

Have you ever taken a European road trip?

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About Ashley Fleckenstein

Ashley is a travel and lifestyle blogger who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Since college she has au paired in Paris, backpacked the world solo, and lived in Uganda. Her work has been featured by Buzzfeed, Forbes, TripAdvisor, and Glamour Magazine.

41 thoughts on “The Real Cost of a European Road Trip”

  1. Great post! I’m not at all surprised by the costs. I lived in France and remember my friends complaining about the toll costs. We rented a small car (diesel as well) in Sarlat to visit some of the nearby castles. I agree with you about the freedom, but we had quite the adventure getting around! The GPS wasn’t working correctly, so we ended up taking some very small roads that felt more like long driveways. The positive side, like you said, is that we saw some sites that definitely are not on the average tourists’ agenda.

  2. When I was living in Italy, my parents came to visit and we too rented a car cause how else could you see Rome, Florence, Venice, Verona, Naples and Capri over a week…its hard when they are there for such a short time and you just want to see so much! But anyway I too was shocked by the cost of tolls. We didn’t have a GPS (sadly) and the car was stick (which luckily my dad had learned to drive on but hadnt in like 30 years) so we got turned around quite a bit and at one point had to pay almost 40 Euros at one toll booth….INSANITY!

    Anyway, Great post as usual! What a great girls week!

  3. When I visited San Sebastian last year, I also initially thought it would be best to rent a car to get around to see other villages and cities… but also quickly found how expensive and often inconvenient it could be. So after two day trips we returned the car and found it was actually possible to take pretty cheap and efficient public transport everywhere… to Pamplona, Bilbao, and even city buses to the tiny towns like Getaria. The tourist information office gave us schedules and everything we needed to know!
    Sadly I think these days roadtrips, like the old Eurorail pass, are not as practical…

    • I would love to explore Basque Country like that, you’re lucky! And I found that Eurail was impractical in Spain and Portugal because you had to pay to reserve the tickets anyway- what a rip-off!

  4. When my boyfriend and me travelled to Scotland last fall, we opted to use Public Transportation instead of renting a car. The latter would have been a lot more practical, but because we’re young drivers we would have to pay so much more than the usual rate and we couldn’t really justify that. I do believe though, that renting a car is a great option if you’ve got a couple of people and can split the cost and you want the independence of going everywhere you want, whenever you want! :)
    xx

    • That can be a problem when you’re under 25, which is why my poor mother had to do all the driving! Trains and buses are what I usually take though, and they are great in their own right as well :)

  5. Interesting post! I’ve never really considered renting a car in a foreign country before, but I could only imagine that Europe would be expensive. I guess those tolls get put to good use since the roads are well kept! I wonder what the cost would have been if you’d chosen trains/buses instead… any idea?

  6. These tips will be a great help to anyone planning a similar vacation. Most people forget how much the toll costs are (in Italy as well) – if I remember correctly I paid about 100 € through France from the German to the Spanish border last time. Ugh!

  7. Interesting post! I find the cost of road trips so difficult to estimate. We have our own car in Japan, and I think the costs in terms of gas and tolls is pretty comparable to Europe. We’re constantly trying to work out whether it’s cheaper to drive or take the train when we travel around. Although as you mentioned, the flexibility of having a car is big points in the favour of road trips over other forms of transportation – sometimes that makes it worth the extra money.

    • I’ve heard the trains are super expensive in Japan, but it seems like almost everything is pricey there! But it’s a country I’m hugely interested in visiting, so I think I’d try to afford it regardless :)

  8. This is a great tip for all road trippers out there. Thanks also for sharing your adventure now I know what to expect on my scheduled road trip.

  9. The convenience of going exactly where you want, when you want, usually wins out for me – we rent cars on European vacations. Especially for getting to small rural areas, it just saves so much time and hassle!

  10. I’ve done a week-long road trip in France and I totally agree that the costs add up quickly. Although my friend and I only stayed at camp grounds and drove our own car, the tolls alone were super expensive. I’d always recommend having a large amount of coins ready for tolls — and if possible (and not in a hurry!) to choose the rural roads over the highways.

  11. The tolls really are ridiculous, aren’t they? Our 4 hour trip to paris is a little over 30 euros in tolls just ONE WAY. And the roads are nice, but a lot of them out where I am aren’t perfect. There are cracks and uneven sections of tar. I’d say the toll prices were the biggest shock to driving in France. The the biggest happy surprise for my husband who realized driving from New York to Florida costs next to nothing in tolls! But then I put it in perspective and realize I get a dental x-ray, cleaning and exam for 50 euros and suddenly the tolls don’t seem that bad. ;-) Glad u had a nice trip!

  12. My mom and I rented a car and drove around Portugal for two weeks. The roads were in terrific shape and outside of Lisbon, practically empty. We were only able to rent a manual transmission so luckily mom knew how to drive it. We didn’t take the insurance either but scratched up one side on a concrete pile-on trying to squeeze in a parking space. Whoops! That was a costly mistake. But we only had to buy one tank of gas and there weren’t many tolls so it really wasn’t so bad. We loved the experience and would definitely do it again!

    • I definitely would too! But there were some seriously stressful moments so I totally know what you mean- next time I’m definitely going to buy insurance though because you never know!

  13. Fab post, I am a frequent visitor to France (Brittany mostly) & find its really go expensive in the last few years…..I still love it though!! Nice route, I drove from st malo to Spain a few years back & came back via the dordogne which I love.

  14. Ashley, just what I was looking for! This has given me a better idea. I’m about to make a roadtrip Paris-Lyon-Provence-Cannes-Nice-Montecarlo. We are expecting to spend around 345 USD for 3 days just in rental car, tolls and gas. Am I way too far from reality? Is just one way! What would you suggest me? We are 5 people. :)

  15. You have summarized everything very well. Me and my wife wants to take a trip of Europe starting from Saudi Arabia. I have my own car. We plan to start it from Turkey via Egypt (as Syria is a battle field and cant do road trip from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey) and visit Greece, Hungry, Austria, Italy, Spain, France, Portugal, Switzerland, Netherlands, Germany, and UK. In your opinion which will be cheaper, road trip or EURAIL pass. Can you please tell the estimated cost of food and 2 or 3 star hotel per day so I may plan my budget accordingly. Thanks

    • Wow that sounds like an amazing trip! I’d love to visit so many of those countries. I would guess that a 2 or 3 star hotel in Europe would cost about 100-150 euros… but I’m not completely sure because I often stay in hostels!

  16. Hi Ashley, Happened upon your information. Great help and as we are doing a road trip Paris to Milan,Veronia,Venice,Florence (Tuscony) to Rome, your comments are very helpful. First time travellers to Europe very ignorant of times and distances,tolls and fuel costs. It doesn’t seem to matter how much planning we do it still seems to be a WING it thing. We are going in September, did you book ahead well in advance for you accomodation or leave it to a few days before . We don’t really know where we will be from day to day. What would you recommend.

    Kym. Australia.

    • Hi Kym, we actually booked only a week in advance I believe and the prices were cheap for the rental! I would recommend booking the hotels far in advance so you can get the best rates/options. But if you want to wing it that can be a fun option too. I´d also highly recommend apartment rental sites like Airbnb. Have a great trip!

  17. Thanks Ashley! My Friend and I were thing of driving around the coast of spain & France. We didnt think of tolls.
    No plans just wing it.
    I think we will have to have a re think about our budget.
    Emma – Australia

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