How To Drive In Europe: The Basics

Ever wondered whether driving in Europe is different to driving at home? Are you planning a trip that will involve you driving in Europe? This article is an explanation of everything you need to know to drive safely in Europe (including the UK), broken down into key aspects so you can drive safely and confidently on your next European Road Trip.  This is very comprehensive but I’ve written it as concisely as possible from both my own experiences and research I’ve done to check current driving laws around Europe; I have this article saved to my computer to print out to take with me whenever I drive in Europe.  Feel free to do the same.

Contents:
Side of the Road,
Roundabouts,
Multi-Lane Roads,
Indicators and Overtaking,
Smoking in Vehicles,
Things You Need In Your Car,
Tolls and taxes,
Speed Limits,
Carrying Hazardous/Dangerous Items in Your Vehicle,
Further Reading.

 

Side of the road:

1. In Malta, Cyprus Ireland and the UK (excluding Gibraltar), you drive on the left.

2. Everywhere else you drive on the right.

Roundabouts:

Roundabouts are often used instead of traffic lights where roads intersect each other.

Where you drive on the left (in the UK etc):

Go around the roundabout in a clockwise manner. Always give way to oncoming traffic from the right hand side and ignore traffic on the left (unless it’s cutting you up in which case peep your horn at them to warn them of your presence). You can imagine most roundabouts as a complicated type of crossroads, and some of them have traffic lights on them as well. You indicate as you approach the roundabout to inform people that you are either not getting off the roundabout yet (indicate right, for right turns or straight ahead) or you indicate to inform people that you are getting off the roundabout at the very next exit (indicate left, for the very next left turn). If it’s busy and you are in the wrong lane, people will cut you up as you try to get off the roundabout so always check mirrors and blind spot before changing direction unexpectedly and position your car so other road users know you’re changing roundabout lanes before you pull out.

Where you drive on the right (in France etc):

Go around the roundabout in an anti-clockwise manner. Always give way to oncoming traffic from the left hand side and ignore traffic on the right (unless they’re cutting you up in which case slow down). To indicate, do so whilst you are on the roundabout (or two or three cars away from joining it) and indicate left (staying on the roundabout) or right (getting off the roundabout), EXCEPT in Slovenia where you only indicate to show when you’re leaving the roundabout. If it’s busy and you are in the wrong lane be aware people will cut you up as you try to get off the roundabout, so check your mirrors and blind spot before changing lane unexpectedly, and position your car so other road users know you’re changing roundabout lanes before you pull out.

Multi-Lane Roads:

Where you drive on the left (UK, Ireland etc):

Stay in the left hand lane until you need to overtake someone. If you are on a motorway (3 lanes or more) you may see big blue signs showing that the road is going to split into two new roads. When this is happening, pick the lane that follows the correct blue sign to where you are going. If in doubt, keeping right at a fork is usually to stay on the road you’re currently on. As soon as you are on the new road or as soon as you have passed the fork or new road split, return to the left hand lane if it’s safe to do so.

When overtaking, it’s good practice to pull back over to the left after you’ve overtaken, however, because other people don’t always do this, and because people don’t leave a sensible amount of space between themselves and the cars in front, it can sometimes be more efficient to stay in the right hand lane if you know you need to overtake again soon, because it can be very difficult to rejoin overtaking traffic once you’ve had to slow down. If you see a police car, pull into the left hand lane because it is now illegal to just drive in an overtaking lane (which is every lane apart from the left lane), although nothing’s changed in terms of how people drive because UK police don’t appear to be enforcing this OR the new law against tailgating.
In Ireland, there are a lot of elderly drivers but people seem to be more mellow and courteous on the road, so I always pull back to the left after overtaking although not everyone does. Ireland doesn’t seem to have the same horrific traffic congestion as the UK does, probably because people drive with courtesy and are more tolerant of mistakes (such as being in the wrong lane).

Where you drive on the right (France, Germany etc):

Stay in the right hand lane until you need to overtake someone. If you are on an Autoroute or Autobahn or Autostrada (freeway, motorway), the left hand lane is the overtaking lane. If you need to overtake someone, check your mirrors (especially in Germany where there’s no upper speed limits on some routes) and only pull out where there’s no-one approaching at speed – if someone’s passing you at 150 miles an hour and you’re pulling out at 60, it’s not going to end well for anyone. When you are done overtaking, pull back in, and remember to overtake EACH VEHICLE INDIVIDUALLY. In the UK people have a tendency to stay in the overtaking lane when they shouldn’t, because they can see another car ahead that they will want to overtake in a couple of minutes – in Europe, this can get you pulled over by the police, but not before a VW Kamper has tailgated you for a couple of miles flashing his lights at you to draw your attention to the fact that you’re in the wrong lane. Once you’re done overtaking, get out of the overtaking lane.

Near some European cities such as Florence (and Glasgow), there are now moments when you will either get corralled through the city on a motorway that avoids all the junctions, or you will be moved onto a motorway that HAS all the junctions. It is critically important here that you are aware a) how long you will be on a no-junction motorway and b) whether you will miss your exit. We didn’t understand the signs because the with-junctions motorway was signposted with suburbs of Florence (which should have been closer than our exit), and the without-junctions motorway was signposted with Milan, which was a VERY long way away compared to where our exit was. We were trying to get to Verona. We chose the Milan motorway, thinking the other was a ring road type system around Florence. Big mistake. We were shuttled 50km north of our starting point, all the time in slow moving traffic in 40 degree (Celsius) heat, with no air conditioning and a thick fog of petrol fumes surrounding us; we had realized as we passed the exit to the other motorway that we were on the wrong road. We then spent three hours in bumper-to-bumper traffic crawling until we FINALLY reached the first exit off this road which was far, far beyond the exit we had needed. For the first forty minutes on the shuttle road, our road was directly alongside the road we should have taken, and there was no way to get to it. We had to turn around at the first exit 50km later, and then we had to sit through another two hours of traffic to get back to the place where we could turn around again to choose the correct road because it wasn’t reachable from the other side of the road. Many road signs in Italy make no sense and I would highly recommend you get a sat nav as well as a paper road map if you intend to drive in Italy (and don’t rely on the Google sat nav on your phone because a) you’ll wear your battery down by charging it and using it at the same time and b) it’s dependent on you getting a phone signal as well as a GPS one). The moral of the story here is to be aware of these shuttle roads (I don’t know if they have a fancy name) if you plan to drive anywhere in Europe.

Indicators and Overtaking:

In every European country, you must not overtake a school bus while it is stopped to let passengers on or off. In the former Eastern Bloc countries (such as Serbia) you may not overtake any buses that are stopped. Use your common sense – if the rest of the traffic has overtaken the bus, or if the bus is clearly stopped for a lunch break, it’s probably safe to overtake if you take care and do so slowly, so you don’t hit any pedestrians crossing in front of the bus.

On autoroutes/autobahns (motorways, freeways) some nationalities continue to indicate even after they’ve maneuvered, until they have pulled back into the right hand (non-overtaking) lane. This might seem strange to people who have driven in the UK where many high end cars (BMWs, Audis, Mercedes etc) don’t actually appear to be fitted with indicators since their drivers just pull out without warning. It is not compulsory to indicate with the expressive gusto of drivers from Luxembourg, but it is compulsory to use the correct indicators to inform other traffic that you are changing lane or turning.

On roundabouts in Slovenia, you do not indicate when entering a roundabout, you only indicate to show that you are leaving the roundabout.

Smoking in Vehicles:

It is now illegal to smoke in any vehicle where children are passengers in the UK.  It might be illegal to NOT smoke in any vehicle in Montenegro (joking; the UK one is true though).

Things you need in your car (by law):

Some things are needed everywhere in Europe, other things are needed only in one country. In general, the Eastern European countries require you to take more stuff than Western Europe. As far as enforcement goes, unless you get stopped by the police and your vehicle checked for some reason, you shouldn’t really have any problems, so if you’re a flexible good driver (as opposed to one who inflexibly follows every letter of the highway code regardless of situation) you will probably never need to prove these items are in your car.

The UK:

A spare wheel.

Most countries in Europe, including France, Germany, Austria, Spain and Scandinavia:

Warning triangle (always 2 in Spain, 2 in some other countries IF you’re towing a caravan)

Hi-Viz vest

First aid kit

Spare bulbs

A spare wheel

A bumper sticker showing which country you have driven from (eg. GB sticker) unless your registration plate states a country code on it.

Countries where it gets very cold and snowy, including Austria, Scandinavia and most of the former Eastern Bloc:

Your vehicle MUST be fitted with winter tyres, usually between October and March. Check each country’s requirement on the AA website before taking your vehicle.

Countries where it is very hot:

In Spain, most window tinting is illegal.

In most hot countries you are not allowed to carry spare petrol, but you are generally allowed to carry diesel.

Former Soviet-Bloc countries (Czech, Slovakia, Slovenia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Romania, Former Yugoslavia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Estonia, Albania, Moldova, Montenegro, but not Greece):

These are the countries which will often check at the border whether your car has all the correct items, so if you’re travelling to or through any of the former USSR countries, you need to tick all the boxes because they still have a culture of bureaucracy at border checkpoints.

Spare bulbs,

Spare wheel (this must be the same size as the wheels fitted to the vehicle),

First Aid Kit,

Reflective Jacket,

Tow rope and tow bar (or loop e.g. on the Citroen Xsara Picasso),

Warning triangle (two if towing something),

Winter Tyres between November and April (with a minimum tread of 4mm, or 6mm in Ukraine),

Additionally, in all of the former Soviet Bloc countries, you must get the border control officer to certify in writing any damage to your car (dents and scrapes etc) before you enter the country, otherwise you may have serious problems when you try to leave. This is to prevent people from having accidents in these countries then fleeing without prosecution.

It is NOT compulsory to adjust your headlights from a left hand drive to right hand drive country (or vice versa) the laws all state that you must not DAZZLE oncoming traffic. Often this means a headlight adjustment but the law is clear it’s the dazzling that’s the problem, so dip your headlights enough and you will actually probably do a better job at not dazzling traffic than those people who incorrectly use the headlight adjustment stickers.

Tolls and Taxes:

Tolls:

Most freeway type roads (autostrada, autoroute etc) charge a toll.  The exceptions are Germany’s autobahns, which are currently free, and the countries which require you to pay road tax or a vignette.  Tolls in Italy are generally fairly reasonable (usually under E5 every 50-100 miles-ish) and tolls in France are utterly arbitrary (we paid E16 to drive 25 miles at one point and E3 to drive another 40 miles).  This is where buying a roadmap comes in handy – the one I had detailed which roads were toll and which were not, along with the location of the toll booths, so we knew which roads to avoid in France after getting robbed by a toll booth.  The map doesn’t tell you how much the tolls are, but most toll motorways have a non-toll smaller road running next to it which will take you longer, but won’t cost as much in tolls (whether this increases your fuel consumption is another matter).

On trying to enter Eastern European countries, I’ve heard of some drivers being charged a car washing fine for an official to throw a bucket of water over their car because it was too dirty to continue.  This was apparently in Slovenia, although it is definitely illegal to drive an unwashed car in Romania so budget for a car wash every so often.  Then you won’t get charged a E150 fee to enter any of these countries.

Car Tax or Vignettes:

The countries which charge longer term for you to use their roads are:

Austria (the road from Italy to Innsbruck still costs E9 on top of the vignette) which requires a relatively cheap vignette (pronounced vin-yet) which you can buy at petrol stations approaching the Austrian border (say: “eine vignette fur Osterreich bitte” to the clerk then how long you want it for.  “Funfzig tage” is fifteen days and “dreizig tage” gets you thirty days, sorry about my spelling for any native speakers).

Switzerland requires a vignette that in 2016 costs 40CHF (one Swiss Franc is usually worth roughly the same as the Canadian dollar on the exchange rate) and runs from 1st January to 31st December.  If you are travelling during January or December you might get ripped off.  They don’t do smaller units of tax in Switzerland.  According to the Swiss government website, non-EU citizens can buy Swiss road tax online here although I’d get it when approaching the Swiss border to be sure it arrives (and because that exchange rate on that website is very badly messed up).

The UK has a very complicated vehicle taxation and roadworthiness system that I’m not going to go into, because if you’re only there for less than 28 days you can ignore it completely and if you’re there for longer you can consult the British DVLA.

Speed Limits:

Speed limits are signposted very clearly everywhere in Europe, it’s really easy to follow the speed limit and we found there was a way to change the mileometer on the Picasso so it showed the speed in kph.  Germany has very clear speed limits except on the Autobahn, where there is no upper speed limit, only a suggested speed limit in adverse weather conditions.  This teaches you to look at the state of the road, the congestion, the road surface (e.g. is it icy, wet or dry) and use your own judgement.  If you lack this judgement, or if you’re a new driver, stick to 70-80 miles per hour and you’ll generally not be out of place amongst the traffic.  Remember, it’s illegal to take a slow moving vehicle on a motorway or freeway in most European countries so you MUST make an effort to keep up with the slowest moving flow of traffic on the road.

Carrying hazardous/dangerous items such as weapons in your vehicle:

Check the individual country’s requirement as it ranges from 100% legal to hold it whilst driving (swords in Poland) to 99.9% illegal to have it in the car (guns in Britain).  Each country has it’s own definition of what is hazardous or dangerous, just to complicate matters even more.

Further Reading

You may also want to check out these other articles I’ve written to help you drive in Europe and beyond:
Buying petrol in Europe
International Window Tinting Laws Around the World
Travel Money Guide a helpful article explaining how to access your money and what sort of money to take when travelling in Europe, including answering questions about working in Europe, using credit cards and ATM machines. Essential reading if you’re planning a European road trip or driving in Europe.

Coming soon:  Driving with your pets in Europe, and pet-transport laws.

How to Choose Better Sheet Maps (Maps Part 2)

Something nobody ever talks about is buying a map. For city-hoppers, who fly from Phnom Penh to Beijing via Ho Chi Min and Tokyo, there’s probably little need for the various types of maps I’m going to talk about. If you’re driving from A to B, however, you need a map so you don’t end up at the wrong sea.

The two types of maps you need:
1. A big road atlas.
2. Smaller destination maps – this might be an A-Z city map book or a few Ordnance Survey sheets for the wilderness.

This article is going to talk about how to choose a smaller destination maps. In case you missed it, I discussed how to choose the big road atlas last Travel Tuesday.

The humble sheet map is more often overlooked except by people who want to do some walking out of their car. In the UK, we have Harvey’s and Ordnance Survey maps, and (with the exception of OS’s 2007-onwards touring maps) they’re so good, that you would be forgiven for expecting them to cover the whole world. It’s a bit of a shock to the system to discover that our gleaming institution of the OS map is actually only a thing in the UK. Beyond, you’re at the mercy of whatever lame-ass cartographic monstrosity they’ve scribbled on a napkin to sell to tourists.

So what do you do? Where can you go to for excellent, accurate mapping information that comes in a variety of scales with familiar symbols? While Google Maps is clearly the Gold Standard in worldwide mapping, since it uses the actual satellite images to map features that are really where they say they are, the big drawback is you need an internet connection and some sort of charge to use them (unless you want to spend hours printing them out at a multitude of scales).

What’s this scale nonsense, anyway?
Basically, it’s a ratio of how much a geographical area has been scaled down to fit on a page. For example, 1:1 would mean the map would be exactly the same size as the area it covered. 1:4 would mean it was a quarter of the size of the area it covered. The best scale you can get on Ordnance Survey maps is 1:25,000 (you can see every individual house on the map at this scale) but their 1:50,000 is usually good enough for most things unless you’re really bad at reading a map. Road maps are usually between 1:200,000 and 1:500,000. Anything above 1:800,000 is not very useful in areas of dense population, e.g. western Europe, but would probably be fine in places like Kazakhstan, Russia or Sudan where there’s not a lot of stuff to fit on a page. Anything above 1:3,000,000 is useless even for Russia. At bigger scales, the width of the road is not done to scale because otherwise it would be a tiny thin line that you wouldn’t be able to see, so they make the roads wider than they should be. This confuses a lot of people but if they didn’t do it, most maps would be unreadable.

Why does scale matter?
Surely if you buy the biggest scale available, you’ll be able to cover more countries on less paper? Yes, but the problem is, as cartographers increase the scale, they reduce the amount of visible detail. First thing you’ll notice is some minor roads not appearing where they should. Then some villages will vanish. Then eventually there will just be the main roads and big cities… you get the picture. Likewise, if the scale is too small, you will quickly fill your car with paper maps, cost yourself a fortune and spend hours looking for the right page or sheet. That’s clearly no good either. Where does the balance lie between these two extremes? Only you can answer that.

Here’s a list of brands and countries that produce printed paper maps, along with the individual scales by continent and country, for those places that are hard to find maps for (and some that aren’t) If you use the “find on page function” from your internet browser menu (top right in Chrome), you can find all of the maps for any given country in this list:

Carte De Randonnees (Institut Geographique National): Sheet maps for France (choice of scales: 1:25,000 or 1:50,000) including places of interest etc. Not quite the same level of detail as OS maps and I didn’t see any contours but I might have been looking at a sheet map that covered a flat area. They retail for between £8 and £13 and you can get them in the UK in Go Outdoors, although they are 100% in French so they might be of no use to you if you’re no good at grasping foreign languages (I’m extremely lucky that I have the ability to learn many languages but I know that a lot of people struggle with this, and I can see those people having major issues with these maps).

maps2

Cartographia: Africa: Libya (scale 1:2,000,000), Egypt (1:1,000,000),
Europe: Moscow (in Russia) (1:50,000),

Comfort! Map: Europe: Ukraine (scale 1:1,350,000),

Editorial Alpina Mapa Guia Excursionista Map & Hiking Guide: Sheet maps of Spain and Andorra (scale 1:25,000). I couldn’t open them at Go Outdoors (these maps are wrapped in cellophane) to see whether they were in English but there was a Union Flag on the front next to the Spanish and Andorran flags, which strongly implies there were English words inside.

spanish maps3

Freytag and Berndt: Africa: Egypt (scale 1:800,000),
Europe: Romania and Moldova (scale 1:500,000), Ukraine and Moldova (scale 1:1,000,000 so get the Romania one if you’re specifically going to Moldova), Russia (scale 1:8,000,000 and 1:2,000,000 on same map)

Gizi Map: Asis: Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan all in one map (scale 1: 3,000,000).

Hema: New Zealand North Island (scale unknown but it’s good) and New Zealand South Island (again, scale unknown but it’s got great detail and both have city plans).

International Travel Maps: Europe: Ukraine (scale 1:1,000,000), Russia (scale 1:6,000,000), The Russian Kamchatka Peninsula (scale 1:800,000 and 1:1,200,000 on same map), St Petersburg (in Russia) (1:14,000), Kazakhstan (scale 1:2,300,000), Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan on same map (scale 1:3,000,000 and 1: 1,580,000),

Michelin: Africa. Relatively few options exist for Africa, even Morocco, so the Michelin maps aren’t the best scale or detail, but they’re cheapest option weighing in at £5.99 on Amazon. The Michelin maps cover: Morocco (scale 1:1,000,000), Tunisia (scale 1:800,000)
Asia: Turkey (scale 1:1,000,000), Thailand (1:1,370,000)
Europe: Romania (scale 1:750,000),
North America: Eastern US and Eastern Canada (one map) (1:2,400,000),

Nelles Maps: Africa: Tunisia (scale 1:750,000), Egypt (scale 1:750,000 and 1:2,500,000 – both stated on same map),

Marco Polo: Often a better scale than Michelin, particularly for larger countries. Africa: Tunisia (scale 1:800,000), Morocco (scale 1:800,000), Egypt (1:1,000,000),
Asia: Turkey (1: 800,000),
Europe: Romania (1: 800,000), Russia-Ukraine-Belarus (3 in 1) (1:2,000,000 and 1:10,000,000 – both on same map), St Petersburg (in Russia) (1:15,000),
Asia: China (1:4,000,000), Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia (all in one) (1:2,000,000),
Oceania: New Zealand (1:2,000,000),

National Geographic Adventure Map: Morocco/Western Sahara, Egypt, Turkey (scale unknown),

Rand McNally; Road Map of US, Canada and Mexico (one map book) (scale undisclosed but according to Amazon reviewers it’s small).

Reise: Africa: Jordan (1,400,000),
Europe: Russia (Lake Baikal to Vladivostock – the far east third of Russia) (1:2,000,000),
Asia: Kazakhstan (1:2,000,000)

WorldMap: Egypt (1:1,000,000),

Insight Flexi Map: Egypt (1:930,000), Moscow (in Russia) (1:130,000),
Asia: Thailand (1, 1,400,000),
N. America: Canada (1:4,000,000),
Oceania: New Zealand (1:800,000)

Problem countries:
Morocco: For no good reason, nobody seems to produce a map worth a damn for Morocco. For the size of the country, the scales on offer are ridiculous.

Russia: It’s a really big country. Huge, in fact. So it won’t all fit on one sheet or in one map book. There are sections for sale from Reise but if you’re crossing all of Russia you’ll need quite a few sheets. Maps of St Petersburg and Moscow seem plentiful and scales look good for these, however.

Conclusion:
As you can see, once you get past France and Spain, it appears that there’s nothing that comes close to good old Ordnance Survey or Harvey, which makes me realise how lucky we are in the UK to have two fantastic printed mapping resources as well as Google Maps. It’s very unfortunate that GPS has taken off so well that cartographers don’t produce as many printed maps any more, so if you lose your way in an area that doesn’t get a GPS signal, like Siberia, then you’re going to struggle to get un-lost. My personal recommendation? Get a decent GPS device with world maps pre-loaded at a good scale, and always have paper maps as a back up, because none of these maps will help you while you’re crossing the Carpathian Alps or the Atlas Mountains, or kayaking the River Vltva. Being on a serious budget myself, I will probably not take my own advice any time soon, and am going with the best scale available for both Morocco and Romania when I overland there.

Do you know of any good sheet maps for other countries that I could add to this article? Let me know in the comments! I’ll reply/approve (if needed) when I get back from the Highlands of Scotland on Friday/Saturday.

International Window Tinting Laws for Cars Driving Around the World

Tinted Windows In Europe and Around the World (updated Feb 2016)

So you’ve worked out how to get petrol when you’re abroad.  Next on your list of vehicle considerations is how to stop light getting into where you’re sleeping.  If you’re thinking of doing a longer term driving expedition, you need to know about the worldwide laws surrounding tinted windows. It’s probably occurred to you that it would be a Very Good Thing if you could sleep in your camper conversion without having passers-by staring into your lovely portable home while you sleep. Other people like the UV protection, and women drivers say they like being able to avoid unwanted attention of men in countries like UAE or Iran.  However, while the EU has passed a decisive law on the matter, individual EU member states have still made their own laws about it. One country has completely outlawed any tint. And then there’s the rest of the world; beyond the EU, in Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey and Ukraine, for example, it’s very difficult to find out what the legalities are for tinted windows. The other complication is that, for the most part, these laws only apply to citizens of the country which made the law, so if you’re passing through, you’ll probably (but not necessarily) be able to get away with it in a UK registered car. Once you’ve stayed in the same country for more than 180 days, it becomes a legal requirement to follow their car maintenance and tax laws, and remember that your car will still have to be fully road-legal for the UK before you drive onto that ferry home, as well.

Here’s a breakdown of the tint laws, ranked by percentage tint.

100% Black tint on all windows – not legal, anywhere. In Britain it was outlawed for front side windows in 2003. It reduces the distance of your visibility and has been shown to increase the chance of an accident (although this could be something to do with the fact that drug dealers etc tend to have tinted windows, and they don’t exactly drive carefully, so perhaps they should be cracking down on drug dealers, not tinted windows).

Rear Windows:

100% black tint on rear window and rear-side windows (after the B post) – UK, Germany (must have a manufacturing approval number at least once on each window, and you must carry a document explaining who did the tint and with the same approval number on it), Spain (same paperwork as for Germany), Belgium (but must be certified by the Glass Institute and if you’re putting any tint on rear window, you must have two wing mirrors), France (providing it doesn’t deform or reduce visibility, and has been certified), Czech Republic (but must be certified), Italy (must be certified), Russia, Spain (but film must be approved for use in Spain and certified), Poland (same as for Spain).  From people’s experience, lots of travellers found it impossible to get tinting film that was approved for either Spain or Poland, because they haven’t actually approved any that are reasonably available to buy at the time of writing.

80% tint or 20% VLT (visible light transmission) on rear window and rear-side windows (after the B-post) – Austria (and 20% tint (80% VLT) on front windows),

65% tint or 35% VLT – Australia (all windows)

60% tint or 40% VLT on rear window and rear-side windows (after the B-post) – Denmark.

30% tint or 70% VLT on rear window and rear-side windows (after the B-post) – Finland, Hungary.

Front Windows:

25% tint – 75% VLT – on front windows and front windscreen: UK, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Russia,

30% tint – 70% VLT – on front windows and front windscreen: Belgium, Malta, United Arab Emirates,

No tint whatsoever on front windows or front side windows forward of B-pillar: Italy, France (you’re allowed a low tint on sides but nothing on front), Spain,

65% tint – 35% VLT – Australia (all windows).

Total Tint Ban:

0% Tint – all windows must be 100% transparent – Portugal, Belarus, Libya, Kuwait, Bolivia, Iraq, Kenya, Pakistan. Almost all of these are recent law changes and are due to violence and the ongoing threat of terrorism. Except Portugal. They’re just being silly for such a hot country. Egypt and Cyprus – unless it’s the actual glass rather than a tinted film. Tinted glass appears to be fine at any transparency in Cyprus and Egypt, but tinted film is totally banned.

Unusual Exceptions:

Greece – they state that all passengers and driver must be visible at all times, so some tint is probably OK but dark tints would not be. I would be a bit concerned about taking a tinted vehicle to Greece because they’re not very specific.

Tunisia – they say tints are allowed but should not be so heavily tinted that it is not possible to see into the car from outside, but they don’t specify a percentage.

Tajikistan – no tinting at all unless you buy a tinting “licence” to own tinted windows – at about $500 per vehicle.

India – total tint ban for film, but if it’s come from the manufacturer, it can be 30% tinted – so 70% VLT – in front and rear windows, and 50% tinted on the side windows.

America – state vs federal law in the USA, and a similar thing in Canada, appears to over-complicate the tinting requirements depending on which state you are in. This helpful article explains it all (near the bottom): http://www.ritrama.com/ritrama/userfiles/file/prodotti/Car_Window_Tinting_Laws.pdf

Turkmenistan – Window tints are totally illegal, but Turkmenistan deserved a separate entry because the following are also illegal: 2 door cars, engines over 3 litres, cars older than 5 years of age, black coloured cars are also banned and so are any kind of sports cars.  Source here (about halfway down the article): https://www.quora.com/What-are-some-strange-things-banned-in-countries

Notable lack of information:

There was no information despite hours of detailed searches for the following countries: Romania, Morocco, Mongolia, Iran, China – apparently some tints are illegal in China, but there’s no specifics (see the only reference I could find)

Tanzania – taxis and buses should not have tinted windows but there’s a distinct lack of information regarding the legality of private vehicles.

Got any inside info on countries I could add to this article?  Let me know in the comments!

References:

France: http://www.connexionfrance.com/Tinted-car-windows-ban-Pechenard-90kph-80kph-15171-view-article.html

Bolivia: http://www.carthrottle.com/post/the-10-most-awesome-cop-stories-youve-lived-through/

Kenya: http://allafrica.com/stories/201405161523.html

UAE: http://www.thenational.ae/news/uae-news/transport/drivers-face-fines-and-seeing-their-cars-impounded-but-they-still-want-tints

Egypt: http://www.med.navy.mil/sites/namru3/Staff/Documents/WELCOME%20ABOARD%20BROCHURE%20Update%20AUG%2012.pdf

Libya: http://www.tripolipost.com/articledetail.asp?c=1&i=7778

Tunisia: http://www.ediplomat.com/np/post_reports/pr_tn.htm

Sudan: http://catholicradionetwork.org/?q=node/7211

Tajikistan: http://www.eurasianet.org/node/63670

China: http://www.scmp.com/article/376926/tinted-window-law-not-tough-enough

India: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/From-Friday-any-tinted-film-on-car-windows-will-be-illegal/articleshow/12956949.cms

Pakistan: http://centralasiaonline.com/en_GB/articles/caii/features/pakistan/main/2013/03/28/feature-01

Any other countries mentioned: http://www.ritrama.com/ritrama/userfiles/file/prodotti/Car_Window_Tinting_Laws.pdf

Travel Plans 2015

It was raining so much that I couldn't get my phone out to take pictures once we were out of the car!
This was how much of Scafell Pike we could see when we looked across the water. I can’t show you the left hand side (where we were headed to park) because it was raining too heavily to get my camera out of the car.

Sometimes travel plans just go wrong. Other times they don’t materialise at all. I made a plan to climb 3 mountains during the February half term, and I climbed a grand total of half. How do you so comprehensively fail to achieve a goal? Well, it turns out you can’t climb a mountain when the path leading to it has turned into a white waterway. It’s simply too dangerous. So I turned back. While it’s irritating as all hell and disappointing and all the rest of it, I don’t think there’s any shame in knowing when to stop. I trust my own judgement and I really wasn’t confident that the mountain was safe.

It was hard, having bought petrol, made plans, hoiked equipment and trudged all that distance, only to have to admit defeat in the face of white water and whiter fog, which was closing in rapidly. But I know I made the right decision.

It has affected my bigger picture of travel plans for the year though. I had a progression of mountains planned for the year, and hikes, cycles and walks, and now I need to re-order things and try to make it all work with even less time, a problem that’s compounded by the fact that my current work contract has been extended by 5 months, meaning I won’t be free to properly travel until the end of July.

Here’s my current plans for 2015:

1. Climb Ben Lomond and Ben Nevis.

2. Hike the West Highland Way.

3. Climb Scafell Pike.

4. Visit Orkney

5. Visit the Broughs at the top of Scotland

6. Walk Hadrian’s Wall.

7. Cycle the Pennine Way

8. Spend the night in a castle

9. Climb mountains on the Via Ferrata in France and Andorra

10. Climb Serra do Gerez and Serra do Estrela in Portugal

11. Drive to Morocco via Spain (and France, Andorra and Portugal)

And here’s my current music plans:

1. Steeleye Span, March (like, this Sunday).

2. Lynyrd Skynyrd, April.

3. Download festival, June.

When compiling my list, I tried to group things by location, so for example all the Europe stuff can be done in the same trip because it’s all along the Morocco route (or at least, a meandering journey in the direction of Morocco). Again, my UK-based travelling is all in the same relative direction from me – it’s all northwards (except the Pennine Way, which starts 100 miles south of me, but it does end about 150 miles north of my house), with an emphasis on the West of Scotland. As for #8, there are plenty of castles in both Scotland and France which open their doors to tourists – if you can afford their rates. I’m hoping to get one for a cheaper price before tourist season kicks in, but you never know.

For the music plans, I chose a mixture of styles and picked one at £20 (Steeleye Span), one at £40 (L-S) and one expensive festival (Download) so I could see the maximum amount of bands, genres and time-periods without going to a different one every week or bankrupting myself.

A big factor in all my planning was my car. All of my plans are very dependent on my car working and being hospitable inside. I’ve added curtains and put one of the back seats back into the car (they were all removed before) so there’s somewhere for a passenger or rabbit if we need it.

These are the curtains to the car camper - tutorial to follow.
These are the curtains to the car camper – tutorial to follow.

Do you have any travel plans for this year? Don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss any articles!

[travel] Buying Petrol Abroad

Buying Petrol In Europe and European-language countries

I was actually photographing the misty mountain in the background
The 7am queue, Sunday morning at a petrol station in the Austrian alps. The majority of petrol stations we saw in Austria/Germany were Shell garages.

When we were approaching the ferry at Dover, England, I pulled into the petrol station and filled the tank. My OH’s mum had told us confidently that petrol was much cheaper in France. This should have meant waiting until France to fill up, surely?  Why, then, was I getting petrol now?

Actually, I was deeply worried by particular practicalities of our trip, not least of which, where to actually buy petrol. I didn’t know any of the brand names and was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to find these petrol stations. I’d looked online for a list of company names to look out for (Esso, Shell and even BP have stations abroad), but since no list existed I was limited by searching for the overseas locations of petrol stations I already knew the names of. I’d also searched online to find the names of fuels abroad.

I was still deeply worried about running very low on fuel and not being able to find a petrol station. This only happened in Italy, where there were so many different flavours of fuel and colours of hoses that it was rare to find somewhere that carried all of them. The only constant everywhere was diesel, which left me wishing many times that our vehicle was a diesel one. But you got what you got, all you can do is work with what you got.

I’m going to tell you what I learned about filling up abroad, and I’ve included a list of names of petrol types (and which engines they go in) for the countries I’ve been to so far.


Here’s my top hacks for buying petrol in Europe:

1. Service stations generally sell fuel at an almost-reasonable price, but it varies wildly. In Northern Italy on the Autostrade (plural of Autostrada, or freeway), they give you the next 3 prices for diesel and “benzina” from which you can work out the relative prices for your chosen fuel if it’s not either of those.

2. Always fill at two bars or quarter of a tank, and always round down when making the decision; every time we looked at the two bars (1/4 tank) and thought “it’s ok, we can shop around for a better price” something always happened that stopped us getting to a petrol station in good time, and we cut it far too close, far too often. We actually skipped quite a few stations on the way down because we didn’t understand which fuel to put into the car (because the Italians have so many) and they all had black, yellow or red pump handles, no green ones.  There was the time we suddenly ended up in a 4 hour gridlocked traffic jam around Firenze, in 45 degree heat, watching our petrol dwindle. There was the time we took an A-road (I think they’re “routes” or “interstates” in America – the one that’s the next size down from a freeway??) and our 50 mile route suddenly became 100 miles in the dark on continuous hairpin bends every 30 metres or less, so we constantly were doubling back on ourselves, and that hadn’t been marked on our map as such, cutting across from just below Ravenna to the E1. The scenery around there is apparently stunning, but at 1am, it was dark and we didn’t have enough fuel. Luckily the second half was 50 miles of the same, but downhill, so we just rolled it until we got to the E1, and there was a petrol station within 500m of getting onto the Autostrada.  The engine never stopped from lack of fuel, but it came very close a couple of times (making that dreadful hiccuping sound as it gasped for gas).

3. SP95-E10 is the name of a semi-synthetic fuel that is an EU-approved version of petrol. In some countries it’s cheaper than normal 95 octane petrol, in others, it’s more expensive. It’s good stuff though, at least, it was really good in our Citroen Picasso, and I was a little sad when we got back to the UK and couldn’t buy it anywhere. SP95-E10 gave us a vastly improved mileage and the car engine sounded healthier whilst it was using it. I would highly recommend it if you have a Picasso – it’s like they’re made for each other, which could be true, since it’s a French car and since SP95-E10 is prevalent in France. It’s often also called “Super E10.”

4. In Rome, most petrol stations are self-service, but there are men who will insist on filling your car for you (they will be on a mobile phone the entire time, and usually smoking as well, we saw many of these) and then harass you for a tip. Unless you’re sure of yourself physically or speak Italian louder than whoever is on the other end of the phone, you just have to give them some money. I consistently gave 2 Euros on a 20 Euro fill, and it did work out cheaper than the manned petrol stations on the ring road. I don’t think these men actually work for any petrol station company, but Rome is a city whose primary workforce are street hawkers, so you just get used to it.

5. In Austria and Germany, many stations have full service pumps and self-serve pumps, and these mean different things to elsewhere. With the full service pumps, you stop your car and tell the attendant how much fuel you want (like in the olden days of good service) and they’ll fill it for you. At the self-serve pumps, you put your own fuel into the car – but with either option, you still have to go inside to pay. They don’t have a pay at the pump option at these stations so either way you’ve got to waste the same amount of time. The full service pumps are usually about 15-20 cents more expensive per litre than the self-serve, which can seriously add up (that’s 1 euro extra every five litres of fuel. Your fuel tank is usually 25 to 30 litres, so service costs 5-6 Euros per complete tank fill).

6. Make sure you have a credit card as well as your money, some pay-at-the-pump self service machines only take cards, and they’re the ones you’ll get stuck with late at night.

7. To use the European pay-at-the-pump petrol stations, you actually don’t pay at the pump you’re using. In the centre of all the pumps, there will be a machine that you have to select options from and prepay for the amount of fuel you’re going to put in your tank. There are usually language options for at least French, German, Spanish, Italian and English, but once you’ve used 3 or 4 of these machines you’ll know the menu options well enough that you won’t need English (unless you really aren’t paying attention). Just follow the menu through to select fuel type and amount to buy, select payment method if it’s an option and give the machine the money. Eventually it’ll let you go back to your pump and fill up.

Some of them tell you the price in litres and get you to confirm you are happy with this price before letting you continue. Others just take your money. Once you’re filling up, it will automatically cut off at the amount specified. There isn’t an option with these machines to “fill ‘er up” so you need to guess how much fuel you want to put in. I usually went for 20 Euros because the price per litre was often quite high and I thought that if anything went wrong with the machine I’d only lost 20 Euros. If something does go wrong there isn’t really anything you can do about it because these stations are totally unmanned, so just write it off to experience.

8. Knowing your numbers 1-15 in foreign languages really helps with identifying which pump you’re trying to pay for petrol. In England, you walk into the shop and say “pump number 5” and you do the same thing in foreign countries. Just have the number ready before you go in and they can process your request faster. If you don’t know the numbers of the country you’re in, Europeans often can also do English although it might take them a minute to work out what language you’re speaking in, just like if someone started speaking to you in French at your place of work you’d need to think before responding.

9. Despite my worries, it’s actually really easy to spot petrol stations abroad – because they look like petrol stations. Big roof, booth for paying (usually), sign with prices, petrol pumps. Unless, y’know, you’re really unlucky and end up at a car wash or diner that used to be a petrol station and still has all the trimmings. I think my main worry was needing to look for them on my smartphone which always needed a brand name to search, but since it didn’t have any network at all from Dover onwards, that really wasn’t an issue for me because there were so many roadside petrol stations.

10. As a final hack, none of the petrol we bought in France was anything remotely resembling the prices OH’s mum had found before we left.  I hadn’t been holding my breath, but it’s worth bearing in mind that those price comparison tools are not always very up-to-date and it’s probably going to save you time to not bother looking them up, especially if you’re going to be gone drivin’ for more than a day or two.

Here’s the names of fuel in various countries, and what engines they go in:

France/Belgium:

Super E10 – unleaded engines

Super Carburant – leaded engines (old 4 star cars) don’t put in unleaded engines.

Gazole – Diesel engines

LPG – LPG/autogas engines
Sans Plomb 95 / Sans plomb 98 – Unleaded engines

You can carry up to 10 litres of fuel but not aboard ferries.

Germany/Austria:

Super – unleaded engines (95 octane)

Super Plus – unleaded engines (98 octane)

Super E10 – unleaded engines (synthetic SP95-E10)

Diesel – diesel engines

No lead replacement available.

You can carry up to 10 litres of fuel with you, but not aboard ferries.

Italy:

Benzina – generic term, sometimes used for “fuel,” still unsure if this would go in my car.

Benzina verde – unleaded engines.

Benzina super – unleaded engines (higher octane)

Gasolio – diesel engines (don’t ask for gasoline if you have a petrol engine, they’ll think it’s this)

GPL (gas di petrolio liquefatto) – LPG engines.

No lead replacement available, but you can buy a fuel additive to use with unleaded petrol.

Sometimes unleaded is called “senza plombo” but it’s not an official grade of petrol.

You can carry up to 10 litres of fuel with you, but not aboard ferries.

Over 800 miles of driving in Italy, I only saw SP95-E10 once, and it was far more expensive than anything else they were selling.

Spain:

Bencina – petrol, again nowhere was able to tell me if this was ok to put in an unleaded engine or whether it was a common term for something else.

Gasoleo “A” – Diesel engines

Gas-oil – Diesel engines

Gasoleo “B” – HEATING OIL ONLY DON’T PUT IN CAR!

gasolina super – Leaded 4-star engines

gasolina sin plomo – Unleaded engines.

biogasol – another one that no-one could agree on the meaning of. Most likely biodiesel but might instead be something to fuel houses. Probably best to avoid.

SP95-E10 may or may not be available in Spain – it’s likely because it’s a European initiative, but then we don’t have it in the UK, so I will report back when I return from driving to Moroccco.

You can carry up to 10 litres of fuel with you, but not aboard ferries.

Check out this AA motoring guide for other European countries and their specific driving rules, including what to carry when you go abroad:
http://www.theaa.com/motoring_advice/overseas/countrybycountry.html

Does anyone have any further experience on the names of unleaded/diesel in other countries? I’d love this to become a reference. Don’t just post website translations because I’m specifically collecting the words printed on the sides of petrol pumps. For example, some Italian dictionaries say “petrolio” means “petrol” but it’s actually never used in the sense that we would mean, because it means “petroleum” like “petroleum jelly” (Vaseline). If you asked for it at a petrol station you would get mocked. So, only contribute what you’ve seen at petrol stations please!

Happy driving!