By Phoram Mehta
Last October, five friends and I did a five-day road trip from Munich to Frankfurt via Wurzberg in Germany. Driving on the legendary Autobahn was obviously our primary motivation. It turned out to be one of the best trips I have ever done, but we also learnt some lessons.
Here are some tips to other Indians thinking of doing a road trip in Europe (particularly the Autobahn).
What are the main car hire services in Europe?
The three big car hire services operating in Europe are Hertz, Avis and Sixt. You can find and book your are car online much in advance. All you will need is an international credit card. (In fact, if you are planning to visit Southern Germany during October, I would recommend booking far in advance as all good cars get booked-out during the Oktoberfest).
Are Indian licenses good enough to drive in Europe?
Lots of people (including the German embassy and the German Consulate) spread misinformation on the subject: some say Indians can’t drive at all, others insist that an international driver’s license is necessary.
We learnt the truth when we went to pick up our car from Hertz office in Munich. The lady only wanted to see our Indian license (valid in India) and our passports. She even refused to see our international license that we had so painstakingly acquired from the RTO. Indian licenses are good enough to drive for a year from your date of entry in the European country.
However, while getting an international license is not mandatory, it is still recommended. It comes in handy if you get pulled-over.
When hiring a car – what factors need to be kept in mind?
If there are more than two people in the same car, make sure that it has decent boot space. We had to exchange our car because the boot was too small to carry our big suitcases (there were five of us from India, after all).
Manual or automatic? We Indians are used to driving manual gears and Europeans prefer automatic. I would recommend choosing a manual-gear simply because it is tough enough getting used to driving on the right side of the road. A different gear system on top of it adds to the confusion.
Get a GPS. In any case, if you rent a car, it will have a GPS. But check in advance. We simply couldn’t have driven around on the Autobahn, and on the lovely village lanes, without the GPS giving us detailed instructions.
How different was driving on European roads to Indian roads?
The biggest difference is that Europe has a right-hand drive, we in India are used to a left-hand drive. It did take us a good half-hour, forty minutes to get used to it, and it would be lie to say that we were not daunted initially.
But you do get used to it, and once you do, it is really not that different.
What was also interesting is that much is made of the no-speed limits on Germany’s Autobahns, but honestly, it was safer and less stressful to drive on it than the Mumbai-Pune highway. Everyone was so disciplined, the signage was so clear and unambiguous, and surprisingly, only one in every 50 or 60 cars really took the no-speed limits literally. Others hardly ever went beyond 170 km/hour.
Would you recommend it to other Indians?
Absolutely. So many people discouraged us: some by playing-up the no-speed limits and others by the right-hand drive. But as someone who loves driving, I found the experience fun, stress-free and fabulous.
Here’s Top Gear on Autobahn
If you have any tips, advice, experience, peeves or bile on the subject, the comment space is all yours. If you have any questions or stories you want to share with other Indian readers, write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.