Top Tips for Road Trips

When I was planning for my European road trip, I thought I’d check Google for top tips to see what handy advice the internet would give me, so I was massively disappointed when the top results were massively wishy-washy, so much so that I can’t even remember half of these ‘great’ tips. So having done it all for myself, today I’m sharing some advice that could help you, whether you’re travelling alone or with company.

1. Spring for public car parks

In some places, public car parks can be stupidly expensive, but depending on whereabouts you are, and if like I did you’re leaving valuables in your car while you’re off exploring, its definitely worth paying a little extra for the protection of a ‘proper’ car park, rather than a dodgy little side street.

2. Split your money up

Its a good idea to have your cash in a few different places; you never know if you might lose your bag, or worse.. I had the majority of my money in cash for my trip, and while I did also have a credit card, I didn’t like to use it! I actually kept my money split in pockets in my notebook, to keep my tight budget, and only put what was needed into my purse for each day. I also kept a separate little coin purse in my car to pay for parking and any tolls along the way.

3. Pack food and drink, and take advantage of ‘free’ meals

No road trip is complete without snacks, but if you’ve got some long drives ahead, its handy to keep a little more than the usual amount, especially to save the cost of pricey service station food! If you’re staying somewhere that offers included meals, like breakfast, be sure to take full advantage and load up!

4. Know and set petrol limits

If you don’t know already, find out how far your car goes on a tank of petrol. Ignore the supposed miles per gallon, because so many variables can affect that, go out and do a proper test. For example, I found out that one bar on my fuel gauge would last me around 50 miles, or an hour to an hour and a half, depending on how I was driving. Once you know that, set yourself a limit on when to refill. After one worrying night drive where I was running seriously low with no petrol stations nearby, I always filled up when I dropped to 1/4 of a tank to be safe!

5. Prepare for tolls, or plan around them

There are more toll stations than you might think out there, and they all add up! I was lucky enough that my road atlas had toll roads marked, and my satnav also knew where they were, so I could choose a route without them, but be warned, avoiding toll roads can make your journey a lot longer!

6. Get breakdown cover

Its pretty self-explanatory; you don’t want to be caught out at any time, let alone in a foreign place where you don’t speak the language. Lots of companies offer cover to suit the duration of your trip.

7. Know your own limits

Personally, I found driving long distances a lot easier than I thought I would, especially given a lack of experience, but I still had my limits. Try and avoid the mentality of ‘I’m sure I can drive through the night’ or ‘once I’m behind the wheel I’ll wake up a bit’, because the fact is you’re only human, and there’s nothing wrong with needing a break.

8. Embrace the unknown

Turning down a wrong street will not mean you’re going to disappear off the face of the earth. Getting lost is all part of the adventure, just stay calm, get your bearings, and have fun!

9. Know your speeds

Wherever you are, make sure you know the speed limits, and be wary of any speed cameras that might be hidden. Also double check whether limits are in mph or km/h, and be straight on the conversions!

10. Fully prep your car

Get it serviced, pack spare oil, bulbs, a petrol can etc, and be sure to check if there are any legal requirements where you’re going. For example, for most of Western Europe you have to be carrying a safety triangle, breathalysers, a high vis jacket, and headlamp deflectors for relevant cars. It also helps to have a torch, blanket and first aid kit!

I hope these few nuggets of wisdom can help a few of you have an equally amazing road trip as the one I had, and if you haven’t read all about my trip, check it out here!

xo

Booking Sites and Me

You’ve all seen the adverts; the web is now saturated with sites offering you the best of the best deals when booking hotels, from fancy to bargain basement!

When I started planning my Europe trip, one in particular stood out for me, and that was Booking.com. The ad shows people becoming more and more awesome having booked their hotels through the site. Booking.com? Booking.YEAh! Well I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

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Because my trip was going to be super flexible, I started by only booking my first night in France. I entered where I was going, and let the site take me from there; it ranked the search options by popularity, made suggestions on nearby places that might be cheaper, and had detailed information on each hotel from parking to check out times. I was genuinely amazed with how easy it was, and best for me was that I was getting great prices. There are daily deals, no booking fees, and with most places, you don’t pay a penny until you check in! Cancellation fees vary, but its normally free to cancel your reservation, so long as you do it in a timely manner.

I booked the majority of my hotels through Booking.com, but because its such a popular site, some places book up really quick, and where I was booking mainly last minute, in one or two places there was nowhere in my price range, so I had to look elsewhere.

Booking.com made my travels really straight-foward, and the app was just as easy as doing it online!

When I did have to look elsewhere, I turned to hotelscombined.co.uk. This site compares all the travel comparison sites, including Booking.com, Trivago, Lastminute.com etc, as well as hotel groups like Best Western and Marriott. Once you put in your travel details, it not only brings up all the available hotels, but also all the prices from all the sites, highlighting the best deal. Once you’ve chosen the deal, it directs you to the site offering the deal, and you book through them. In a few cases, it told me Booking.com had the best deals, so I went back to them.

One thing I will say about Hotels Combined is that sometimes it took me to foreign booking sites, which were obviously in a different language, and I didn’t feel comfortable booking through them, so at times I decided to pay a little extra to book through a more familiar site.

So that’s how I booked all my hotels on my trip, and I must have done something right, because I didn’t pay more than €60 to stay anywhere! Sure, I did stay in some cheapy little places, but some places were really great value for money, and honestly, if there was a bed and a hot shower, I was pretty content!

Do you have any favourite booking sites?

Travelling Solo

The most common questions I’ve had when people have asked about my recent European road trip are all to do with the fact that I did it by myself. There have been a lot of ‘weren’t you scared?’ and ‘didn’t you get lonely?’ and ‘but you didn’t really do it all by yourself, did you?’, so today I just want to talk a little bit about what it was really like.

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Firstly, with the exception of my birthday weekend in Disneyland Paris, and my last day, yes, I was 100% unaccompanied on my travels. I did all the planning and all the driving and all the adventuring by myself, and that was exactly how I had planned it. Not only was it about doing it for myself, but being alone also gave me so much more flexibility in terms of being able to go wherever I wanted and do whatever I wanted. It also meant I only had myself to worry about; if anything had gone wrong, I wouldn’t have to stress about the safety of another person, or have another person stressing around me to make things worse.

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Now it also meant I was a lot more efficient. I’m a fast walker, and don’t tend to hang around too much, so not having anyone around to slow me down resulted in me spending a lot less time on certain things: museums, general wandering around etc, so I found myself travelling through places a lot quicker than I had intended. When I had planned the trip, I thought I would easily be able to fill days just ambling around towns, taking in sights etc – which I could do in some places, but not everywhere – so I quickly had to change strategies, instead spending more time (and money) on museums and other attractions. I also had to change my own mindframe a little; slowing my walking pace, learning to enjoy sitting in cafes and keeping my brain a little busier at times.

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Yes, I did feel nervous and a little scared at times, but this always went away. I’m a hugely anxious person at the best of times, so rocking up to motels late at night or parking in side streets did have me a little worried, but for me it was a huge comfort having my car. Not only was it a home comfort having my own car instead of some rental, but it also meant that if for any reason I had felt unsafe anywhere, I could have just upped and moved onto the next place, and if something really awful had happened, I could have just driven home.

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Lonely? Sure, a little bit sometimes. It was especially bad the day or two after my family left, but I kept in contact with a lot of people while I was away; I texted my mum pretty much every day, and had Facebook and Whatsapp to keep up with friends in the evenings when I had wifi. The truth of the matter, though, is that I’m quite happy with just myself for company, and I knew that when I planned the trip. Generally, I kept my day packed with activities, then enjoyed peaceful evenings of reading and writing, or watching cheesy local television!

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As for the driving, it was actually considerably easier than I thought it would be. I maybe even enjoyed it! Before this trip I’d never driven more than maybe 2 hours in one go, yet I threw myself in at the deep end with 3+ hour drives most days. Car time pretty much meant singing along loudly to CDs and conversations with my satnav, while forever keeping a close eye on my petrol gauge! I could not have done the trip without a satnav, even though I did buy a regular atlas too, and the truth of the matter is that driving was probably when my brain was most pre-occupied, and I had some incredible views!

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But really the greatest part of doing this trip solo was the feeling of empowerment, not just during the trip, but also going back into real life. At times, I felt like I could do anything, and the cool thing was, I could! I changed my plans a few times, ate what I wanted, went where I wanted, even if at times it meant worrying about my budget a little. I found places I loved, sometimes completely by accident, and I could enjoy and appreciate them without needing the approval of others to do so.

Part of me still can’t believe I really did it, and I’m so proud of myself for it. (And I don’t feel silly about feeling proud of myself). I’ve come home with new found confidence, and a whole new perspective, and I would 100% recommend doing something like this to anyone, at least once in your life. You’ll discover the world, and discover yourself.

Adventure is out there!

xo

Friday Favourite Five – My Europe Highlights

Aaannd I’m back to regular scheduling!

I would say you’ve heard the end of my European adventures, but I’m afraid that’s just not true because I’ve got a few more related posts up my sleeve, and as its Friday.. Wanna hear my favourite moments of my trip? (I am, of course, leaving Disneyland Paris out of this)

1. Mont St Michel

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This was always going to be a big part of my trip; its no secret how much I love Tangled, and being on the real site that inspired the most beautiful fairytale kingdom was really magical for me.

2. Neuschwanstein Castle

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Another from the bucket list, I truly fell in love with this castle, and seeing it in all its beauty truly made a difficult day a lot easier. I’d love to go back and see the inside!

3. Geneva

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I really wasn’t expecting to be blown away by a city rather than a landmark on this trip, but I had an amazing day in Geneva, and while I don’t think my heart could cope with driving the city again, I’d 100% return for a city break.

4. Chateau de Chillon

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This beauty was another place that I was looking forward to on this trip, but as well as living up to expectations, I was really impressed with it as a tourist destination; the access and information provided made it well worth the trip.

5. Amicitia

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I know it seems silly to choose a hotel as a highlight, but staying on a real canal boat in Amsterdam was great. I loved curling up in the cosy common area, and despite the small cabin, it was a real experience!

Lottie Does Europe: There and Back Again

Well good readers, thus ends my grand adventure in the great wide somewhere. This post is coming to you from somewhere along the journey home; my dad came out to meet me in Amsterdam this morning, so he’s the one driving at the moment!

As the title might suggest, I’m really feeling a whole lot like Bilbo Baggins right now. I’ve been on a truly life changing adventure, there was even a dragon at one point, but I’m also really looking forward to coming home, and a bit of normality.

If you’d told the person I was a year ago that I’d make this trip, I probably would have laughed in your face. An adventure, sure, but two weeks completely by myself? Yeah right. I was the person that wouldn’t sit in a cafe or restaurant by myself, let alone go on a road trip through several different countries!

As for today, after Dad met me in the city we drove to a small town called Delft to have a little look around and grabbed some lunch before heading to the ferry. We were basically the last ones to get onto the ferry due to running a little late, but it meant no waiting around so that was a bonus really. The ferry journey was long, but it had an onboard cinema, so we went to watch Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation and also The Martian, which took us pretty much up til we docked in Harwich, and now it’s just a case of back to Bournemouth!

No pictures today as its a late one and I’m using my phone data to post this, but normality resumes tomorrow, after I’ve had a bit of a lie in!
Really glad to be home 🙂

Lottie Does Europe: Canal Boats and Adventures

And I’m in Amsterdam!

After what I can only really describe as an ‘interesting’ night, I was all too happy to leave my hotel in Brussels nice and early to get on the road, and got into Amsterdam at around 11am. I’d done some research, and found a cheap 24hr stay underground car park that was fairly central to everything, as well as near my hotel, so headed there to leave my car and do the day on foot.

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First on the agenda was NEMO, the science centre. I’ve done my fair share of museums this trip, but I’ve been dying to find a science museum, I am my mother’s daughter after all! It was literally 2 minutes walk from the car park, and in that two minutes I also spotted my hotel, so I was really onto a winner. I would seem, however, that most of the schools and families in the area had had the same idea for their day, and the place was packed with noisy kids running around, but it was fab nonetheless. With 4 floors, I spent a good few hours walking around, trying the various experiments and activities; there was something for everyone from tots to teens to adults.

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Following that, I walked along the canal and stopped off for some lunch in a Starbucks (which isn’t a place I usually frequent, but it was cold and I needed a hot chocolate and a toastie) and stayed there a little while watching the boats in the canal. There seemed to be a few ‘hop on, hop off’ style canal boats going round, so I decided to go in search of one of these tours, heading for the main ferry terminal as my first stop. This, however, came to no avail, so I continued along the main stretch of water, towards the central bus and train station. Still no luck, so I kept walking.

Eventually, I realised I had been wandering the city for a few hours, seeing plenty of its beauty, but no closer to finding any of these tours. It was getting darker, there were ominous drops falling from the sky, and I wasn’t 100% sure where I was in relation to my hotel, so I decided it was probably time to start finding my way back. I went back to the car to get my things, and made my way back to the docks.

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Yes, the docks, because you see my hotel for the night is, in fact, a canal boat: AmicitiA. I have a little cabin on the lower deck, with bunk beds and a tiny porthole window, and the upper deck is a cosy common area, which I currently have to myself, watching the boats go by outside in the rain. I’m loving it, its going to be the perfect way to end my trip!

Lottie Does Europe: Waffles and Chocolate

Well that title can only mean one place, right? Yep, I’m in Belgium!

Wasn’t part of the original plan, but made more sense than doing an extra day in Germany so here I am! Well, it took me the best part of 5 1/2 hours to get here, if not longer; for the first time this trip I actually took a little break while driving, mainly cos I needed the toilet and I needed petrol, but I stopped for a cheeky snack as well before getting back on the road.

Traffic getting into Brussels was also a nightmare. Not only were these roads possibly the trickiest to navigate yet, they were rammed, and it took at least half an hour just to get into the city centre, so by the time I had found a place to park, which was getting close to 3pm, I was pretty stressed out, and there was only one thing that was gonna fix that: WAFFLES.

I had spotted what looked like a shopping area on my way to the carpark, so I headed in that direction, and bingo! A square full of little cafes serving hot waffles and ice-cream, but one particular place called to me as the mother of them all.. Haagen Dazs, offering a Belgian Waffle Dream – and it was just that!

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Waffle devoured, and I was ready to explore. The shop was on the corner of a huge arcade of luxury shops of all kinds; probably the only place in the world you’ll find a Chanel next to a chocolate shop. And the chocolate shops were everywhere, and pastry shops and all sorts of wonderful Belgian sweet treats, and I was in my element. I followed the path of these incredible smelling shops with their gorgeous window displays, watching the chefs prepare the products behind the counters, and snapping away as I went.

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 My exploring also lead me to an enormous square, with the most incredible and intricately decorated buildings all around, all shining with golden embellishment. I gathered from other tourists that one was the old town hall, and a few others were museums, while the rest just housed shops and restaurants. I was happy to just continue walking around the streets though, and that I did.

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I wandered and wandered until my little heart was content, and by that time I was basically a walking icicle. Yep, its still cold where I am! Given that I was loosing the feeling in my hands, I figured it was time to head inside for the night, and knowing that finding my hotel would probably be just as tricky as getting into the city, I retreated to the warmth of my car, and after a slight mission finding the place, I’m now back to regular body temperature in my hotel room!

Tomorrow is my last full day of the trip, crazy right?!