DriveThru Tours

   
 

Planning Your Tour by Road

Having lived in five countries (inc. UK) and visited many more, I never cease to be amazed at how much more of the world there is to see - more than one can ever see in a lifetime and I often feel swamped by ideas of where to visit - or even other places to live. Sadly, travellers from the UK are now much more restricted than ever before both in terms of visiting as well as living - and even more so when it comes to working in a particular country.

Planning a tour is something I hate more than just about anything as I'm the type of person who tends to follow my nose, when it comes to touring. For instance, on a tour we made some years ago, travelling 3000 miles in two and a half weeks through seven countries, we had no idea where we were going when we left our then home in Wolverhampton. It was midnight when we stopped for fuel and a picnic in Luxembourg still with no idea where to go. I got the road atlas of Europe out and peered at it in the gloomy light. "I've heard Konstanz is nice", I said to Grace, so off we went - arriving there at about 0700 hrs – just in time for breakfast in a fast food place that had just opened – more than 800 miles from leaving home. See what I mean? After breakfast, we visited the tourist information office and were directed to a campsite in Steckborn, a short drive away, where we stayed for four nights before moving on. We had an amazing tour despite not planning anything at all.

However, I am aware that one can miss a lot of interesting places to visit if one doesn't plan. I really have no excuse for not planning as I have a library of more than 300 guide books to help me, as well as a good selection of maps, although being spoiled for choice like this is sometimes rather overwhelming. Similar to a kid in a sweet shop, I can't decide where to go! Having all this information, and more available online is great in many ways, but planning takes a certain amount of discipline as well as time - and a big table on which to spread maps and guide books.

The biggest problem, by far, is knowing how far to tour in a specific time and knowing which places NOT to visit. For instance, should I spend a lot of time in one small area, or an equal amount of time driving a huge distance and touring a vast area? This is the sort of question for which I have no answer. Do I spend a whole month in Vienna, or visit other places throughout Austria (and other nearby countries) during this tour? I'm sure I could spend several months in Vienna exploring this beautiful city and taking in all the sights and cultural activities available to me, but I'd also miss out on other places, such as visiting the spectacular scenery of the mountains of the Tyrol or the wonderful city of Bratislava, in Slovakia, not far away from Vienna. Maybe, instead of trying to see places of interest in several different countries, one could compromise and tour extensively to see as much as possible in just one or two countries. This would be probably be the most sensible option if you only have a short holiday – or even just the 90 days referred to below.

Before beginning to make your touring plan, consider what your limitations may be.

  • We are now faced with the greatest restriction in travelling that we've ever experienced – the ridiculous maximum time permitted to stay in the whole of the Schengen Zone; this being 90-days in any 180-day rolling period, since the UK exited the EU. The government representatives who decided upon this should be incarcerated for the rest of their days as it was so unnecessary. Read more about this and how to work round it at URL: http://drivethrutours.com/Getting_Out.pdf. So, if you're limited to touring for 90 days and find the alternative work-arounds either undesirable or impractical, then 90 days is your limiting factor. If you would like to travel for longer then you have the option of spending part of your tour in non-Schengen Zone countries (how about winter in Morocco?) so careful planning will be needed to accommodate this – and you'll need to check the length of time you're permitted to spend in those countries too – and what visa's you'll require.
  • Of course, many folks are limited by the maximum amount of time they can take leave from their employer, which may be as little as two or three weeks continuous holiday. Some employers may permit you taking extra leave or even leave without pay but be aware that your job may not be there when you return! If you're so easily released from your job it could be considered that you're not necessary!
  • Various travel and medical insurance and health considerations should also be given thought. You may need to arrange specialist insurance to visit some countries and, in some, Green Cards are still a requirement – two if you tow a caravan.
  • Check how long your home insurance allows you to leave your home empty – it may be a lot shorter than you think – some being as short a time as 60 days.
  • The various financial aspects of a tour must also be taken into account as tours don't come cheap. Fuel, ferries, toll roads, insurance, permits etc. all add-up to a considerable sum. Depending on the vehicle you drive and the cost of fuel in the countries you're travelling in, a 5000-mile tour could easily cost you £1000 just in fuel – and a lot more (60% to 70% more) if you're towing a caravan – and don't forget accommodation costs – or site fees! You can easily set-up a spreadsheet that will make calculating your expenses much easier.
  • If you're using a caravan or motorhome, don't forget that you may need to be self-sufficient on gas (propane or butane) for your heating and cooking requirements as gas cylinders and their connections abroad are not the same as those in the UK. Refer to URL: https://www.wandering-bird.com/find-lpg-in-europe/#sq_hdw456sxoq
  • Make sure you have sufficient budget, plus a safety margin for extra costs as they arise. Find out the cost of food (and admission costs) in the places you want to visit – there are now a lot of restrictions on what food you can take with you now we've left the EU – check before you go.
  • If you're towing a caravan, you need to be aware that your SatNav may take you along unsuitable roads. Don't even think about towing your caravan over severe alpine passes with dozens of hairpin bends, for example. Plan your route carefully. Our expensive SatNav tried to direct us along the side a canal in The Netherlands at one time! Be aware!
  • If you're taking a pet, prepare early as the vaccinations, paperwork and restrictions need careful research and consideration – and money! This is even more onerous if you intend to visit countries outside the EU and then return to the EU (as you must do to get back to the UK) after your visit.
  • Do take into consideration the climate of the various places you want to visit at the time of year you're planning to be there. Northern Norway in January when towing a caravan is not the place to be! I suggest spending January in Portugal or Morocco. Timing is very important and you may well need to adjust your departure date or destination to get the best weather during your tour.
  • There may well be other restrictions that you have to consider (family? pets – try to take them with you?), but only you know what they are, but they are important when it comes to planning your tour so don’t dismiss them without due regard.

So, all limitations considered, evaluated and either worked-around or dealt with so you know how many days you can tour. What next?

Working within your given time-frame, you need to decide just how much driving you are prepared to do within that time. How many hours / day or how many miles / day do you wish to endure behind the steering wheel – and, as mentioned above, how much money you are able to spend on fuel. The more time you spend behind the steering wheel, the less time you have to explore the delights of your destination.

The next item to plan is what sort of tour you want in terms of the types of places you want to visit. For instance, if you're a keen gardener, you may want to spend the whole of your tour visiting the many spectacular gardens that are open to the public for much of the Spring and Summer. If this is the case you may well find the book entitled "1001 Gardens you must see before you die" to be very helpful in planning your tour. If architecture is your thing, there is a similarly entitled book about buildings you can visit. In this case a theme tour may be what you need. A tour of the chateaux of the Loire Valley is an easy choice for a fairly short tour. Research all the places in your theme and find out as much about them as possible before you set off in your car – you may find they'll be closed (or far too crowded) when you get there otherwise!

Instead of a theme tour, you may want to make your tour a combination of various interesting places to visit, in which case there are numerous guide books to help you, some of which will give you suggested itineraries that you can use or adapt. Simple decisions such as whether you want to visit mountainous areas, beaches, cities or country regions also need to be considered.

Another interesting way of touring is to follow the course of one of the major rivers and visit the wonderful places you can see along the route. The River Rhine (http://drivethrutours.com/Grand_Tours/rivers/Rhine/Rhine_tour.html) and the River Danube, as well as many others, often have cycle routes along their length too – and very interesting and beautiful places to visit én-route (refer to URL: https://en.eurovelo.com/). In some ways this reduces the planning involved as you can just follow the river!

Whatever your choice of tour, another major budgetary factor is the cost of entry to many of the places we all like to visit. Many religious places have now started charging admission fees - even the wonderful Byzantine era Hagia Sophia (often known as the Blue Mosque) in Istanbul, is now charging more than £20 to go inside. If you're planning to visit many places of interest during your lengthy tour you'll need to budget several hundreds of pounds to cover admission costs. Look online for special offers or 'multi-place' entrance tickets. An example of this are the 'multi-place' discount admission tickets to the Loire Valley chateaux and other attractions in the area (some of which you'll need to buy from a local tourist office). The local tourist office in almost any region is a very useful source of information and shouldn't be underestimated – and you can often receive attractive discounts on a variety of places / products / services / accommodation etc. Switzerland is a favourite destination but it can be very expensive – special deals are available online for many services such as train fares, ski-lifts etc. Do your planning at home (you'll almost certainly need a 'motorway vignette' (sticker) for your car for - available from Swiss post offices). The cost of caravan and camping site fees anywhere can vary enormously too, so plan ahead. Join ACSI for out of season discounts.

Having got some ideas about what to see and where to go, the next step is to get a big map of the area that you intend visiting and a packet of map-markers. Place the map markers on the map in the places you intend to visit and arrange a sensible route that includes them all. It will also be a big help in getting a true perspective of the places you wish to visit in relation to each other and the route you have in mind. This will save you a good deal of time and money by reducing your travel costs. If you're camping / caravanning, now is the time to research what sites are available nearby and get in contact with them about site fees and availability. You don't have to book them yet, just see what's available and also some back-up sites should your chosen sites be fully booked at the time of your visit to the area. I tend not to book sites until I'm certain I'm going to be there on a certain date. That way, if you decide to stay longer / shorter in one particular place you have the flexibility to do so.

Researching caravan / camping sites is a time-consuming job as they are sometimes not included in the usual guide books and online site guides that cover the 'usual' places. One useful research tool is Google maps, where if you enter, say, 'caravan sites near Yerevan', then zoom into the map displayed, it will identify a lot of potential places to stay. Look-up each site near your route and you'll almost certainly find somewhere suitable to stay.

It's also worth knowing that some of the sites you find will not perhaps be of the same standard you're used to in the UK. One aspect we've found to be very common is that units (caravans or tents) are located very close to each other – overlapping guy ropes, which is a huge fire risk. Should a fire start in one unit, it will spread extremely quickly through the whole site. Pitches in general may not be what you're used to so being selective will help.

A very useful tool is the availability of maps online, such as Google maps or TomTom. One of the huge disadvantages of Google maps is that you can only enter 10 places along your route. Yes, I know there are ways to circumvent this but none of them are particularly convenient. Enter TomTom - yes, the SatNav equipment manufacturer. Their route planning website at https://mydrive.tomtom.com/  allows you to enter lots of places along your proposed route - I don't know if there is a limit or not - I haven't encountered one yet. Another function missing from Google maps but available on TomTom is the facility to enter details of your caravan or motorhome so that it can give you the appropriate route for your vehicle – I don't know just how accurate this is in reality so be careful. Another really cool feature is that it links to TripAdvsior to tell you where there are things to do, hotels or restaurants. There are other facilities available too.

Another problem you may encounter is where you have a situation where you have multiple destinations, many of which may be fairly close to each other. It can be quite difficult sometimes to decide which is the shortest route to take that includes all these places. What you need is a route-planner that will sort out all the destinations into the shortest distance for you automatically. One of these is actually operated by Google Maps and can be found at URL: Route Planner - MyRouteOnline. Be aware that route planners usually require payment after an initial trial period.

In some ways, this next task, of researching and deciding where to go is the hard part as it will make you realise just how many places there are to see – and the difficulty of leaving out so many! This is certainly the hard part for me and is particularly the case if you've got ideas about travelling long distances to a particular country as there are so many enjoyable diversions along the way. For example; you may have an interest in driving to some country far away, such as Armenia and / or Georgia (the distance from Calais being more than 2700 miles each way). Do you visit a lot of the interesting places on the way (Vienna and Budapest being two of many), or drive there in the shortest possible time? Much of the answer to this question will be dependent on the time you have available to tour. I've tried to give you some idea of this tour at URL: http://drivethrutours.com/Grand_Tours/mountains/caucasus/Caucasus_tours.html
On a tour of this length, you could spend your 90 day allowance travelling across Europe into Turkey where you can spend another up to 90 days before visiting Armenia (allowance 180 days) and Georgia (allowance 365 days) travelling for almost as long as you like before returning to Europe for another 90 days – say én-route to Morocco for the winter. That said, don't forget that your vehicle may need to have an MOT test during this time! See below.

MOT Test:  On contacting the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) Customer Service Centre, I received the following information:

Thank you for your email enquiry dated 5 December 2023, concerning your MOT.

If a UK registered vehicle is outside of the UK and its MOT expires, then the only journey that the vehicle can make on entering the UK, is directly to a pre-booked MOT test.

You would need to contact your insurance company to see whether they would require any action to be taken, and the Authorities of the countries that you are travelling through to see what requirements they may have.

The UK does not recognise test certificates from other countries on UK registered vehicles.

Please note that significant changes to the MOT system were introduced on 7 December 2023. Read more about these here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/mot-special-notice-04-23-updates-to-mot-testing-guide-and-test-certificates

With all this in mind (unless you're using a new or almost new vehicle), the sensible option is to plan your tour to be a little less than one year in duration. Obtain a new MOT test certificate immediately before departure and book your next test to take place very soon after you arrive home (you can book your MOT test whilst you are still away). I therefore suggest a tour duration of not more than 360 days.

If you're planning a tour through several countries, my suggestion is to have a rough idea of the route you want to take, then research each country separately in order to decide what 'diversions' you want to make to visit interesting places as you travel through it. This may well change your route entirely!

If a 'general' tour, rather than a 'theme' tour is what you're planning, most guide books will either provide you with a suggested itinerary or a map showing the most popular places to visit. Use these to give you ideas as, remember, the most popular places may not be exactly what you have in mind – especially as they are likely to be the most expensive (and crowded) places to visit. If you research each of the places individually you can make an informed decision as to whether or not to visit it. Once you've decided on those places, draw a line on your map through the route you intend to take and connect this to the other parts of your route. The distance will soon become very considerable!

A good idea is to break it all down into easily manageable sections and decide fairly accurately how long you're going to stay in each particular area. This will help you 'manage' your time and make sure you're not in a panic when you realise you've got to get back to the UK at the last minute – with 1000 miles to drive in one day to get to Calais and onto the ferry before your 90 days expire! You might find this amusing, or unlikely, but it can so easily happen when you've been away from home for a long time enjoying your tour and not wanting to get back to the miserable life we have in the UK, and then suddenly wake-up to find it's time to get home very rapidly – far more rapidly than you'd like. Set the alarm on your calendar a few days early to remind you that it's time to get back home.

This is particularly important if you're travelling with your dog that needs to receive compulsory medication from a vet shortly before leaving the EU to return to the UK – more detailed information from URL: https://www.gov.uk/bring-pet-to-great-britain/tapeworm-treatment-dogs

Whenever you are anywhere near to Calais on your way home, especially if you're in a motorhome or have a caravan, make sure all the doors of your vehicle and caravan are locked as there are thousands of would-be migrants in the area desperate to get a lift across the channel, Although they usually target trucks they could try to get a lift from you.

Wherever you decide to go during your tour, remember that you're not doing anything unique. Many people will have visited the same places you have in mind and will have written about them - and their experiences, and taken many photographs that will give you a good idea of what you're going to see when you get there. You will find a lot of useful and / or interesting information by reading what others have written – and how things have changed too. Many of these experiences are available to read online. For instance, a book entitled "Travels in Georgia, Persia, Armenia and ancient Babylonia in 1817, 1818, 1819 and 1820" by Sir Robert Ker Porter will be an interesting read if you're planning to tour that area and may inform you about some of the interesting and historic places to visit in this region – although much will have changed in the last 200 years! Of course, there are many more sources of information that are much more up to date but you'll need to spend time finding them and studying them.

An alternative to planning your tour in detail before you leave home is to plan it as you go. This is my favourite planning method. By this I mean plan your general route so you know in which direction you're going to go when you leave home and to where you have intentions of getting to as your destination, but only plan the first few days of your tour before you set-off. When you get towards the end of that part of your tour, plan the next few days - in the general direction you had in mind initially - or, as we have done, even in a totally different direction; the choice is yours (you might even change your mind because of the weather). The advantage of this is flexibility. You may decide you like it so much in one particular place that you're going to stay there much longer than you'd originally planned. We've often booked two nights on a site only to extend our stay to one week. Also, and this has happened to me, you might be delayed in a certain place because of a problem with your vehicle that needs fixing before you can leave. Also, as has also happened to me, you might get bored with a particular place so you may want to move on much sooner than you'd anticipated (I get bored very easily). Just take a few guide books and maps with you, visit local tourist offices and you'll have the best tour you've ever had!

Whatever your choice, just GO! Enjoy your trip wherever it takes you - even if you just follow your nose!

 

 

 

 
     
     

 

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