One of the nice things about being stationed in Germany, instead of being a traveler here, is that we have a car and German driver’s licenses. What’s more American than a good, old-fashioned road trip? (Even if it is on the Autobahn).
Since moving to Germany in May 2013, we’ve taken several road trips.
From Wiesbaden, we’ve driven to Bad Munster am Stein-Ebernburg, Bischofsheim an der Rhön, Bonn, Cologne, Frankfurt, Grafenwoehr, Heidelberg, Lohr, Ludwigsburg, Oestrich Winkle, Nuremberg, Switzerland, Triberg, and Trier.
We’ve learned a few things from these German road trips. Today, I’ll pass some of those things on to you.
Be Responsible (& Legal)
Driving on the Autobahn is exciting, but it’s important to be responsible when you do. Have the right license and insurance, and be sure to know the laws and traffic signs.
One of the best investments we made before PCSing here was in our first GPS unit. Nick installed the European map software onto it, and it’s been great for personal travel and for some of his work-related travel, too.
The Autobahn is just as fun as you’ve heard it is in the areas where they’re no speed limit. You’ll be cruising along at 85 miles per hour and an Audi or BMW will fly by going 120 or more. You’ll barely see it coming, and it’ll be gone before you know it. You’ll hear a “whoosh”, and sometimes you’ll even feel your own car sway just a bit from the other car’s speed. It’s pretty great.
This also makes it really important that you pass-and-get-out-of-the-way. German Autobahns are no place to set the cruise control in the fast lane. In fact, I’d suggest that that’s a good way to get someone hurt or to make other drivers angry. If you’re not comfortable driving at higher speeds, no worries; just stay in one of the slower lanes.
Finally, realize that while there are places on the Autobahn that have no speed limits, there are also areas that do. This goes back to being responsible and knowing the road signs.
The German Autobahn system is designed to be hidden as best as possible from local towns and villages. On many stretches of Autobahn, the road sits lower than the land around it. In other cases, it’s surrounded by sound barriers like man-made walls or thick rows of trees.
As a result, driving cross-country in Germany is less scenic than driving cross-country in the U.S. If it’s scenic you want, then trade the road trip in on DeutscheBahn tickets. The train is definitely the better option for great views.
Food & Snack Stops
Many German families take their own food with them on road trips, so don’t be surprised to see a family pull into a rest area in a very nice German car, only to pull sandwich meats, breads, and cold drinks from a cooler in their trunk.
As you drive along the Autobahn, you’ll see occasional convenience store/gas station combinations, but you’ll see fewer of them than you would in the United States. As a result, if you see one and you need a break, fuel, or a snack, hop off the Autobahn while you have the chance. It’s possible that the next opportunity could be a ways down the road.
A word of warning on roadside cafes: Many of them have really nice food options that are priced a little bit ambiguously. On our stop at one of these, we inadvertently spent more on a “light lunch” than we usually spend on a nice dinner out. Oops.
Rest Areas vs. WCs
When driving the on the Autobahn, there are plenty of rest areas. Some of those rest areas offer just parking and picnic tables with a trail into the woods. That trail is to an area where it’s okay to use the bathroom, but where there’s no privacy or bathroom shelter.
If you’re looking for a rest stop with sheltered bathrooms, watch for signs that have “WC” on them. Those will be free public restrooms in freestanding shelters. There will also be parking, picnic areas, and trash cans for you to use.
Toilet Paper & Hand Sanitizer
WCs on the Autobahn may or not have toilet paper in them. As a result, I’ve learned to travel with a packet of Kleenex in my purse and hand sanitizer in the car.
Squatters vs. Sitters
If you’re internationally well-traveled, it won’t come as a surprise to you that some European bathrooms are fully-functional holes in the ground with foot-pedal flushers. If you stop at an Autobahn WC, look at the signs on the doors to the restroom you use. Most will indicate whether the restroom you’re entering has a toilet or a hole in the ground.
Before getting too freaked out, realize that these “holes” are made of the same materials the toilets are (stainless steel on the Autobahn). They flush just like toilets do, and the restroom they’re in will have a sink just like the others do.
A Note on Sitters: Be prepared that the restrooms on the Autobahn won’t have toilet seats. Instead of sitting directly on the toilet, you’ll want to squat just above it. It takes a little practice, but I’m sure you’ll be fine.
I’ve learned to research parking options near our destinations before we leave home. Some of the most fun places to see in Germany are in altstadts (old towns) or other downtown areas where parking can be limited and spots can be small. Most tourist sites will have parking information on their websites.
Some parking areas are set up with credit card payment, but others (including almost all on-street parking and smaller lots) require you to pay in coins. We’ve learned to keep several Euro in change in our car at all times.
Have you traveled in Germany? What road trip advice would you offer? Leave a comment today!