Earlier this summer, I posted in my favorite facebook group for female travelers. I had heard crazy stories about renting a car and driving on the Autobahn, and wondered if doing it myself was crazy.
“Don’t do it, it’s not like driving in the cities in America!”
“You won’t be able to read or understand the traffic signs!”
“There’s a reason they tell you to put your car in neutral when you park in the city – because other vehicles WILL bump you.”
“They drive way faster there than they do in America. It is a terrible idea!”
I’ll be honest, most of the comments were quite negative and against me doing it. You see, my dad drove for Greyhound for over 23 years and taught me how to drive. In fact, he’d always say to me, “Always expect the unexpected.” I’ve been completely unphased driving in places like LA (which has the world’s worst traffic for six years in a row), Atlanta (also on that list), over the Rockies more times than I can count, and the Road to Hańa in Maui.
Despite all the people urging me not to do it, I’m glad I did rent a car. I rented it in Frankfurt, drove all the way down through Austria, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland before going back up to Frankfurt…about 1,200 kilometers in two days. Part of the route is considered the Romantic Road (because of all the castles!). I’d do it again 10/10.
Here’s what it’s really like driving on the Autobahn:
- Renting a car was a bit embarrassing, only because I was given a Mercedes C Class Convertible, and I didn’t know how to even get the darn thing out of park. I had to call the guy over a couple of times to show me how to work things. Regretfully, I didn’t ask how to put the top down and drove the entire 1200 kilometers with the top on. The Mercedes was quite a bit longer than my Jeep I was used to driving, which made me nervous getting out of the rental car ramp.
- With the ordeal at the rental car place, I was on edge getting out of Frankfurt. In fact, it took me a while to get out because I was flustered and couldn’t read the signs. I decided to have my trusted Siri give me navigation rather than following the navigation in the Mercedes and I was able to get out. Once I got on the actual Autobahn I was just fine. The rental car place did give me a brochure with the road symbols that I kept in view while driving.
- Most of the Autobahn has no speed limit, but once you’re going through construction it drops down to around 80-100 km/h (50-62 MPH). I went around 160 km/h most of the way (around 100 MPH), and had minivans passing me at lightning speed.
- The animal overpass on the Autobahn was so cool!
- I wish I had someone driving me so I could take more pictures, safely.
- Having my own vehicle meant that I could travel at my own pace and see whatever I wanted to see.
- I was nervous at the gas station. What if I put in the wrong fuel? And why is that AdBlue light yelling at me on the dashboard? It said that the car wouldn’t start unless I added some after so many kilometers. I mentally calculated how many I’d have to go and determined I’d just let them know at the car rental place when I got back.
- I knew that once I left Germany I needed to find a gas station to sell me a vignette. This is a little sticker you put on your window for tolls. I stopped at four different gas stations before finally finding one where they understood what I was asking for (my German is terrible). A 20-something-year-old guy helped, and I was so thankful.
- Somewhere between Austria and Switzerland was what I imagined is like a border crossing. It was in the middle of a town though? The cops didn’t speak English, and I certainly didn’t speak any German. They were confused as to why I was slowing down and rolling down my window, and waved me through. Why else would they have them there?!
- In several towns in Switzerland, they have what I think were futuristic-looking cylinders that I imagine check my speed. I tried googling them, but can’t find anything about it.
- The stoplights have you stop much closer to the lights than they do in the states. I found myself having to look straight up to see if the light was green! Also, the lights turn yellow before they turn green!
- I do recall that halfway through my trip reading about how my credit card’s rental car insurance doesn’t cover vehicles over a certain dollar amount. And then, I remembered them writing down the value of the Mercedes as being more than that. I spent a lot of time praying that I wouldn’t ding the vehicle or wreck it because then I’d be responsible since I declined their insurance, thinking mine would cover it.
- I didn’t need an international permit at all, just my driver’s license.
It wasn’t bad driving on the Autobahn at all. It was exhilarating, and I miss the scenery. Driving through that area made me fall in love with Europe even more.
Have you driven on the Autobahn? What was your experience like?