Checklist for driving abroad

Here’s what you need to have done before venturing out on the roads of the continent.

If you’re deciding not to fly to Europe this year, but to instead sail across the sea and drive onto the continent in your own car, here are the things you’ll be needing to tick off on your ‘Driving Abroad Checklist’ first.

Licence requirements

Although your Irish driving licence allows you to drive anywhere in the EU, you might want to check if you need an International Driving Permit (IDP) if you’re travelling in a more remote part of the continent – or in one of the countries that isn’t a part of the EU. There are two types, the 1926 Convention IDP and the 1949 Convention IDP, and they cost €10 apiece for a year’s permit.

Check your insurance

A lot of insurance companies provide policies that allow you to drive in Europe, but even if you’re covered, you often have to notify your insurance provider that you’re heading abroad before you go. It’s therefore worth double-checking if you have insurance cover to drive overseas in the first place and, if you don’t, get the necessary premium paid to have cover in place. Be warned: some countries, like Monaco, can be exempt from a general Europe-wide level of cover, so check the small print of your policy very carefully before venturing into any new territory or country. You might want to look up sorting out an insurance Green Card, as well, because it makes having to make a claim in the EU (in the event of a driving accident) a little bit easier.

Breakdown cover

Linked to the insurance, you need to ensure your policy offers breakdown cover throughout the EU – and, if it doesn’t, then you need to find out whether you can upgrade to have breakdown cover for the period you plan to be away. Risk going without it and, in the event of a breakdown, you’ll be paying a lot for your car to be moved to a place of repair, you’ll be paying even more for said repairs and then there’s the potential fee for repatriation of the vehicle in the event it can’t be fixed…

Create a travel pack

Get everything you might need for travelling abroad into one folder or sleeve, so that you’re not caught out on your holiday. Into this you need to put:

  • Your full driving licence and any IDPs you might have.
  • Your insurance documents and your Green Card, if you’ve got one.
  • Proof of breakdown cover.
  • Proof of car ownership or, if you’re taking a rental car, proof of authorisation to drive the car on the continent.
  • Travel insurance documents for yourself.
  • Your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).

Then there are other items you need, as certain countries on the continent require you to carry various items as a matter of law. Therefore, make sure you’ve got all of the following in the vehicle:

  • A first-aid kit.
  • A Hi-Viz vest for EACH of the car’s occupants. These must be stowed in the passenger cabin.
  • A tool kit.
  • A red warning triangle.
  • A torch.
  • A fire extinguisher.

And then there are all the common-sense things you should take, too, like:

  • A blanket.
  • A shovel (if you’re travelling in winter).
  • A spare fuel can or two.
  • A tow rope.
  • Replacement bulbs for the car.
  • Water and/or refreshments.
  • Games/entertainment for the kids.
  • A map – your car might very well have satnav, or you might have an aftermarket navigation unit, or you might just want to use your smartphone and Google Maps, but in the event any of these items of tech let you down (be it an electrical fault or a lack of signal in remote places), a map will always show you the right way in the end.
  • Some sun cream, if you’re going somewhere very hot.

Prepare your car for the trip

If needs be, get it serviced before heading off, and check all the tyre pressures, fluid levels (coolant, washer fluid, brake fluid, engine oil etc) and so on. Also check the tyres are in good nick, never mind whether they’re inflated correctly or not. Ensure that your Euro country identifier for Ireland on your car’s licence plate is nice and clear, and not in any way damaged, and then – finally – adjust your headlights. This last one is a pre-requisite: we drive on the left, everyone else (bar the British, the Maltese and the Cypriots) drives on the right in Europe, so your headlights will dazzle oncoming traffic at night if you don’t do something about it. Very, very modern cars with adaptive headlights sometimes have a setting in their infotainment that allows you to switch between driving on the left and right with nothing more than a tap of a button on a touchscreen, but most people will need beam converters. These are small, black triangles of adhesive material that you stick onto your headlamps for the duration of the trip and they cost absolute buttons, so don’t go without them. Just remember to remove them when you get back home.