Hey helpers. Me and a couple of mates are are hiring a car and driving through Fance, spain, italy, Austria, Germany and Netherlands for a month on a road trip. First time in europe and a bit naive....so not sure about a few things:
1. Cheap accomodation...need to book ahead?
2. Is it cheaper/easier staying at camping grounds (and still see the sites in the cities?)
3. How expensive petrol is?
4. If you hostel it, where can you park? (especially in big cities ie Paris, Rome, Barcelona, etc)
5. Whats a reasonable daily budget? (trying to do it cheaply)
6. Any essential or interesting road trip advice
Just an opinion.
You should consider using Eurail. Their rail system is the best. All the places of interest mentioned by you are well connected by the rail system. You could save time by travelling by overnight train and everyone in your group will be fresh to conquer those countries. Travelling by car in Europe can be pretty steep to your pocket.
I'd generally agree with Al about using rail instead of driving, but to answer your questions:
1. Depends on exactly where and when. In summer, cheap accom is harder to find without prebooking in major tourist centres, but you can always find something just by turning up, although it won't neccessarily be your first choice. If going to any of the major events though (running of bulls, oktoberfest etc. etc), book as far ahead as possible.
2. It can be cheaper/easier if you have your own tent etc. However, they are rarely in the centres of cities - more often in the suburbs, so you can spend quite a bit of money getting from there to/from the centres etc, especially if coming home late at night (some are just plain awkward to get to as well).
3. Varies throughout countries and across Europe. I'm not the person to ask here as i don't drive across Europe that often, and when i do, it's normally for work so i pay no attention to costs anyway. Spain and parts of France will be cheaper for example than Northern Euro countries.
4. Occassionally they have parking spaces, but most hostels in big cities won't - you have to park on street or find a car park (which will cost you in both cases) and can be very expensive even for very short periods of time. It's basically luck if you can find somewhere free and close to leave the car - and if you do, keep it their until you leave rather than using the car every day.
5 and 6. Hard to answer - depends more on your interests/ideas etc than anything else.
HTH. Any further questions, just ask.
My wife and I did a 5-week car trip from Finland to France and back last summer. Most of that time we spent driving around France. We took a tent with us and stayed at camping sites most of the nights, except in Paris where we had private accommodation.
In general I can recommend going by car. The possibilities of what to see are so much wider, plus you're not dependent on timetables etc.
Here are some answers to the questions:
1. We spent some of the nights in roadside B&B's. Never booked ahead, sometimes had to keep driving and searching for free rooms, but mostly had no problems. Not the cheapest option, but very nice. There are roadside hostels that are cheap and open 24h for checking in (sometimes automatically with credit card). We didn't try those, but I suppose they'd have free rooms pretty much at all times.
2. Camping is dirt cheap. For visiting big cities such as Paris, not such a good option, unless connected by public transport. There are very good camping guides for each country, which will help you find a good location for camping near a city.
3. Around 1 euro per litre. France and Spain are cheap, Luxembourg is extremely cheap (last summer about 80 cents/litre). Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands are more expensive. If possible, rent a diesel car.
4. Previous poster answered this question very well. I agree with him. In Paris we parked the car in an underground garage for 5 days and it cost us around 25 euro per day.
5. Really hard to answer. Probably 1.5 to 2 times more than you'd expect beforehand.
6. Visit places outside the cities such as small vineyards, distilleries, or whatever your interest. Stop to eat in small towns, enjoy the local cuisine. If you have time, visit Bretagne in France. Especially the Broceliande park is breathtaking. In Spain, try to fit a stay in a Parador hotel in your budget. Regarding driving in Europe; in Italy, Spain and (South of) France they drive like mad. Make sure you get good insurance coverage with your rental car and check the amount that will be covered by you.
Regarding camping: foldaway tripod seats were perhaps the best single item we bought during our trip, they make evenings at the camping sites a lot more enjoyable. Also prepare for rain: the further north you go in Europe, the wetter it can get. Even though last summer was exceptionally hot, we also got a week of constant rain in Northwestern France.
A general comment: you are planning to make a very long trip in a shortish time. There's a risk of having to drive long daily distances without being able to stop to see sights. I'd consider leaving either Germany and the Netherlands or Italy out of the equation. Mountains make driving slower in Central Europe, and in the summertime there can be a lot of traffic jams.
I recommend the Maporama or Via Michelin sites for planning. We did that and it was a great help. Also, buy good road maps, don't rely on printouts from itineraries by the aforementioned sites.
Hope this helped. I'm sure you'll have a great trip in any case.