October 8, 2015

Ten Tips for Driving in Tuscany

After a week of driving all over Tuscany this summer, I compiled this list of tips.  (Kudos to my husband who enjoys the challenge of navigating in a foreign country, can drive a stick shift, and is good at parking in very tight spaces.)

  1. Get an international driver’s license – If stopped without it, you can be fined, or even threatened with confiscation of the car. Note that it must be used with a valid driver’s license from your home country, so don’t leave your US license at home.

    Ready to go!
  2. Consider manual transmission – It can be much less expensive than renting an automatic.  But you need to be very comfortable driving a stick shift, because there are lots of hills.  Add car rental coverage to your travel insurance policy, it’s cheaper than buying the rental company’s insurance.  (You are getting a travel insurance policy, aren’t you??)

    The views are worth the climb!
  3. Look for alternate car pick up locations - If you are not picking up a car on the day you fly in, you don’t have to make a trip back to the airport. Consider taking a train to a town near your final hotel or villa and picking up a car there.  But be sure to book early and check the rental location hours.

    Great place to start the trip.
  4. Take a GPS – Unless you have unlimited data, it’ll get very expensive to rely on your phone.   Some car rental companies, like Auto Europe, offer GPS with their rentals.  We also rented a personal wifi hotspot with unlimited data, so we were able to use both while navigating.  The GPS gave us step by step directions, and the maps app gave us an overview of the area when the GPS directions didn’t seem to make sense and we needed to improvise.

    The scenery goes on and on...
  5. Get a good map – It’s likely you’ll get lost at some point, or run into a dead end, even with a GPS.  A map can help you get back on course, and also it’s easier to ask for help from a non-English speaking local with a map to point to.
    Uh, are we sure we're supposed to turn here?
  6. Preload GPS coordinates – These are especially handy for rural destinations.  To find them, right click on the red pin icon in Google Maps, and select “What’s here.”  A screen will pop up with the GPS coordinates.

    Hidden gem!
  7. Plan your strategy- Review the route in advance, and check the GPS (or your map app) against a physical map so you can get your bearings. By in advance, I mean the night before, not 15 min before you leave. 
    Typical Tuscan "highway"
  8. Search for parking garages or other landmarks - This is often more helpful than just entering the name of a city, which will lead you to the center of town.  For example, there are several ways to approach Siena, and it’s confusing to know which highway exit to take.  We looked up the name of a garage that had plenty of parking and an escalator, and the GPS took us right to it. (However in Pisa, we had a hard time finding the public parking lot and basically stumbled across it by accident.  The best laid plans…)

    We could see dirt in-between the stones
    from the Palio Horse Race a week earlier.
  9. Be prepared for roundabouts – They are not difficult, just different if not used to them. They are well marked, you just have to pay attention to which exit you need. The good news is, if you miss it you can just go around again.
    No pics of roundabouts so will have to
    make do with this view.
  10. Plan for the unexpected - Getting lost is inevitable, but that’s half the fun. Allow plenty of time for your outings so an unplanned detour is a fun adventure rather than source of stress!

Is any trip to Tuscany complete
 without a visit to the Leaning Tower of Pisa?

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