• Leslie

The 10 Commandments of Road Tripping in Europe With Your Mother

Updated: Nov 11, 2019

My daughter Ali and I in Porto Portugal.

This month, my daughter and I embarked on our second road trip in Europe. Our second.

You're either thinking "that's sweet" or "how did you survive it?"

Road trips and geographical cures are hard enough without relatives along. It's difficult to imagine a more exacting test of a personal relationship than being stuck in a car together for extended periods of time. Especially that delicate mother-daughter balance. That's fraught with all sorts of pitfalls and terrors in and of itself.




Smiling at the top of Kotor Castle in Montenegro. Unbeknownst to us, in addition to a long drive back to Dubrovnik, we would be treated to a 2+ hour border crossing.

Think of how much you fun you'll have when the inevitable struggles arise. Driving on highways in Europe is a relatively painless endeavor. Everywhere else, it's the opposite of relaxing. Especially in a clutch car.

Google maps will fail, you'll get lost in medieval mountain villages, you'll get carsick on twisty winding roads, you'll get "hangry" when you run out of snacks, you'll be tortured by multi-hour border crossings, or be forced to park via a teeny tiny car elevator. (I wasn't even aware car elevators existed.)

If you're extremely lucky, you'll even get caught in a forest fire. No shit, that actually happened.


Ali and I trying to outrun a forest fire in rural Croatia outside Split on our way to Plitvice Park


The point is that the possibilities for frustration, rage, and angst are endless. It's not a situation to be taken lightly.

To make things easier for any would be traveling daughters out there, I've drawn up a helpful "to do" list for road tripping in Europe with your mother. These are not guidelines. These are commandments, if you don't want your geographical cure ruined and you'd like to remain on speaking terms after reaching your destination.

If you're a scofflaw and deviate from them, I guarantee you'll incur your mother's wrath and generally have a less pleasant trip. Future trips may be endangered. You may have to pay for your own gelato, vino, or pottery souvenirs.


How would you like to drive down this two way road? This is Sintra Portugal where we got horribly lost and an empathetic man helped us find our way back to the outskirts of town. Never ever venture into a historic city. Ever.

10 Commandments:


1. Thou shalt always remember that thy mother, the eldest and the one owed respect and honor, is paying for thy trip. Thou shalt behave accordingly with all due gratitude. If thou is not feeling particularly gracious at a given moment, thou shalt remain mute or at least not be critical.

2. Thou shalt never comment on, ridicule, or roll thine eyes over thy mother's driving skills or thy mother's queasiness over parking in Europe. Thou shalt not go there, ever. Or get thee to a nunnery.

3. Thou shalt remember that it is thy mother, not thee, who is blessed with the divine knowledge of how to drive a clutch car. Thou were not "born" to drive in Europe. Thy mother was. If thou would prefer to be the driver, thou must learn how to drive like a European, not just google "how to drive a clutch" on youtube.


Having wedged my car oh so carefully through a tiny gated entrance, I am now in a tiny car elevator in our Lisbon Air Bnb. What could be better?

My little white car named Gretel, squeezed in a tight spot on a car elevator at my Air Bnb in Nuremberg


4. Thou shalt understand that every rental car in Europe is different and has a very secret, customized procedure for being put into reverse. The letter R on the gearbox is fairly meaningless. This is the occasion for thou to peruse youtube for helpful directions, based on specific car model. In general, it's advisable never -- ever -- to ever leave the rental car parking lot without asking about how to put the damn car in reverse.

5. If thou is deemed the navigator, thou shalt not take naps when thou are on duty. Naps are for the weak and European roundabouts with 6 possible exits are not for the weak.

6. If thou is deemed the navigator, thou shalt always give specific directions in a timely manner. Thou shalt not provide the driver with 5 seconds to move three lanes over. Thou willst be flogged for waving and pointing vaguely to a turn or exit.



Ali and I at the São Pedro de Alcântara Miradouro in Bairro Alto. This is our first day in Lisbon. We are smiling because nothing has gone terribly wrong yet except that it took an hour to figure out how to put our car in reverse.

7. Thou shalt defer to thy mother when determining what to listen to while driving. Thou shalt remember that thy mother dislikes loud rap music, and prefers Game of Thrones media or political podcasts making fun of Trump.

8. Thou shalt take every opportunity to pee en route, even if thou doesn't really have to go. Thou shalt remember that, for some mysterious and unfathomable reason, public W.C.s don't exist in Europe.

9. Thou shalt defer to thy mother when determining climate control settings. Thou shalt remember that hot flashes may be in thy future.


The Great Hall of Acts at Coimbra University in central Portugal -- a UNESCO site that Ali never know existed (she loved it).

10. Thou shalt defer to thy mother's itinerary plans. Thy mother's plans are better researched and more interesting than thy tourist trap Instagram ideas.

Good grief, this topic is so weighty, that I inadvertently wrote another commandment. But it's an important one, given that European parking spots are the size of a postage stamp.


Ali resting in the ruins of Citania de Briteiros, an ancient fortified town near Guimarães in northern Portugal. We both got carsick driving up the nerve wracking curly roads to the mountaintop.

still smiling despite a little tiff over where to park at Alcobaça Monastery

11. Thou shalt have no say over where to park the rental car upon arriving at a given historical destination. Thy mother doesn't want to spend precious time and energy trying vainly to squeeze into the nearest and most difficult spot that is suitable for a toddler's trike. Thou shall be prepared to walk to thy destination.


-- Leslie, XO