Now I know that the idea of hiring scooters, cars, and quad-bikes can make people think one of two things: “Hell yes!” or “Dream on.” Yes, for all the bad drivers of the world (myself especially) they scream danger, insurance you can’t cover, getting lost and for many are just plain outside the budget. But please if you’re game to put those things and a little extra cash to the side, they’re my number one recommendation for adventure.
Trust me when I say, some of your best days travelling will be the ones where you were behind the wheel.
Don’t get me wrong, organised tours are a great way to see places and ensure you hit all the big sights of a place, but how much better would it be if you ran your own little private tour? Quite possibly, my favourite day out of my entire European Summer ’17 was when we got a scooter for the day in Sorrento. It allowed us to leave early and ride the entire way along the Amalfi Coast, stopping everywhere and anywhere we wanted between Sorrento and Amalfi town. Nothing beats having the sun beaming down on you and the wind in your face as you cruise along one of the most picturesque coastlines the world has to offer.
Furore Fiorde: We got up early on our day in Sorrento and managed to scoot to this magical place early before the tourists swarmed.
The possibilities are endless when you’re in charge of where you’re going. On days with scooters and cars, we saw just as many magnificent sunrises as sunsets, all from randomly handpicked locations that we got all to ourselves. From watching the sunrise over Positano before everyone woke; to stopping randomly roadside on the island of Lipari when we liked the view, none of them would have been possible without our own wheels.
A random edge of the Island of Lipari. We decided to stop here and watch the sun go down on our way to dinner one night.
Budget and safety wise, I promise its worth it. Lots of travel insurance covers scooter hire so just double check that when you’re booking, otherwise I can suggest the ones provided by STA travel and I also know that the NAB insurance has a small extra fee for the coverage of certain vehicles. All scooter and ATV companies provide third party insurance and many have the option of a small excess fee that covers you totally up to a certain cost of damage. They also all provide helmets and give a small lesson on how to run the vehicle assuming you haven’t driven one before. Through most of Italy you can get a scooter anywhere upwards of twenty euro per day which really isn’t much if you sacrifice it for some cheap accommodation or a night of drinking.
Here’s a couple of reasons why you have to give it a go for at least a day:
#1 Your wheels, your time
The best thing about having your own mode of transport is being on your own time. You’re not restricted to a timetable that means you have to be at any certain place for any designated period of time. There’s no need to stress about making a certain bus time where you’re probably not going to get a seat and end up bus sick. It also means your day trips aren’t restricted, you can stay for as long or as little time as you want everywhere and hop between stops as you please without having to manipulate your day around a bus timetable.
Our scooter on the Amalfi Coast near Praiano. There were so many beautiful spots to just stop and park to admire the view.
#2 Beat the tourists
One of the reasons we decided to hire scooters particularly along the Amalfi Coast, was that it meant we were able to get up and go early to some of the most popular tourist spots before the busses of tourists arrived. Generally, you can assume that from about 10:30am onwards anywhere popular will be swarming with tourists as its after most hotels stop serving breakfast, and when most organised day trips commence.
The other thing to take into account is the traffic. Due to most organised tours following quite a standard time frame, they tend to all hit the roads at the same time causing a trip that would take 20 minutes on a scooter an hour earlier, to take over an hour on a bus. Also, scooters are great for darting between traffic and around other vehicles, which is great for speeding up a trip
A Very busy Navagio beach on Zakynthos Greece. Whilst we had to take an organised tour to reach the beach as cars cannot go there, the previous day we rented a car and were able to drive up to the viewing deck at a much more quite hour to properly appreciate it. See image below for crowd comparison.
Absolutely deserted. Whilst we made an effort to visit after the afternoon tourist rush, we were also blessed (in a twisted way) by the bushfire as it made the viewing deck off limits for tour companies due to health and safety. We had our own car though so we got the whole view all to ourselves.
#3 Stop Anywhere – especially the secret spots
So you want to travel a little off the tourist map? Or stop on a random field or beach that was just too beautiful not to stop at? With your own wheels you can! Personally, the worst thing about organised day trips and bus rides is driving PAST so many beautiful spots. Generally, you catch a bus from A to B (ie from Sorrento to Positano), and tours stop at the big tourist spots, however have you ever looked out the window at some of the magical places they don’t stop at? If you’re in charge you’ve got the ability to stop. Some of the most beautiful places we’ve seen have been randomly off a small road on the way to big places, when we’ve stopped for a bite to eat or just a breather.
The best thing about being in charge of where you’re going is that its now easy to veer off the tourist track and head to some of those secret spots that are either hard to get to or for whatever reason the tours don’t go. There’s nothing more rewarding than being able to appreciate somewhere magical without it being capitulated by tourism.
Riding around the deserted roads of Lipari Island. There weren't really any organised day trips around the island here besides to and from another island that was nearby so it was really important we found our own means of transport to get see the whole island.
Still a tad sceptical on the ease of it all? Here’s a few tips to make you feel a bit safer tackling a foreign road:
Tips for driving on foreign roads:
TIP #1 Get an international drivers licence:
lots of places will accept your passport and home driver licence, but most prefer for you to have an international one and some will only accept one. It can also save you some money on the cost of hiring occasionally. They’re really easy to get and there’s no test or anything. You’ll have to do some research on where supplies them but most countries’ insurance companies take care of it. For Australians just go to NRMA with your passport and it costs $50 AUD each.
TIP #2 Assess the traffic flow and general attitude of drivers:
Those who have been to certain parts of Italy or France can appreciate that some roads just aren’t meant for foreigners. Take note of the road safety when you’re walking around the town or in a cab and assess whether its an environment you think you could safely drive in. Are drivers generally very brash or are the patient and relaxed? Is there a general level of obedience of traffic symbols and pedestrian crossings?
TIP #3 Pay attention to one-way street signs:
There are TONNES in Europe. More often than not its quicker to walk somewhere than drive just because of the setup of the roads. Drive cautiously and take extra care going around corners etc.
TIP #4 Take it for a practise spin:
regardless of how many times you’ve driven a scooter or if the car is the exact same model as yours at home – give it a test drive. Whether its just around your accommodation carpark or up and down a quiet street, its important to get a feel for a vehicle that’s not yours. Hire cars in some countries in particular are often quite run down and you’ll want to get a good feel for the breaks before hitting busy traffic flow.
TIP #5 Passengers be mindful of backseat driving:
This one is a really important one. Driving on roads you don’t know; to a destination you haven’t visited before on the opposite side of the road to what you’re used to is a very daunting task. As a passenger it is important you remain as relaxed as possible and aren’t too bossy on the backseat. By all means hold the map and give directions but just be mindful in your approach, you don’t want to stress out the driver if you want to stay in one piece. If things start to get heated or aren’t working with the directions, pull over and take a moment.
On an afternoon whilst at Santorini, we hired a quad bike and rode around to Oia for the sunset. It's the most famous spot to watch the sunset on Santorini and numerous tour companies and buses conclude there days at Oia. If you go a few hours earlier, mid afternoon, the streets are quite deserted and we got to run around taking photos.
Now with all of this in mind I urge you to give it a go, even if its only for one day. Have a hunt through google and Instagram and map out the places you want to go on it – even if it is just so you can get to that cliff bar faster or be the first one tanning on the beach. Pack some snacks and take off early one morning or just in time to find a good spot to watch the sun go down. Where you go is totally in your hands, and that’s the beauty of it.