Stopping and parking is not as easy as it sounds, at least in Europe. Forget about stopping on the Autobahn; you’ll either get rear-ended or a rescue car will appear sooner than you wish (unless, of course, you really need to be rescued). Every 20 Km or so you’ll find clearly designated rest stops, some with restaurants. Expect to pay to use the restroom in most roadside restaurants, 0.30 to 0.50 Euros is usual. Most secondary highways have no shoulder for stopping, so you’ll need to look either for a designated view point or rest area, or for an agricultural (dirt) road leading off into a field. If the latter, watch out for farmer’s rigs and don’t stop for long.

In cities, watch out for signs regulating stopping and standing:

Two stripes, as pictured, mean that you shouldn’t stop (for any reason); one stripe means you can stop briefly for looking at a map or loading/unloading. Arrows may indicate that the sign applies to one side of the road only, and times/dates may indicate that the restriction applies only during certain periods.

Parking is even harder than in the US or Canada. Parking meters are common in some cities, but not all. In Germany, you’ll find that many streets require you to put a “Parkscheibe” on the dash; this is a cardboard disk which you must turn to the hour when you parked, and you’re not allowed to stay longer than a certain number of hours. (Rental cars should come with one of these.) It’s also common to find that, during certain hours, parking is restricted to residents who must display special permits or stickers.

Even small cities usually have public parking lots or buildings, which unfortunately can be quite expensive; count on paying between 1.50 and 3 Euros per hour. If you’re staying longer than a few hours in a larger city, look for parking lots with the “P+R” (park & ride) logo; they usually charge a fixed rate of a couple of Euros for the whole day and are located near a subway or tram station. Some don’t allow leaving the car overnight, though. Most hotels have a garage for guests but charge extra for it; 6 to 15 Euros per night is usual.

Inside medium or larger cities, getting around by subway or tram is much better than using a car. Every city we visited had some form of day card; you pay a fixed fee and for that day (or for the next 24 hours) can take unlimited rides on any public transportation. In a few cities, such as Düsseldorf, there are day cards for groups of up to 5 persons; in others, there are family cards for 3 or more people. Usually, unless you just go to a certain point and back, the cards are better deals than single tickets. There are even better deals for longer stays.

Be aware that public transportation in Europe usually works on the honor system; you must have a valid ticket in your pocket before entering the subway station (or boarding the tram). Tickets are never sold inside a tram or subway. Most tickets must be validated at a stamping machine which can be located either inside the station or in the tram or subway, but never in both; be careful not to get confused. Plain-clothes policemen make spot checks for tickets, and fees for not carrying a valid ticket usually range from 50 to 100 Euros.