We had not done any research on driving in Italy before we arrived. This was, of course, a bad decision.
We made a few rookie mistakes at the beginning of our journey and if you are planning on driving in Italy here are some tips we learned that will hopefully help you avoid our mistakes.
To drive on the Autostrada you have to enter at a toll gate and exit at one. The toll system is all ticketed here. We made the mistake of going through a toll gate without collecting a ticket and then when we went to exit the toll were charged 80 euro’s for not having a ticket.
So when you drive onto the Autostrada push the button for a ticket and wait to collect the ticket before driving on. Seems like common sense but the ticketing machine is huge and there are many different buttons and slots.
When you exit the toll make sure you do not drive into the Telepass lane as this lane is for those that are charged electronically with a bill sent to them every month. Otherwise another bill may be sent to your home several months down the road!
On most routes in Italy it is possible to take toll free roads. These routes will take you through the countryside and many roads around the Autostradas. These roads however have their pro’s and cons. Although these routes save you the cost of the toll they are almost always longer.
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Another negative is that there are many different turns and roads to transverse before you reach your destination. On the Autostrada the highway is straight until you get near your destination.
When we first arrived in Italy we tried to use the Toll-Free Routes and found that they were very stressful because we always got lost. We used our GPS and Google Maps and still took wrong turns. It always made the journey much longer and we ended up using a lot more gas than we would have in taking the Autostrada.
By the 4th day we found it was much easier to use the Autostrada’s, and the tolls were pretty comparable to the extra price in Petrol we would have paid had we taken the Toll-Free Route. Throw in the extra time saved and we regret not doing it in the first place.
If you follow green signs you will be lead to the Autostrada and tolls will be charged. If you follow blue signs you are not going on to a toll road.
The Road signs in Italy can get really confusing. One place name may be on 2-3 different signs at the same place and we often got lost thinking we were on the right road. It is better to look for the number of the road than it is the place that you are headed to.
Roundabouts in Italy have many more exits than what we are used to in Australia and New Zealand. An Australian and New Zealand roundabout only has 4 exits in total. Roundabouts in Italy can have 5 or even 6 exits.
We found this so confusing.
At first we took many wrong turns and once you make a wrong turn it can take several kilometres before you get back to the right place again. As we got used to them we just went round the roundabout several times till we made sure which exit was the right one.
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Petrol Gas Stations
Petrol stations in Italy take a little getting used to. They have a two tier pricing system at gas stations and if you are not careful you can get charged up to 10 cents extra a litre. Most gas station in Italy has self-service lanes and service lanes.
If you accidentally drive into the wrong lane you may pay extra as it costs less to serve yourself at the petrol stations. We accidentally drove into the service lanes a couple of times and even though J jumped out to pump the gas the prices are already more expensive at those lanes. The man did clean the windows though.
Some service stations do not have attendants you can pay and all transactions can only be done with a credit card. When we got to Italy we were so confused as it was a Sunday and everything was shut down, including gas stations. Only the self-service ones were open, we had no idea how to use the machines, were almost out of gas, and could not understand Italian.
Luckily a man who could talk a little English came by and was able to tell us how to use the pumps and really saved the day. But not everyone is this lucky on their first day in the country.
Watch the Speed Limits and Aggressive Drivers
The speed limit can change often on Italian roads so it pays to be extra alert. Speed cameras on highways monitor the speed of cars and tickets will be automatically sent out to those that go over the limits.
The car we are driving does not get up above 100 kms very often, and is especially slow up hills. Italian drivers can get really aggressive so try not to drive too slowly. If you have to drive slow then stick to the right lane with all the trucks.
We got lots of horns and hands waving at us as we drove through Italy in our green van. Driving in Italy can be daunting but if you remember these tips you will be all set to discover some amazing off the beaten path Italian towns and cities.