From what we heard, Romanian roads and Romanian drivers have similar, bloodthirsty cult status to that other Romanian Legend, Count Dracula!
However, finding sensible information was not easy… Having spent three months towing a caravan around Romania, we can share our insights on coping with the rather singular driving challenges presented by this magical country, which, by the way, you MUST visit!
As is so often the case, the horror stories that we heard were exaggerated. Nobody had a good word to say about Romania. As a country, it is ‘up and coming’ and things don’t always work quite the same as in Western Europe, but that is part of the appeal! However, we can report that the main roads were WAY better than we expected. We had very few problems and would really recommend Romania as a destination.
- Road Tolls – ALL vehicles require an electronic vignette to use ANY road in Romania. This can be bought at the border or online before visiting the country. There are also additional tolls on some bridges. Click here for details and here to buy online.
- Drink Driving – there is Zero Tolerance to drinking and driving. It is illegal to drive with any alcohol at all in your bloodstream. Be especially careful if you are driving the morning after an evening drink, as your blood may still contain alcohol.
- Romanian Driving Style – Romanian people are lovely; kind, helpful and generous to a fault. Put them behind a steering wheel, however, and they turn into maniacs. Even the Romania Tourism Website states that “common road courtesies may be different…some Romanian drivers have a competitive driving style (improper passing / cutting into another car’s path and tailgating…)” When driving, you need to look behind you as much as in front. No manoeuvre is off limits to a Romanian and you WILL have to use your brakes HARD and REGULARLY to prevent you or the person (often ‘persons’!) overtaking you on a blind bend from having a head-on collision. Expect to perform this manoeuvre multiple times each day.
- Other Traffic – As well as Romanian Maniacs, you will frequently be sharing the road with horses and carts and mad lorry drivers.
- Road Condition – Many of Romania’s roads are under construction and often, the country roads are unmetalled. We drove the caravan through a cornfield – twice! Don’t get too close to the edges of some mountain roads, where you can see that they have crumbled away. Click here for a map showing the condition of Romania’s roads.
- Other Road Hazards – You can’t let your guard drop even on seemingly good, well-metalled roads. We found that as soon as your concentration lapses, your wheels will discover a massive crater, some seriously raised metalwork, an unmarked not-very-level crossing or just inexplicable huge lumps at strange angles that will propel you straight into orbit if you hit them with any speed!
- Don’t Rely on your Sat Nav – Due to the active program of road construction and improvement, make sure your Sat Nav is up to date – but take a road atlas as back up. We found accurate walking maps very hard to come by in Romania, but a road atlas can be purchased at larger petrol stations. Our Snooper Sat Nav denied the existence of the excellent DN7 and routed us all over the place (our first cornfield crossing!) It was not just our Snooper that had a problem, several people that we met had similar issues with other brands of Sat Nav. And when our Snooper finally died, we were really glad of that road atlas!
- Height Limits – don’t take the signs as gospel and take care in high vehicles! We saw many roads being re-tarmacked and the procedure is simply to pour about 10cm depth of new macadam on top of the old, which raises the level of the road. They don’t change the height limit signs, so a couple of re-surfaces could mean that you are pushing your luck in a high vehicle under bridges etc. This approach to road maintenance can mean very steep drop-offs at the side of the road and is the reason that many level crossings are not level. Drivers of high vehicles told us that they used poles or fishing rods to push low-hanging electricity lines up out of the way!
- High Mountain Passes – The scenic, high, mountain passes, such as The TransAlpina (DN67C), The Transfăgărășan (DN7C) and Bicaz Gorge (DN12C) are spectacular. Although they all appear on the website ‘Dangerous Roads’, they are fine for towing a 7m caravan with a van if you take care, choose your weather window – and watch for rocky overhangs in Bicaz. They are all very popular driving routes with tourists, coaches, cyclists and bikers, so expect a lot of traffic in high season. (The TransAlpina is generally quieter than the Transfăgărășan.) The passes close due to snow in winter, sometimes as early as October through to May (July for the Transfăgărășan), so check with Romania Tourism Travel Advisory before you leave.
- Pay with Cash – We were advised to pay with cash, since credit card fraud was reported as widespread in Romania, particularly at petrol stations. The currency is Lei (also called RON), which is not readily available in other countries. The currency denomination has also changed, so paying with cash will prevent a few extra noughts being added on to your bill by mistake!
- ATMs – since card fraud is allegedly widespread in Romania, withdraw cash only at ATMs at a bank and do not use an ATM if it looks as though it has been subject to tampering.
- Do not Stop – if you are flagged down. If it looks like an emergency, call the emergency number, 112.
- Driving at Night – for many of the reasons detailed above, we were advised not to drive at night. Mountain passes are often closed overnight.
- Emergency Number – 112 – You can dial 112 from anywhere in Europe and an operator will connect you to an emergency service in the country you’re visiting. Operators can answer your call in their native language, English, and French.
We have heard lots of other scare stories such as having to bribe the police (bribery is strictly illegal), however we have seen none of it. Our limited experience with Romanian police has been nothing but positive. With a van, surf boards and a large caravan, we hardly travel incognito, but we have not been targeted or pulled over by the police.
- The RAC Website – shows details of traffic laws, speed limits and what documents and equipment to carry with you when driving in Romania.
- The Romanian Road Infrastructure Management National Company Website – in English.
- Waiting Times at Border Crossings – Romania has been a member of the EU since 2007, however, not all bordering countries are in the EU or The Schengen Visa-Free Zone. We did hear reports of 8km tailbacks at some border crossings. Although we had no problems, it could pay to check at peak times.
- ACSI Campsites in Romania – we use ACSI Campsites on all of our travels. At the time of writing, ACSI listed 42 annually inspected campsites in Romania. There is a Romanian website for campsites, however those that we tried tended to be along the lines of ‘Communist Butlins in the 1950’s’, so we gave up and stuck with ACSI where we could! Campingo Worldwide Camping Guide also lists campsites in Romania; we have not used this website, so can’t vouch for the quality, although it may prove useful and you can check campsite reviews.
- Tour Companies – here are links to a couple of tour companies; (Please note that we did our own, independent itinerary and have not used these companies. However, if you would like a little local support, they do look interesting!)
I wrote this blog in answer to a request from Tom and Neil. If you need any information on caravanning in Europe with dogs and think that I can help, please don’t hesitate to ask me either in the ‘Contact’ or ‘Comments’ section of this blog – or on The Travelling Cavapoos Facebook page.
This blog is for information only and is based solely on our experience. It does not constitute professional or legal advice. All driving is undertaken at your own risk; please note my Disclaimer.
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Fangs very much!