8 reasons to avoid motorways on your next road trip

May 4, 2023 in Tips for Travellers, Camping hacks & Toll roads & vignettes

“Am I really doing this?”, you might think whilst you see your journey time double after selecting the option to avoid motorways in Google Maps. We get it, the idea of deliberately postponing your estimated time of arrival seems completely crazy. Mainly because mankind has been on a continuous quest to speed up ways of travel throughout history, which is why it goes against all instinct. Didn’t we invent Satnav and route planners to calculate the fastest possible route to our destination for us, not the slowest?

Whilst the notion of kissing the triple-laned tarmac goodbye on a long-distance journey can be daunting, we’re putting our foot down and suggesting to do exactly that. In this blog, you'll discover the top reasons to avoid motorways using Google Maps on your next road trip.

Campervan on country road

1. Avoid paying tolls 

Let's jump right into a topic that most travellers (literally) can’t get enough of, money! Money-saving tips are a favourite kind of travel hack. So, the first and foremost reason to avoid motorways is as simple as that: if you avoid motorways, you avoid paying tolls. 

There are many toll roads in Europe. On some of them, the fee can be quite hefty, especially when travelling long distances. Actively avoiding toll roads can save you serious amounts of money, but it’s not just the excess spending you’ll skip out on. We’ve all experienced the nervous scramble for coins, or the panic when your third and final card gets rejected while the line of cars behind you grows ever longer in the rear-view mirror. Now imagine the bliss of not having to go through any of it. You don’t even have to go as far as avoiding all motorways. Most route planners and navigation apps have an inbuilt option to avoid sections with tolls only. 

Satnav in use in campervan dashboard

2. No need for vignettes 

Some countries take it even further by making you purchase a vignette to drive on their motorways. Vignettes can be expensive, mainly because they’re often valid for a reasonably long time. The vignette for motorway toll roads in Switzerland is currently the priciest one in Europe, at 40 Swiss Francs a year. That’s a lot of money, especially if you’re just passing through or only using the vignette for a short amount of time. 

Even though the process of obtaining a vignette is usually fairly straightforward, it can be a bit of a hassle. Border crossings within the European Union are often marked by no more than a sign announcing you’re about to drive into a new country, making it easy to forget you may need a vignette. To avoid being fined you then have to figure out where to purchase one last minute and hope you don’t get lost in translation while you’re at it. What travellers often don’t realise, is that in most countries vignettes are only needed for motorways. Avoid motorways and potentially avoid having to buy a vignette altogether.

Two people taking photo's of the road in campervan

3. Save on fuel 

By this point you might be thinking: “Sure, I’ll save on tolls and vignettes, but I’ll easily spend that money on extra fuel due to additional time on the road”. And yes, the average driving speed of your journey will be lower, causing you to be on the road for longer. However, by slowing down you will also decrease your fuel consumption significantly.

According to the Energy Saving Trust, the most fuel-efficient speed is 55 to 65 miles per hour, which is lower than the speed limit on most British and European motorways. Of course it’s not a one-size-fits-all formula. All kinds of factors have a part to play in your actual fuel usage, such as the model, make, size, and shape of your campervan. And let’s not forget the state of your tires and engine. The closer you stick to your most fuel-efficient driving speed, the less you will spend on fuel. 

Camper van filling up on petrol

So, will avoiding motorways save you money? It depends. By sticking to dual and single carriageways you will likely be driving in that sweet spot of around 60 miles per hour, but your speed will also be less consistent due to more frequent braking and accelerating. Therefore, we advise you to do a bit of research on your route before you set off on a long-distance trip. Scope out longer sections of interrupted A-roads, but also find out in which heavily built-up areas frequent braking and accelerating is highly likely. 

A general tip to help you decide which roads to drive on is to compare the travel time on several sections of your route by flipping the ‘avoid motorways’ switch back and forth from time to time. If the difference is outrageous, then maybe just bite the bullet and get on the motorway for a while. Is fuel efficiency your top priority? Google Maps even provides the ‘prefer fuel-efficient routes’ switch in the route options to help you on your way. 

One last thing to keep in mind on your fuel-saving mission: petrol stations along dual and single carriageways tend to offer a lower price per litre than the ones on motorways. 

Motorhome on road by the sea

4. Less traffic

Now for the fun part, because there’s so much more to gain than cash by avoiding motorways altogether. Or rather, to lose. Of course, traffic jams don't only occur on motorways, but surely the ones that don't are less annoying that the ones that do. First of all, because there’s simply more to look at than the car in front of you, the guardrail and the frustratingly empty hard shoulder. But mostly because there are a lot more escape options than the next exit, which always seems to be miles away. We do advise you to take care to avoid cities and towns around rush hour, where you'll likely face some delays regardless. 

5. Drive on beautiful roads

It’s hard to argue with this one. Who knew finding the roads you dream of driving could be as easy as flipping a simple switch? We’re talking about the roads that are a destination in themselves. The roads on which the view gets better around every corner. The roads that make you roll your windows down and let out a howl of pure joy. So many travellers unknowingly skip out on beautiful sections of countryside or stretches of nature by hammering through on motorways. A missed opportunity, as you could be driving on beautifully windy roads that often take you right through the middle of them. Ultimate road trip feeling incoming, we honestly couldn’t recommend it more. 

Motorhome on beautiful road through the mountains

6. Quality stopovers 

Beautiful roads mean nicer stopovers. Say goodbye to rushed pit stops in ugly petrol stations and hello to leisurely picnics in charming meadows. When you avoid motorways, stretching your legs and getting some air can be a literal walk in the park. Did we mention it’s easier to find higher quality and fresher food? Farmers selling fruit by the side of the road, bakeries in quaint village squares or a quick supermarket run, the options are endless. No need to point out that urgent bathroom breaks will never be a problem again. 

7. Drive with the windows down 

Hiring a VW campervan or another classic model is as good as it gets on a campervan holiday. The problem is, older campervans don’t always have air-con. Rolling the windows down to increase airflow is tempting, but also irritating due to excess noise when driving at a higher speed. So why not avoid motorways, cruise slower and let in the breeze? The fact that you’ll actually be able to hear the music coming out of your speakers is a bonus. Don’t forget to add our best road trip songs to your well-crafted playlist. 

Girl smiling through open window in campervan

8. Stay more alert behind the wheel 

Roundabouts, speed bumps, traffic lights, zebra crossings, stop signs, hill starts and hairpin bends. They can be annoying, but they also keep you awake. Avoiding motorways will force you to shift gears more regularly, help you stay more alert behind the wheel and overall make driving less of a bore. 

And there you have it, plenty of compelling arguments to avoid motorways on a long-distance road trip. Whether it’s to save money, to make your journey the destination or just for the sake of saying that you’ve done it, why not give it a try? You may well never look back.