So we recently took a pretty cool road trip through Romania — a full week’s worth of driving and destinations — and there’s plenty of awesome destinations to cover in another post. If you’re looking at taking a Romanian road trip for yourself, though, here are a few things I wish I knew before heading out.

(Much like other Things I Wish I Knew posts, this one’s focused on the lessons learned, in the hopes that they help you on your own trip.)

Romanian drivers are nuts.

Watch for speed demons and a whole lot of offensive driving. Practice your best defensive driving pretty much everywhere you go. Drive defensively and pass carefully.

Watch for bicycles, pedestrians, horse-drawn buggies… and sheep.

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Romanian roads feel like Thai sidewalks — they’re used by anyone and everyone around for any and every purpose conceived by humans. Got some livestock you need to get from A to B? Walk them along the side of the road. Shepherding sheep hundreds at a time? Well, they need to cross the road somewhere!

Lane markings are faint to nonexistent in some areas…

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…which means it’ll be up to your instinct and other drivers to get your bearings. Some roads won’t look wide enough to pass will end up having a passing lane as soon as someone creates it…

Parking on sidewalks is common.

From Bucharest to Brad, if there was a sidewalk and there wasn’t a barrier to it, there’s a good chance cars were parked on them if the thing people wanted to reach was nearby.

Supermarkets and gas are surprisingly rare along the main roads in smaller cities.

Some of these smaller towns are ‘blink-and-you’ll-miss-them’ small. Stock up when you’re in the bigger cities, especially if you’re taking some of the backroads through smaller cities.

There are very few standalone restaurants — and even fewer Western franchises

Your hotel is likely to have a restaurant and bar, and while there’s nothing stopping you from going to another hotel’s restaurant, most offerings are decent and competitively priced.  The one exception was a place where the waiter apologized in advance for a 30-40 minute wait for food. (We ended up heading to a nearby pizza place instead.)

Hotels typically lack fans and air conditioning.

Of the 5 three-star hotels we stayed at, only two had air-conditioning. A sixth (a private homestay) had a fan. I’m told that the four- and five-star hotels generally have them, though not every town has those. We brought a small table fan in our luggage, which helped to keep some air flowing through the night.

Prices countywide are on the low side for Europe.

A few examples (as of publishing, 1 USD buys about 3.9 Romanian lei, while 1 Euro buys about 4.6 Romanian lei)

  • Hotels of the three-star variety: 120-150 lei
  • Lunches and dinners: 15-30 lei a person (a substantial meal for two just outside a tourist attraction was 85 lei)
  • Beers at restaurants: 4-8 lei for drafts or bottles of the local / European variety.
  • Beers at grocery stores: 5-8 lei for 2-2.5 liter bottles.
  • Paid parking (where payment is taken by machine or staff): 1.5-5 lei an hour.

Speaking of parking, paid parking is often skippable

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At multiple touristy places, we’ve seen paid parking lots located just before the destinations, often positioned as the place to park that’s a convenient walk to the entrance. The cheap pricing and cars in the lot only serve to emphasize this as being the ‘real’ parking lot. Check for free parking on streets and along side streets before doubling back to the paid parking.

Where to park? Well. parking lot lines are often suggestions at best, and actual marked-out spaces may not exist in some areas. The cardinal rule remains to park where others are parking, and the only areas to definitely avoid are the rare places with the universal red X on a blue circle (you’ll only see these in cities for the most part, though).

Signage is lacking, missing, or all over the place

Too often, signage is lacking, especially around the entrance / admission fee. This isn’t as big of a deal as you might think, but it can be a little disappointing… There’s also not much in English, so research ahead of time if you want to know what’s going on.

Assume you’ll cover 60 kilometers per hour unless Google Maps tells you otherwise

In North America, we’re often blessed with straight expressways with speed limits of 100 kph/65 mph. Once off of Romania’s equivalents, the roads get windier and (official) speed limits drop. That won’t stop someone from trying to pass you on a solid white line around a blind corner

Rules are almost never enforced

That ‘photography fee’ you paid to be ‘allowed’ to take photos? Yeah, there’s probably a ton of tourists taking photos that didn’t pay this silly fee. If you’re the only ones around, though? The ‘no photos’ rule may or may not be enforced, depending on who’s around to care.

Speaking of photography fees…

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This is from the Pharmaceutical History Museum (AKA the Muzeul de Farmacie) in Sibiu. They charge a reasonable 10 lei (about $2.50 USD) to enter… and wait-did-I-read-that-right 120 lei ($25 USD) to take pictures??? Per HOUR??? The woman at the counter passed the buck to the ‘Ministry of Culture’s decision’ listed at the top of the page (2277/7.06.2012). After getting back home, I tried to research this. Tried being the key term. As best as I can tell, that decision simply enabled places to raise their prices so as to raise their revenue. No other tourist destination I’ve heard of charges ten times the price of admission to take pictures…

The local radio stations suck, so bring CD’s or a USB stick with your favorite music

Once you’re out of Bucharest, the options for English-language radio stations go down significantly. Depending on your rental car, you’ll find your set of burned CD’s or a USB stick with your favorite tunes to be a lot more entertaining than the radio.

It’s an absolutely gorgeous country, so stop and take photos!

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Between cities are plentiful landscapes, forests, mountains, valleys, and hay bales — and they’re great excuses to stop along the road.

Have any questions about taking a road trip though Romania? Ask in the comments!

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