Home » Travel » TAKE THE SLOW LANE





Recently, while travelling in Europe, I discovered a unique, physically undemanding, workout method and several reasons to take the slow lane.

Have you ever driven, or been driven, on Germany’s Autobahn? Or the motorways in Italy and France?

I haven’t driven but I have been a passenger. It might well be fine for the actual motorist but, for the person sitting next to them, it’s a bit like trying to steer a magic carpet with no flight training.

Haring along at the speed of light (yes, that’s what it feels like – the Autobahn has NO speed limit and much of Italy and France’s motorways have a 130  kph limit), with a constant stream of European dream cars passing in the fast lane, our steady 120 – to my driver at least – was starting to feel rather grandpa-ish.

No speed limit, I thought?

Why ever not?

Surely the lack of a limit would cause more accidents?

Or are they simply better drivers in Europe?

Potential Schumacher’s, perhaps?

Who knows about the better driving. I did see the aftermath of a couple of incidents I’m glad I was nowhere near when they happened. PLUS a huge truck and trailer unit wrapped around the median barrier with its windscreen facing the ground and the trailer curled around the barrier as though saying to its driver (thankfully not harmed) and the rescue crews on site; “Gonna be here all night guys.”

I couldn’t see them moving that in a hurry and the backlog – thankfully going north to our south – was several miles long.

Another day we saw a burning car then, a day later, a trailer carrying a large generator, burning merrily away at the side of the road. So clearly they have their mishaps – whether due to speed or not, I wouldn’t know but the numbers travelling on Europe’s highways and byways every day are huge so, mathematically, it’s probably no worse than anywhere else in the world with smaller populations and tighter monitoring.

Surprisingly, despite Europe’s long motorways with their liberal speed limits, I never saw a single police or traffic control vehicle, including at any of the accident sites and, oddly, I even found a benefit of sorts to the frightening speeds, which I will explain shortly.

For the most part, passengerhood is not an easy ride. We get accused of whinging, back-seat driving, and worse, scaring the driver with our sudden screams. All justified of course when said driver fancies himself as a bit of a boy-racer now that he is finally in a place where he can put his foot down without fear of apprehension.

It goes a bit like this. Confronted with the rear of a very high, very large truck and trailer unit, Driver pulls out into the passing lane, his face a picture of concentration as he prepares to pass on a left-bearing bend. I, the passenger, am sitting quietly, recently chastised for my last deafening screech and determined to show that I can just relax and enjoy the scenery. Inside me is a different story. With the truck’s left flank looking unnervingly close, my insides are holding hands and doing a frantic line dance.

As my petrified gaze watches the huge wheels bearing down on the white line, the only thing separating me from extinction, I scream this terrifying thought aloud and am told crossly that what I think I’m seeing is just an optical illusion.

The knowledge does not help. Convinced this is going to be my last moment on earth, I squeeze my eyes shut, suck in my tummy muscles, clamp my thighs and buttocks together into a rock hard knot, pray, and after what seems like an eternity and nothing happens, I slowly relax.

Latest scenario: My driver is grinning like he has just shaken the champagne at Le Mans; the incredible hulk and his rig are safely in our wake; and I am still in one piece.

Whew! I release the breath I’ve been holding in a huge sigh and slump back in my seat, happy and relieved that it is over and I am still here. I smile a martyrish smile then, focussing back on the road ahead and casting a sideways glance at my driver, I realise with horror that it is not yet over. Ahead, three big rigs toil in tandem and the expression on my driver’s face tells me he is preparing for another assault on his figurative mountain.


By the time we reach our destination, every muscle in my body has been worked and reworked. I throb all over; I am a wilted wreck. I feel like I have just gone three rounds in the ring with Hulk Hogan. That has been some workout, I tell myself later as I climb stiffly off my portable bathroom scales. I have actually lost a tiny bit of the weight I have been trying so desperately to shed, with zero success. I think it was frightened off.

A week passes and it is again time to continue our journey. The fear has subsided; it seems like someone else’s distant experience. Now we are back on the road heading from Italy to France. I am relaxed and smiling. I have taken a book with me, anticipating a quiet read as we zip along.

Silly me. The workout begins before we hit the first mile.

End of trip, back on the scales, same result. Aching all over, a few more grams down but, is it worth it? Really, I think I’ll just go on a major diet when I get home. So, yes, I will have that dessert after my evening meal tonight, thank you.

are now in our third month with another three to go. It’s much easier, I’m feeling more relaxed and my driver, bless him, is over his boy-racer phase and content to drive like the grandpa he is. He has realised that in the slow lane you get to see more and, as we are not clinging to any time schedules, there is no rush to be anywhere.

So, if you are planning a tour of Europe, or anywhere else with high speed motorways, either take a guided tour or, if you are going it alone, just you and your friend or partner, plan a route, take a good GPS unit (Garmin makes a great one and many rentals now have them built in); go online and hire a rental (SIXT and EUROPCAR are two excellent rental companies –helpful staff and realistic prices; we’ve used them both), then hit the highways. I personally recommend the slow lane – those trucks don’t crawl except when going uphill, so you can still do a decent speed and enjoy the scenery as well.

Europe is an amazing place; I love it more each time I return. If you are preparing for a visit to this amazing continent, and you plan to do it under your own steam and planning, I promise, it will be one workout you’ll neither forget nor regret.



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