Generally speaking, I know my way around Europe. I think driving in Europe is so easy. For example, you can get to Lake Garda from Calais by following basic directions of
From Calais - signs for Metz/Nancy, then Strasbourg, then Mulhouse/Basle, Lucerne, Gotthard, Milano and Venezia.
I always think the "last mile" is the hardest and things like hotels and campsites are the most difficult to find.
In answer to your question though, I use a map as a principal reference. Second is the internet and sites such as www.viamichelin.com
I must admit to getting lost on the Lille ringroad. This was due to missing a turn for the "A1 Paris". The distance on the A1 was only about 1KM, and so on the map it was barely recognisable! I am however now quite familiar with the Lille ringroad and did find a cheap fuel place.
I planned our route on MS Autoroute and ACSI CD. I managed to get some info on aires etc and the copy of ACSI campsite cd made it a pretty simple exercise.
We have not got any definite stops as such, just aires in different areas, so if we cannot get into one then we will just move on to the next one. The only fixed stop, which is unbooked is to a municipal site in Bayeux because we are booked onto a "D-Day Invasion Beaches" tour with a company called Battlebus
I am really looking forward to this tour as it really holds a fascination for me, but this is way off topic now, sorry.......
Anyway I would recommend Autoroute as a nav system too, I have recently bought a GPS reciever so that we can use it on the laptop to guide us to where we are going (or somewhere else if I have screwed up, but who cares )
Hope this helps
Planning is more important if you tow, or are in a large motorhome. But we still don't do it nearly enough. I like the big picture so that always means a sheet map, how I hate map books with all that page turning every ten miles, and never being able to see more than a mile or two of your route. The sheet gives me a much better feel for the journey and the direction I'm taking.
GPS is fantastic and I was a early adopter but I've been lost more with it than with out it. If you haven't got it, you always ensure that you have the right map for the area your going, and you have a look at the map before you leave, but with the GPS, you can rely on it too much, just jump in and go, only later finding out that the postcode you put in was wrong or covers 5 square miles, and the thing tells you that you have reached your destination and you are no where near it. So for me the GPS is secondary, I plot the route on the map and then key in the waypoints on the GPS, that way I don't get any low bridge surprises or go on roads with grass up the middle.
Russell, how true, you can travel 500 miles and not put a foot wrong and then when you are only ten minutes from your destination, you can spend an hour looking for it.
Once we know the general direction we're going in, we just go for it
Find some lovely places on the way that we wouldn't find normally and always get to our destination in the end always have fun on the way