Renting Cars – Get it in Gear
I like renting cars. It can be expensive for one or two people, but more than makes up for it in mobility, time savings and sheer driving pleasure. And it’s a blast.
- Groups of four or more people can reduce costs by renting cars. It’s cheaper than train travel.
- For larger groups, a van can save even more money per person.
For me, driving in a foreign country is one of the best things about travel. It’s a combination of real life, adventure, and skill.
Not only is everything really different and really strange, it’s all coming at me at 90 kilometers per hour (55 miles/hr.)
What a rush!
Here are aspects of renting cars abroad:
- Driving through places like the Alps i
s plain scary magic, especially when there are 300 meter (1000 foot) cliffs to accidentally drive off.
- Driving through foreign cities can be the ultimate test of nerves and stupidity. Believe me, it is never dull.
- Renting cars, however, can move the journey along, maybe too fast. I can visit three towns in a day, no problem. With public transportation it’s hard to negotiate even two towns. But that could be the real point. Slow down.
- In countries like New Zealand, renting cars can be the best way to get around within a limited time, say two to three weeks. RV (Recreational vehicle) rentals are perfect here.
- There is even the possibility of returning an RV at no cost (except gas) from Queenstown back north, since most travelers drive them the other way and drop them off.
- Remember some countries drive on the left, which can make things quite interesting. Be careful.
Normally, to rent a car you need a passport, valid driver’s license, and a credit card.
- Most places other than the US have smaller cars with manual transmissions.
- Automatics are more expensive and might not be available in the desired size of car.
- Many countries, especially in Europe, require warning triangles to be carried in the car. In case of accident or breakdown, the triangle must be placed far enough ahead of the location so that cars can slow down in time.
- Check if a reflective vest is required in the country of choice and if it’s provided by your renting car company.
- Normally, I don’t use an International Driving Permit. Its purpose is to translate my real driver’s license to the local language. Since most police in the world can speak or at least read English enough to give out a speeding ticket, there is no need to carry this document today. For an International Driving Permit see the auto clubs below.
Car Insurance considerations when renting cars:
- Check with your own car insurance company at home to find out if they cover driving a rental car abroad. You can al
- Most countries mandate insurance for liability and minimum coverage. In Europe it’s called a Green Card provided by the car rental companies. It’s part of the car rental price.
- I almost always get full coverage in any Eastern European country, any third world country and any country that drives on the left (the wrong side for me.)
- Sometimes you need to be older than 21 or even 23 to rent a car. Younger drivers and older drivers 65 to 75 may have to pay an extra premium. Check with the driving laws for each country and the rental car company in particular.
Alcohol and driving:
- Don’t even think of it.
- Most countries have 0.5 per mille (0.05%) or less alcohol blood level, and these are subject to change.
- Some have a zero level, particularly in many Eastern European countries. I’m sure they would love to take all your money for any violation.
- I don’t drink during the day if I’m driving. No wine, no beer, nothing.
- I park the car for the evening when I check in to a hotel and leave it there till morning.
- This is usually pretty easy, since I’m pretty tired and sick of driving by that time.
- Usually there are restaurants or bars nearby. If not I stop off at a grocery or liquor store before I reach my lodgings for the night.
Cell phones and driving:
- It’s almost always prohibited to use cell phone while driving.
- An exception is sometimes granted for “Hands off” Cell Phone systems.
- Check with each country before going. (See below.)
- Be warned, guidebooks may be out of date on this subject.
Other driving considerations:
- Speed Trap Cameras can catch you when you least expect it. They are everywhere. So watch it.
- All distances in the world outside the US are in kilometers, both mileage and speed limits. One kilometer is 0.6 miles. One mile = 1.6 kilometers.
- All liquids (including gas) outside the US are in liters and NOT gallons. One liter is 0.26 gallons, almost a quart. One gallon is about 3.8 liters, say four.
- Many countries (especially in Europe) have tolls on super highways and large bridges. This can be a toll booth or special permit, sticker or vignette that is stuck onto the inside of the front window or on the car bumper.
- These permits can be bought at the border or at petrol stations.
- These countries include Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Croatia, France, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
Here are some things I do on the road:
- In questionable places such as Eastern Europe and third world countries, I always park the car in a guarded location. Ask the hotel front desk. They always know of such a place.
- I check the State Department’s page on Road Safety and Renting Cars Overseas.
- I make sure nothing hits me or I hit it. This seems obvious, but people sometimes miss the point. I expect everything to jump out and hit my car. So I do everything I can to have an escape path away from any such danger.
- It’s called Defensive Driving. I learn to use it in all driving situations.
- Be courteous and attentive.
- I check guidebooks and the website of the country for driving rules and renting cars. (See below.)
- Here is an example of Bad Drivers in the Third World.