If you love the open road and want to drive cross country, it quite convenient when driving your own car. If this is not an option, just remember a few tips when renting a car; research and learn the traffic laws (driving on the correct side of the road), master a round-a-bout, and learn to drive a stick shift.
First thing’s first, you will need to research whether or not an international driver’s license is required and take measures to obtain any other requirements prior to travel to ensure you are driving legally. Sometimes your country/state- issued driver’s license isn’t enough.
There are so many rental car companies nowadays that it’s challenging to figure out which one to choose. If you belong to a rewards program, try to see if the rates are comparable. There are also consolidators like Auto Europe that provide discount rental rates through Europcar, Hertz, etc. It works just as if you were booking through a regular car rental agency except they service several rental car companies, which provides for deeper discounts. I suggest calling the toll-free number to book because you’ll have a chance to ask any questions prior to booking. Once you have booked, you receive a voucher from them and then from the rental car company. If you have your own GPS, bring it. If not, Auto Europe and the like also provide GPS rentals, which are extremely cost effective. A typical GPS from a large rental car agency can range from $10USD to $15USD per day. Through the consolidator you can rent a GPS at a discounted daily rate. The most they charge depending on the duration of your trip is about $50USD total for a 3 week reservation. If traveling for less than 3 weeks, the rate will be significantly lower. The only setback is that you must order the GPS ahead of time and it is shipped to your home prior to your trip. Upon the return home from your trip, you have 2 business days to return the device. The packaging and mailing labels are provided for you for convenience. Since the GPS is run via satellite, sometimes it loses connection or sends you in an out of the way direction (i.e. pedestrian paths, etc.) Try to avoid driving in cities if possible. We found that Google Maps was more accurate on some occasions. Using Google maps, either on mobile or GPS devices will incur data usage and additional costs so make sure you get a decent phone plan while traveling.
As for various fees, please ensure you research different types of cars that are available during your travel dates. The size of the car will play into cost variation (i.e. the economy will be less expensive than mid-size), along with the type of transmission (i.e. manual transmission is going to be less expensive than an automatic outside the US). On most rental car websites, the size, occupancy and storage information will be provided to help make your decision.
If traveling through only 1 country, with a car pickup and drop off in the same location, the rental agreement should be straightforward. Fees will incur when there is a deviation to the typical rental. For instance, if traveling through 1 country and scheduling a car pickup in 1 city then dropping off in another, a transportation fee or higher rate may be quoted. Picking up the car at the airport is usually more expensive, so finding an off-site option (i.e. city center, hotel) is better for your budget. Secondly, if traveling through multiple countries, and you pick up a car in one country and drop off in another, please beware that there may be a high transportation transfer fee (sometimes upwards of $400USD) since someone will have to eventually travel to pick up the car and bring it back to the country of origin. Always ask about all fees upfront to avoid sticker shock. Also, if traveling in an unfamiliar country it’s best to find a car rental agency that offers $0 deductible insurance coverage. It costs a bit more, but it gives you peace of mind. Don’t just trust a general quote online.
When we recently traveled through Belgium and France, we rented a car in Belgium then drove the car into France and finally dropped it off in the south of France. By doing this, we incurred a transportation transfer fee of about $400USD because someone from Belgium would have to travel to France to pick up the car and drive it back to Belgium. We didn’t have a choice and since we had a set itinerary, we had to eat the cost. If driving through different countries, try to plan to drop off in country and then arrange to travel to the other country to pick up another car. We paid out of convenience, but if your schedule allows for it, go out of your way to avoid the high transfer costs. Compare all costs associated to determine you are getting the best deal and for time well spent.
Upon picking up your car go through the glove compartment and side door pockets and look for anything you’ve never seen before and ask about it prior to driving the car off the lot. We found the above parking placard in our glove compartment the second day in Belgium and had no idea what it was. We asked around and finally received a very high-level explanation about how the parking works in Belgium. I’m still not sure if we used this correctly. Next time we’ll ask the rental car agent.
Tolls are plentiful in some countries, so make sure you understand how it works with your rental car agency. Sometimes tolls may be included in your fee, so ask questions to avoid paying too much or getting a fine in the mail.
Just a word of advice, if traveling outside the US, everything is smaller, including the country and county roads (the highways are standard). It’s not the time to test out driving that big SUV. Save that for your trip to Indiana. Limit your cargo and try to go with the smallest car possible. It will give you a little peace of mind when sharing roads with buses or other large vehicles.