Are you going on vacation and want to rent a car? Have you searched for various guides and are dismayed by the amount of details you need to pay attention to? Don’t worry. It’s not that difficult or stressful at all :)
In this post we will describe some practical tips on how to rent a good car abroad and what to look out for.
Table of contents
Why rent a car?
Let’s start with the fact that the car is the most common means of transportation we choose for our holiday travels. Though, of course, not always. It all depends on where you are going, how much you are going for and what you plan to see. Before we leave (often even before we buy the tickets, well, unless there’s a great promotion and we buy them in half an hour) we think about the places we want to visit and the travel options between them.
For this reason, definitely in favor of renting a car are such points as:
- We are not dependent on specific departure and arrival times, we can go when we want and where we want.
- We are also not dependent on the weather. It is much easier to travel by car during adverse weather conditions :) And also after sightseeing in full rain you can easily warm up and dry off.
- It’s rarely mentioned, but the car is also a good “stash”. Going by car you can take more things with you, for example, it will be easier for us to get to the beach with a mattress, provisions, etc. Another example: even though heading to our destination, we don’t need to take cases, food supplies or extra covering with us (when the weather gets better, for example), we can safely leave them in the car (preferably in the glove box or trunk, so that no one is tempted).
- Better yet, we don’t have to visit places “by force” in this way. It is often the case, especially when choosing transportation typical of tourists, that buses stop for a rest just outside the one and only restaurant or one and only store. Such situations we had, among others. Malta or the
. Mandatory stops also include waiting for a transfer or waiting for other passengers. Simply wasted time.
- Riding buses or other mass transportation seeing something interesting, wanting something to eat, or anything else, you can’t stop…. unless you are a tour guide ;)
- The car can also serve as a place to sleep. I’m not writing here about taking a tent and sleeping in campsites, but about emergency or unforeseen situations when you decide to spend the night in a car. We had such a situation once while visiting Cyprus, when we arrived at the hotel in the middle of the night (we planned around noon) and had to wait it out in the car. It is also the perfect place for daytime naps ;)
- Renting a car is often not that expensive! E.g., once in Sweden it was cheaper to rent a car for 5 days than to take a round trip by train. Of course, this balance does not always come out so positive, but then look at all the above points :)
There will also be some downsides as to why it is not worth renting a car:
- We don’t have a driver’s license, we don’t feel up to it, or we just don’t want to drive.
- Riding tourist buses you can always sleep, what about the views outside!
- We have full cash and can afford to hire a chauffeur ;)
When is it a good idea to rent a car?
As I wrote at the beginning, renting does not always pay off the most. And I’m not just writing about costs here.
The best example of this is our trip to
. Renting a car and traveling by it was not much more expensive than moving by train. But this is Japan after all! How to be in Japan and not ride the Shinkansen? Even more so, our dilemma was solved by a super offer for tourists, namely tickets
(highly recommended to you to purchase before going to Japan).
In the Dominican Republic, on the other hand, we didn’t opt for a car, because it was a leisure-type trip, and for single trips it wasn’t worth renting a car. Besides, I don’t even know if I would choose to rent a car there now ;)
Then there’s Malta, where we didn’t opt for a car, because the bus system on this small island is so great that it’s a shame to bother with a car. Besides, you have to feel the atmosphere of waiting for a bus when you return from the beach, which will not stop because it is overcrowded ;)
Of course, there are plenty of “yes” examples, those less obvious, such as Barcelona, Cuba, where we took the car practically without hesitation and it was a good choice. But there are also places where there is no forgiveness, like
(especially Tenerife) or
, where to see the whole island, in our opinion, you simply have to rent a car (it’s a waste of time to take an organized tour).
In addition, consider the option of renting a car for only a few days. For example, when we were for a week in Romewe rented a car for only two days and during that time we did a small tour of Naples and an overnight tour of Rome.
How to look for a car for a vacation?
First of all, you need to compare several offers. Sometimes you can try to negotiate something (for longer stays or several shorter rentals).
We, always when looking for a car, check prices on several comparison sites and directly on the websites of the largest operators. It so happens that the price on the rental company’s website is lower or very close to that of the comparison sites. In such cases, it is better to take the car directly. It all depends on the country and the city.
Beware of hidden fees! It doesn’t matter if it’s a comparison site or a rental company directly, almost all of them apply hidden fees like an extra driver (sometimes it comes in handy), extra full insurance with no deductible, or a card payment fee (hit!).
Remember to choose rather trusted, well-known companies when looking even through comparison sites. Often comparison sites offer reviews from other users about specific rentals in a given location.
So: where to look for a rental car?
We mostly use (directly or through comparison sites) Avis/Budget (often the same cars, Budget is the cheaper Avis option, but still sometimes the former has lower prices) or Hertz/Firefly. In Madeira, we rented from the local rental company Rodavante and were also very satisfied.
The cars of these rental companies are reliable, always well-maintained, and we often happened to get practically brand-new ones.
Instead, we strongly discourage the use of Sixt cars. Their, especially Polish, service is very unprofessional and completely unhelpful. Cars (often in cooperation with local small businesses) leave much to be desired.
The complete opposite is true of Poland’s Avis. Very friendly, specific and factual help. On Avis/Budget cars so far we have not been disappointed anywhere.
What about car rental comparison sites?
We usually use three: Rental Cars, Holiday Cars or Economy Car Rentals.
The former is part of the same group as Booking.com, which additionally gives it a sizable confidence package. So far we have had the opportunity to use all three. The most we can recommend to you, of course, is Rental Cars. Professional service, very little hidden content, etc. We have rented the most cars just with their help and never had any problems so far.
Practical tips on what to look for when renting a car
And most importantly at the very end. Here are some tips you need to keep in mind when looking for a car for your vacation trips.
- When looking for a car, pay attention to hidden fees. Especially like additional insurance, fuel surcharge or card payment fee.
- Speaking of insurance: we recommend taking always with the option of minimum risk, that is, no contribution, with full insurance. You are going on vacation after all, so why stress? To us, fortunately, it has never come in handy so far, but the prudent always insured.
- An additional driver? Donation in another location? Great idea… however, it is difficult to find such information during the booking process. Prices also often depend on the specific location. To be sure, it is better to inquire before booking.
- Return to another location? Sometimes it’s a hidden cost, as I wrote above,. You can often get this in a free package. A great option to avoid going around in circles, especially if your departure and arrival are in a different city.
- Remember that to book a car the main driver must have a convex credit card. A pledge is always taken off this card, which when everything is ok is returned to the card (even when you have full insurance).
- Before traveling to the place where you want to rent a car, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the regulations and customs of the country’s roads (speeding, parking, etc.).
- Before picking up the car (before driving away from the parking lot) and just before returning it (after parking), we recommend you take photos of the car from all sides. It will help if you have to prove that any damage was already there before the rental (no less, if you just see a defect or damage, you should report it immediately).
- When looking for a car, compare different dates, especially if you plan not to drive a car every day. It happened to us several times that it is better to rent a car for a week than, for example, for 3-4 days. Such situations we had, among others. Cyprus and Barcelona. It was more profitable to let the car stand for those few days when we didn’t need it than to mess around with picking it up and returning it. The difference in rental cost may be minimal or even none.
- The same goes for the location. Sometimes it’s worth renting a car at the airport, sometimes it’s better in the city center. Here there seems to be no rule. However, when we rented a car in Rome, it was more cost-effective to drive to the airport in both directions than if we had to pick up the car from the city center.
- Nonetheless, when you want to pick up your car at the airport, we recommend you to pick it up in the “office at the airport” option. Often the cheaper options/rental companies will drop you off by shuttle bus (a commute of up to 30 minutes) to their cheaper offices near the airport. If you have the time, ok. However, time is money and you don’t have to roll around with luggage :)
- The same goes for the fuel option. The most honest is the “full-full” option, meaning you take and return the car with a full tank. In other words, you actually pay for as much fuel as you drove. There are also other options like “full-empty”, where you get a full tank (for which you often pay extra when renting, at inflated prices of course!), but return an empty one (fanfare for the one who doesn’t throw money down the drain and gets there on fumes) :) So sometimes the more expensive full-full option can turn out to be cheaper than full-empty :)
- Ask ask ask ask ask…. After all, you are a customer and you want to know everything about the service you are buying. And you will also then have a more peaceful and stress-free dream vacation :)
We also recommend our tips on how to drive in the Canary Islands (Tenerife) and other similar places.
The above advice is, of course, based solely on our own experience. Perhaps you’ve heard of others, or have some interesting adventures yourself that are worth telling others about?
If you have any questions, ask them in the comments!
We will be happy to answer them all :)