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Traveling and Renting a Car
Additional disclaimer: Check with the rental companies before you book a car. All information here is based on personal research or experience. This is not considered legal advice. Do your own research before making any plans.
Renting a car while traveling can be scary. There are many options to consider and there is always the slight possibility of an accident that you fear you may be ultimately responsible for. However, for many trips, a car may be strongly advised or even necessary to fully enjoy the amenities of the area. Take a look at these tips and decide for yourself if renting a car is worth it.
1. Rent a driver and car instead. With the recent surge in the use of car services (in addition to the traditional taxis), renting a driver and car has become very popular. If you have a group, it might even be cheaper. Renting a driver (perhaps along with a tour guide can take the fear out of driving in an unfamiliar city, state or country. In some foreign countries, it might even be advisable (such as India). This can be arranged before you arrive at your destination or with the hotel's concierge. If you are renting a house or apartment, check out the tourist information booths (the official ones) for suggestions.
|Arriving in Delhi, India: rented car with driver|
2. You will need a credit card. You can use a debit card with some companies, but they may hold a large amount of your funds and there is a possibility it many not released for up to two weeks. Certain countries put a hold on very large amounts, such as $1,000- $2,000 (Jamaica, for instance). What to do? See number 1 or use public transportation.
|Exchange cash into local currency to use at gas stations|
3. You may be required to purchase insurance (in foreign countries) or purchase a temporary license (for a small fee, such as $10 - $25). However, check with your personal auto insurance and also check out your benefits with your credit cards. If you are renting domestically, you may already be covered. But, be prepared to have cash in the local currency to fill up the tank. Normally, I am not a fan of purchasing the fuel package, but it can be convenient for those one day rentals.
4. Europe makes is fairly easy to navigate by rail (train) and public transportation. But the lure of the countryside in spring can be hard to resist. Also, labor strikes are frequent, planned and unplanned. If you are staying in a city, you will only need a vehicle for a day trip (keeping a car longer gets complicated with parking). You may also want to take a bus or train to a town and then rent the car on that end. For example, the town of Reims, France, is home to many champagne wineries and you may want to tour them all. Take the train from Paris to Reims and rent the car there. You may have to reserve one.
5. When you have limited time, such as on a cruise, renting a car on an island state (Hawaii) or country gives flexibility and independence. You can combine sightseeing, with cultural outings and a beach day and save time. Buy a map beforehand and get one from the car rental company. Roads may not be so numerous in smaller countries and they often have one main highway that makes navigating fairly easy. Also, there are often signs with cruise ship icons designed to help you back to the dock.
6. Some of the cheaper options are not at the airport or cruise dock. If the company offers a free shuttle, bear this in mind when you have to return the car. Add an extra 45 minutes to allow for traffic or the fact they may have to wait for the van to fill up.
7. If you rent a car for a cruise day, note the operating times of the company. If your ship docks on a week-end, you options may be limited.
|Parking can be complicated in cities or small towns with pedestrian zones|
8. Although not 100% necessary, an international driving permit is strongly recommended, particularly if you want to go from country to country. It is valid for one year and not renewable (you must start a new application). You must have a driver's license in your own country and carry both. You also cannot use it in your own country in place of a real driver's license. Only two companies in the USA are authorized to issue them: the American Automobile Association (AAA) and the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA).
9. Be alert to the driving patterns. For Americans, this means learning how to drive on the left side of the road, possibly with a right-hand drive car (with the steering wheel on the right side, rather than the left); making turns into the left lane; learning expressions like Give Way, rather than Yield; for some, traffic circles.; a lower speed limit in some countries (despite evidence to the contrary), a NASCAR-like speed limit in other countries or states; learning the metric system (kilometers rather than miles) and reading in other languages. Luckily, most sign colors and shapes are international.
10. Finally, wherever you are, it is your responsibility to know the local laws. It should go without saying that some customs should be automatic regardless of whether it is a law or not: no drinking and driving, wear your seatbelt, car seats for younger riders and good defensive driving strategies, turn on your lights when it is raining, etc.