Episode 9: Podcast Extras + Breakdown
Today’s episode is all about driving, specifically in Europe. We’ve rented cars in several countries and have come across a few tips and tricks that we figured we might as well pass along to you.
We think most people think of traveling by train when they think of getting around in Europe, and while that really is a great way to make your way around, we’ve found picking up a rental car for certain portions of the trip has really paid off and allowed us to have a completely different experience.
When to rent a car:
While there are regional trains which connect a lot of the smaller towns, sometimes the schedules and frequency of those trains don’t provide as many options as you would like.
And while you can fairly easily take trains to connect to bigger cities, trying to get around in less-populated areas can be a bit of a hassle. Definitely do-able, but a hassle.
If you arrived into Rome and decided you wanted to explore Florence and the surrounding Tuscan countryside, a fantastic option would be to take a train from Rome to Florence, and then pick up a rental car in Florence for a few days. Just like in the US, you will be charged to pick up and drop off at different locations. So basing yourself out a larger city and then exploring for a few days and then returning the car to that city is usually how we do it.
Here’s why we love it. Last year, I rented a car in France and Germany for about 2 weeks. I could have gotten around via train, but having the option to stop in every little town that struck my fancy was really appealing to me. I stopped in places I otherwise would have missed if I was just traveling by train.
Car rental costs are really not that expensive and for my trip to France and Germany, the car was about $200-ish dollars for 2 weeks. It can be a really amazing option, especially if you want to do some exploring on your own, or you’re traveling with other people who can split the cost with.
We use the website Auto Europe to book our rental cars. They compare prices of the major car rental companies and you can book directly through that website.
Fuel can be a fairly big cost, so be sure to factor that in. Even if the rental itself isn’t all that much, if you plan on really doing a lot of driving, the gas ain’t cheap.
There can also be fees for tolls, or for things like, entering different provinces. This means every time you cross the line into a new province, you’ll go through a toll station. The provinces in France all set their own prices for these tolls, and they can vary throughout the year. For example, in France, I had to pay a shitload of money which I wasn’t planning on spending for these tolls. And because I drove through SO many, I was not happy I didn’t know about these beforehand. Be sure to do some research about your route and how much it’ll cost ya.
Just to give you an idea, driving the 6 hours from Paris to Bordeaux will cost you about $60-ish. Choosing where you want is key, because you could just take the train there and save money, if it is a comparable cost.
Probably just like in your home country, you’ll have to pay to park in bigger cities. However, of course, there are places in the countrysides of countries where it’s usually a small fee you can pay at a kiosk, or it’s free. This is something you’ll need to calculate into your budget, if you’re thinking about renting a car.
If you’re thinking of renting a car while you’re exploring Paris and you have to pay to park everywhere, AND there are wayyyy better ways of getting around the city rather than a rental car, that’s probably not you’re best bet.
In whichever country, or countries, you’ll be visiting, be sure to check out their age requirements! An example of this would be that Audriana and I planned on renting a car in Ireland when we were 21 years old, and we were turned down by the rental company because we were not old enough. Some companies will rent to younger people, but you’ll have to pay an extra fee to do so.
Manual vs. automatic
If you can drive a manual, you’ll save yourself some money! Luckily Audriana and I both know how to drive one, which always saves us money on rental cars.
We always get the smallest, or second smallest sized rental car, because it’s easier to park and maneuver in narrow European streets, and it’s less expensive than the full-sized options.
We are cheap bastards and don’t pay for the in-car GPS. We just bring a car phone charger, and pull up our Google Maps without wifi, or data, and just follow that blue dot! And sometimes we bring a good old fashioned paper map, and just make sure to go over the route several times before actually driving it so we’re familiar.
And in our experience, it’s not like driving in LA where there’s about 500 freeways to take and it’s confusing as shit. For example, driving throughout Germany, there was basically one highway to follow and it was pretty much the only road out in the countryside and therefore pretty easy to follow along.
If you want to spring for the in-car GPS, rental car companies do offer this at an additional fee, just make sure you know there will be that extra expense.
Just like in the US, they want to sell you the insurance and collision waiver and all that jazz. If you have a travel credit card, sometimes the company covers international insurance, but we always recommend you call! We always get travel insurance which covers a lot of things including car rental insurance, which saves us that addition cost at the car rental company.
If you’ll be driving on the other side of the road, make sure to really pay close attention when you first get in there. Take the extra second to make sure you’ll turning onto the correct side of the road and not into oncoming traffic, looking the opposite way than you usually do at home, and knowing how roundabouts work. Don’t be the freaking jerk that is stopping in the middle of the roundabout and making me want to get out of my car and strangle you.
Familiarize yourself with some of the basic road signs and what they mean. You don’t need to know every little one, but some of the basics will help ya out. Obviously you may not be able to read all the road signs, so having an understanding will help.
Here’s an example: In some countries, stop lights turn yellow before turning green and then go straight from green to red.
Know the laws/speed limits:
There’s cameras you can’t see that will just send a ticket to your home, or simply just charge your card, so you won’t know for quite some time that you even got a speeding ticket.
Sometimes the car rental agency will just charge a $50 “finders fee” just for giving your address to the authorities if you do receive a ticket.
In many places you fill up your car and THEN go give them money! Something that surely would not fly in the US as people would just get gas and then leave. This helps out if you don’t know how much you’ll need to get, you can just fill it up and not worry about only giving them enough euros for a quarter tank when you need a full tank.
In my experience gas stations here are kind of amazing! I swear every single gas station in France had an espresso machine and good snacks, clean bathrooms and were available on basically every exit of the highway.
Germany had rest stops/gas stations, I’m pretty sure every single exit. Some were just toilets (some not so great) and some were full-fledged restaurants + cafes with picnic tables.
In England, driving in the countryside, not so much availability so we were sure to get gas before we needed it so we wouldn’t have to make a slight detour.
Where to pick-up/drop-off:
It can be incredibly stressful to pick-up and drop-off a car in the city center of a large city. Especially if you’re not familiar with what the signs mean or how things work just yet. And also, there’s soo, sooo much traffic.
We made this mistake by picking up and dropping off our rental car in central Paris. The way out was a Sunday and we left early so that was really easy. On the way back into the city however, we were stuck on the same mile stretch for about an hour and it was insanely hectic.
To avoid this in bigger cities, select a pick-up/drop-off location on the outskirts of the city and use the public transportation to get yourself out there. That way you’ll be less likely to be stuck in the thick of city traffic at the beginning and end of your trip.
Hopefully some of these tips and tricks were helpful to ya! And if you have any handy tips about driving in Europe, be sure to leave a comment and share them with us!