Self-drive options when traveling abroad give the most flexibility to travelers. Yet it’s important to consider whether it’s the best option for your particular destination and needs.
Here are 8 tips for making your decision and following through should you decide to rent a vehicle while traveling.
1) Local driving and parking laws and customs can be confusing. The signage is different abroad. And there are both written and unwritten rules of the road in every destination. Do you have time to study them in advance? Will you feel safe if you don’t know these rules? Can you afford the sometimes very expensive fines if you break them? Depending on your location, most parking must be paid for, and is often restricted. Most tourist zones are limited traffic areas, meaning if you are not a local and do not have a special paid permit, you will be fined. PS: Your rental car company will rat you out if your fine comes to them.
2) Drivers may be stretched to the limit. Do you feel comfortable driving on the other side of the road or through the narrow and chaotic streets of an unfamiliar destination? If your dexterity and visual-spatial reasoning aren’t strong, driving on the other side of the road could be deadly. And driving through chaotic Rome, for instance, is known to bring grown Italian men to tears; no less so Americans who expect lane markings to mean something. Think twice (or three times) before deciding to rent a car in a foreign destination you don’t know well. Studies show that most drivers rate their abilities much higher than they actually are.
3) Filling up the tank could be confusing. Refueling could involve a different procedure than you are used to, and you might be required to decide in advance how much money you will spend. You will need to know whether your rental vehicle requires diesel (commonly, but this is being phased out). Be aware that in most countries outside the USA, fuel is sold and priced by the liter, which is a fraction of a gallon, and so it is not uncommon to pay the equivalent of $7-9/gallon.
4) Be prepared to drive a stick shift. Most rental vehicles abroad operate with a manual transmission. If you need an automatic, be sure that’s what you’re renting, and be prepared to pay extra for it.
5) An International Driving Permit may be required at the rental counter. Be sure to check with the rental company. This permit does not replace your drivers license, but is often required in addition to it. The American Automobile Association (AAA) and the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA) are the only organizations approved for issuing International Driving Permits. They are valid for 1 year, and cost about $20.
6) Be sure you have adequate insurance. Check with your car insurance company to be sure your policy covers you while driving outside your home country. If not, then consider purchasing the rental company’s insurance policy.
7) Every driver must be counted. As in the USA, each person who intends to drive must be accounted for in the rental contract, show a driver’s license and International Driving Permit at the counter, and should be covered by adequate insurance. You will pay extra per day for each additional driver. Also be sure you're carrying a valid passport.
8) Rent a GPS. Have a map app on your phone? That’s great if you have service. Paid extra for an international data plan on your phone? That’s great if you have ample coverage at the moment you need it. Have a GPS gadget you can bring from home? That’s great; be sure you purchase a plan that provides service in your destination.
Driving in a foreign destination can be just the right decision for you, giving you flexibility and freedom to take each day as it comes, exploring at a moment’s notice. This author has done it, and learned some of the above lessons the hard way. But I’ll no doubt do it again when the time is right.
At Soirée, we can help you sort out a wonderful itinerary that includes self-drive options or that provides for comfortable, flexible private transportation, or first-class trains, boats or public/private air transportation as appropriate. And if you’re not sure what’s right for you, we’ll help you figure it out.
We’re here, ready to design a just-right travel experience for you.
Contact Soirée today to start creating your customized travel plan!