Two hours drive outside of any major city is a completely difference place. Have you ever wondered what you were missing as you zoomed by on your tour bus? It’s time to explore solo, and renting a car is an easy way to get out on our own terms.
If you have never ventured off the train or the bus for fear of driving abroad follow these 7 steps and you will be exploring the back roads on your next vacation.
What you need to rent a car:
- A Credit Card – preferably Visa or Mastercard
- Home Country’s Drivers license
- Over 25 years old – for most major international brands like Enterprise or National. However, local companies will often rent to people between 20 and 25 for a increased daily fee.
Why – For the freedoms of exploring on your own terms. Stop when you want, go when you’re board, and TRY something you wouldn’t do otherwise. In some countries, like the United States, Australia, and United Arab Emirates, have driving cultures where you really need a car to see anything at all. Don’t invade each site with your tour group, traveling in a herd is for sheep, are you a sheep? Get in a car and get off the beaten path.
Where – EUROPE, for starters, even the UK the “Other side of the Road” thing isn’t really any issue after the first day. Europe is also easy to navigate once you get the hang of round-a-bouts and “Town to Town” directions, DON’T drive your entire vacation but DO explore outside of major cities for a real taste of local culture. Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Chili, ANY small island (scooters and bikes for the smallest of islands).
Where NOT – China, South East Asia, actually most of Asia unless you are a local, family member or regular guest. Central American, particularly Guatemala and El Salvador, though theses countries get safer every year so it’s up to your comfort level.
1) Rental Car Insurance —
There is a 95% chance your Credit Card includes rental car insurance anywhere in the world. To be safe I recommend you check your credit card’s website or call customer service. The following Credits Card have your rental car covered: Chase Sapphire, Capitol One, Citi Credit Card and Bank of America, HSBC and many more. If your credit card doesn’t cover rental cards abroad, check your personal automobile insurance, there is a good chance they will cover you too. BOTTOM LINE: Do NOT purchase the rental car company added insurance.
DO – a complete walk around and check car for damage with the rental car attendant. Also CHECK the tires, you don’t want to drive on bauld tires so look before you rent. Ask where everything is and get oriented with your car before you hit the road.
2) Navigation Systems ARE Worth It
While I rarely use Navigation systems at home, popping for the additional $5 per day for in-car navigation is well worth the arguments you will avoid. If you use navigation at home, don’t even think of going without it on vacation. Just do it.
3) Designate a Driver AND a Navigator
I must know where I am at all times. So as much as I like to drive I am a better navigator, and my husband is a great driver. By dividing driving responsibilities no one person is responsible for delays or getting lost and arguments are avoided. After 7 years of traveling together this was the most important lesson we learned.
4) Town-to-Town Navigation
The rest of the world was not build around a highway and grid system. Grid style urban planning makes American the ideal Road Trip Destination, (less than ideal public transportaion is another good reason). Take a minute and recognize that most of the world’s urban centers are towns within one days walk of each other. therefore connected by roads that lead town-to-town, effectively spiderwebbing across countries and continents. I use i-phone map screen shots to help list the towns I need to navigate through. This is important when trying to find your way out of a Round-a-bout. Better yet, get a navigation system.
5) Love The Round-A-Bout
It is the single most efficent traffic junction. Round’a’bouts keep’s traffic flowing with less stopping and fewer accidents. I often wonde why it hasn’t caught on in America. How it works; Drivers yeld to enter the Round-a-bout and signal to exit. Do not stop on your way into the round-a-bout unless there is a sign or light. If you are turning “Left” or across traffic you will start in the center lane. Each Round-a-bout exit is labeled with the towns in that directions. Navigate to the next town and you will be breezing around round-a-bouts in no time. Don’t know where to turn? just go around again. Simply listen to the soothing voice of your co-pilot — the Navigation system you agreed to add to your rental car — and enter and exit with confidence. Remimber – you do NOT need to come to a complete stop before you enter the round about, this is a brilliant clutch and gas saver.
6) Go BIG or Go Slow
Economy cars outside the US can be tiny (think SMART car), if you like a little get-up-and-go in your ride, step up to a bigger engine, look for a 2.5L 4 cylinder or above. For example, a for Focus is a “Economy Car” in the US, in Europe the Ford Focus is an “intermediate” 2 steps above the economy option. Size does not equal power, and coming from a 300 horse power 5L V8 at home, I need power.
7) Get Out of The Way!
You are on vacation, not The Amazing Race, take your time. Stop for that vista point, get out and take that picture, assume you will not be in that corner of the world again and take your time. If you are holding up traffic, please pull over. In the rest of the world people really do drive on the right and pass on the left (particularly in Europe) and it is polite to honk your horn and flash your lights to signal for a slow car to use the right lane . “Undertaking” — passing on the right — is illegal and a major cause of accidents.
BOTTOM LINE: slow traffic stay right. Pass on the left. If you are holding up more than 3 cars, pull over.
Follow these steps and rent like a pro travelers. Next time you travel, skip the tour bus, get off the train and TRY THIS… Drive your-self.