When you first start to plan a trip, there’s a lot of things you have to think about. One of those is transportation, whether it’s what type of transportation will get you to your destination, or what’ll let you explore a new city and its surroundings.
And when it comes to transportation, renting a car is a common choice because of its flexibility, practicality, and comfort.
I talk a lot about the benefits of renting a car in my article The 5 Best and Cheapest Websites to Search for and Book Rental Cars Around the World. But beyond the details in that article, there are other things you need to think about when it comes to renting a car.
With that in mind, I put together this list here of 14 factors to consider when renting a car, divided between before you decide to rent and when you are actually choosing your car and making your reservation.
Here we go!
Factors to consider before renting a car (AKA should I rent a car during my trip abroad or not?)
When it comes to renting a car, here are the factors you need to take into consideration. Basically, these are the factors that will help you decide whether you should rent a car during your trip or not (more details about each question can be found below):
- Is your driver’s license accepted overseas?
- Are your destination’s streets safe?
- Are there fees, taxes, or specific rules for driving in the region you’re traveling to?
- Are there tolls?
- Is there parking where you will stay during your trip?
- Is there a lot of traffic in the city that you’ll visit?
- What are the advantages of renting a car?
- Do you have other options for transportations besides renting a car?
To find the answers to these questions, research/Google, look for blogs about the topic, and check in online travel forums and Facebook groups. It’s always helpful to hear from and get tips from people who have already done the same trip!
Okay, now let’s dive into some details about these questions.
Is your driver’s license accepted overseas?
This is a good question to ask for anyone who is thinking about renting a car overseas. And it’s pretty important to know ahead of time because finding out your license isn’t valid after you’ve arrived to rent your car will definitely put a damper on your trip.
So, check if you need to translation or bring an extra document, like an International Driver’s Permit (IDP). IDPs can take some time to get, so make sure you give yourself enough time to apply. Learn more about International Driver’s Permits here.
Here is some more info about renting cars in specific places.
- Renting a car in the United States:
In the United States, you can rent a car and drive with just your home country’s driver’s license in some states. In other states, they might ask for a IDP. So if you’re planning a road trip through the United States, make sure you check if the states you are passing through require this.
- Renting a car in Europe:
In most European countries, but especially in the countries that are part of the European Union, a driver’s license from your home country is valid for the amount of time you’re able to legally stay in Europe for tourism, often 30-90 days depending on where you are from. However, having an IDP is still recommended and some car rental companies may require it.
In which case, it’s better to get one given that crossing borders between countries and very common and you might have problems leaving/entering a country.
- Renting a car in South America:
In most South American countries your national driver’s license will be valid. However, it’s better to make sure with each individual country.
As you can see, each country/region has its own rules. Japan, for example, is a country where us Brazilians aren’t allowed to rent cars, even with an IDP. In other words, make sure you check before you go!
Are your destination’s streets safe?
One other thing that can affect how your road trip goes is the quality of the roads.
In Brazil, for example, you’ll find great, well-taken-care-of roads but also awful ones full of potholes and cracks.
Not to mention just general concerns about safety (for example, there are plenty of places in Rio you do NOT want to drive).
So, make sure you have an idea about the region you’ll be driving in before you go.
Are there fees, taxes, or specific rules for driving in the region you’re traveling to?
You don’t want to receive a ticket on your trip, right? So, you’ll want to research specific rules and fees/taxes you might encounter in each region.
Many cities around the world, for example, charge a fee to park. In these cases, you need to know what to do – like if you need to download an app or buy a ticket from a machine.
Plus, in many cities driving in the central area is also prohibited during specific times or certain days of the week. Or, you have to pay a small fee to drive in the city center such as in London or Gothenburg.
Are there tolls along the way?
Toll fees can definitely increase your total trip cost, so check beforehand if there will be tolls and how much you’ll pay over your entire trip. To make things easier, bring cash (already changed into the right amounts) and make it easily accessible so you’re ready when you have to pay.
But not all tolls overseas work the same way. In Portugal, for example, tolls often aren’t paid on-the-spot. Instead, they have to be paid 5 days later in a post office. Kinda unexpected, right?
Is there parking where you will stay during your trip?
Depending on where you are, it may be best to leave your rental car in a parking lot rather than on the street. But there’s not always a lot of parking where you want to go, so check and see if there’s parking near the touristic attractions you want to visit in a city.
On blogs and other websites, you should be able to find info about whether the lots are often full. Beyond this, factor the cost of parking into your daily budget if you’ll be in a city without much free parking.
Ah, and don’t forget to check if your hotel, hostel, or Airbnb has on property or street parking nearby. This is extra important if you’re staying in a city center where parking spots are hard to come by.
Is there a lot of traffic in the city that you’ll visit?
You’ll also want to find out how bad traffic is in the city you’re going to. After all, no one wants to waste time stuck in traffic! In a big city, this can often be the factor that makes you decide not to rent a car. But hold on…not all hope is lost!
If the city that you’re visiting has a tendency for traffic jams, you don’t necessarily have to give up on renting a car. In this case, you can take a few measures to avoid the extra stress, like skip using the car during rush hour.
Another alternative (and this is usually what I do) is to use the car just to explore more distant regions and get to know the main city centers via public transportation.
What are the advantages of renting a car/is it worth renting a car?
Compared to other forms of transportation, renting a car has a lot of benefits. When deciding whether or not to rent a car, it’s worth spending some time thinking about the advantages of renting a car to see if they outweigh any cons.
First of all, renting a car is comfortable. No matter what type of car you get, renting a car always gives you space that is yours – meaning you can spread out your stuff and keep everything you need at hand. Renting a car really is the only transportation option that offers this comfort.
And this brings us to our second benefit, the flexibility. With a rental car, you can create your own schedule and follow whatever route you prefer…not to mention you can adapt these routes on-the-go as you like.
Beyond this, though many people might not believe it, the price is actually another benefit of renting a car. Even though renting a car may be more expensive than a bus or train ticket, dividing the cost of a rental car can be a lot cheaper overall when divided with several people, as road trips often are!
In other words, take some time to think about these benefits and see if they make renting a car worth doing on your trip.
Do you have other options for transportations besides renting a car?
In some cases, the fact that there aren’t other options for transportation (or only options that are very time-consuming or expensive) might be what make you decide to rent a car.
For example, we decided to rent a car for our road trip in Cyprus because #1) we wanted to go to many places that we knew we wouldn’t be able to get to by public transportation and #2) the places we could get to by public transportation would have taken much too long for the amount of time we had. Naturally, this made renting a car essentially our only option for our trip.
Even if you do rent a car but still want a sample of “local life”, remember that there are often other public transportation options that you can use within city limits, which can help you save on gas, not have to deal with the hassle of parking in a big city, or simply see the city from a different side for a more interesting trip.
Just make sure you do some research as to the price of public transportation and try to gather info about traffic and the quality (including how extensive it is) of the system.
What to consider when choosing & reserving your rental car
Of course, once you’ve decided to rent a car after going through the considerations above, there are other things to think about as you actually make your reservation.
Let’s go through them one-by-one:
- What documents do you need to rent a car?
- How much is insurance for your rental car?
- What other fees are charged by the rental car company?
- What type of rental car should you choose?
- How do you calculate the cost x benefit of renting a car // is renting a car worth it?
- How do I find the cheapest rental car?
Let’s go into some more detail.
What documents do you need to rent a car and are there any requirements for renting a car you should know about?
To rent a car, you’ll usually need the followings docs:
- Driver’s license
- IDP – International Driver’s Permit
- An ID
- A credit card
- Proof of reservation
Some car rental companies also require the driver to be of a minimum age, even if they have a driver’s license. It’s also worth remembering that these documents can vary depending on the country or state that you are renting a car in. Because of this, make sure you always read all the “rules” of the place where you’ll be renting to avoid any issues.
How much is insurance for your rental car?
There are different types of insurance for rental cars, and you can choose what type of coverage you want when you rent or is picking your rental car. The price of insurance tends to go down proportionally the longer you rent the car. This means that, the longer you rent a car, the less you’ll pay for insurance per day.
These are the two most common types of rental car insurance:
Basic rental car insurance – this is usually offered by the rental company and has protection against theft and accidents.
Full coverage rental car insurance – full coverage insurance can vary depending on the rental company, but it usually includes everything in basic insurance plus protection to third parties in case of accident and total exemption for the renter. This means that, by paying more for insurance, you won’t have to pay for any problem that happens with the car.
What other fees are charged by the rental car company?
There are lots of extra taxes and fees charged by car rental companies and they can vary from company to company. However, there are a few common taxes and fees like:
- Young Driver Fee
- Rental Car Drop Charge (to pick up/drop off your rental car in different places)
- Rental Car Re-Fueling Surcharge
Here’s a bit more about how each of these works.
Young Driver Fee
As we said above, some car rental companies don’t accept very young drivers at all. However, it’s more common for them to charge an extra fee according to the driver’s age. This fee usually disappears beyond 25 years old.
Rental Car Drop Charge
When you rent a car in one place and return it in another, you’ll probably have to pay a “drop charge.” This is because the rental car supplier will have to return the car back themselves to your original destination.
Rental Car Refueling Surcharge
The way gas is charged varies by rental car company, but in most cases you’ll be charged a fee if you don’t return your rental car with a full tank, or at least with the same amount of gas as you had when you left. In general, it’s cheaper to fill up your tank before returning the car than paying this fee because they’ll charge you extra per gallon/liter of gas than what you would pay if you did it yourself.
This is also true about paying upfront for fuel when you pick up your car…in other words, avoid it!
What type of rental car should you choose?
The answer to this question depends on your personal tastes, of course. But here are a few things to think about to make the right decision when you choosing your car:
- The price of the car
- The size of the car (and how many people will be traveling in it)
- How much distance you’ll be driving
- What “extras” the car has (GPS, air con, etc.)
- How comfortable the car is
- What the gas mileage is like
- How much you like the car
- If it has enough space for your bags
- If you’ll need a car with 4-wheel drive for dirt, sand, or snow
- If you’ll need rack storage on top of the car to carry anything
Once you’ve considered all these things, you can choose the right car for your trip.
How do you calculate the cost-benefit of your rental car?
Another thing to think about is the cost-benefit relationship of your rental car.
In simple terms, this means that the price that you are paying for the rental is worth it for the type of car you are renting. To calculate this, you just need to know two factors: what type of car you want to rent and how much you’ll pay for it.
It’s always a good idea to do a thorough search to understand what the average price is between car rental companies before finalizing your booking. Then you can calculate the cost-benefit relationship more easily
I recommend some rental car companies that you can use to compare here.
How do I find the cheapest rental car?
Of course, after considering all the things above, you also have to figure out how to actually find and reserve a cheap rental car!
To start your search and begin comparing prices, I recommend you look at my article with the rental car companies.
Renting a car is often a good option while traveling. There are lots of great benefits, but it’s still important to consider all these factors so nothing goes awry.
Whether you’re renting a car overseas or to do a simple weekend trip, always make sure your documents are in order, that the rental car company has a good reputation, and that the place you’re visiting has options for parking (which means also looking into parking fees).
Planning a trip always takes a lot of research, but that’s part of the fun. Search for all the info you can and you’ll have a stress-free trip with no problems.
So…have any other questions about renting cars? If so, just let me know in the comments below and I’ll get back to you!
Planning your next trip?
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