Monday, July 7, 2014

How to Avoid Getting Lost Driving in Europe

Driving from southeastern Germany to the alps in Austria.  The motorcyclist is the only other traffic. 
I have driven in Ireland, England, France, Italy, Spain and Germany and gotten lost in every single country.  Except Germany.

There's only one thing that saved David and me from wandering back roads aimlessly this summer, and you will want to make sure you have it too.

Save money by skimping on car size or amenities, but do not ever attempt to drive in Europe without GPS (global positioning system).   Signs can be confusing and road construction detours can be maddening, but GPS will lead you out of any confusion safely.  I only wish I had discovered it sooner.
We loved the little black box of instructions, on the left, that provided detail about the next turn.
I can't tell you how many times Constance (Please, never Connie.) saved us.  One time she led us down paths that were surely golf cart lanes, but eventually we were back on a two-lane road.  When we were stopped because of a traffic accident, Constance led us to the nearby exit to take an alternative route.  Truly, I'm not exaggerating when I say Constance saved David's and my relationship more than once! 
Luckily, there was no other traffic on the golf cart lane!
But how do you know which company to rent from?  Because they have significant ad budgets, many Americans believe the companies they hear about the most, Autoeurope and Europcar, are the best firms for inexpensive European car rentals, but I have not found that to be true.  Both Autoeurope and Europcar are consolidators which means they represent several companies and serve as middlemen.  Any time you have to pay a middleman, the cost increases.

I have found far cheaper prices when dealing with companies like Avis, Sixt, and Kemwell directly.  Note that all American car rental companies have offices in Europe, so the best advice is to do your homework.  Call every company represented in the country you're visiting (All will have toll free numbers.) and get a quote.

And here's another valuable tip.  Always join a company's premier membership program if it is free.  I joined Avis's "Preferred" program because it offered free upgrades.  That's probably why we were not given what we'd paid for, a manual transmission, but were upgraded to an automatic instead--usually a prohibitively expensive change. (Actually, the car could change from automatic to manual with a switch of the gear shift lever.)
In Tucson, I drive a fifteen-year-old car and David a twelve-year-old, so the luxury of a new car with black leather upholstery with red stitching was a real treat for us!  Note that moving the gear shaft to the right made the transmission manual. (We never did that.)
Also remember to check with your credit card company to make sure it will cover any accidents that might occur (Most companies do.)  If you use that card to pay for the entire rental transaction, you will not need additional insurance.

Go over your car carefully and take photos to verify the damage, or lack thereof, so you are not charged for dings later.

While it is simpler to pick up your rental at an airport or train station, you will be charged extra for the convenience. (For some reason I have yet to understand, there is no extra charge for drop-off at an airport or train station.)  It might pay you to take a taxi for a few euros to a nearby rental site. (David and I did this in Freiburg, Germany, taking a taxi for €17 rather than paying an extra €60 or so in train station pick-up fees.)
Our car smiles for her portrait!
Don't forget to ask for a receipt when you relinquish the car.  Make sure your frequent flyer program is listed on the paperwork so you will get credit for the car rental.

And the last thing to remember is to enjoy the ride!  There is much less traffic on the European roads we've traveled so driving is a pleasure rather than a chore. 

Practicalities -
The GPS cost has gotten more reasonable.  We paid only €33 for ten days.  You might want to take a stylus with you, the kind you use with a Kindle reader, as it makes GPS programming much easier.

Remember that European cars get much better gas mileage than American cars.  We got almost 50 mpg!

1 comment:

  1. I truly like to reading your post. Thank you so much for taking the time to share such a nice information.