Traveling domestically in the US usually means either driving your own car from home to your destination, or flying somewhere and renting a car when you arrive. Most cities in the US don’t have convenient (if any) public transportation, things are spread out, and a car is almost a necessity in many situations. So it makes sense that many people consider renting a car when traveling to Europe. While there are times when renting a car makes sense, for most people in most situations, I think it’s unnecessary and quite a hassle.
As much as everyone likes to complain about the high cost of gasoline in the US, it’s even worse in Europe. The average price per liter in Munich is 1.63€ which is about $2.15. To put that into perspective, one gallon is equivalent to about 3.8 liters, so one gallon of gasoline costs about $8.17. In Rome it would be about $9.20 per gallon. A lot more than what you’re paying at home, right? Depending on the length of your trip, where you’re driving, and what kind of gas mileage you’re getting, you could be adding several hundred dollars to the cost of your trip.
Automatic vs manual transmission
In the US most people drive cars with an automatic transmission. In Europe it’s the opposite, most people drive manuals, which means that’s what most car rental agencies have on hand. It is possible to rent an automatic, but availability is limited and often they are more expensive to rent. If you don’t know how to drive a stick shift, your vacation probably isn’t the time to learn.
Driving laws and road signs
Driving in Europe isn’t always the same as driving in the US. Different rules apply and different signs are posted on the roads, plus signs with words will be in the local language. This can all be very confusing if you have never driven outside of the US before. Where you might think you have the right of way, a local driver will know that you don’t. It is all too easy for situations like this to lead to traffic tickets or accidents.
Car rental insurance expenses
Most US auto insurance policies will only cover you while you’re driving in the US, maybe Canada. That’s fine for renting a car while traveling in the US, but not so in Europe. In order to rent a car and drive in Europe, you’ll have to either get your policy amended to include European coverage, which might not even be an option, or you’ll have to buy the expensive coverage from the car rental agency.
Lots of public transportation, not so much parking
Most, if not all, European cities have excellent public transportation, which is reason enough to not need a rental car. But it also means there aren’t as many places to park your car because not as many people drive. There are also pedestrian areas in most cities, and these are usually the areas where you want to go sightseeing, so you’ll have to find a parking lot or deck a few blocks away from where you actually want to be. Trying to find parking for your rental car will take up precious time and, in most cases, cost you more money. Many hotels also charge for parking, adding yet another expense.
When it might make sense to rent a car
There are certainly times when, despite the extra costs and hassles, renting a car in Europe might be worth it. If you are traveling to a more rural area where there isn’t any public transportation, you might be trapped without a car. A trip through the French countryside, or Ireland or Iceland outside of their capitals, or a couple of weeks on the island of Sardinia might be tons easier if you rent a car. If you’re traveling with several people, compare the cost of the rental car, including gas and insurance, with the cost of the train tickets. Often train tickets make more sense for just one or two people, but with a larger group, a car might make more sense. Just make sure you research your transportation options first.
If you think you want to rent a car for your trip to Europe, take into consideration all the added costs. Even aside from the extra money you will spend, realize that there are many hassles and frustrations that come with renting a car in a foreign country. In most situations, it just isn’t worth it. Europe has an excellent train system, and most cities have good public transportation. If renting a car does make more sense for you, include all the extra costs in your travel budget, and add extra time to your daily schedule.