When I first started traveling internationally, transportation fell into one of two categories: public transportation and my feet. The thought of renting a car never even crossed my mind – for some reason I had already ruled it out as overly complicated, expensive or even dangerous. It wasn’t until I was planning my trip to Israel in 2010 that a light bulb went off. I had been staring at the complicated schedule of buses that ran sporadically through the northern part of the country when it occurred to me that I was adding on extra DAYs to my travel time by depending on buses. Not expecting much, I did some research and found out that a car rental would not only save me time – it was actually more affordable than multiple buses.
Renting a car turned out to be the best possible decision. Not only did we minimize our travel time, we were able to set our own pace and see so many things that would have been unreachable without our own transportation. It really made the difference between a good trip and an amazing trip. Since then, a rental car has always been on my options list when planning a vacation – but its not always the best choice. If you do plan to rent a car, there are several things you should keep in mind when making your decision.
1. Research Road and Safety Conditions
Before renting my car in Israel, I did lots of research and determined that the roads were well developed and safe. I spoke to people on trip advisor who told me that traffic conditions would be similar to driving the states and that most roads were paved and well marked. I also did some research on the availability of gas stations in the areas of low population to make sure we wouldn’t be stranded.
When researching your trip, make sure you understand what roads you will be driving on to ensure that the roads will be conditions in which you are comfortable. I have been told, for example, the driving in India is very difficult and that its not a good idea to rent your own car when visiting. Even if driving conditions are good, It’s also important to understand if there are other safety issues at hand that would make solo driving unwise. In Israel, I decided that driving alone through the West Bank was too risky and instead utilized a driver for my time in that region.
2. Learn the Rules of the Road
Although some driving skills and rules are universal, driving abroad can sometimes require knowledge of unique laws and traffic patterns. Before your trip, take time to familiarize yourself with the traffic laws of the country you are visiting. Here are some of the most common things to look out for:
- Remember that not all driving is done on the same side of the road – if you are from the States and going to a country like Japan, make sure you are ready to drive on the left hand side of the road.
- Some (but not all) countries require an international driver’s license in order to rent a car. Make sure to double check and get one before you leave home.
- Don’t assume road signs will be in English. Make sure you know the international driving signs and prepare yourself for not being able to depend on directional signs. (In Israel, we got a parking ticket because we didn’t understand a sign that indicated that we were in a no parking zone.)
- Many countries, such as the UK, use roundabouts instead of traffic lights in some intersections. For first timers, these can be overwhelming and confusing. If you think you won’t be able to handle them, think twice about renting a car.
3. Bring Supplies
If you plan to drive alone, make sure to pack a “car supply kit” with things you will need during your drive. Not only will being prepared make your drive more comfortable and ensure you get the most benefit from your rental, it can also make your trip much safer. Some common things to include are:
- Maps, maps and more maps. Even if you will be using a GPS, a map is a good backup plan. They have more details, don’t run out of batteries and allow you to plan ahead. I recommend buying a good detailed one before the trip and then picking up more as they become available along the road.
- Bottled water, warm clothes, food. Especially if you are driving through a less populated area, you should bring supplies in case you break down.
- Cash. You never know when you might be desperate for gas and find a station that doesn’t take credit card.
- CDs. Radio in other countries can sometimes not suit your personal music tastes (or not exist at all). Nothing takes a road trip up a fun level like some sweet jams.
4. Understand Your Rental Agreement
Before you so much as put the key in the ignition make sure you understand your rental agreement. Language Barriers, combined with your excitement to get moving, might make you less vigilante that you would be in your home country, but its important that you read the contract and know what additional fees you may be responsible for paying. For example, some companies charge fees for dropping your car off at a time other than specified – even if its earlier. Also, make sure you know your insurance policy. Sometimes you are covered by your travel insurance, other times a credit card will cover any damages. Make sure to confirm the terms with the company your using or to look into what coverage is offered by the rental agency.
Additionally you will want to inspect your car for any dents, scratches or other issues before you drive it off the lot. If you don’t note it with the rental company, you may be responsible for paying for it when you return the car.