Take the car in Europe

by Charlie Leocha on June 27, 2003

I spent much of my youth living in Europe as a military brat. One of the big bargains then was the Eurailpass. I clickity-clacked through Europe for months. In those days, there were few bargains as dramatic as the Eurailpass and car rentals were rare and very expensive. However, today, Eurailpasses are not such a bargain. Today, the best bargain, for two or more people traveling together, is a rental car.

Nothing beats the freedom of a car when touring the European countryside. I know, people wax poetically about the beauty unfolding around every bend while traveling by train in Europe, but rental cars provide so much more freedom and save loads of money. There really is no competition.

Unlike the here in the United States, bigger isn’t better when it comes to renting cars. Most European country roads are narrower than what we are used to here at home. And the city streets, especially those winding through those picturesque towns perched on a hillside in the distance, are narrow, very narrow. But that is part of the adventure.

Most of us traveling through Europe make plans within individual countries or only plan on driving a few hours a day. Heck, if you are planning on driving for hours on end, why vacation in Europe. So, stay on the backrooms and stay off the super highways unless you have to move from Point A to Point B quickly.

Rent the smallest possible car. This saves even more money. If you can find a diesel car (ask for one) that will save even more.

Here are some examples of prices I just looked up online at Auto Europe and Rail Europe.

An economy car, Opel Corsa, costs only $310.81 for a week in the middle of June. A German Railpass for 7 days costs $358 in first class and $248 in second class – per person. Even a single-country rail pass costs more than renting a car in this case.

For a car in Spain the 7-day cost for a Renault Megane is $309.73. A Spain/Portugal Iberic Saverpass costs $330 per person. Again, even considering gasoline charges, the rental car is the better bargain.

This is the perfect deal for anyone who wants to get out of the big cities and see Europe’s countryside and small towns. However, if you are planning on sticking to the big cities, don’t rent a car. A car in Madrid, Amsterdam, Paris, London, Frankfurt, Rome, Zurich or any other metropolis is a royal pain in the rear and will cost a fortune to park.

If you are planning on taking a vacation and only heading to the country for about three days, AutoEurope is again the answer. You can even call from Europe using a toll-free number that AutoEurope will provide and make your reservations directly with an American working in AuroEurope’s U.S. call center. They normally have a three-day minimum for auto rentals.

My experience has been that often the AutoEurope 3-day rate is less than the single-day rate travelers can find in Europe. In any case it is a wonderful option.

Another benefit of renting cars in Europe is the ability to drop off your car in any city within the country where you pick up your rental car. In other words, you might pick up your car in Frankfurt, then drive through Switzerland, down to Italy and loop back through Austria and drop off your car in Munich. There are no additional drop-off charges.

Or start in Naples, Italy. Drive to Rome, then up the coast to Pisa, then over to Florence, then poke around the Tuscan Hills and finally drive up to Lago Maggiore and drop off your car in Milan.

Once upon a time, bargain hunters thought trains were the bargain transportation in Europe. No more. Rental cars in many cases are a bigger bargain with far more flexibility.

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