What You Need To Know About Renting Cars In Europe


Yellow Fiat

Readers often ask me about renting cars in Europe.

For the last ten years I’ve only been renting cars in Italy, so my experience is more Italo-centric, but the same  principles apply all over Europe, and were I to find myself renting a car in Spain or in France or anywhere else that I travel to, this is how I would tackle it.

Tips For Renting Cars In Europe

Before you book your rental car do some research on the places you are planning on going. Europe has a really fantastic rail system with networks of fast trains than run between cities and also from country to country, and they also have small regional trains. If you are staying in big cities cars may not only be unnecessary, but also a complete hassle.

Get An International Drivers License Before You Leave Home.

If you will be renting a car you normally will need an International Drivers License/Permit. You can get one at your local AAA office.

*** If you want to rent scooters while you are on vacation make sure that your International Drivers License specifies that you are permitted to drive one. Scooter rental places often won’t rent to you without this on your permit.


Rent Directly From The Company

Be careful not to unwittingly book your car through a third party company. A couple of years ago I thought I had rented from Hertz because I had rented a Hertz rental car. When I arrived at the  Hertz office in Milazzo, Sicily to pick up my car, there were none. Cars hadn’t been returned, and it was high season, so none of the rental companies in any of the surrounding towns had cars available. When I called the Hertz customer service number they said they couldn’t help me because I hadn’t booked through them, but instead had booked through a third party company.

Luckily for me there were other travelers in the office, yelling and screaming at the poor boys working there (it wasn’t the employees’ fault that there were no cars!) and I have a personal policy of always being really nice, even when things are going horribly wrong, so the boys at Hertz tried to help me and managed to get me the last available car at Catania Airport, and helped me to get to Catania.

Always, always be nice to people, no matter what is going on!

Related Post: 10 Things You Absolutely MUST Do In Rome

Don’t Pay In Advance

In the situation in Milazzo I noticed that the other travelers who were stranded had all paid in advance for their cars. This put them all in a space where they had to try and recoup their money when they got home, as well as not having a car while away. If you are paying at the counter and for some reason there is no car for you, you at least still have your money intact.

The discount for paying in advance is tiny anyway, so you’re not really saving anything much.


 Pick Up And Return Your Car At the Airport

You have easier access to the freeways, and the non airport locations often close for the day if they don’t have many bookings, which can leave you stranded! (which happened to us once in Florence)

Airport car rental offices tend to both be open and have cars. This is also a benefit when returning your car. You don’t want to be leaving a car in the street outside the rental office if it’s closed.


Rent A Diesel

Diesel cars in Europe are amazing! They get brilliant gas mileage and cost much less to run. Gas in Europe is very expensive, often as much as $7 per gallon. (although they measure in liters).

Related Post: How To Order Coffee In Italy

Rent A Small Car

Rent a small vehicle, not a U.S. sized bigger one. Cities, towns and villages over there have smaller, narrower roads and tiny parking spaces. On my last trip we rented Fiat 500 XLs, Fiat 500s and little Citroens which were so fun to drive and you can park them anywhere! The year before I had an Alpha Romeo that was faster than the devil.

Buy The Super-Cover Insurance

Seriously, buy the maximum insurance. I’ve read about people having their passports withheld until they come up with €3000 deductibles. The locals aren’t necessarily likely to crash into you, but other travelers are!

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Don’t Trust Siri

Don’t rely on Siri for GPS. She is relatively good, but misses some big stuff. The highway exits over there are miles apart, so missing your exit can take an hour out of your trip.

If you do use Siri read the next instruction ahead of time – they have shorter distances and more cars, so you need to know which direction you are turning a while before you get there, or it can be a mess! Also, street signs over there can be tiny and very hard to find/read/decipher. I always use the “in 400 feet turn left” rather than “turn left on via Scandacci” option.

HP Commission

Keep Coins On Hand

Keep lots of coins on hand. You go through many toll booths on the highways there, and they sometimes only take change not cards. Also the exchange rate fees and international fees on your credit cards make it totally not worth while.

Don’t Leave Anything In The Car

When you park your car and go exploring town or head into a cafe or restaurant, or any time you are leaving your car, keep everything out of sight. Put all bags, phones, sweaters, shoes – anything and everything, in the trunk. Depending on where you are in Europe there are gypsies, tramps and thieves who will break into your car for the stupidest things. You may think a sweater and a hat is nothing worth stealing, but it is if you have nothing. The same with food and drink – if someone is hungry or can’t feed their family and there’s food inside a car, chances are they may break in to get it. It doesn’t hurt to be careful just in case!

Related Post: How To use The Train System In Italy

Rent A Stick Shift

In Italy they seem to automatically give Americans cars with automatic transmissions. I always get a manual/stick because they are far more fun to drive over there. Here in the US I drive an automatic, but when I’m in Italy I love buzzing around in a stick shift!

If you have any extra tips for renting cars in Europe or if you have any experiences you’d like to share, please leave me a comment!





6 Ways To Humiliate Yourself In Europe

Europe is my favorite place to travel. I adore it.
But I’m constantly cringing at things I see other tourists do while away. 
I hope you will read and remember this article from Smarter Travel for two reasons. One is that you can unwittingly be offending the locals, and the second reason is that when you make yourself look like an unsuspecting tourist you draw pickpockets and thieves to both yourself and everyone around you. And maybe I will be standing somewhere near you…

6 Ways to Humiliate Yourself in Europe

by Caroline Costello

The consequences of looking like a tourist in a foreign place can range from serious (becoming a target for theft and scams) to humorous (awkwardness, frustration, public embarrassment). Here are a few of the most blatant ways that your lack of familiarity with local culture in Europe can bring you public shame and humiliation, plus advice on keeping it cool while abroad.

Pack Too Much

Pack Too Much

Less is more in Europe, where you’ll definitely have some difficulty maneuvering a 33-inch spinner onto public transit and through busy city streets. Mortification and frustration are common side effects that occur when you cart an extra-large suitcase onto the Paris metro or lug an enormous wheeled bag up narrow flights of stairs in a Dutch canal house. Don’t be that guy.

Solution: Let us help. Use our packing list to create a tally of exactly what you’ll need—and nothing extra.

Additionally, and I can’t stress this enough, do laundry on longer trips. Try it. You’ll like it. Pack a travel-sized detergent pack and a rubber clothesline or a product like the Scrubba Wash Bag.

Dress Like You're Attending a Ball Game

Dress Like You’re Attending a Ball Game

“Don’t wear sneakers in Europe” is an age-old travel-advice nugget spoken by experts everywhere. But now that the normcore fashion movement has arrived, the anti-athletic-shoe mantra is out like chunky highlights. White sneakers graced the Chanel runway last year, establishing casual kicks as chic street wear in even the most fashionable arrondissements. Simple tennis shoes are cool for now. Don’t go overboard, though. House slippers and Crocs continue to guarantee you’ll be presented with the tourist menu at every restaurant. Furthermore, generally speaking, baseball hats, fanny packs, American-sports-team logo apparel, and poorly fitted jeans tell locals, “I am not from here. You can take advantage of me.”

Solution: Normcore or not, Europeans continue to dress a little more formally than Americans. Pair your Supergas with something slightly business casual. Do what you can.




I know that an 18 or 20 percent tip at dining establishments in Europe isn’t standard the way it is in the States. Still, I feel mean leaving just a euro or two on the table when eating across the pond. Tipping is firmly ingrained in the American culture, and it can be challenging to remember to tip sparingly in other countries.

European waiters are typically pretty relaxed about tips. And if you’re in a busy tourist center, the wait staff is likely used to receiving varying amounts of gratuities from foreigners. So in this case, you’re not so much embarrassing yourself as you are inflicting unneeded damages on your vacation budget. You might feel a bit foolish when you peek at your credit card statement after you’ve returned home.

Solution: Remember tips (and taxes) are included in Europe, and tips are sometimes parsed out on the bill as designated service charges. A good guidebook will include standard tipping practices for your destination. If you’re in a pinch, just ask.

Be Really Loud

Be Really Loud

Let’s admit it. The loud-American stereotype just might have some truth to it. Lots of people around the world seem to think so. Last summer, in fact, a cafe in Ireland displayed a sign prohibiting “Bus/Coach Loud Americans.” (In opposition, some pro-American locals took to the street carrying U.S. flags. Fist bumps to those guys.)

Solution: Try to be a little more conscious of the volume of your voice, especially in tight spaces like public transit or crowded cafes. The upside? At night, in the pub or on the dance floor, you can really let loose.

Complain About Dining Dissimilarities

Complain About Dining Dissimilarities

If you expect a sanitized American dining experience that includes decaf coffee and plenty of ice in your soda, you’ll look silly on the Continent. Many dining practices that are customary in the U.S., from sneeze guards at the buffet to Splenda on the table to bucket-sized portions, are absent in Europe. Taxes are usually included in the price of a meal. And you might experience cultural differences regarding wait-staff behavior, too. For example, wait staff won’t bring you the check right after you’ve finished eating, unless you ask for it. Europeans tend to linger when they eat out.

Solution: Familiarize yourself with local food customs. Just go with it. And focus on the positive: No matter where you are in Europe, you’re likely not too far from some smoky paella, Liege waffles, or deep-fried zeppole; that’s a very good thing.

Freak Out About Paid Toilets

Freak Out About Paid Toilets

It may seem like a violation of basic human rights when a bathroom porter calls for payment as you’re struggling not to pee your pants. I’ve been there. And I’ve been nearly traumatized by the crabby lady standing between me and the loo. But paid toilets—and sometimes even for-fee toilet paper—in busy tourist centers are a common European custom that isn’t going away anytime soon. Look at it this way: Someone has to pay to keep the toilets clean and working.

Solution: Keep your cool, and keep some coins on hand for emergency bathroom situations.


7 Great Travel Hacks ~ How To Travel The World On A Shoestring Budget

People always ask me how as a single parent I manage to travel internationally every year. Most assume that international travel is exceedingly expensive, but I can normally do a 2 week trip to Italy for my son and myself for less than a 2 week trip to Hawaii.

It just comes down to knowing how to work your way around the system.

With a few simple travel hacks up your sleeve, the world becomes your oyster.

Santorini Greece

7 Great Travel Hacks To See The World On A Budget

1. Frequent Flier Miles

The most obvious way to do it is by using frequent flier miles. Sign up for them through the airlines when you travel. Airlines are either part of One World or Star Alliance, so even if you are flying with multiple airlines you can generally consolidate those miles.

Also use credit cards with great frequent flier programs, such as American Express, Chase Sapphire and Capital One Venture. Use the card like a debit card, never running a balance, but running every possible expense through the card.
You would be amazed at how much you spend each year on food, transport, cell phone bills, utilities etc. At worst you will get a mile per dollar spent, but frequently you will get 2x or even 3x that.

A free round trip to Europe is normally around 50,000 or 60,000 miles, a trip from USA to Australasia is around 80,000 miles during peak seasons. A trip from the USA to Europe can run as low as 30,000 miles in the off season

You can easily earn a free round trip ticket every year without spending a single dollar more than you are spending now.

 Related Post: 10 Reasons Why You Should Travel Alone At Least Once In Your Life

2. Keep Your Dates Flexible

If possible don’t be married to specific dates. You can save drastically by moving your dates by just a couple of days. Normally Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s are cheaper days to fly. Sometimes moving your trip by just a couple of days can save you hundreds of dollars. At the moment I’m prepping this year’s Glam Italia Tour and by moving our start date by 2 days everyone will save $900 on their return airline ticket. Which means $900 more to spend at Prada!

3. Look At Alternate Airports

Sometimes flying into a nearby airport is considerably cheaper than going to your main airport. I prefer London Gatwick to London Heathrow, and it’s sometimes cheaper. If Rome is your final destination try flying into Milan instead and then catching either a cheap internal flight or go 1st class on the fast train and you will still come up hundreds of dollars cheaper.

I’ve known people to fly to Munich or Berlin and then take a sleeper cabin in an over night train, adding a few commuting hours, albeit in gorgeous comfort, and saving money.

Train travel in Europe is just fantastic. Super affordable, often luxurious, and the view as you travel is always stunning.

Look at multi flight options too. Maybe there’s a cheap flight from the US to Copenhagen for $500 roundtrip, and Copenhagen to Rome is only $200 round trip, saving you $1000 on airfare – the more you look around, the better deals you can find.

 Related Post: Should You Buy Travel Insurance?

4. Avoid Hotels.

If you want to keep your trip to a budget don’t stay in hotels. Air B&B offers rooms for rent in people’s homes, which is probably the least expensive way to travel. Personally I rent apartments every place I go. I choose gorgeous areas, rent divine apartments and spend a fraction of the money a hotel would cost. Renting an apartment gives you an entirely different experience. Rather than being a casual observer, you feel like you are a part of the community. I love it!

5. Eat In.

One of the glorious benefits of renting an apartment is that you don’t eat out all the time. I love to go to local stores and markets, pick up local foods and dine in. Eating at home cuts down the amount of food you consume (and the calories!) so you are less likely to overeat. Having a mix of eating out and eating in can save you a small fortune, but also can be much more relaxing as well as fun.

6. Pre-order Online

If you are planning on buying tickets to major tourist sites, try buying tickets online ahead of time. I do this for major art museums and tourist spots, and it not only saves dollars but also saves you time as you are not spending hours of your vacation standing in line.

 Related Post: 7 Travel Essentials You Can’t Leave Home Without

7. Take The Train

Flying and renting cars (in Europe anyway) can be unnecessarily costly. Train travel in Europe is exceptional. It always seems to be efficient, on time, and relaxing.

If you will be moving around a lot look at a Eurorail Pass, if only traveling a little look at booking tickets online, ahead of time for substantial savings.

If you are taking long train trips look at overnight trains. A sleeper cabin booked in advance can be much cheaper than flying and booking airport transit and a hotel.

Bon Voyage!

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