You’re going to be travelling abroad, and after you saw Farhan, Hrithik and Abhay cavort around Spain in a convertible, you think a driving holiday is the way to go. While renting a car is extremely easy in most parts of the world, you should still consider the economics of a driving trip, and consider all the potential pitfalls.
Do you have an international driving permit (IDP)?
Although some foreign countries will let you drive on their roads with an Indian driving license for a certain amount of time (anywhere between a week and several months), many others require that you carry an international permit along with your domestic one. Getting an IDP in India can be a cumbersome process, with a fair amount of paperwork involved, so keep this in mind before you make a decision.
Have you ever driven a left-hand drive car before?
Unless you are travelling to the UK, Australia, Japan, Thailand and a few other countries in Africa, you should know how to drive on the other side of the road. While there is a first time for everything, and traffic in most countries is nowhere as chaotic as it is in India, you must know all the road signs and the rules. There is no friendly ‘policeman uncle’ you can call if you get in trouble, and Sushma Swaraj will not reply to you on Twitter if you say you were stopped for speeding in Italy (which is quite unlikely, but that’s another story).
Rules are rules
Remember some basic rules, which are quite different from those in India – pedestrians *do* have the right of way, and traffic lights are not optional. Do not plan on driving in the west unless you are confident that you can. For example, you can’t drive very slowly on a highway where there are minimum speed limits – usually around 80 kph. In India, we have all grown up in a traffic system that eschews rules, so if you can’t follow them, don’t drive outside India. These rules include mandatory child seats for children, as well as the fact that children below four feet in height are not allowed to sit in the front seat.
Do you need to rent a car? Consider the costs and options before you do
Driving around a foreign country is very cool, and I would highly recommend it. It can also be quite expensive, compared to taking buses, trains or even low-cost flights. While cars do leave you with far more flexibility, many cities abroad have extremely expensive urban parking that costs between 10-15 euros/dollars per night or more. Parking is also not guaranteed at (or near) your apartment or hotel. If you are planning locations to stay where parking is nearby and find out how much you will pay for it.
Fuel is also usually expensive, and diesel is slightly more expensive than petrol. While diesel cars are more economical, they often have a significant rental premium. Driving down the Costa del Sol in Spain is wonderful, but a train ticket, if booked early, costs just 30 euros, so driving is fun but can be very expensive.
Does the country you are driving in have roads with tolls?
Tolls abroad can be quite high, so if you want to keep costs down, a driving holiday should be the last thing on your mind. In France, take the train (unless the workers are striking again), and also because the French highway police are frighteningly strict. If you are travelling to a place like Sicily, though, you really have no choice but to drive, given that buses and trains are few and far between. Also, if you rent a car, ensure it has either a navigation system or support for Google Maps via Android Auto or Apple CarPlay which, coupled with a smart data plan, are essential.
The best rental deal is not always good
You think you’ve found a great deal for a car online – just 25 euros per day, with few overheads. Here is the thing – many cars in Europe do not come with equipment you will need. Driving in southern Europe in summer, you will be shocked to learn that base rental cars often do not have air-conditioning or a music system, let alone navigation. Also, beware of the fine print with some rental agencies. The best thing to do in Europe at least (not always in the US and Canada) is to take a car with full insurance. Although this will dramatically increase the cost of renting the vehicle, there are all sorts of horror stories of drivers returning a car, only to be saddled with a huge bill for minor scratches, particularly in countries like Italy and Spain.
Choose your car carefully
Yes, that Fiat 124 Spyder looks awesome, but did you consider that with the roof down, the amount of luggage you can carry is barely more than a knapsack? Don’t take a small car just because you are getting a good deal – if you are travelling with family and luggage, take a larger car like a Ford Kuga or Hyundai ix35 (the Creta); I’d suggest sticking to the Volkswagen Golf class of the car. Diesel-powered cars usually have a 10-15 per cent rental premium, coupled with higher fuel prices, but they make sense on really long drives in terms of fuel economy. Also, on European highways, with the standard speed limit of 120 kph, you will need a more powerful vehicle for accelerating and overtaking, so don’t get caught out with an underpowered vehicle.
WHERE TO RENT FROM
The major car rental companies abroad are (in no particular order) Hertz, Avis, Europcar, Sixt, Budget, Thrifty and several more. As with anything online, it’s best to study the rates and conditions across these companies carefully, since both can vary considerably. Booking well in advance tends to get you the best deals, although the same companies will often ofer great last-minute rates. You can also do further research about smaller, local rental businesses – even though their rates may not be the lowest, they will often provide more personal service and throw in some extras.