The ins and outs of renting a car for a road trip

Road trip time! Are you as much of a road trip fan as we are? Exploring unchartered territory at your own pace? Being able to indulge in a spur-of-the-moment idea, from picnic to quick ocean dip? Why choose, right? Renting a car for a road trip equals sheer freedom! But what are the ins and outs of booking and picking up a holiday rental car?

Rearview mirror showing two feet hanging out of the car window during a roadtrip

Practical tips for renting a car for a road trip

  • Renting over the entire period or in stages

Compare the cost of renting a car over the entire trip of the journey with the cost of renting in stages. If your destinations offers a parking facility, then take into account the parking cost. If it doesn’t then do your research on where to park your rental car safely nearby the accommodation.

We’ve rented cars on several continents, such as Europe or the USA, and on various islands, like the Hawaiian islands. Prices were very different at each of these destinations. And the type of holiday can increase the final costs. Parking costs in a city, for example, can go through the roof. On the other hand, it can sometimes be more interesting price-wise to rent for a week instead of 6 days. So, make sure to have that calculator ready.

  • Pick-up / drop-off times

During a family vacation we prefer to limit the number of travel days and will choose to drive half a day instead over 2 hours each day. We also tend to plan longer routes after dinner when the kids are getting a bit sleepy. That way this, for them rather uncomfortable, ride doesn’t bother them that much.

But if your focus is more on the budget, then you can determine your travel schedule on the least expensive rental times. This often translates in late pick-up and early drop-off times.

Two sisters sleeping in their car seat, each on a separate seating row of a minivan

  • Terrain

Take the terrain of your destination into account. A few years back we road tripped in Morocco, where paved roads aren’t always an option. Renting a car that can take you to your destination safety should be a priority.

Two Land Rover defenders against a green background

  • Second driver options

Always go for the optional second driver insurance. Just in case the main driver is feeling under the weather, you’ll be relieved to be able to take the driving seat. I remember our stay in Palm Springs where half of our Clan was pretty sick and in urgent need of some antibiotics. Under these circumstances, you’ll likely not in the possibility to upgrade your insurance with the second driver option.

Profile of a classy man driving a car during sunrise

  • Traffic rules

Do your research on the traffic rules at your destination and take the time to get used to the new traffic situation. You may find traffic lights installed in a different location and signs that can be confusing for tourists. Especially the road priority rules can be different to what you’re used to.

  • Damage

When renting a car, always check it for visible damage before you drive off. Do you notice anything out of the ordinary then take a picture and immediately inform the rental car agent. That way, upon dropping off the car, you avoid having to pay for damage that you didn’t cause. It can come in handy to have a picture of the car type and license plate too so you can easily retrieve it at a parking lot.

  • Fuel

Before driving off with your newly rented car, check if it was fuelled as planned and make sure to know which type of fuel it requires. It can be convenient to make arrangements on the fueling plan upon pick-up for when you return the car. It can be tricky to find a gas station in a place like NYC and in this case, you could choose to return it with an almost empty tank.

  • Car seat

Safety first, especially when travelling with kids. All car rental companies offer the option of adding child seats to your reservation. When you’re at the check-in desk, ask the agent to check if the seats have been installed. Sometimes they forgot to do so. If that’s the case you’ll need to re-enter the agency and wait your turn until someone is available to get your seats from the garage. It’s very important to check if car seats are properly installed. Agency staff is not always familiar with car seats or don’t take the time to do it right.

Haven’t been able to get your hand on a car seat? Then contact a baby rental company and arrange for them to bring a seat to the hotel or to the car rental agency.

Little girl wearing sunglasses and smiling in het car seat

  • Insurance

This is often the most confusing part of renting a car. Agents will try to sell you numerous insurances that often aren’t that relevant. So be well informed of the coverage in your travel or medical insurance plan and take a print with your phone or bring a copy. On the other hand, when in doubt, you could benefit from an additional insurance. Our urgent care doctor consult has been reimbursed once thanks to some optional insurance with the rental car agency. The cost was not covered by our own insurances (a category between a regular doctor consult and an emergency seemed the be excluded).

  • One-way fee

If you plan on taking a road trip, then you may want to choose a drop-off location that is different from the pick-up location. If that’s the case then you may want to take a one-way fee into account. You could benefit from researching the road less-traveled (read: the least expensive route) beforehand, even before booking your flights. So, for example, is that Brisbane to Sydney or vice versa? Then compare the total price of both routes.

Have you booked the flights yet? Then you may find a deal on a car relocation site such as Transfercar. They’re always looking for travelers to drive a car from one agency to the other. The deals that are offered are often lastminute opportunities. And you’ll also need to take the (tight) deadline of the dealership into consideration. But your flexibility could result in a massive discount or even e free car rental.

Screenshot of the TransferCar relocation website page

Where to find a rental car?

  • Comparison sites such as Auto Europe or Kayak

You’re looking at renting a car on your holiday? Then start off your search with a careful comparison because prices per car(type) can vary a lot. And don’t just look at the rental cost but consider the full package, insurance and car seat included. You’ve spotted a good price? Then go to the website of that agency and maybe you can score an additional discount for booking directly. Because that way you’ll be saving them a commission to the comparison site.

  • Hotel

Some hotels have one or multiple cars available for rent. These are often special models intended to reflect a certain image and therefore not always appropriate for families. Our beloved Palazzo di Varignana Resort & Spa had this car for rent.

CosmopoliDad in a classy car available at the Palazzo di Varignana near Bologna

  • Hotel and airline loyalty programs

As an elite member with different hotel groups, we are usually entitled to a nice discount with the most popular car rental companies and a fancy upgrade. That’s always appreciated. Apart from those benefits, there are regular status match opportunities so that our status with hotel group X is respected and matched by car rental company Y’s loyalty program… with all the added bonuses that apply.

Screenshot of the savings offer at Alamo, Enterprise and National for members of the Hilton Honors hotel loyalty program

Screenshot of a National Emerald Club status match offer

  • Short term car lease

Non-EU residents can sign up for a leasing program for their road trip of 3 weeks or more through Europe. Unfortunately I’m not aware of any similar programs for Europeans traveling to other continents. If you know more than I do, make sure to let us know in the comments.

Screenshot of the Renault car leasing programme for Non-EU residents

So, if you’ll be renting a car on your next holiday, you’ll be well prepared. Do you have any additional tips & tricks for our readers? Or is there a story you’d like to share? Then go for it, in the comments below!

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