Necessities for a Car-Rental Road Trip

 

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This past week, I completed my 6th long road trip in 7th months. I ventured from Madrid, Spain to Alicante, down to Sevilla and Ronda, then all the way back to Madrid… in 5 days. Needless to say, I’ve had my share of 5+ hour stints in various rental cars and I think I’m finally starting to get the hang of it!

Everyone’s taken a few hours drive or more – whether it’s been a torturous family vacation to the Grand Canyon (Grisold’s style) or a cool RV camping adventure through Australia. It’s not rocket science how to road trip, but maybe it’s been a while. Maybe you’ve never actually rented a car or you’re thinking of taking one in a country where you’re not familiar with the terrain or language. Regardless, you should have a quick read of my most suggested tips for renting a car and taking a long road trip.

First thing’s first!

1.PICKING THE RIGHT RIDE

Where are you going? When are you going? Are you whipping through windy, mountain roads or are you stopping through crowded, bustling cities? Is it hot, rainy, snowy? This makes a massive difference when picking the appropriate rental car for your road trip. You may want to drive a cute Fiat through romantic Tuscany like I did last summer, but Tuscany is hilly and – if you’re prone to choosing {occasionally by accident} the paths less traveled by like me – there are some steep climbs on gravel roads that a basic Fiat really struggles with. Research your destination and calculate how much horsepower you may need, what kind of drive, and how much storage you’ll need based on the terrain you’re going to. If you don’t know the car model until the day of pick up and you find it’s not suitable for the job, they’ll be happy to upgrade you. Don’t just choose based on color and if it has a sunroof.

Another major factor is picking a car or truck that uses diesel or gas. In the US, the price of diesel is higher than gas, but many other locations like Spain and the UK, gas is 10-15 cents more expensive per litre. Diesel does give you better highway mileage, but with older cars, it emits disgusting fumes that ruin the atmosphere. It’s worth checking into this before you rent to save money and protect the environment.

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2. BEST CAR RENTAL SITES

You have an idea of what you need, but you want the right price and from a reliable company. Where do you go?

Well, depending on the location you’re traveling to, the big name companies are usually there. Hertz, Budget, and Thrifty are some major ones to name a few. Europcar is probably the biggest/best value in Europe and Enterprise is convenient because they will pick you up from your hotel and bring you to get your car for free.

To get an idea of pricing, I usually start with a competitive comparison site like Priceline, Rentalcars.com, or the company directly. Then I check via my credit card’s site to see if I get any bonus points or discounts by booking through them. Hotwire is one of my go-to’s because their prices are almost always guaranteed lowest. I like that their car rental booking engine is different than their hotel booking engine in that most often, they don’t withhold the name of the company til after you book. Generally, they give the name of the rental company before you pay so you can read the reviews and compare prices on the companies website. Occasionally, they’ll offer a “Hot Deal” where it’s a great price, but like the hotel search, you’re surprised after you pay.

* Check that the car rental companies check-in desk is actually in the terminal or airport you land in. Some companies state their location is the airport but they are offsite and have a shuttle from the airport to the store. In Puerto Rico with Sixt, they only drive the shuttle to the terminal when they have a reservation and your flight arrival time, so if you make a late reservation or your flights change, you’ll have to call or wait around til they come by again. *

3. NECESSARY TRAVEL APPS

Roadtrippers : This was a really sweet tool for planning my US road trip in November. You can check out numerous routes others have taken and filter them based on what you want to experience – nature, camping, monuments, foodie stops, parks, etc. For example, I’d create an itinerary with viewpoints, breweries & good local eateries, a couple camping sites, and maybe a few popular must-see monuments. Free

GoogleMaps : Ok, I’m late on this game because I’ve always used the standard Applemaps, but I’ve been sold on GoogleMaps and officially made the transition. It’s a great standard map app and GPS for everyday life; but for international travel and road trips, it’s a commodity. You can download cities, use the map while offline, and save sites for each city. The best part is that you download the maps of the whole area you’re traveling in when you have data/wifi and then you can use the turn-by-turn directions for your road trip while you’re off data/wifi. The huge benefit of this is that if you make a wrong turn, you can still be redirected and your location is tracked. Genius! Free

CityMaps2Go is a close runner up to GoogleMaps. It’s another great map app that allows you to download cities, save your favorite sites, and it’ll even track you offline. One really helpful feature is being able to search for restaurants and sites based on certain filters, like Yelp. The only downfall is that the file sizes are quite large. Free

Soundcloud Go : Music is the life blood of a road trip and having the perfect playlist to set the vibe is essential. This app allow you to create playlists and listen to them offline so you don’t need data. It has a 30day free trial, but it does require a subscription. I prefer Soundcloud because it generally offers more up-and-coming artists than Spotify and Pandora and it has a wide selection of the genres I enjoy.

GasBuddy : A really great app for finding cheap/close by gas stations along your route. Input the zipcode you need or just select your current location and it’ll plot the closest stations on a map and their prices. Prices are based on other users updating them, so 1/10 times it may be off by a cent. Free

Others: Great apps for road trips that my friends have raved about but I’ve not bothered to personally check out – Waze, Spotify, Pandora, Hotel Tonight, and listening to audiobooks/podcasts. I’ve decided while I write this that I should probably make a list of my favorite travel apps in general…

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4. IT’S PICK UP DAY

You’ve researched til your fingers have bled, shopped like the thirsty deal-seeker you are, and committed to your purchase. You’ve arrived and it’s time to check out your new ride. BUT WAIT! There’s some paperwork and a few things you should double check:

Do you purchase the extra offered insurance?

If you have car insurance at home, chances are they’ll cover you for rentals in & outside the US. It’s important to check this because as an insured driver, you could have these extra benefits of rental coverage which will save you from being scammed into purchasing more and save some $$. Also, check if your credit card company covers car rentals.

Inspect the Car

  • Does it have cruise control for those long straight-aways?
  • Does it have a USB adaptor for your phone or mp3 player?
  • Is there an emergency kit with reflectors, spare tire, and tools in case you break down?
  • What’s the oil life like?

* I’ve recently learned that what car you walk away with really comes down to the person behind the counter who hands you the keys. They have the full power to upgrade you, for free if they’re in a good mood. Most car rental companies want to get as many cars off the lot come Friday and even have the least amount of luxury cars as possible on their books. This means, if you play your cards right, you could get an upgrade for a very low price… or gratis *

5. WHAT TO BRING

  • Water… duh
  • Healthy snacks – Nothing greasy/crumby that’ll make a mess or stain your clothes
  • Caffeinated Beverages
  • Wet/face wipes – for hands, your face, & the occasional roadside pee
  • Trash bags
  • Paper map – ask when renting and put it in the glove box just in case
  • Small change for tolls
  • List of translated car words – basic directions, basic car parts, words for filling up at the gas station

Sunscreen – Though the windshield blocks some UV rays, you’re surely going to get a tan sitting in the front or hanging your arm out the window on a sunny day

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QUESTIONS/FAQs

What if I get a ticket?   Typically (if you can’t talk your way out of it) the police and/or the car rental company will sort out where you can pay your ticket, assuming you can’t make it back for the court date. The rental company may charge an additional fee, but most likely they’ll just forward the billing information and you deal with the county judicial system personally.

Fill up the tank before you return it!   Most companies charge a fee on top of the price to fill up the tank if you return it less than full. Save your money by remembering to top up before dropping off

Beware of toll roads    Some tolls are the typical “coin-toss-game-and-go”. Others – like in Florida and Puerto Rico – don’t actually accept money at all, they require a pass and scan you as you drive through. This means that you’ll be charged later via mail or the rental company may have a toll package option. Inquire before you set off.

Can I pick up hitchhikers?!    Of course! Since the world of hitchhiking opened itself up to me, I’ve been dying to pay it forward. Obviously, using common sense and sussing out the situation at the time is important – If you get a bad vibe, don’t hesitate to say no or let them out in a public area.

Make as many stops as possible!    At the end of the day, it really is like the cliché: It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. If you see something interesting, go investigate it. You’re going to your destination because you’ve heard something good about it, but you’ve heard something good about it because people took the time to adventure there for a first hand look. You never know what you can discover just by wandering toward something you’re intrigued by. If you have a inkling something could be exciting, take a detour and explore it. If it’s hard for you to deviate from plans, then plan in advance to take extra time for random stops along the way 🙂

Thanks and Good Luck!

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