Scotland: I had seven days to complete a bucket list trip that should properly take two months. This created some tough decisions, especially given the fact that we were trying to schedule the whole vacation around the bus and train schedules. While this would be fine if you are only visiting large cities, it adds quite a bit of time lost in transit if you are going to see out-of-the-way sites and locations. So how did I maximize my time in the country to see as much as possible? By renting a car!
I find most people are either very hesitant to rent a car and explore a new country, or they have zero fear and go out having no idea what they are in for. Doing some research and being prepared is key. Here are some things to keep in mind when you rent a car overseas.
Driving on the Left
Driving on the opposite side of the road is really not all that strange. At first, it will seem awkward, but that quickly goes away, and you will become familiar with the feeling. Although, if you are going to screw up and drive on the other side, it will typically happen in the morning as you first head out for the day and are still in a right-hand driving state of mind. (Especially if you have not had your coffee.)
The International Driving Permit (IDP)
Keep in mind that if you are asked to present your IDP, you must also present your current driver’s license. In some countries, you can be fined (or worse) for driving without an IDP; the U.S. State Department website will tell you if it is required, but this is very rarely the case in practice. The process to get one is easy and takes under 20 minutes to complete: Head to AAA or National Auto Club, have your photo taken (~$15), fill out the IDP form, and off you go! The permit is good for one year.
Since you are renting a car, your insurance company may or may not cover you in a vehicle overseas. Purchasing insurance from the rental agency can be dicey, especially if you plan to cross borders. Consider purchasing trip insurance from a provider such as RoamRight, which will cover the cost to repair or replace the vehicle and loss of use fees imposed by the rental car. Peace of mind: Check.
Purchase a Map at Home
Not every country provides maps at every gas station. Easiest to take one with you and avoid the hassle. Also, GPS does not work everywhere.
When in Rome (or anywhere else, for that matter)
Driving laws overseas are more than, "Do I drive on the left side of the road here?" Do an Internet search for local driving rules before you go; otherwise, my best advice is to go with the flow for a much easier experience while driving. Follow local patterns (they will quickly become apparent) and avoid any obscene gestures when you get lost.
Renting a car can be an extremely efficient way to experience a country. With a little planning and some preparation, the process can be easy. Do not miss out on a bucket list location because you can’t get around by public transportation.
Have you rented a car overseas? What was your experience like?
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