Nothing allows a traveler to connect with a country more then renting a vehicle and seeing it on their own. Below are helpful tips to make your car travel successful.
TIP # 1
Check with your insurance company to see if they will insure you outside of the United States. Most companies will only insure you if you are driving in the US or Canada.
If your domestic insurance company does not cover travel in other countries, it is advisable to add car rental to your travel budget. In most cases you will only need to insure yourself with collision and theft coverage, because liability may already be included in the rental price, but always check to make sure!
A good rule of thumb would be to purchase insurance equal to your domestic auto policy.
When choosing a travel insurance company, don’t neglect researching their restrictions because it is possible they may not cover your destination. For example, my preferred travel insurance company, Allianz, does not cover travel in Israel, Jamaica, Republic of Ireland, or Northern Ireland.
TIP # 2
International Driver’s License (IDP)
In the United States only two organizations issue IDPs: Automobile Association of America (AAA) and American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA). Be careful about providing your information to any other online site offering an IDP, it could be a scam to gather your personal information.
Good in over 150 countries, this permit, along with your state issued driver’s license, will allow you to drive internationally:
- As long as your destination is on the list
- You are over the age of eighteen
- And you abide by all the auto laws and rules within your destination country.
The license is good for one full year from date of issue but are not renewable. You will need to apply again once your IDP has expired.
CROSS TIP: The issuing agent can put any date you wish on the IDP. So if you’re not traveling for a few weeks, have them put the actual trip date as the effective date.
Upon applying, you must provide:
- Basic information about yourself (You will need to bring your regular driver’s license)
- (2) passport-size photos of yourself not smiling
- And a $20 fee per license
If you are applying in person at an AAA store, they will take the photos for you and provide you with the IDP the same day. Or you may mail in a form and apply for your license that way.
SIDE NOTE: Your domestic driver’s license must be valid at least six months from the issue date of your IDP.
TIP # 3
Driving in a foreign country
One good idea, do a web search about driving in the country you are going to. This is how we found out about the Vignette toll pass in Austria, the parking discs in Italy, and the mandatory hazard kit needed in France. Often countries have rules that are not the same as in the US. Be especially mindful of common mistakes, like no turn on red or parking in city centers.
It is also good to read a few blogs or forums, like Tripadvisor, to get first hand knowledge about the driving habits of the locals. For instance, while preparing for a trip to the Republic of Georgia we read about the Georgian “Third land.” Of course nothing can actually prepare you for the harrowing experience of having local drivers pass you on the left while cars are coming in the opposite direction but at least we weren’t totally unprepared.
The other item of mention would be manual vs automatic driving. It is taken for granted in the United States that the majority of our vehicles are automatic, this is not the case in European countries. If no one in your party can drive a “stick” then you will want to make sure you pre-book an automatic with the rental agency. Unfortunately, you will more than likely also pay a premium for that type of car.
TIP # 4
Nothing can ruin that post holiday glow faster than receiving an official looking letter in the mail with a speed, red light, or restricted driving camera violation.
Trying to avoid payment of the ticket because you plan to never return to the country may not be the best option; rental agencies are required to provide your name and address to the authorities, and as a delightful bonus, they will charge you an administration fee for doing so. Also, there are countries that will turn your out standing fines over to a US collection agency, and no one wants to deal with those Bulldogs, so paying the fine might just save you a huge headache down the road.
If you decide not to pay, and you do actually return to the country, it is quite possible you will be flagged at customs and will have to pay the ticket, a possible fine, and any other additional fees. Sometimes, it really is best to pay the ticket, unless you think you were ticketed unjustly, in which case you can try to fight the violation.
If you decide to pay the fine, try to contact the issuing department directly instead of going through the rental car agency. You may be able to avoid processing fees (Not the same as the service fee you must pay them for ratting you out). And, hopefully, emailing the receipt to your car rental agency will also get you off of their naughty list.
TIP # 5
If you are using an expressway, in almost every country you will probably at some point encounter a toll booth. Be prepared to use your credit card or have cash available.
Prior to a recent trip to France I read horrifying accounts of people not being able to use their credit cards at the toll booths, so I made sure we had Euros in small bills prior to setting off in our car. Of course, we did not experience any issues with using our cards anywhere on France’s motorways, but the peace of mind was worth the effort.
Not all countries use the monetary system, there are quite a few European countries: Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Switzerland, and Slovenia that require the Vignette. This short term use toll sticker is good, depending on the country, anywhere from seven days to one year. The price for it range from about ten dollars to forty dollars; and it can be purchased at gas stations, border crossings, and even the local post office!
Hopefully I have provided some useful tips, or at least something to think about for your next driving vacation. For additional information for US citizens I would recommend the US State Department-Bureau of Consular Affairs.