If you had asked me a couple of years ago if I would be willing to get a rental car in a foreign country that drove on the opposite side of the road my answer would have been a resounding “No”. When I went to Europe for the first time last summer I was adamant that I would not be driving a rental car around Ireland or England. But then for some reason I started to warm up to the idea as I prepared for my second trip to Europe. In fact, I got rather excited about the idea. I’ve always thought it would be cool to try driving on the other side of the road – even if the idea was a bit terrifying. Since I was NOT going to be flying into London for this trip I decided this was the time to do it. I had no desire whatsoever to try driving in London.
It turns out that driving on the opposite side of the road really isn’t too bad. And roundabouts are actually quite easy to drive in, the only hard part is knowing where you’re trying to get to. And remembering that right turns are the harder turns to make. Oh and not being able to gauge how much room you have between the left side of your car and whatever you’re trying to avoid hitting. And lastly, I found that I’m pretty bad at parking when I’m sitting on the opposite side of the car! And by bad I mean pretty terrible. I guess parking really is a muscle memory thing.
My wonderful little car that I got to use for 3 days was a Kia Cee’d. Never heard of that model? Me neither. Turns out it’s a model that Kia only uses in Europe. It was a cute little red number that had a few bells and whistles. Luckily it had a rear-view camera for backing up that helped me out in many situations. And I was also happy to be able to charge my phone and use the AUX cable to listen to music like I normally would at home since those things were the same. All in all I had a blast driving the car.
Some tips for renting a car in Europe:
+ Check with your insurance company and your credit card companies to see what insurance coverage you already have. With my MasterCard I had good coverage for international rentals so I opted out of purchasing the expensive insurance that the rental car company offered.
+ Unless you love driving a stick shift I’d highly recommend paying the extra money to get an automatic. Most cars in Europe are manual but booking an automatic is definitely doable.
+ Book your rental car in advance and use quote aggregators like Auto Europe (which is what I used to book a car with National) to find the best price. Booking in advance not only helps you get a better rate but it also guarantees that you’ll be able to get an automatic (assuming that’s important to you like it is to me).
+ Bring your AUX cable and come with your phone pre-loaded with music. There’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to find a good radio station and a silent car is no fun.
+ Make sure you have a GPS or a smartphone with a local SIM card that you’re going to use for navigating. Making a wrong turn is inevitable and having something to help get you from point A to point B is essential. It’s also useful to spend a few minutes looking over the route you’re going to be taking to your destination so that you’re familiar with it and can keep an eye out for any temporary signs relating to your route.
+ Spend a few minutes online reading up on roundabouts and how they work. Unless you already live somewhere where they’re common, of course. They’re not hard to handle but I was glad I thought about them a bit before I went.
+ Try to avoid taking routes that involve toll roads if possible. In some places this may not be a feasible option and if that’s the case be sure to have local currency readily available before you start driving. Ideally have small bills and coins.
+ My biggest tip for driving a rental car in another country is to just try it! It’s really not that bad and if you do end up hating it you never have to do it again. And if you’re really worried about it try it out for the first time in an English speaking country (of course this might mean driving on the opposite side of the road – but that’s half the fun!).
I can now officially cross driving on the left side of the road off of my bucket list! How do you feel about driving a car on the opposite side of the road from what you’re used to?
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