Thinking Of Renting A Car In Europe? Here’s What You Need To Know

Renting A Car In Europe

Renting a car in Europe lets you explore and discover different countries and cultures. Renting a car gives you freedom to travel on your own schedule and time. You can get off the beaten path and get to smaller towns and sights with relative ease. There are potential challenges like “driving on the wrong side of the road” in the UK, different rules of the road and some country specific laws. But it’s all well worth it for the memories and potential trip of a lifetime. Here’s what you need to know if you’re renting a car in Europe.

Renting A Car In Europe? Book In Advance

Ca rental rates vary widely by destination and season. Generally speaking, rates are higher for any rental car company or location if you wait to book. (Especially if you walk up to a rental counter with no reservation). You will save money by paying for your car rental ahead of time. Auto Europe is one of the best options for car rentals in Europe. They’ve been in business over 60 years with more than 20,000 locations in 180 countries. They work with well known car rental companies and provide unbeatable rates on car rentals. You can book your car rental as soon as you book your trip with the option to modify or cancel your booking if your plans change.

Beyond the large highways in Europe, most roads are tight and winding. And parking is tight and tricky with limited street parking and small parking lots. A smaller car, typical in Europe, is the best way to get around and easier to drive. Many cars in Europe are equipped with a manual transmission. If you don’t drive a standard/manual transmission, you’ll need to book early to make sure that you get a car equipped with an automatic transmission.

Renting A Car In Europe

Renting A Car In Europe? You’ll Need Insurance Coverage

With Auto Europe, if you select a basic rental rate your price will include value added tax (VAT), public liability insurance, fire insurance and unlimited miles. If the inclusive rate is selected, it will include everything in the basic rate plus collision damage waiver (CDW) and theft protection for the rental vehicle. I definitely recommend the inclusive rate specifically to have full CDW and theft protection on your rental car. If you rely on credit card coverage or your own car insurance, you may not have enough coverage and/or you may have to pay in full for a claim and then seek reimbursement.

Renting A Car In Europe? You Might Need an International Driver’s Permit

Many European countries—like the United Kingdom and Ireland—recognize North American driver’s licenses. However, other countries—like Italy, Germany, and Spain—require that you possess and carry an International Driving Permit (IDP). The IDP is proof that you possess a valid driver’s license. It also translates your driving qualifications into ten of the world’s most commonly used languages, and allows travellers to drive in over 150 different countries.

You can get an International Driver’s Permit at AAA (U.S.) and CAA (Canada) for a nominal fee, and you only need proof of your driver’s license to apply.

Renting A Car In Europe? Be Prepared For the Unexpected

The unexpected can of course happen anywhere and at anytime. Be aware of what’s covered by the rental car agency if you have an accident or your car breaks down. Most offer some form of roadside assistance in the event of a break down. Traffic tickets and toll fees will naturally be billed to you if you don’t pay locally.

If your rental car is involved in an accident, it is imperative that you contact local authorities immediately. A valid police report is always required, regardless of how minor the accident is. The second number you should contact is the one listed on your car rental key chain. For further protection, take pictures of all the damage done to your rental car and any other parties involved.

Having your cell phone activated for use in Europe is a must for driving directions, destination information and in the case of emergency. A SIM card saves on roaming and data charges while keeping you connected. TravelSIM is my choice because its prepaid (providing cost control), works in over 170 countries and incoming calls and messages are free. Between driving and blog support, I need coverage while in Europe.

Renting A Car In Europe?

Renting A Car In Europe? Find Out the Rules of the Road

The autobahn actually exists in Austria and Germany where the drivers follow a strict code. The left lane is for passing only (most cars will be travelling at more than 160 km/per hour). The middle lane is for the average driver – 120-160 km/per hour. Anything slower is on the right lane.

In the UK, you drive on the left side of the road , and you pass on the right side. There are also numerous roundabouts where you need to know which exit you are taking ahead of time.

Turning right on a red light is not permitted anywhere in Europe, unless there’s a sign that indicates otherwise.

Renting A Car In Europe? Other Things To Know

  1. It’s not a bad idea to buy a traditional paper map as backup. Maps are readily available at gas stations and highway stops. Google Maps or offline maps work but you may not have service or data in remote areas.
  2. Most tolls can be paid by coins, cash or credit card. Some countries like Austria and Switzerland require the purchase of vignettes (driving stickers) that need to be displayed in your front window. They are readily available at gas stations and road side stores.
  3. Getting gas in Europe typically requires that you pay in advance before pumping.
  4. Parking in Europe varies greatly by town and city. Parking can be free, pay via parking meter or require a parking permit. Pay attention when you park or you will invariably get a ticket.
  5. You’ll get comfortable driving in no time. Enjoy the trip, lookout for great places to stop and enjoy the views!

Auto Europe Car Rental

Poland: Krakow vs. Warsaw

It’s not a contest or a competition, but rather a healthy debate in Poland: Krakow vs. Warsaw. If you only have a limited time in Poland (as I did), which city do you choose (if you have to) – Krakow or Warsaw? Warszawa is larger and more modern in appearance largely re-built after World War 2. Kraków is more historical with the Sukiennice and Wawel and a short trip to the salt mines in Wieliczka.

Wawel Cathedral with golden roof of Sigmuntus Chapel in Krakow by marktravel

Poland: Krakow

Krakow has a lot going for it with a warm and comfortable vibe. Krakow is compact compared to the much larger urban sprawl of Warsaw. In Krakow, you can take a short walk almost anywhere. From the old Jewish quarter; to the Market Square; to the shadow of Wawel Castle and beyond. There’s a great range of bars, restaurants, and music venues. Food choice includes everything you find throughout Europe including Thai, Italian, French, Russian, Hungarian and, of course, Polish. Kogel Mogel, Szara, Morskie Oko are among the many very good Polish restaurants. Museums to visit include the National Museum (21 branches in Krakow), the gallery of 19th- century Polish art and the Schindler Factory museum on the original premises. There’s also the Wieliczka Salt Mine and a short drive to Auschwitz (see my Auschwitz post- Poland: My Visit to Auschwitz).

World War 2 Memorial in Warsaw by marktravel

Poland: Warsaw

The “new” Warsaw is the greenest city in Poland. With over 80% of Warsaw destroyed in World War 2, city planners had a chance to modernize the city. The city gained new squares, parks and monuments. In Warsaw, you can explore the Old Town (reconstructed after the war) and the Royal Route to the baroque Wilanow Palace. Warsaw has several newer museums including the Chopin Museum, Copernicus Science Centre and the Warsaw Rising Museum – all worth a visit. The much anticipated Museum of the History of Polish Jews has been built on the grounds of the Warsaw Ghetto. The city centre is a modern downtown area with glass buildings and a newer subway system. Warsaw is an eclectic mixture of history, culture, a communist past and modern business.

Poland: Krakow or Warsaw

I hate to choose. Do you like red wine or white wine? Black or white? I like both. It depends. Although Warsaw is the capital of Poland, Krakow is probably the country’s favourite city. They are different and for many different reasons. I choose not to choose. The truth is…I’ll go back to both Krakow and Warsaw.

Poland: My Visit to Auschwitz

I was both looking forward to and dreading my visit to Auschwitz. I could barely sleep the night before, not from excitement but from anxiety, intense dreams and nightmares. Ironically, this was by far the nicest day weather-wise on my short trip to Poland. This day was Sunday November 11th. In my home country (Canada), it’s Remembrance Day and in Poland, it’s Independence Day. Auschwitz is actually a small town in Poland that had a small army camp on the outskirts of town. That camp was taken over by the invading Nazis in early World War 2 and became a prisoner and death camp.

Auschwitz at the gates by marktravel

Walking through the grounds of Auschwitz

Walking through the camp gates at Auschwitz 1 felt very strange. Surreal and peaceful in a way. The guided tour was packed with information, statistics and facts that you just can’t get walking on your own (or imagine). Our group weaved our way through the grounds and various barracks each hosting different aspects of the memorial and exhibit. There are pictures of prisoners (before they stopped taking pictures and began using number tattoos), prisoner cards, Nazi letters, camp photographs, uniforms, artifacts, etc. Seeing some of the actual shoes was troubling. Seeing the hair cut from prisoners was numbing (and I couldn’t take a picture).

The Medical Building #10 where the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele performed his human experiments was unfathomable as was the tour of the torture chamber in the basement of Building #11. Directly outside of the torture barracks is the infamous Firing Squad Wall. I was now numb and teary eyed. But there was more. Following our guide across the camp. we walked into and through Gas Chamber #1 and the Crematorium.

And Then Auschwitz 2

But this was only Part 1 of the tour because Auschwitz II – Berkenau was next. Berkenau is 5 times the size of Auschwitz 1 and the place where 10 times the number of people were killed. Auschwitz 1 barracks were luxury by comparison to the horse barns that posed as barracks at Berkenau. This was a death factory. If you were young and fit, you worked at nearby factories and farms until you died. If you were a child, woman, or weren’t fit, you were killed shortly after your arrival (to make room for the next prisoners coming).

Final Thoughts

It’s hard to fathom the events that took place here. I wonder how anyone who came through the gates could have had a single positive thought or found any hope while here. This was sheer terror and evil rolled into one. Auschwitz was definitely not on my bucket list. It’s frankly easier not to go to. The story it tells is just unimaginable. It’s disturbing as it should be. And unforgettable as it should be.

Auschwitz at the fence by marktravel