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Europe by (rental) car

BEFORE leaving, check your route and print a copy so you’ll have an option just in case you encounter problems with the GPS.

It’s my first time to walk around Europe in my flip tops, usually it’s knee-high boots with a couple of thermal socks. I can imagine how coastal towns such as St. Tropez, Nice and the rest of the French Riviera come alive (I’ve seen them on other months it’s dismal, believe me), all of Europe trekking to the beaches to party. The European summer is also the best time to drive around the continent, no threat of snow, rain, etc.

But the concept of driving in a foreign country might sound like a nightmare to any Filipino: subdued use of the horn, stricter enforcement of road rules and the possibility of making a wrong turn into a remote town of Edward Cullen’s non sparkly vampire cousins, who speaks no English, you just wouldn’t know if they are offering you Goulash or you will be Goulash.

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Actually, traveling by car rental is the most convenient. Put the bags in the trunk, set the GPS and go. No overweight bags, no schedules, no need to return the car back to a relative which is out of the way and most of all you can stop anywhere you feel like stopping.

For men, it is a way for them to try cars that are not available in the country, their dream cars. For women, it means flexibility to go to the fashion outlets in the suburbs. Watch for the signs, especially along the Autostrada from Milan to Rome (the best one is in between Florence and Rome called The Mall).

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Now let me get you through some important things about traveling by rented car in Europe.

BEFORE YOU GO. Find the best most economical option. Find discount coupons, register for the loyalty programs of each rental car supplier. Check travel sites such as Travelocity, Auto Europe etc.  Monitor their early birds or last minute deals to members. If you are using Auto Europe, which gives you the comparison from all rent a car suppliers, book on their UK website, not the US or International, which is about 20 to 30 percent cheaper.

Reserve everything you need. If your car does not come with a navigation system or GPS, reserve one. The cost of the GPS is about 15 euros a day. So check if it will be cheaper to go one class up for a vehicle that has one or renting an individual unit. Do the same with child car seats. Bring a car seat cover, you don’t know what that car seat had to endure.

Don’t prepay unless it’s like 50 percent off. This gives you a freedom to cancel the reservation if you find a cheaper alternative.  Read the deal on cancellation policy and work around it. Always read the fine print.

COST AND OTHER COST. In terms of cost, cars are relatively cheaper in more high touristy areas. You can get a mini/compact (think Hyundai Getz) for about 25 to 50 plus euros a day.

In Europe, AT is an extra; weekend rental has its advantages, check for AC, ample space for luggage and prioritize getting a diesel (way cheaper than gas). So if you are a group of five, you can rent a car for about 70  to 100 euros per day, which comes out to 17  to 20 euros per person, cheaper than a train ticket to the next town without the hassle.

INSURE TO BE SURE. One time, the car rental office offered us a brand new BMW 320D convertible, in place of our reserved mid size. The husband accepted immediately without considering the luggage. We had two large Rimowas (one a sports trunk) and two-cabin luggage, which we needed to haul into the creamy leather backseats. Check your package if it comes with insurance. Usually the coverage limits your liability to 1,000 euros or less (deductible). You can check if your travel insurance (requirement for visa application) covers payment of this deductible.

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If not, you can purchase an additional policy, which you can get when you pick up the car.

PRINT YOUR ROUTE. Before leaving, check your route and print a copy, just in case your GPS conks out or goes into an area where signal is bad you have a back up. We were driving in Genoa, when the GPS told us to turn right into the sea and left inside the tunnel into the wall.

WHERE TO AND WHERE FROM. It is cheaper if you get the car and return in one place, but see if they have other branches in the city where pick up and/or drop off is more convenient for you. Returning in another country, usually has surcharge. Weigh the pros and cons in terms of inconvenience, time and cost.

Get the car on the day you need it. You don’t need a car when you are in the city center. Parking is expensive and a hassle (about 15 to 30 euros for the 24 hours). Some cities and sites don’t allow cars, or have lots of one-way streets.

SPEED LIMIT. In Germany, the Autobahn has a recommended speed limit, while others have an enforced of about 130 kph. A good rule of thumb is to follow somebody whose running speed is more or less something you are comfortable with add about 4 to 5 cars length. When all of a sudden everybody seemed to have slowed down, it means you are in the speed radar/camera area.

Abroad, they take a photo of your license plate and send the ticket automatically to the rental car company, which in return, will charge you on your credit card. No escape.

TRAVELING by rental car means no overweight bags, no schedules, no need to return the car back to a relative who is out of the way and you can stop anywhere you feel like stopping like when you see a landmark like the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

DON’T RETURN WITHOUT THINKING. Do a last minute check around the car to see if there is something they might charge you for. Don’t forget to fill the tank. Also check out the opening and closing times of your drop off area.

In the age of the Internet, you can definitely get enough information on places and services you are going to. Travel sites like Tripadvisor, anything and everything. Make sure that you plan your travel time ahead specially if you are going to some place remote.

Ready your passports when crossing the border and always have a couple of 5 to 10 euros and some change for toll. So what are we a waiting for? Slip on your driving shoes, hair scarf and Jackie O Sunglasses. It’s time to Carpe diem.

For comments and suggestions e-mail to [email protected], Chosen topics will receive a GC to Antonio’s Restaurant in Tagaytay.

photos by Jeanette Ipapo-Tuason

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TAGS: driving, Europe, Motoring, rental car
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