Renting a car and driving while on vacation in Europe can be a convenient alternative, depending on your plans and itinerary. Europe is well known for its excellent train system, but driving provides you with even more flexibility and mobility. And as Rick Steves points out, renting a car could turn out to be more economical than train fares if you are travelling in a family or group of three or four people.
Rental rates vary considerably based on the type of vehicle you want, the rental period, and the insurance you need or choose to purchase. Alamo, represented by Europcar in Europe, offered an economy VW Golf from the Brussels Midi Railway Station for a little over 137 Euros (approximately US$171) per week and about the equivalent of US$ 23 per day for extra time, with unlimited mileage. Surcharges, insurance and a 21% VAT are additional costs. Cars with automatic transmission can be relatively scarce, so if that is your choice it is advisable to plan ahead.
The price of gasoline is considerably higher in Europe than in the U.S. – starting at 1.62 Euros per liter in July of 2012 (around US$8 per gallon based on the exchange rate in effect at the time).
Tolls are another cost to consider, as they can be significant. Tolls on a trip from Paris to Barcelona in July 2012 totaled around 86 Euros (US$108). And upon entering Switzerland a permit is needed, that cost 40 Swiss Francs, which is just slightly more than that in US$.
The cost of parking depends on the location. Certain hostels or hotels may offer free parking. A parking lot or garage can be expensive. An open parking lot in Amsterdam charged the equivalent of about US$22 per day, and a night in a public garage in downtown Barcelona in July 2012 cost around US$45.
Driving the autostrades or autobahns in Europe is very similar to driving the freeways in the U.S. Driving in large cities can be more stressful, depending on your sense of direction and your navigation system. A GPS system can be extremely helpful, but it is important to know its range ahead of time. A GSP system for Belgium, Holland and Luxemburg won’t help you in France or Italy. A good map and co-pilot will be important, since the driver will need to be focused completely on driving, especially in the city. And by asking for directions, often several times, you will eventually get to your destination.
Even with the costs and the effort of driving and finding your way around, travel by car in Europe can be a very satisfying and enjoyable experience. It affords you a unique opportunity to see the countryside, towns and cities; experience what local drivers experience; and travel at your own pace, adapting your schedule and itinerary as you please.
Driving in Europe: http://www.ricksteves.com/plan/tips/carrental.htm
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