If you are adventurous and intent on experiencing the place like the locals, there is nothing like renting a car or two-wheeler for getting around. But, as always there is always the ever present danger of being ripped off or even scammed by cops (!). So here are some tips to consider when you rent a car or two-wheeler during your next vacation.
Booking. I can never say this enough – book in advance, compare and book online or on phone rather than at the counter. That is the best way to get a bargain since you are picking one of the rental companies against other competing companies. Try to book before you leave the country since it results in cheaper rates and lot safer. You can always give the print of your receipt / booking voucher to your friend or relative before you leave. When you reach the destination, the fluctuating forex rates, language issues and other differences can cause unexpected problems. Do read the terms and conditions carefully and if in doubt, do ask for clarifications rather than coughing up a lot of money due to hidden clauses for penalties or other charges and levies.
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Discounts. You will most likely get a discount for using, what else, but your credit card (the Platinum+ ones). So when you book with say Hertz or Avis, you may not only get a discounted price, you will also get airline miles or hotel points.
Car Size. Do consider your requirement – are you travelling alone or with another partner or with a group / family, how much is the luggage and so on. There is no point in renting a large car especially in certain cities of Europe which has narrow roads. It is a bother finding a parking slot for big cars and may become unwieldy at some places. Here too, sometimes one can score a free upgrade to a bigger car, depending of course on availability -so just ask for one.
Rules. You should be aware of the rules & regulations of that country in respect of driving, environment issues and permits etc. Know the important details such as which side of the road to drive on, and other traffic conventions. You can usually find information on this on the destination transport authority website or in guidebooks and blogs.
Driving Permits / Licence. Most countries will require you to obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP), which is recognized in over 150 countries as per the 1968 Geneva Convention on Road Traffic. When you apply for an IDP, the RTO will ask for your driving licence, your passport and visa. At the destination you will be asked to furnish your local licence along with this permit, so get it that along too.
Running Budget. Did you check the fuel prices at the destination and how much will be the budget required? Is it comparable with budget / cost of other modes of transport? It is a good idea to drive in the US or Europe, but perhaps not in Singapore. You should also factor in possible expenses for repairs. While we are at the budget, do check on the insurance requirements – my suggestion is that even if insurance is not mandatory, get one travel insurance policy which will also cover the road trip.
Navigation. Nowadays, most rental cards will be equipped with SatNav device. You should still have a backup like a paper map or an app on your smartphone or tablet. Be sure to write down the oft-required phrases and words on a paper and keep it in the dashboard so you can ask locals.
During our travels in Greece, while searching for the best fares between Athens and the Greek Islands (Santorini, Mykonos etc.), I found that the ferries were way cheaper and were fast too. So I quickly booked our return tickets from the Piraeus port (Athens) to Santorini on the high speed SeaJets ferry. There are slower ferries too, if one wants to enjoy the high seas.
Ferries are common in Europe – some like the Dover to Calais (UK-France) ferry has lost out to the high speed rail and low cost airlines. However, most other places like the US, Australia, Greece, Italy, Turkey, Scandinavian nations etc. still have ferries. The journey time varies from as little as an hour to about seven hours or more. Ferries differ from the cruise ships (those floating mini-towns) in some aspects. Ferries may carry vehicles like cars and two-wheelers, so you can rent one and hop across if allowed. Ferries may have only seating and no sleeping berths and cabins. Very few (e.g. between Italy and Greece) may have sleeping facilities. Cruise ships are self-contained with cabins and staterooms ranging from the cheap inner cabin to the large Presidential suite type staterooms with own terrace, Jacuzzi and the works. This implies that cruise ships are meant for longer journeys between places – so in effect you enjoy the journey as well as the destinations. Hence cruise ships will be expensive in comparison to ferries.
Therefore, when you choose to travel to multiple port towns in Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas, you should consider cruise ships…albeit after comparing the alternate mode of transportation AND accommodation expenses (remember that cruise ships provide you accommodation).
Ferries are ideal for short hops like the trains are to reduce expenses and time. They have their own charm and kids enjoy it too. A word of caution though – if the seas get rough, ferries might cause nausea and vomiting. Although, they have toilets and adequate supply of barf-bags, it is a good idea to take some medicine or pills for sea-sickness.
In this exercise, we will plan a trip for a family / group of four, from Mumbai (BOM)- Kuala Lumpur (KUL)- Singapore (SIN)-Mumbai (BOM). [3 letter terms in brackets are airport codes].
Note: The comparison was done 50 days in advance. You can do these even before to reduce further.