For some people this post might be pointless – surely hiring a car in a foreign country shouldn’t be too difficult of a task. Sure, but bear in mind – I’ve only recently turned 25 which means I can now travel abroad and drive a car without the rental & insurance costing me an arm and a leg.
However, planning out how to hire a car for our trip to Zakynthos ended up in me having my first ever panic-induced holiday freak out. I just couldn’t get my head around it. Every time I looked at cars, I would see a reasonable price and then freak out at all the extras. The damage coverage insurance, and then the insurance you have to get to cover the excess of that insurance. What if the company we went with wasn’t legit? What if we turned up and they suddenly demanded our first born child as payment for the car? A bit farfetched, I know. But I’ve never been freaked out like this pre-holiday before. Now I’ve returned from our trip – still in one piece – I have written up this post to help you when hiring a car on holiday, and how it worked out for us.
I know this probably goes without saying, but it’s good to shop around even amongst the comparison sites as some don’t work with companies that other ones do. Always search in incognito mode, as they sting you if you come back to look later by raising the prices by a couple of quid. Luckily I used vehicle-rent and they had an option for me to email my quote to myself, so it stuck at that price when I returned to it. If something looks too good to be true, look up the website on Trust Pilot, or just google the car hire name and check the google reviews to make sure the company is legit.
Be aware of where you’ll be picking the car up
There are usually three options for pick-up location – In the terminal, at the airport and shuttle off of airport. For our trip we chose the shuttle option as it was cheapest by a fair way, but always be wary of how long that will add to your trip. Luckily when we did this for Greece, we only had a short walk to the car – it was basically in the car park next door. However, when I did this for Australia, our journey to the car office was an extra 20 minutes away in a minivan sent around by the car hire company. We didn’t mind so much at the time, but if you’re sticking to a strict time scale, you might want to dish out a bit more for peace of mind.
Read the Fine Print
To be honest, this is the part that lead to my pre-holiday car booking freak out. There is a lot of extras you have to consider when you hire a car. You are usually covered with a collision damage waiver, but they come with crazy expensive excess amounts. Shop around for the excess insurance to see if you can do better elsewhere, as often the one the car hire company will offer is more expensive than it needs to be. Also, don’t wait until the day to buy this either, as they will always hike up the price for this when you’re there at the desk and they try and up-sell. No matter how expensive it is, you need to get this to save yourself forking out as some excess amounts are obscene. You may be the safest driver on this planet, but you don’t know who else will be on the roads, just remember, it always pays to be safe.
Make sure you have your bits
Most car hire companies won’t allow you to hire a car without a credit card, with enough credit on there to cover the excess if they should need to charge it (if this happens you can then claim this back from your excess insurance). For this you’ll need a credit card, preferably in the driver’s name, with enough for the excess in case of damage, and also they might also block out an amount for petrol, in anticipation of you not returning the car with the agreed amount of fuel in it.
Before you get there make sure you have all the documentation they’ll require – for example they might need the paper part of your driving license, which you can print off from the DVLA website. Keeping all this in mind, make sure you buy a waiver with a good cancellation policy just in case you need to pull out of the booking at the last minute.
Do your research
I have never driven a car in a foreign country before this trip and the idea of that was also making me nervous. To get prepared I did my research into the driving rules abroad, especially in Greece, to check out what we would be in store for. The AA website had a really handy guide to driving in other countries, including speed limits and parking rules (other countries can be found here).
They also have a really helpful article on what to expect when you turn up to hire a car. Like what to ask for when you arrive, and what to look at when you first get the car. Don’t forget to take pictures and note down any scratches, bumps or damage to the car. Don’t be afraid to be picky, the more you note down and record when you get the car, the less likely they can try and put the blame on you when you return it.
Also, keep a note of your fuel policy on the rental, and take a picture of the fuel amount when you get into the car, in case there is any dispute at the end. Don’t forget to ask if the car is unleaded or diesel for when you have to fill it back up. And if you do have to fill up, don’t go to petrol stations near the airport, as the prices will be higher as a result.
I don’t count myself as much of a nervous driver, but sometimes when I have someone else in the car I can get a bit nervous and self-critical about my driving skills. Having never driven on the other side of the road before this experience was a bit nerve wracking, but my boyfriend and I took it in turns each day to drive, and started with small trips to get used to it.
Just remember, when in doubt, keep calm and take it slow. Don’t over rush your decisions or panic about where you’re going and you’ll be fine. As I said earlier, you could be the safest driver but it’s not just you you have to worry about on the roads, but if you’re taking it slowly you’ll have more time to make decisions and react.
Looking back on it Now
I started writing this post before our trip, when I was in the midst of the booking phases. Now I’m back, and have received the car and gone through all the motions, I can talk about the experience as a whole. Ultimately, I’m so glad we hired the car for our holiday to Zakynthos as it was really important in helping us getting around the island and as we were in a remote area, travelling by bus wasn’t really an option. It was slightly hair raising at times driving on the other side of the road in busier areas – especially in the parts that were high up and on cliff edges, with other cars and motorbikes trying to overtake – but if you keep calm you’ll remain in control. The company we went with were pretty relaxed when we picked the car up, and didn’t block the excess deposit on our credit card. However, as we went at the end of the season the car we received was pretty banged up and on its last legs. We didn’t mind as it was only a little car that got us to where we needed to be, and it meant they didn’t really have a leg to stand on if they tried to claim we’d ruined the car at the end of it. Luckily they didn’t, and no one has got in touch to dispute anything about the car or the amount of fuel we returned it in, so all of my initial panicking has been for nothing.
Overall, I’m really glad we hired the car for our trip abroad, and would do it again. I hope if you’re thinking of doing the same that any tips in this post have come in handy. Check out the AA website for further advice on the exact country you’re going to, as we found that really helpful for getting accustomed to driving rules in Greece.
I hope you enjoyed reading this post, and if you did please comment down below!