Travel (mis)adventures: International Car Rentals Edition
Renting a car abroad causes anxiety in even the most experienced traveler. Why? After all, we have roads at home.
Because abroad we don't know how the system works, exactly. Communication is harder, damages are expensive, and insurance is confusing. We get lost and we are driving on the wrong side of the road. Most tragically, when we break down it's cutting into precious exploring time!
Regardless, I always rent a car when I'm traveling. Driving gives you freedom! Road trips are fun! And it is usually fiasco-free.
Recently, while editing photos from our Iceland trip, I came across the picture of the car I rented. In a rare example of frugality, I rented a compact car. Anyone who has driven around Iceland will tell you that a 4x4 car is necessary to access the gravel roads that are littered with sharp volcanic rock. And, I knew this as I had been to Iceland before.
Well, we obviously got a flat tire in the middle of nowhere. Oops. That wasn't so bad, as we got the spare on. Then the rental car company told us it was our responsibility to get it fixed. On a Sunday. In the middle of nowhere. We spent the next 4 hours driving from village to village trying to find a tire shop that was both open and carrying the correct size tire. Instead of visiting magical waterfalls.
While reminiscing with my sister about other poorly executed international road-trips, she suggested a collaborative post on the subject, reminding readers it doesn't matter how many countries you travel to, renting cars abroad often leads to (mis)adventure. Or in other words, a great story. Hers is #2 in the list below.
8 travel bloggers share
their car rental (mis)adventures
Travel (mis)adventure #1: Skipping the comprehensive insurance...but needing it.
Angela who blogs at aLarkin Abroad:
Have you ever hesitated at the thought of paying an extra $200 for rental car insurance? And figured there’s no way you’ll get into an accident because you’ve never been in one before?
Deciding it would be completely fine, I opted not to take out comprehensive insurance on my recent car rental in Portland, Oregon. I decided I’d head on a spontaneous week-long road trip to California as a birthday present to myself.
I was even lucky enough to get an upgrade from an economy car to a Dodge Grand Caravan. I stocked up on snacks and even bedding so I could sleep in the back along my trip.
So excited to hit the road I got my music going, turned on my navigator and off I went, California bound!
Literally less than 10 minutes into the trip as I sped up to enter the I5 freeway… I looked up and realised… Oh s***, the cars ahead of me had stopped. I hit the breaks and swerved right but BAMMM… I was too late!! I smashed straight into the back of the car ahead of me.
A police visit, multiple reports and $1,923US later …that was the last time I’ll ever go without comprehensive car insurance. *facepalm*
Travel (mis)adventure #2: Forced to perform daring escape while buying wine in Corsica.
Helen who blogs at Seajiggy:
I traveled to Corsica by myself several years ago. Being off-season, there were not many people around. Undeterred, I rented a little Fiat and drove all around the island. One day, I decided to explore Bonefacio, which may be the world's most stunning town.
Coming back to my hotel that night, I stopped by a little shop that was open to grab a bottle of wine and some snacks for the evening. As I left the shop, a mentally-unstable man approached me. But I didn't realize he was unstable. At first, I thought he was asking me directions. I politely ignored him and hopped back into my car. Luckily I locked the doors, because two seconds later he was furiously banging on my windows and trying to open the car door. He was shouting at me and blocking the exit path of my car.
I yelled for him to leave me alone and honked my horn but nothing would deter him.
Eventually, I decided I was out of options, and made the decision to run over his foot to get the hell out of there.
Follow Helen's underwater adventures at Seajiggy.
Travel (mis)adventure #3: On the way to the airport, toddler releases handbrake, car rolls into ditch in Denmark.
Kirsty who blogs at World for a Girl:
Two hours before our flight home from Aarhus, Denmark we stopped to get some snacks for the flight. As soon as we were parked, our two and a half-year-old son undid his seat belt, jumped into the front seat and climbed out of the car.
Minutes later in the shop, a local approached us with a photo of our hire car’s number plate. Seeing our puzzled faces, he added ‘it’s like… totally smashed dude‘. Confused, we dashed outside, our hire car was no longer in its parking spot and instead was 70 yards away… down a ditch… and it really was “totally smashed”!
Joining the dots, we worked out that H must have accidentally knocked the handbrake button. Then the empty car had slowly rolled through the entire car park – thankfully without hitting anyone – before plunging down a grassy bank and smashing into a tree.
In a state of panic and surrounded by a bemused crowd, we wondered what we were going to do as we were still a few miles from the airport and the clock was ticking before our flight home. Fortunately, thanks to Danish efficiency and kindness, we made our flight and, thanks to the insurance, have no major hangover but a story to tell!
Follow Kirsty's adventures at World for a Girl.
Travel (mis)adventure #4: Show up at car rental office in Tel Aviv, and find that one does not exist.
Sara who blogs at The Bag Under the Bed:
So, while in Tel Aviv, my husband and I decided to rent a car to travel the country. We checked on the Internet and we found a website comparing the prices of the different rental companies. We opted for Avis since we thought it was a reliable company and the price was good.
We walked to the rental office address written on the website and...there was no office, no one to ask any information, just a desolate place in the suburbs. We were lost in the middle of nowhere. We felt overwhelmed (I was about to cry since we had already paid too). We had to rely on other people’s pity to help us get to the other Avis office in the city center since we didn't have an Internet connection and we didn't know exactly where we ended up. We managed to take a bus hoping for the best.
We finally made it to the Avis office where we complained about the problem. They told us the website was not updated and the location where we went had been closed for years. In the end, they honored our booking giving us one free day.
Visit Sara at The Bag Under the Bed.
Travel (mis)adventure #5: Showdown between windshield and stray New Zealand rock.
Clarissa at Placing History:
I tend to over-plan and over-prepare. Especially when I feel out of my comfort zone. Renting a car, overseas, while alone – each of the three for the first time – qualified as Not Comfort Zone. So when the agent at the car rental counter in the Queenstown, New Zealand airport offered to add expensive “no stress” insurance to my car, my jet-lagged brain immediately said yes, despite the fact that my pre-trip, well-rested brain had determined to rely on my credit card’s complimentary collision insurance.
After one backwards loop of a round-about at the edge of town, I had adjusted to driving on the right side of the car and the left side of the road. For seven whole days, the rental was a delight and I regretted my “pricey” insurance purchase. As I was cruising up the east coast to Christchurch, the soothing hum of the engine and the fresh smell of the air through the window were shocked from my mind from a sound like a whip-crack. Blossoming across my windshield was a rosette of cracks from a rock. No mere chip; I knew the glass would need replacing.
I called the rental company and tried to convince them that this was not a small matter and I really ought to swap out cars sooner rather than later. Upon arriving at their location in Christchurch, however, the pushback stopped. One look at the windshield confirmed what I had said, and the large outside divot proved this was no fault of my own. They traded keys with me and I moved my luggage into an identical scarlet hatchback, reminded myself that the driver sat on the right, and drove off with the promised “no stress.” And despite all this happening on my first time renting a car, alone, overseas, I haven’t bought rental insurance since.
Follow Clarissa's adventures at Placing History.
Travel (mis)adventure #6: Private party rental car breaks down immediately.
Maureen from Nomad Dancer:
My first adventure on this exotic little island (Grenada) is getting the rental car. As I stand on the side of the driveway waiting for delivery, a car at least 20 years old held together by its scratches and dents, slowly pulls up. I was aware it would not be new but this one hasn’t been new for a very long time. Oh well, it was a good deal. So I open the right side door to hop in as a passenger...and almost sit on the driver’s lap! What’s he doing in this seat? No, it’s a European car with the steering wheel on the right side! I can’t drive this!
Turns out I CAN drive it, and after a couple of hours am just getting used to not turning on the windshield wipers to go around a corner, when suddenly smoke is billowing out from the hood. A phone call, a long wait while he inspects it, a shake of the head all tell me it’s gone down its last road. And I’m so relieved! The next day a different vehicle pulls up in my driveway, still with some dings and dents and a passenger door that only opens from the outside, still with the steering wheel on the right, but much more solid and about 10 years newer. This one only breaks down occasionally during my 3 month stay and luckily always near a place that sells wine while I wait for him to fix it. Island life is wonderful!
Check in with Maureen's latest exploits at Nomad Dancer.
Travel (mis)adventure #7: Guatemala: Where the roads are trying to devour your vehicle.
Byron who blogs at Misfit Moves:
You see, earlier in the trip in Belize, we raced past a tractor-trailer and almost died in a head-on collision with another big truck. So, passing the next one in Guatemala, our driver put the pedal to the metal to ensure we passed with a larger cushion of safety. Little did he know, the paved road would suddenly end, and a pothole the size of a Honda Civic would send us flying heavenward, screaming like babies, until we slammed back down on the gravel and had our hearts fall back through our frightened gullets and into their proper places.
After realizing we were all physically okay, we slowed down, noticed the car was smoking and made an emergency stop on the side of a dirt road. I am so thankful that the car was not actually on fire, and as a bonus, we were not kidnapped by banditos and did not become modern Mayan sacrificial victims.
We eventually made it to Tikal and had a lovely time, but the peril we were temporarily in gave us a good scare and left us wanting the comforts of home for a good few hours. These moments will happen when you’re going on adventures, and you have to learn to cope with them and turn a positive out of a harrowing experience.
The next day, our battery was dead because OnStar would not stop making emergency calls (the system activated on impact) and we couldn’t find a way to turn it off. Luckily, a member of our party was fluent in Spanish and was able to get a mechanic and some other locals to help jump our car.
Travel (mis)adventure #8: Mangling mirrors while navigating Ireland's country lanes.
Penny who blogs at Penelope's Odysseys :
My friends own a home in Bantry, County Cork, Ireland. They generously offered to let us stay there while they were in the States. Being somewhat remote, unless we wanted to spend 2-3 days using public transportation, a rental car was our only option.
Obviously, I felt trepidation—they don’t drive on the right side of the road (pun intended). We picked up our Golf, VW at the Dublin Airport. I insisted on an automatic and paid extra for GPS. I didn’t get insurance because my credit card company covered international car insurance. (More on this later).
Each time we prepared to drive, we would chant, “Keep to the left! Keep to the left! Look to the right!” over and over again. The first part of our journey was on the “motorways”, and I have to admit I was a bit smug that I was nailing it. The smugness evaporated when our GPS began taking us on side roads, supposedly two lanes, scenic but narrow with hedges also called hedgerows that actually scraped our car because it was such a tight fit. Each time a car passed us on the other side, our chests would tighten, frightened that a scrape on either side would be inevitable.
Then the leprechauns took over our GPS sending us into a wooded Brothers Grimm thicket with an overgrown canopy that took us into the heart of faerie land.
At first, we worried that a car would come the other way, but then we realized we were the only ones batty enough who’d dare take this vortex. After at least two hours of panic, we exited the woods and found ourselves on a cliff overlooking brilliant green squares of land and flocks of woolly, white sheep. Still following our insurgent GPS, we finally came upon a house with two Irish folk in front. We slowed to talk to humans providing them with an uproarious belly laugh when they saw the forest from which we’d emerged and cackled even more when we told them we were on our way to Bantry.
Several hours later we drove into Bantry town looking for the Ma Murphys Pub where we would meet our connection who would direct us to the house. He had long given up, but we told the pub owner we were staying at John and Kathy’s house, and she immediately called Molly who escorted us to the turnoff after which was “too dangerous” for her SUV.
On the way, we were jolted by a horrendous slamming noise, our right-hand turn mirror violently knocked off by the stone wall on my right. My heart broke. We were dropped off at the “road” to our home, a somewhat dry creek bed, which was about a half a mile. At times, Mary Ellen got out of the car so it wouldn’t scrape the rocks. But the payoff was the enchanting Irish cottage covered in green ivy that dated back to the 1600s.
I returned the car early in Galway instead of Dublin. I couldn’t bear looking at the mangled mirror arm with all its innards and wires exposed, and I seriously suffered from PTSD. The man at the insurance counter shrugged and said we were the 58th mangled mirror that month. About the credit card insurance—it worked! Albeit, you must have a tolerance for extensive paperwork and prodigious emails.
Follow Penny's adventures at Penelope's Odysseys.
Travel (mis)adventure #9: Spontaneity dashed by .50 cents/km rental contract.
Sarah who blogs at World Unlost:
On a trip to Europe last year, my partner and I had planned to spend a week road-tripping our way around central Italy, exploring whatever little hilltop village or medieval town took our fancy.
We landed in Rome and headed to the car hire counter, practically skipping with excitement. And that’s when we were told that because we’d pre-booked on a debit card, we weren’t able to hire the car we’d chosen.
We quickly and desperately shopped around the other counters. The best deal we got was a car with limited mileage, in which we’d be charged 0.50 euro for every extra kilometer above the 700-kilometer limit. For a road trip that, we calculated, totaled 900+ kilometers. Just like that, our fantasies of spontaneity, freedom and la bella vita came crashing down!
We had to skip some of the more far-flung towns we’d hoped to visit, cancel the pre-booked accommodation there, and confine ourselves to simply getting from A to B without any scenic diversions or detours… Yet we still exceeded the threshold, thanks to a few issues with an uncooperative GPS.
It was still a fun road trip, but lesson definitely learnt for next time!