Do you need to rent a car in Europe or other overseas destinations? – USA TODAY

Should you rent a car on your next trip abroad? Making the call is harder than ever.
Consider my recent trip into Portugal’s Alentejo region just as the COVID delta variant was starting to loosen its grip on Europe. The area in central Portugal, which is known for its castles, olive groves, and vineyards, has excellent mass transit.
But I couldn’t plan my ambitious itinerary around the bus and train schedules. There were also safety concerns, with COVID cases rising again and a new variant threatening. Things got complicated really quickly. 
Experts say it’ll stay complicated for a lot of travelers this summer. Between lingering safety concerns related to COVID, a rental car shortage that seems to go on forever and feeling like everything is unfamiliar even in a place you’ve been to before thanks to the pandemic, transportation options for your trips abroad have never been more challenging.
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Experts say your default answer to “Do I need a rental car when I’m abroad?” should still be “not necessarily.”
“Cars are often not the best form of transport when you’re abroad,” says Kris Wsul, who runs Senderisto, a company that manufactures travel backpacks. The places you’re likely to visit will probably have high fuel prices, traffic and limited parking this summer. 
Most of the rest of the world have mass transportation systems that make a car more of a burden than anything else. That’s particularly true in highly-developed countries. 
“Trains go everywhere in Europe, and if there is no train, you can catch a bus,” says Charlie Leocha, an expert on European travel who now runs the nonprofit travel advocacy group Travelers United. “They’re clean and upscale.” (Editor’s note: Christopher Elliott co-founded and writes for Travelers United.)
And if you do decide to rent a car, he warns that you have to watch out for toll roads.
“In Europe, they seem to require a small loan,” he says.
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If you choose to rent a car, price is typically the most important consideration. Rates are all over the map because of the ongoing vehicle shortage. 
For example, when CD Lazear visited Cape Town, South Africa, this fall, he found rental cars were unaffordable. He decided to use Uber instead. But in Johannesburg, prices were far cheaper and he could even get an upgrade through Hertz. Lazear’s employer, a luggage-delivery company based in New York, strongly encouraged him to use rentals during the pandemic, so it was an easy decision. “Renting a car cost less than ridesharing,” he recalls.
It also depends on the number of people traveling with you. If it’s just you, a car may be impractical and pricey. But if you’re traveling with your family and need the flexibility to, say, stop at a grocery store, or visit an out-of-the-way attraction, then then a car may make more sense. That’s the advice of Michael Stalf, who runs a German car rental company called My One Car.
His car rental prices start at 40 euros per day, which can be far less expensive than the train if you have more than one passenger. (Heads up: in order to keep rates low, his company doesn’t accept credit cards. Payments are done as wire transfers.)
“It depends on where you want to go,” he says. 
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There’s also the safety aspect. After the pandemic started, travelers who normally wouldn’t have hesitated to take the train started to have second thoughts.  Pattie Haubner and her husband visited France for two weeks late last year. “Pre-pandemic, we would visit for long periods of a few months and would use all forms of transportation during the trip, including rail, buses and boats,” she says. But not this time.
 “We felt a rental car was the best option for health and safety reasons,” explains Haubner,  a retired communications professional and frequent air traveler from West Nyack, New York. “It allowed us to forgo any public transportation for the entire two weeks.”
Of course, for some travelers there’s no substitute for a train – even during a pandemic. Susan Stevens still refuses to rent a car and is planning her summer vacation according to the train schedules. Her 2022 itinerary will take her and her husband through Portugal, Spain and Germany. This time, she’ll pack extra masks and hand sanitizer.
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“Traveling by train allows us to meet locals and eliminates worries about parking and driving,”  says Stevens, a retired publicist from Lakeside, Michigan.  
Ultimately, whether you need a car when you’re abroad depends on you and your travel goals. In Portugal, I managed to find a Volvo XC40, one of my favorite cars, for a weekly rental through Europcar. It was a mixed blessing. The compact SUV got us everywhere we needed to go, but filling the tank cost a small fortune. In the end, we saw places in Alentejo that weren’t accessible by mass transit, which made it worth it.
If there’s one thing the experts agree on, it’s that you have to think hard before making a decision. That includes making an honest assessment of your driving skills. Are you able to drive a vehicle with a manual transmission? Because you might get one if you rent a car.
“How experienced are you at driving in other countries?” says Erica Mallin, a travel advisor who specializes in off the beaten path travel with Roads Less Traveled Italy. “Do you know the language at all? How much wine tasting do you want to do?”
How true. You can check all the boxes on renting a car, but you have to remember you’re still on vacation. 
Don’t forget the car rental basics. Check your insurance coverage (many credit cards will cover an international rental). “Call the number on the back of your card to confirm whether they offer coverage in the country you are traveling to and ask for a coverage letter in case the rental company requires proof,” advises Jonathan Weinberg, CEO of the car rental site Also, remember to take “before” and “after” pictures or video of your vehicle in case you have to prove you didn’t damage the car.
Watch for surcharges. For example, if you rent a car in London, you could face a London City Congestion Charge of 15 pounds (just over $20) daily and an Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) charge of 12.50 pounds ($17) per day. Ash Lonare, a frequent driver in London, recommends either mass transit or renting an electric vehicle. “All fully-electric cars are completely exempt from the London Congestion Charge, as well as the ULEZ charge,” he says.
Stay alert for driving challenges. That would be driving on the other side of the road in countries like Australia, the U.K, and Japan, which can be tricky. But Bud St Pierre, a marketing director for a resort hotel in St. Simons Island, Georgia, has rented cars in England for his family vacations, and says that – for him, at least – adjusting isn’t difficult. “But you have to be prepared,” he adds.


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