It looked simple on paper: Land in Luxembourg, snag a rental car secured by our travel agent and cruise around Europe for an entire month. We were so organized, we pre-paid our airfares and saved enough spending money to keep credit card debt at bay.
Unfortunately, our naiveté would make the Marx Brothers look clever: Upon returning to Luxembourg, our once-pristine rental car was awash in dents and scrapes, a rag replaced the fuel cap and we had barely enough brakes to stop the car at the rental depot. We paid a high price for not applying due diligence to our rental car experience. Learn from us.
Lesson One: Size Matters. As Americans, we equated comfort with size and ordered a car that was too large and totally unsuited to a journey composed of navigating rural streets, circuitous alleys, the Autobahn and the Alps. If we had it to do over, we’d ask our travel agent and the rental car folks to match our itinerary with their recommended car size. Don’t ask about nerve-shattering drives on barrier-free Alps roads each time we encountered a road-hogging tour bus.
Lesson Two: Take the Extra Insurance. Not one wise head prevailed when we were asked about taking extra insurance, so upon returning to Luxembourg, our car rental agent assessed not just exterior damage but the condition of the interior, home to meals-on-the-go and other untidy practices we would never undertake in our own vehicles. In some ways, we deserved the tab we ran up for car repairs and cleaning, some of which would have been paid by extra insurance.
Lesson Three: Speak Up. Upon landing, we were handed the keys to a car with a standard transmission. Instead of saying, “Wait, we need an automatic transmission because not everyone in our party drives a stick,” we decided to make shifting our way through the continent a fun challenge; after all, the Europeans we met were shifting fools. Bad move. To add insult to injury, none of us asked about swapping out the car for another as we drove through France, Germany, Switzerland and Italy. We had all languages covered. Just not the language of common sense.
Lesson Four: It’s the Economy, Stupid. After an eye-opening month abroad, we realized that our car cost more to rent by prepaying with U.S. dollars than it would have if we paid with Euros. At the time, European currency gave spenders more bang for the buck, so I always advise people mulling overseas travel that includes a rental car to assess the weaker economy and pay with that currency. Not sure where the dollar ranks when you make your arrangements? Ask your travel agent or the car rental agency. Too many people don’t think to do this. Wish we had.