Where to Park Your Car During Your Trip

There is nothing quite like picking up a rental car, navigating unfamiliar roads, finding your hotel and being confronted by a forest of “No Parking” signs in a language you can't read. Throw in a case of jet lag and you have a recipe for true travel frustration.

To avoid this annoyance, take a look at vacation parking options.

Hotel Parking

When you book your hotel room, take a moment to find out about parking. Suburban hotels often have free parking lots. You park at your own risk, but you do not have to worry about looking for a place to put your car. (Tip: Suburban hotels near major tourist attractions, such as Disneyland, usually charge for parking.)

Downtown hotels may or may not have parking available. If they do, expect to pay big-city rates. Security can be a concern, too. The cost of your hotel room may have nothing to do with the security of the hotel parking area.

Be sure you know how to contact police in case your car is broken into or stolen. Take everything out of your car each night so that would-be thieves have no reason to break a window.

In some cases, particularly in Europe, your hotel may not offer parking at all. Ask the desk clerk where to park and what to do about loading and unloading your luggage before you arrive. In some cities, you may end up parking in a municipal metered lot; this option may require you to “feed” your meter every few hours during the business day. If you cannot find anywhere else to leave your car and you are staying in a large city, consider parking at a downtown train station, which will probably offer long-term parking.

City Parking

Ask anyone who has visited New York City – a big city is no place to bring a car. If you have no choice, check with your hotel or do some online research to determine the best place to park your car. If the train station offers parking, you may be able to leave your car there. Municipal lots and parking garages are also good options. Check out the parking situation before your trip begins; looking for parking at the last minute is not a good idea.

If you need to park on the street or in a garage, find out how payment works before you leave your vehicle. In many European countries and large US cities, you will need to pay at a kiosk, get a receipt and place it on your dashboard to prove you have paid. (This can backfire if the local meter maid gets to your car before you make it back with the receipt, but such cases are fairly rare.) Washington, DC, and some other cities allow you to pay for parking with your smartphone or credit card. In Germany, you will need to display a Parkscheibe (parking disc) on your dashboard if you park in an area that requires one.

You can buy one at a gas station or order one online.

Airports, Train Stations and Cruise Ports

You can find information about parking options at airports, train stations and cruise ports on their websites. If the website is in another language, read it using a translation tool. If you are not facing a language barrier, you can call the general information number for your train station, airport or cruise port to ask about parking availability.

Airports offer many parking options, including hourly, daily and long-term parking. Private, off-airport parking services exist in many cities. Plan ahead if you are traveling during a holiday period; airport parking lots fill quickly during the holiday season.

Train stations in small towns generally do not have many parking spots available, even if the station's website says there is ample parking. Train stations in major cities, on the other hand, usually have plenty of pay parking.

Cruise ports typically offer long-term parking for cruise passengers. You may need to show your cruise tickets in order to park.

In all of these situations, clean the passenger compartment of your car thoroughly. Never leave anything visible that might inspire a thief to break a window. If you keep a GPS unit in your car, bring window cleaner and clean the inside of your windshield before you park. Take everything out of your car, even pencils, or hide it in the trunk.

Parking Information and Parking Apps

If you are looking for city- or hotel-specific parking information, start by visiting that city's or hotel's website. You can also call your hotel or the city's tourist information office to ask about parking options.

Most travel guidebooks offer only limited parking information because the writers tend to assume that most visitors use public transportation.

Visitors to many large cities can take advantage of parking websites. Some of these websites allow you to reserve and pay for your parking space before you leave home.

If you own a smartphone, take advantage of the many parking-related apps that are available, including ParkWhiz, ParkingPanda and Parker. Try any app you download in your local area before you decide to rely on it during your trip.

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Renting a Motorbike in Southeast Asia

Renting a motorbike in Southeast Asia is a fun, cheap, and memorable way to get around. But there are some challenges for staying safe, both on the road and in the rental shop.

Chrome and leather jackets are optional: The term “motorbike” is synonymous in Southeast Asia with small or medium-sized scooters, often no bigger than 125cc. The roads are usually clogged with them. Renting a scooter for the day is a great way to see local sights and provides more freedom than relying on public transportation. You can stop when and where you like, plus driving can be a thrilling, if not hair-raising, experience! A small scooter can usually be hired in Southeast Asia for as little as USD $5-10 per day.

Motorbike Rental Basics

Many countries in Southeast Asia will allow you to rent motorbikes without an international license, however, not having one may give the police a reason to hassle you later. Sometimes a driver's license from your home country will do. Sometimes having an international permit doesn't matter if you're stopped — the local police will still ask you to pay cash on the spot!

International driver's license or not, you will be required to leave your passport or a sizable cash deposit at the rental office. They need some guarantee that you aren't going to drive their scooter into the sea and skip town. You'll be asked to sign a rental agreement that makes you responsible for scratches and damage.

Why You Shouldn’t Crash Your Scooter

Lots of people learn to drive a scooter in Southeast Asia for the first time. Unfortunately, lots of those same travelers also crash their first scooter — most often in Thailand. Thailand ranks among the top countries in the world for drunk driving crashes and fatalities.

Even if a crash isn't serious, road-rash wounds become easily infected in Southeast Asia's humidity. Also, paying for damages — which are often greatly exaggerated by the rental shop — will put a real damper on your fun. Injuries that happen while on a motorbike are rarely covered by budget travel insurance policies.

Begin by renting an automatic scooter rather than one with gears, and start out slowly on side roads with little traffic where you can get the hang of driving in Asia before proceeding to busier areas.

Pai in Thailand is a very popular place to learn to drive a scooter; many travelers opt to drive the scenic route there from Chiang Mai. You'll find fliers advertising half-day lessons, or ask an experienced driver to show you the ropes.

Important Tips for Renting a Motorbike in Asia

  • First and foremost, avoid a lot of potential problems by renting from established, reputable shops and agencies rather than from individuals who hustle tourists on the streets.
  • Check the motorbike for existing damage; you could be held liable for scratches and dings later. Point out existing damage, and snap pictures with your phone before you drive away.
  • Read the rental contract carefully. Some contain range restrictions or limit the maximum number of kilometers.
  • Ensure that you have contact information for the shop in case you experience a problem later. You may be responsible for small fixes, such as flat tires, on your own. Fortunately, tire repair is cheap and easy to find.

  • Make sure that your helmet fits well and won't shift around once you begin moving. If it proves to be awkward or uncomfortable, don't be shy about returning to the shop to swap it out.
  • Get a chain for locking up your motorbike. You should run the chain through one of the tires when parking overnight or leaving the motorbike out of sight.
  • If your scooter has a basket, ask for a bungee cord to keep items inside. Even a water bottle bouncing out of the front basket on rough roads could cause an accident.

  • If you are inexperienced, opt for an automatic scooter rather than a manual one.

Driving an Automatic Scooter

Driving a scooter is easy to learn, but you'll have to leave the rental office with a little confidence to avoid stressing the staff. To start an automatic scooter, put the kickstand up, hold the brake in with your right hand (a sensor prevents the starter from working unless you hold the brake), and press the start button (usually a button accessible with your left thumb). Pressing the button on the right (the horn) while trying to start is a dead giveaway that you're a newbie!

The throttle is far more sensitive than most beginners expect, so give it a slow, tentative twist until you get a feel for the torque. Test the brakes softly until you know how touchy they are; most wrecks happen because new drivers over correct or squeeze the brakes too quickly to avoid something in the road. Use the rear brake (left hand) more than the front brake (right hand).

Unlike when driving a car, you'll need to train your eyes to watch the road ahead as well as what is approaching your front tire. What would ordinarily be a small bump in the pavement for a car may be enough to bounce you into the air!

Driving in Southeast Asia can be chaotic; potholes, animals, sidewalk drivers, street-food carts, and everything else imaginable can get in the way — go slowly!

Staying Safe

No matter how hot the day is or how much it messes up your hair, always wear your helmet! Even a low-speed, comical turnover could produce a head injury.

Most Southeast Asian countries have mandatory helmet laws, and wearing one may save your life. The helmet law may not always be enforced for locals, however, the police in some countries stop tourists without helmets to pay on-the-spot fines. Even if locals opt not to do so, wear your helmet.

Some other easy ways to stay safe:

  • Adjust your mirrors while sitting in the driving position before you begin moving.
  • If your helmet doesn't have a front shield, you'll want sunglasses to keep dust and insects out of your eyes.
  • Be aware that items in the front basket have an uncanny habit of bouncing out into spinning tires.
  • Rain can turn driving conditions from enjoyable to perilous. Know if bad weather is coming before driving too far.
  • Overreaction can be as bad or worse than no reaction in sketchy situations. Always use gentle motions when turning or applying the brakes.

  • Sitting on a scooter with arms and legs stretched out is a very easy way to get a nasty sunburn!

The Right of Way in Southeast Asia

Driving in Southeast Asia can seem chaotic at times, but there is a method to the madness. Traffic follows an informal hierarchy, and so should you.

The rules of the road are simple: The biggest vehicle always gets the right of way. Motorbikes fall near the bottom of the pecking order, just one notch above bicycles and pedestrians. Always yield to buses, trucks, cars, and larger motorbikes. Don't be angry or surprised when that truck pulls out in front of you — the driver is expecting you to go around or yield!

The safest place to drive is always on the far edge of the slowest lane. If driving in a country that drives on the left side (e.g., Thailand), stay as far to the left as possible so that larger vehicles and more experienced drivers can pass you easily. Unfortunately, the far edge of the road is also where animals, rubbish, loose bricks, and other road hazards exist; keep your eyes on what is directly in front of you!

Do as the local drivers do: use your horn liberally. Yes, it contributes to the chaos, but it's a vital part of the system. Tap your horn courteously a couple of times before passing people and when coming around sharp turns so that there are no surprises.

Remember: Scooters are smaller and harder to see than cars. Other drivers may not notice your approach until you sound the horn.

Getting Fuel

Many rental agencies in Southeast Asia siphon gas from returned rentals; it's a part of their fee. You may have to proceed directly for fuel.

While petrol is commonly sold from glass bottles at roadside stalls, you'll pay far more per liter and may receive low-quality fuel. Always try to fill up at gas stations when they are available. Most gas stations in Southeast Asia are full service,but you won't be expected to tip. Choose a pump, park, and open the scooter for the attendant. You will pay and receive change directly from the attendant.

Scooters have a limited range, and tourists frequently run out of fuel between fill-up opportunities in rural places. Locals may have fuel in large containers they bring from the city on supply runs. Plan ahead, and top up fuel as often as possible.

Motorbike Rental Scams

Sadly, some agencies rent scooters until they literally fall apart; breaking down or experiencing a flat tire on the road is a common occurrence. Shops renew their motorbike fleets through tourists who crash or become victims of theft and are forced to pay for a new bike.

  • Never rent from an individual offering you their personal motorbike. This is a common hustle in Bali, Laos, and Vietnam. Some nefarious scams include the same individual following you to steal back the bike with a spare key. They may blame you for small scratches that merit big repair bills. Occasionally, renting from an individual is the only way to get a scooter; this is often the case on islands in the Philippines.
  • Always lock up your motorbike at night, and try to park in high-profile places. Don't leave your helmet hanging on the bike.

  • Motorbike seats can be easily popped open with a flathead screwdriver. Don't leave valuables in the compartment.
  • Check a motorbike carefully before driving away. Return to the agency immediately if you experience a problem with the tires, brakes, or motor. If you are forced to make emergency repairs somewhere, you probably won't be compensated later for fixing their motorbike!

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8 Common Car Rental Mistakes

  • 01 of 09

    Common Car Rental Mistakes

    Transportation is going to be one of the biggest expenses for any traveler, and making mistakes while renting a car can easily blow a budget traveler's budget. Read on to learn more about the most common mistakes travelers make when renting cars.

    Continue to 2 of 9 below.

  • 02 of 09

    Common Mistakes: Renting a Car at the Airport

    8 Common Car Rental Mistakes

    Ralph Orlowski/Getty Images

    Perhaps the most common car rental mistake involves making arrangements in an airport.

    It's the most convenient place for many travelers to arrange a car rental, and there are times when trying to rent elsewhere is more trouble than it's worth. But many travelers fail to realize that airport car rentals are usually more expensive than other places.

    Why is this so?

    Let's start with taxes. Some airports charge up to 30 percent on your rental, whereas such taxes elsewhere will probably run about half that rate.

    Renting and operating business space at airports is expensive, and that cost must be passed on to customers. That's why airport food appears overpriced, and why many airport buys are unwise.

    It pays to check rates at nearby rental offices, or at a downtown location. Weigh the cost of ground transportation from the airport and your inconvenience before making a decision.

    Continue to 3 of 9 below.

  • 03 of 09

    Common Mistakes: Failing to Work Pricing Structures

    Car rental companies tend to reward longer keeps. Many have a weekly rate that works out to be cheaper on a per diem basis.

    So your three-day rental could cost $56/day, but a weekly contract might be $28/day. Many companies define a week as at least five days. It sounds crazy, but a five-day rental might be the same price or even cheaper than the three-day keep.

    Always check the available rates to determine the best rental period. Don't simply look at your need for a car and then book for that time frame.

    Fuel costs go hand-in-hand with this approach. Some companies will give you a full tank, and expect the same upon return, but others will give you a car with a half-tank of gas and ask you to bring it back at the same level. Failing to do so could cost money. You'll either pay a steep refueling penalty or you'll donate gasoline to the company. And sometimes there's a plan that requires you to pay for gasoline in advance at a lower price.

    Companies know the odds are in their favor with these plans. You'll rarely hit the estimates correctly, and they'll usually benefit financially from your miscalculation.

    Make sure you understand the pricing options before you sign and initial the contract.

    Continue to 4 of 9 below.

  • 04 of 09

    Common Mistakes: Buying Overpriced Insurance

    8 Common Car Rental Mistakes

    Marcel ter Bekke/Moment Mobile/Getty Images News

    Most budget travelers know they should check with their auto insurers to be certain they are covered when renting a car. Many times, basic coverage will be provided.

    Credit card companies sometimes provide coverage on car rentals, too. It pays to know the specifics.

    But car rental clerks frequently warn that your insurance might not cover everything. They urge you to purchase the company's additional policies that will leave you without a worry.

    Those added insurance costs can double your expense, so be absolutely certain they are necessary before agreeing to make the purchase.

    Once in a while, they do make sense.

    When renting overseas, for example, your auto policy might not cover an accident. Credit cards sometimes do, but frequently exempt certain countries.

    Basic Travel insurance often covers damages but not liability or medical expenses.

    Find out what is required and protect yourself, but don't simply buy whatever the rental company is offering without some homework.

    Continue to 5 of 9 below.

  • 05 of 09

    Common Mistakes: Assuming Immediate Service at Small Offices

    High volume rental locations usually have cars. You might be upgraded if they don't have the model you reserved, but chances are good you'll get into a vehicle quickly.

    In a smaller city, their fleet size is limited. You might spend several hours waiting for the next return, which then has to be cleaned prior to delivery.

    If you'll be flying into a smaller airport or renting in a small city, build some wait time into your itinerary.

    Continue to 6 of 9 below.

  • 06 of 09

    Common Mistakes: Failing to Make Pre-Rental Inspection

    8 Common Car Rental Mistakes

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    If you don't notice scratches, cracks in light covers, mirrors or windshields, body dents, chipped paint, stains on the upholstery and other seemingly minor problems if a car when you rent it, you might have to pay for it.

    If possible, do a walk-around with the agent, making note of any such issues. The next-best option is to do the inspection alone and let the company know on the way off the property that you found some items for which you do not want to be charged upon return.

    The same holds true for any mechanical problems. If the car is not in optimum working order, return it.

    Continue to 7 of 9 below.

  • 07 of 09

    Common Mistakes: Reserving Large Rather than Small

    There are times when a larger car is about the same price as a compact. In those cases, many budget travelers see the extra money as well-spent.

    But when that pricing does not exist, it always pays to reserve a smaller car, especially during busy holiday travel periods.

    The companies frequently run out of smaller cars, and if they don't have the small car you reserved at the time of arrival, you'll get a free upgrade.

    In the U.S. and Canada, this free upgrade happens more frequently than many might imagine, because the companies tend to stock larger cars.

    So if you can live with getting a small car, go ahead and reserve it. If it happens, at least you'll save money on fuel costs.

    Continue to 8 of 9 below.

  • 08 of 09

    Common Mistakes: Paying for Expensive Accessories

    8 Common Car Rental Mistakes

    Sawayasu Tsuji/E+/Getty Images

    Frequently overheard at the rental counter: “Wouldn't you like a navigation system? Many of the roads here are hard to follow.”

    This is a common sales tactic, and it works less often now than it did a few years ago. Many budget travelers now carry smartphones equipped with navigation apps.

    But there are plenty of other offers that will be made. The aforementioned insurance, fuel package purchases, and satellite radio upgrades all add up. The GPS option, for example, frequently exceeds $10/day.

    Are you comfortable with a manual transmission? If so, it will save money in many countries. Cars are stocked based on the population's preferences. Outside of North America, most drivers are comfortable with a manual shift.

    Continue to 9 of 9 below.

  • 09 of 09

    Common Mistakes: Inaccurate Return Time Estimates

    Some companies will give you an hour or so of grace time, but there are others with policies that hold you to the hour and minute you said you'd bring back the car. In a few extreme cases, you'll be charged for another day, even if that “day” was 20 minutes.

    Be sure to ask the clerk about the company's policy.

    Better yet, try to give yourself a time cushion. Estimate a time an hour or so later than you actually expect to return.

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Top Tips for Renting and Driving a Car in South Africa

In addition to breathtaking scenery and culture-rich cities, South Africa is blessed with an excellent road network. For those seeking the freedom and excitement of a self-drive vacation, renting a hire car is the obvious option. You'll find plenty of reputable rental companies to choose from in each of South Africa's major cities, most of which are conveniently based at the airport so that you can start your self-drive adventure as soon as you arrive. In this article, we look at a few helpful tips for renting and driving a car in South Africa.


Advantages of Renting a Car

The main advantage to renting a car is flexibility. Having your own transport means that you can adjust your travel plans on a whim, whether that means making a spontaneous stop in an idyllic town that you discover en route to somewhere else; taking a detour to visit an attraction that you hear about from your fellow travelers; or leaving somewhere early if you find that it's not quite what you expected. The independence of a self-drive vacation is ideally suited to families, while many visitors find that renting a car is a more cost-effective option than an expensive packaged tour.


Renting a car is especially worthwhile in South Africa, where public transport is limited in big cities and non-existent in rural areas (and often either unreliable or unsafe for visitors to use). 

The Ultimate Self-Drive Destination

Along with Namibia, South Africa is one of the most accessible self-drive destinations in Southern Africa. Roads are generally well-maintained, and a 4×4 vehicle is a luxury rather than a necessity. Gas stations can be found at regular intervals along all major roads, and many are open 24 hours a day. Gas itself is relatively affordable. The infrastructure for a do-it-yourself holiday goes beyond the country's road network. Wherever your journey takes you, you'll also find a wealth of excellent accommodation and dining options to suit all budgets, while national parks offer safe, well-maintained campsites.


Tips for Renting a Car

With major rental companies like Budget, Avis, Hertz and Europcar represented throughout South Africa, the practicalities of hiring a car here are much the same as anywhere else. Renting through one of these well-known companies is advisable, as is checking your rental terms carefully before signing an agreement. When collecting your car, make sure to inspect it carefully for pre-existing damages, and to make a note of any scratches or dents so that you aren't charged for them upon your return. Be aware that most companies have a minimum age limit, and will require a credit card to make a booking.


Choosing the right car depends on your planned itinerary. If you intend on covering large distances, fuel efficiency may be your top priority; while a high clearance vehicle (and possibly a 4×4) is a good idea if you're headed out on safari. Air-conditioning is a must, especially if you're traveling during the South African summer (November – February), while optional extras including roof racks or a GPS can help you to get the most out of your self-drive experience. Check your insurance carefully, making sure that it includes coverage for vehicle theft.


Stick shift cars are more common that automatic cars in South Africa, so make sure that you're comfortable driving manual. If you're traveling with friends, consider adding a second driver to your rental agreement – distances between destinations are often significant, and being able to take it in turns to drive can be a lifesaver. When hiring your car, make sure to ask about additional fees – for example, you may be penalised if you bring the car back without a full tank of fuel, or if it's particularly dirty.

Lastly, advance booking is always a good idea, especially if you're traveling in peak season.

Tips for Driving in South Africa

Renting your car is only the first step to a successful self-drive vacation. Driving in South Africa can be a novel experience for those used to the roads of North America or Europe. Firstly, you'll need to get used to driving on the left side of the road (and to operating a right-hand drive vehicle). Road signs are often written in Afrikaans as well as English, and distances are measured in kilometers. Speed limits change frequently, so make sure to keep an eye out for signs; although generally, the average speed limit is 60 km/h in cities, and 120 km/h on the open road.


South African road rules are much the same as everywhere else, with a few exceptions. Four-way stop streets are common in cities, and operate on a first come, first served basis. On single lane highways, you'll find that cars often pull over onto the hard shoulder to let other vehicles overtake – flashing your hazards is the correct way to thank people if they do this for you. It's always a good idea to keep change in your car, either for paying the fees on toll roads, or for tipping attendants at gas stations.

The latter will pump your gas for you as well as checking tyre pressure and oil levels. A R5 tip is normal. 

Staying Safe on the Roads

South Africa has an unfortunate reputation as a potentially dangerous destination, but the reality is that staying safe is usually easy with a little common sense. When it comes to driving, there are a few simple rules: keep your windows and doors locked when driving through urban areas, and especially when stopped at a traffic light (known as a robot in South Africa). Never leave valuables in sight when parked, and try to park your car in an area protected by car guards (attendants in reflective tabards who will look after your vehicle in exchange for a tip of a few rand).


If you're using a GPS, it's often a good idea to research suggested routes ahead of time. Often, the shortest route is not always the safest (for example, your GPS will have no qualms about directing you through a township). In addition, try to avoid driving at night. There are several reasons for this: in the cities, the majority of carjackings take place after dark; while rural roads are rarely lit by street lights, making people and free-ranging livestock difficult to spot.

Lastly, to avoid trouble with the South African traffic police, make sure that your driving licence is valid. If it's not written in English, you'll need to apply for an International Drivers Licence ahead of your trip.

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How to Save on a Car Rental

  • 01 of 10

    Book Early

    How to Save on a Car Rental

    Photo © Erin Huffstetler

    The cheapest rental cars sell out quickly. Save yourself from the expense of a forced upgrade by booking a car as soon as you have solid travel plans.

  • 02 of 10

    Comparison Shop

    How to Save on a Car Rental

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    Did you know that the rates offered through a rental company's website, 1-800 number and local office aren't always the same? It's true. To ensure you're getting the best price possible, check all three sources, and then compare those rates to the rates offered through independent travel sites like Travelocity, Expedia and Orbitz.

  • 03 of 10

    Reserve the Smallest Car Possible

    How to Save on a Car Rental

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    Reserve the smallest car that meets your needs, and hope for a free upgrade to a roomier vehicle. Rental companies frequently overbook their smaller fleets, resulting in the need to upgrade customers. Roll the dice, and one of those customers could be you.

  • 04 of 10

    Compare Daily and Weekly Rates

    How to Save on a Car Rental

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    Daily and weekly rental rates can vary hugely. Before booking a daily rental, check to see if renting the vehicle for longer could net you a better deal.

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.

  • 05 of 10

    Use a Non-Airport Facility

    How to Save on a Car Rental

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    Airport rental counters sure are convenient, but just how much are you paying for that convenience? To find out, call around, and compare the rates of a few off-site facilities. You may just find that the savings is worth the hassle of a short trek to an outside office.

  • 06 of 10

    Skip the Rental Insurance

    How to Save on a Car Rental

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    Rental insurance may not be as vital as rental companies lead you to believe. Before agreeing to extra charges, call your auto insurance provider to find out if your coverage extends to rentals (usually it does).

    Note: If you decide to buy the insurance, be sure you're buying it directly from the rental company. Many of the travel comparison sites will try to sell you their own insurance, and it may not be as comprehensive.

  • 07 of 10

    Ask for a discount

    How to Save on a Car Rental

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    Want a better price than you've been quoted? Just ask for it. Rental companies have all sorts of discounts – AAA, AARP – you name it. Many will even lower their price to beat a competitor's. Fish around for a better rate, and you're likely to get it.

  • 08 of 10

    Fill the Tank Yourself

    How to Save on a Car Rental

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    Did you know that most rental companies charge a hefty surcharge if you don't return the car with a full tank of gas? As if today's gas prices aren't bad enough! Check your rental contract to see if this is part of the agreement, and if necessary, fill up the car before taking it back.

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.

  • 09 of 10

    Look for a Repositioning Deal

    How to Save on a Car Rental

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    When too many rental vehicles end up at slow locations, they need to be moved to busy locations. One way this is accomplished is by offering renters a special deal on one-way trips. Dig through the deals on Thrifty.com, and you'll find rentals for as little as $1 a day!

  • 10 of 10

    Become an Vehicle Transporter

    How to Save on a Car Rental

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    Skip the car rental all together, and become a vehicle transporter. Companies like autodriveaway.com have vehicles that they need to get from one location to another. If you're chosen for one of their transports, you'll get a free ride and a free tank of gas.

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Rental Cars: Credit vs Debit Cards

Paying for a rental car can often be done by credit or debit card, though there are a number of factors which affect whether one payment method is better than the other.

Rental car companies' policies regarding payment methods, deposits, and holds on funds vary widely, both by the company and by the individual rental car office. Within the same rental car company, two local rental offices may have different policies on debit card acceptance, deposits, holds on credit cards and reservation policies.

When you reserve a rental car, review your location-specific rental agreement, provided your rental car company allows you to see it when you book your rental vehicle. This rental agreement will tell you whether you can pay with a debit card. If you can't view your agreement, call your rental car office, even if it is in another country, and ask about payment options for your reservation.

In general, paying with a credit card is the better choice because you do not have to give the rental car company direct access to your bank account. Additionally, you can dispute charges through your credit card company if you are charged in error, and you will not undergo a credit check, which could affect your credit rating.

Paying With a Debit Card

If you are renting within the United States, there are several issues that might arise if you want to use a debit card to reserve and pay for your rental car.

Many US rental car companies accept debit cards for payment when you return the car, but require you to provide credit card information when you pick up your rental vehicle. Similarly, many Canadian rental car offices will not allow you to pick up your rental vehicle using a debit card. You will need to allow the rental car agent to swipe your credit card when you sign the rental agreement.

Those rental car companies that do allow you to pick up your car using a debit card will usually only permit you to use your debit card to guarantee your rental if you pass their credit check criteria. This means that the rental car company will run a credit check on you, probably through Equifax, before you finalize the rental agreement.

If your rental car company lets you pick up your car using your debit card, the rental agent will place a hold on funds in the bank account tied to the debit card for an amount equal to the estimated rental charges plus a deposit, typically $200 to $300. This deposit amount varies by location, but your deposit will be returned to your bank account after you drop off your rental car.

Should you return your rental car late or in a damaged condition, your signed agreement gives the rental car company the right to withdraw funds from your bank account to cover late fees or damage repair.

Paying With a Credit Card

If you plan to reserve and pay for your rental vehicle with a credit card, there are also a few issues. You may not need to provide credit card information when you reserve your rental car, but you will need to show your credit card and photo ID to the rental agent when you pick up the vehicle. The agent will swipe your card before you sign the contract.

Many US rental car offices place a hold on your credit card when you pick up your rental vehicle. Typically, this amount is equal to your estimated rental charges plus the greater of a fixed-dollar amount or a percentage—normally 15 to 25 percent—of the estimated rental charges. Therefore, if your estimated rental car charges are $100, your credit card hold will be $100 plus either a specific deposit amount ($200 is a good starting number) or $15 to $20, whichever is greater. In this example, your total credit card hold would be $300.

When you return your car, the hold will be removed and your credit card will only be charged for the actual amount you owe. If the car is damaged or returned after the deadline, you will face additional charges.

Some rental locations will not accept prepaid VISA and MasterCard cards. If you plan to pay for your rental car with a prepaid card, call the rental car office before you make your reservation to find out if it will be accepted.

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One Way Car Rentals in Europe

As travelers increasingly look to Europe's small towns and off-the-beaten-path attractions for immersion travel opportunities, they also become more interested in renting cars to get to these places, especially if they are traveling with family or friends.

If you are planning a trip that begins and ends in the same city, renting a car is a fairly straightforward proposition. All you need to do is research the best rate, book your car and pick it up when you arrive.

But what happens if you are flying into one European city and heading home from another?

European Car Rental Dropoff Fees Are Here to Stay

Once upon a time, some European rental car companies were happy to let customers book one way car rentals without added drop off fees. Except in very specific, one-country rentals, those days are gone. European car rental companies have adopted the dropoff fee, making one way car rentals quite expensive.

Do Research to Save Money on One-Way European Car Rentals

However, not all dropoff fees are alike. You can still save money on one way car rentals in Europe if you take the time to research your options. Here's an example:

I chose a midsize car that many European car rental companies offer, the Ford Mondeo. It seats five people and has a manual transmission (very common in Europe because it boosts gas mileage) and air conditioning. I picked the dates August 25, 2012 to September 9, 2012 – two weeks and one day. I chose Frankfurt Airport, Germany, for the pickup location, and Rome's Fiumicino Airport (known in the US as Leonardo da Vinci Airport) for the dropoff location. Except as noted, all quotes were for unlimited mileage and payment at dropoff.

Collision Damage Waiver insurance and other damage waiver options were not included. The results were interesting.

  • Auto Europe quoted a rate of $1,133.28, including a dropoff fee of $409.71. Auto Europe charges a daily fee for each additional driver.
  • Europcar quoted a rate of $1,353.20 for a VW Passat Variant, the closest I could get to the Mondeo. I could not determine how much of that amount was the dropoff fee, as Europcar did not itemize their charges. This rental quote included 4,500 kilometers (2,796 miles).
  • Hertz quoted a rate of $1,174.46. Of this, $491.65 (475 Euros) was the dropoff fee. Hertz also apparently has a mileage limit of some kind, because the quote included “estimated mileage” rather than unlimited mileage.

  • Expedia offered a quote of $1,022.65 for a Hertz rental. A dropoff charge of $491.64 and a registration fee of $163.28 were included in this total.
  • Sixt quoted a rate of $1,257.96 for a VW Passat Variant. Of this total, $59 is the “one way fee.”
  • Orbitz would not quote a rate for a car rental longer than two weeks.

The Bottom Line

The price difference between Europcar, which quoted the highest rate, and Expedia, which quoted the lowest rate, was $330.55. That's about three tanks of gas at current European prices. Clearly, it pays to do some research.

European Car Rental Tips:

  • Diesel fuel tends to cost less per liter in Europe than gasoline, and diesel-powered cars get good mileage, so it's worth your time to research diesel-powered rental car options.
  • Car rental websites tend to quote and default to prepaid rental prices. You will need to check a box that says something like, “I want to pay at the counter” to get counter payment rates. Paying at the counter costs more, but you aren't locked into that rental until you actually pick up your car, and your credit card won't be charged until you have the car keys in your hand.

  • If possible, rent a manual transmission car. They are less expensive to rent. In addition, some rental car offices claim to have automatic transmission cars, but the reality might turn out to be quite different. Find a friend with a manual transmission car and practice shifting gears before your trip begins. The money you save will be worth the practice time.
  • Airport pickups and dropoffs cost more, but offer the convenience of extended rental car office hours. If you are renting your car and dropping it off on a weekday, check the prices at downtown offices (usually near a train station). You may save as much as 10 to 15 percent on your rental if you can pick your car up away from the airport.

  • If you are renting a car for 21 days or longer, consider leasing a vehicle from one of Europe's buy back car lease companies. Depending on where you want to pick up and drop off your car, you could save quite a bit of money.

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How to Avoid High Airport Rental Car Costs

Airport car rental costs, on average, are higher than what you'll find away from the airport property. Sometimes the differences are great. It's more convenient to rent a car at the airport, so you have to decide if convenience is important enough to pay more for the car. 

Off-Airport Rental Comparisons

Here's an example of how these differences in airport car rental costs can affect your travel budget. The costs might differ, but it reveals the possible relative cost difference you could encounter between renting a car at the airport or off-site.

Say, for instance, that you could rent a Ford Focus for $27 a day at Rent-a-Wreck in Canton, Michigan, about six miles from the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, or a Hyundai Accent at Thrifty for $101 a day from a lot at the airport. Of course, the Hyundai Accent at Thrifty is a much nicer car than you would get at Rent-a-Wreck. So not only is Rent-a-Wreck much less convenient, you will also have a lesser experience driving the car during your stay in Detroit.

Low rates sometimes come with strings attached. In this particular case, Rent-a-Wreck was charging $25 each way for a shuttle between the terminal and the off-airport pick-up site. That's $50 off of the savings.

When this particular scenario was searched on Travelocity, there was an airport car rental compact deal with Thrifty for $56 a day; not exactly a bargain, but it sure beats $101 a day. It's also more attractive than the Rent-a-Wreck deal that is limited to 100 miles a day and adds on $50 to get to-and-from the rental point.

A search on Kayak of rental cars at 15 large- and medium-sized U.S. airports turned up mixed results, but 10 of the 15 airports showed cheaper rentals off the property. Bottom line: Savings are not always forthcoming and can vary quite a bit by market. 

Reasons for the Higher Airport Costs

Airport car rentals involve a host of fees that off-airport rental facilities don't have to pass along. One major factor is taxes. Airport taxes are sometimes twice as much as the tax bill off-airport. Obviously, taxes aren't the only culprit. Other market forces are at work. The costs of doing business on choice airport property can be greater than at a location elsewhere, where parking lots and office space are not at a premium.

How to Search for the Best Price 

There's a big hitch to off-airport car rentals: It will cost you to get to and from the rental location, and that could erase all the savings on the car's rate per day. The longer the rental, the more important it is to consider this option. It always pays to investigate and determine if the airport car rental convenience is worth the added price.

  • Find a car rental company that is having a sale in your destination market or at least the company with the lowest current rates.
  • Find the off-airport rental office for that company that's closest to the terminal.
  • Compare the rates at that location with the airport car rental costs at the same company.
  • Find out how much a cab or a ride with Lyft or Uber would cost to the off-site rental location.
  • Consider if the difference you would save pays for the cost of additional transportation and is worth the inconvenience. 

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I'm Renting a Car. What Extra Fees Will I Have to Pay?

Renting a car is a complicated process. When you search for a good rental car rate, you'll probably be quoted the “base rate,” which is the daily charge for a specific class of car. The rental car company adds on required state, city or county taxes, its own fees and surcharges and facility charges (generally assessed by airports). You'll see items like “vehicle licensing fee” – that's the amount the rental car company charges in order to recoup the cost of registering and licensing the car – and “energy recovery fee” – this one is similar to a fuel surcharge.

You may not be able to find out about all the fees you'll be charged until you show up at the rental car counter. When you arrive at the rental office, carefully scrutinize your contract to be sure you understand all the charges. Look for fees triggered by specific events. You may want to ask about some of these charges before you sign your contract.

Types of Rental Car Fees

Early Return Fee

The penalty for returning your car early is sometimes called “rental change fee.” You can be charged a fee if you return your rental car before the date and time on your contract. Alamo, for example, charges $15 for an early return.

Late Return Fee

If you turn your car in late, you will probably be assessed a fee as well as an hourly or daily rate for the extra rental time. Note that many rental car companies have short grace periods – 29 minutes is the norm – but the grace period does not apply to optional charges such as collision protection plans and GPS rentals. Expect to pay a full day's charge for these optional items if you return the car late. Late return fees vary; Thrifty charges $16 per day, while Avis charges $10 per day.

Refueling Fee

Some rental car companies charge a fee if you do not show them a receipt for your fuel purchase. This typically happens if you rent a car for local driving only, use very little fuel and return the car. To avoid this fee, refuel the car within ten miles of your rental car office and bring the receipt with you when you return your car. Avis assesses a $13.99 refueling fee if you drive less than 75 miles and fail to show the rental agent your fuel receipt.

Additional authorized driver fee

Some rental car companies charge a fee to add another driver to your contract. Even spouses may be subject to this fee.

Frequent Traveler Program Fee

If you decide to use your rental car miles for credit on a frequent traveler program, such as a frequent flier account, expect to pay a daily fee for the privilege. National charges $0.75 to $1.50 per day to add miles to your frequent traveler account.

Lost Key Fee

If you lose your rental car key, expect to pay for its replacement. Charges vary, but, given the high cost of today's “smart” keys, you will probably pay $250 or more to replace one key. Beware the two-key key ring; you will be charged for both keys if you lose them.

Cancellation Fee

If you rent a luxury or premium car, you may be asked to guarantee your reservation with a credit card. Be sure to find out how far in advance you will need to cancel your reservation if you decide not to rent the car, because some rental car companies charge a cancellation fee if you cancel after this deadline. National, for example, charges $50 if you cancel your guaranteed reservation less than 24 hours before your rental time.

Prepaid rentals, while less expensive, often involve cancellation fees, particularly if you cancel your rental less than 24 hours before your scheduled pickup time.

In the US, Hertz charges $50 if you cancel your prepaid rental at least 24 hours in advance. If you cancel that reservation less than 24 hours before your pickup time, Hertz charges $100.

What to Do If You Are Billed in Error

When you return your rental car, carefully examine your receipt to be sure you were not charged a fee by mistake. If you were charged incorrectly and the rental car company refuses to remove the fee from your bill, contact your rental car company directly (email is best). You can also dispute the charge with your credit card company if you paid by credit card.


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How to Save Money on Rental Cars in Hawaii

Almost everyone who comes to Hawaii rents a car. It's the easiest way to get around the islands, especially if you're staying anywhere but Waikiki. All the big companies–Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Hertz, National, and Thrifty–rent cars on all the major Hawaiian Islands.

You Probably Don’t Need That Extra Insurance

The cost of renting a car in Hawaii is pretty reasonable compared to most vacation areas in the rest of the United States. And, if you own a car, chances are pretty good that your own automobile insurance will cover your rental car in Hawaii. Check with your auto insurance company. For example, why pay $15 a day for 14 days for a collision deductible waiver when your own policy only has a $500 deductible?

Be sure to bring your insurance ID card if you decline the rental car company's optional insurance.

Many credit card companies also provide insurance for car rentals while on vacation. Take a few minutes and check with your credit card company to find out their policy.

Join a Frequent Renter Program and Save Time

If you don't belong to one of the main rental car company frequent rental programs, you may want to join one well in advance of your Hawaii trip.

For example, Budget's Fastbreak program with its RapidRez provision enables renters to keep their preferences on file which allows you to reserve a car online in a matter of seconds. Then, when you get to Hawaii, you don't have to wait in line for a car like the dozens of others folks who arrive on the same flight. You go to a special agent and are usually in and out of the car rental location within 10 minutes.

Be sure to take a copy of the free local maps that each car rental company makes available to visitors. The maps are excellent and will help you find your way around the islands.

You May Not Need a Car in Waikiki

If you're staying in Waikiki and plan to spend most of your time in Waikiki or downtown Honolulu, you may not need a rental car for your entire stay. Most places in Waikiki are within easy walking distance.

TheBus, Oahu's public transportation system is great and cheap. It's no problem to catch a bus downtown or to almost any other area of the island.

If you want to visit the North Shore or somewhere else on the island, there are numerous rental car agencies right in Waikiki where you can rent a car for a day or two.

Words of Caution

  • Do not leave valuables in your car, including the trunk.
  • While violent crime is low in Hawaii, the theft rate is high. Parked cars are easy targets for thieves especially at beach parks and even such high traffic areas as the parking lot at the USS Arizona Memorial.
  • Use your horn only in an emergency. Honking your horn for any other reason is considered the height of rudeness in Hawaii. It's a sure way to show folks that you're not from the islands.
  • Pedestrians have the right of way, so be patient and be polite. 

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