Renting a Car in Europe: 10 Things to Know Before You Go

travelinternational travelroad trips & staycations

Have you ever thought about renting a car in Europe? Does thinking about driving on the "wrong" side of the road in Ireland, having cars fly past you on the Autobahn, and weaving through confusing and narrow streets in medieval cities in Spain scare you? If so, you aren't alone. The good news is that the benefits of renting a car in Europe far outweigh the fear factor.

Renting a Car in Europe

This post, part six in a series on how to plan the perfect European family vacation, shares 10 thing to know before renting a car in Europe. Check out the other posts in this series for information including a packing listlodging recommendationscar rental benefits, enjoying your family vacation on a budget, creating the perfect travel itinerary based on a mix of Europe tours, getting around Europe with a family, and must see places in a variety of European locations.

Renting a Car in Europe: Our Family's Experience

Right before leaving for our European vacation, we were offered an opportunity, wherein AVIS provided us a partial sponsorship for renting a car in Europe. We picked up our Volkswagen Touran in Madrid, named her Henrietta, or Henry for short (based on her license plate), drove her nearly 3,000 miles through Spain, Portugal, Andorra, and France, and dropped her off in Barcelona after road tripping for 2 weeks through vineyards, along beach fronts, down boulevards in some of Europe's busiest cities, and around a gajillion round abouts like this one below in Faro, Portugal.

renting a car in Europe

We absolutely loved our family time together in the car as it gave us uninterrupted time to talk, play road trip games, honk while going through tunnels, and laugh over the silliest things.

We loved the scenic overlooks where we could take in the view of this lake in Andorra with such beautiful blue water...

Renting a Car in Europe

...or stops along country roads where we could almost get blinded by the amazing yellow fields.

Renting a Car in Europe-Spain

Renting a Car in Europe: 10 Tips for Making Your Car Rental Experience the Best

Road tripping added so much color to our trip. But knowing what I know now, there are ways to make the most of your car rental experience. Here are 10 tips for renting a car in Europe that made a difference for us. I hope these help you with your travel planning:

  1. Choose a well known car rental company to rent from, like AVIS. For an added bonus, go with a company that has a kiosk right at the airport instead of one that is offsite, regardless of how close.
  2. Print out your rental car agreement before heading out of the country and take it with you to the kiosk when you arrive in Europe. In the case of the agent not having record of you and the airport not having reliable internet, you will be grateful you have that piece of paper, confirming your reservation.
  3. Choose a spacious car. You may feel the need to downsize to a smaller car since cars in Europe are small, but having the ability to transport all of your luggage and to give your kids lots of space is worth its weight in gold. For our family of four, we got a crossover that seated seven. We folded down the small third row of seats and stored our luggage and backpacks there.
  4. Choose a car that takes diesel. Gas prices are so expensive in Europe that you want to save money wherever possible. Diesel is typically a great option, but check before you go.
  5. Get a GPS. No matter what anyone tells you or tries to offer you instead of a GPS (for example, a hot spot for you to access Google Maps on your phone!), get the GPS.
  6. If, after getting the GPS, you also want a hot spot, it's a nice addition. Just keep in mind that it may not work all the time. If you are traveling across borders, make sure to ask if the hot spot will have service in other countries.
  7. Sign up for the best car insurance at and have piece of mind, knowing that if anything should happen to your rental car during your trip, you'll be covered.
  8. Add an additional driver, especially when you are road tripping for more than just a few days.
  9. Buy a good local map just in case your GPS and/or hot spot isn't working.
  10. Familiarize yourself with street signs, toll requirements, and other driving information like cameras and speeding tickets before heading out of the country. For example, Spain and Portugal have many freeway options—some that require payment (tolls) and some that don't. Knowing which road is which can save you a lot of money or can get you to your final destination much faster or both.

Have you rented a car in Europe before? If so, what tips made the difference in your rental car experience?

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An active part of the Mom It Forward team, Jyl primarily writes about parenting, social good, and all things travel related. In a past life, Jyl was an award-winning copywriter and designer of corporate training programs for Fortune 100 companies. Offline, Jyl is married to @TroyPattee; a mom to two teen boys and a beagle named #Hashtag; loves large amounts of cheese, dancing, and traveling; and lives in the beautiful Rocky Mountains. Topping her bucket list is the goal to visit 50 countries by the time she's 50.


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