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Renting a Car in Europe

Are you scared of renting a car in Europe as a solo traveler? This was something I had been scared of doing for years, and now I’m kicking myself that I didn’t do it sooner!

You can absolutely handle renting a car in Europe.   During my recent solo road trip through Switzerland and Italy, I had the opportunity to experience the freedom and flexibility that comes with renting a car. It was one of the best experiences of my life. If you’ve been thinking about renting a car for a European trip but have been nervous (especially if you’re going alone), let me help you through the process.

a view of a dirt road and tall green cypress trees lining it can be seen through the windshield of a car

A stunning diversion from the GPS directions.

Why Rent a Car in Europe?

  • Flexibility:  explore at your own pace and have the freedom to change your itinerary.
  • New locations:  visit off-the-beaten-path destinations and enjoy the stunning European countryside. I was able to visit new friends in a small castle town outside of Rome.
  • Avoid Public Transportation:  if you’re like me and get anxious about having your bags stolen at the train station, get nauseous riding on trains and buses, or just like to have your own personal space, this is a great way to avoid public transportation.
a woman is smiling with the coastline of Sorrento in the background on a sunny day

Pulling over for a view of Sorrento.

Cons of Renting a Car in Europe

  • Accidents/Tickets: as with any rental car experience, you’re in a situation where you can get pulled over, accidentally drive in a pedestrian-only zone, park in the wrong place, or have an accident.
  • Gas Prices: the gas stations in Europe are VERY expensive. When I was driving around in spring 2023, it would cost approximately $100 to fill up the tank.
  • Rental Car Cost: It can be pricey to rent a car in Europe, especially if you can’t drive a manual transmission; it typically costs more to rent an automatic.

How to Rent a Car in Europe

Overall, the process of renting a car in Europe is relatively straightforward.

Here's a step-by-step guide:

1.  Choose a Rental Car Company: There are numerous car rental companies in Europe, from international chains like Hertz and Europcar to local providers. It's always helpful to research and compare prices, reviews, and rental terms. 

I personally like to compare prices of multiple companies at once using the following websites:

2.   Choose a car:  Consider the size, type, and fuel efficiency. Smaller cars are often more fuel-efficient and easier to navigate through narrow European streets. However, if you're traveling with a lot of luggage or with a group, a larger car may be more appropriate. Also, remember that manual cars are more common and usually cheaper in Europe, so specify if you need an automatic.

3.  Book in Advance: To get the best rates and ensure availability, I suggest booking your rental car in advance.   You can always rebook it if the price goes down.  See details and a video about this below.

***My best advice:  double check the rental car company’s cancellation policy.  After booking, you can go back and check prices again; if they’ve gone down, you can book a car at the lower price and cancel your old booking.  I’ve done this MANY times and saved hundreds of dollars.  Prices fluctuate all the time.

4.  Pickup and Drop-off Locations: Consider where you'll pick up and drop off the car. Many companies allow for different pickup and drop-off locations, but this may come at an additional cost.  It’s especially expensive to rent a car in one country and return it in another.  

On my European road trip through Switzerland and Italy, I ended up booking one car in Switzerland and another car in Italy.  I picked up the first car at the Zurich Airport and returned it in Lugano, Switzerland.  From there, I took a train to Milan, picked up another car, and dropped it off at the Rome airport before flying back to the US.  This saved me almost $1,000.

5.  Get an International Driving Permit:  Before leaving for your trip, make sure that you have an International Driving Permit if the country or countries you’re visiting require it.  Many people may tell you that you don’t need one, but I can tell you from first hand experience that I was asked for one when picking up my rental car in Milan.  You do NOT want to end up in a situation where they won’t rent you the car because you don’t have the IDP.  It’s really easy to get one and I’ll explain how in the steps below.

***If you’re not sure whether or not the country you’ll be visiting requires an IDP, be sure to visit that country’s embassy website, check on the AAA site, or you can just get one so you’re prepared either way.***

International Driving Permit

An International Driving Permit (IDP) is essentially a translation of your driver’s license. If you were to get pulled over, the police officer will be able to interpret your driver’s license with the IDP. You can find all of the details about the IDP on the AAA site here.

To get one in the US, you can either apply by mail or in person. I applied in person at a AAA location near me and here’s what you need:

  • Fill out the IDP application and bring it with you
  • Two passport photos (I got them taken at Walgreens, but you can check to see if your AAA location offers them)
  • A valid US driver’s license
  • $20

See the entire process in the video below.

Renting a car in Europe can completely change your travel experience by allowing you to travel on your own time and at your own pace. It also gives you the ability to navigate to new areas that may otherwise be difficult to access through public transportation. With a bit of planning beforehand and understanding of the rental process, you can navigate Europe with confidence. If you decide to rent a car, I hope you find it as incredible of an experience as I did!

See all of my daily vlogs from European road trip here.

About the Author

Hi! My name is Terry and I'm a former elementary school teacher. After 13 years in the classroom, I decided to take my side hustle of creating educational resources full-time.

Now, I work remotely and have the time and flexibility to do what I've always wanted to do more of: TRAVELING. I've created an online space where I can share my adventures along with tips for anyone who has had the desire to seek adventure, but may have things holding them back. Whether it's financial reasons, or you simply don't have anyone to go with - I'm here to help you get inspired to just go for it and book the trip!

If you're looking for that push/motivation, follow along with me! Make sure you check me out on TikTok and Instagram, too!