Road Trips & Rental Cars (1): Everything you need to know before booking.

March 17, 2018

rental car USA National Parks
My rental car in the US at Grand Teton National Park

I’m handing my credit card to the lady behind the counter by feeling insecure. She’s picking my card and checking it at a terminal just to give it back to me with a receipt. Minus $300.


“What does this mean?” I’m asking my best friend quietly. We’re leaving the rental car station shivering with a massive key trying to find our car. Some pale green palms are shaking in the wind right next to the main street. Instead of looking forward to our road trip I’m panicking because I wasn’t able to understand the English contract entirely. Furthermore, something happened with $300 on my credit card although the car was already paid. Holy shit.


In order that nothing similar is going to happen to you I established this series called “Road Trips & Rental Cars” to give advice for things you need to do and consider when you are renting a car. I’ll answer the most frequently asked questions to make your road trip the most fascinating, save and uncomplicated adventure. Because there is nothing you need to fear.

Where should I book a rental car?

Highway 1 California, Big Sur, Bixby Creek Bridge, Road Trip
Discover beautiful roads like Highway 1 in California

After I’ve discovered that you can even order Broccoli online and have it delivered to your home it seems to be the easiest way to book your car on the internet, pick the cheapest offer on the first page and be taken by it.


Although it might sound old-fashioned, I always book my rental car at a travel agency. Yes, they do not only have flights and hotels! The advantage: You can talk to a real person, ask questions and tell them your request. You don’t have to read the fine print to be shocked afterwards. To speak from my own experience it doesn’t make a difference in price whether you’re booking online or at an agency. If you still would love to book on the internet, you should be careful with offers less than $10 a day. Most of the time you need to add expensive extras you can’t see straight ahead.


Of course, you also can book your rental car spontaneously if you are already at your holiday destination. But one important fact comes here: In case of an accident the place of jurisdiction is always the country where you’ve booked your rental car. So I always book my cars in Germany.

By the way: I hate broccoli.

What do I need for booking a rental car?

Let’s put it this way: A driver’s license should have priority. Sometimes you even need to own one for a certain time. As a citizen of the EU, you only need the simple plastic card when driving across countries of the EU. If you are traveling further you often need an international driver’s license. Especially when you are on the road for several weeks like I was on my three-month-trip across the US. You might have to ask your local road traffic licensing department for an international driver’s license. But that – of course – depends on the country you are living in.

Most of the time you also do need a credit card. Sometimes not when booking but on location by picking up the car at the rental car station.

How much is a rental car?

It depends on the outfit of your car. It varies from the size of the car, your insurances, the number of drivers, the route and the period. At a rough estimate it should be round about $28 a day for a small car with A/C, a second driver, comprehensive cover without deductible, liability insurance covering $1,000.000 and return to the same station. Of course there are more expensive luxury SUV’s as well as cheaper shady scrap.

Turquoise Trail New Mexico, USA Road Trip

What size of car do I need?

It depends on the number of travelers and their luggage. To give you a clue: You’ll only need a small car when traveling with two people, two backpacks and two big suitcases (about 170 lbs). You’ll usually get something like a Fiat 500 or Ford KA and it fits all well. Unless someone brings along a bag full of broccoli. But that never happened to me.

How old do I have to be for renting a car?

Road Trip France
With our rental car through tiny roads in France

It varies from country to country and even from different rental car companies. Statistics say most accidents are caused by young people. So many rental car stations only rent their cars out to people who are older than 21 and sometimes even older than 25. Other companies have special offers for young drivers: There you are allowed to rent a car at the age of 21 but you have to pay some extra “young driver”-money every day. Sometimes it’s about $30 and more. So it can double your fee! So do a little research or ask your local travel agency about the country you would like to travel to avoid high costs.


When I told you about the situation at the counter in my first paragraph I was 24 years old and wanted to travel the South of France by car. Back then we had to pay additional $30 per day simply because I wasn’t 25. We did anyway it because it felt like we couldn’t wait one more year. Afterwards I wish we’d just waited.

Another thing: I did not lose $300. I’ll tell you about that next time in the second part of my series “Road Trips & Rental Cars: What to do on the spot”.

What kind of insurance do I need?

Road trip across Ireland
Road trip Ireland - roads are not always Interstates

This is a tricky topic that’s growing like a jungle in front of you. But with the perfect scythe you will make your way. I don’t want to mention all possible options but I can highly recommend some things: You definitely do need a fully comprehensive insurance*. Choose the one without deductible. They are usually more expensive than ones with deductible of $300 or $1,000 and seem to be more reasonable if you want to save money. But they are not! Even a fender bender can be easily more than $500 – believe me! And if you have chosen an insurance with deductible you first have to pay before your insurance will pay anything at all. It can be very fraught to think about that while driving along small roads in bad conditions. So don’t save at the wrong end.


You also have to be careful by traveling the US. In Europe fully comprehensive insurance means that everything is covered up to $1,000.000. In the US it often means that everything is covered up to $10,000. And in case of a total write-off you won’t come out with $10,000. So you need and extra insurance to get coverage up to $1,000.000 there. You should check that out for other countries as well!

 You also will absolutely need a liability insurance*. It also should cover everything up to $1,000.000.

When you are driving in rocky areas you should consider a glass and tire protection.


*A liability insurance covers damages of the other driver’s car not any damages of your own car

*A fully comprehensive insurance also covers damages which are caused by your own fault without minority interest but with foolishness and misjudgment

Are several people allowed to drive?

Sure! Sometimes it costs some extra money per day so it can get expensive. But some at rental car stations a second driver is included. You definitely should check this out or ask before. Think of if you really do need a second driver. Maybe one person loves driving anyway and the other person is scared of driving in a foreign country. Check out the distances you want to drive per day. If you are driving long distances, you absolutely should consider a second driver. Fun Fact: In Germany a “long distance” starts at 130 miles. In the US it means driving around 600 miles or more.

Where and when should I pick the rental car?

Road Trip Ireland
Some more impressions from our road trip across Ireland

In most cases you can choose whether you would like to pick your car at the airport or in the city center. If you want to drive off straight after your arrival the airport office should be your favorite one. If you need one night in town to relax, you should choose the city office. Some airports are raising taxes for picking a rental car from the airport. Offices in the city center usually do not.

On the other hand it can be a little stressful to get a car out of a crowded city. But even I made it out of Downtown Chicago with my rental car although I failed my driving test at the first trial. Back then I thought I never would be able to drive to the next supermarket.


If you pick your car at 10 am you should return at 10 am (or earlier). Otherwise, you have to pay for a whole extra day – even if it is “only” 11 am.


You also should decide if you would like to drive one way or go on a round trip. There always appear massive one-way-fees if you are going from A to B and not back to A again. They can even double the whole price.  Since I know that, I only do round trips.

Do I need free mileage?

I would highly recommend! So you never have to keep an eye on your mileage while doing beautiful side trips. Only sometimes special offers do appear where you can get a huge discount if you choose a package with limited mileage. For example, it’s 1000 miles and you definitely know you only need to drive 700 – it’s perfect. But if you are driving further by accident every mile will cost you extra money like 20 cents per mile. Sounds little but in the end it will be extremely expensive.

What about the gas?

There are different offers. I usually choose “full/full” to avoid discussions. So you’ll get the car with a full tank and leave the car with a full tank. You can start straight off and only pay for what you’ve really used.

How much is gas at my destination?

It varies a lot! I recommend checking it out before you plan out your trip. In Egypt one gallon is about $1,50. In the US it’s about $2,50 (even depends a lot on the State!) and in Iceland it’s round about $9 for one gallon. Think about how much money you are able to spend to avoid a “nice” surprise.

(March 2018)

What kind of “extras” do I need?

These are things like a GPS, a child’s seat or nonskid chains. Use your common sense and think of what you really do need or what you can bring from home. Usually everything you add to your package costs extra money. Per day.

Just do it!

USA National Parks, rental car, Painted Desert
Find beautiful spots like the Painted Desert in the US on a road trip

So, it seems like there are 1 million things to think about, but don’t worry. Many questions are answered in a few minutes – on the internet or at your local travel agency. Just don’t forget to keep them in mind and ask them!

Have courage, book your rental car and discover freedom along beautiful roads and find lonely places apart from bus routes and crowds.


In the second part of my series “Road Trips & Rental Cars: What to do on the spot” I’ll tell you more about the things you need to know when you are already at your rental car station to pick your car. What you need to know about the tricks of the advisers and damages. Because road trips are made not made to worry not made to have great fun!


If you have any further questions, don’t hesitate to ask. Leave a comment or message me at

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