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Car Rental Advice for the Family Explorer

Planning out a trip to explore your family heritage can be a unique challenge for a number of reasons. When planning to wander off the beaten path in search of your history, it can be especially difficult to figure out just how to get to your destinations. One solution to that problem is car rentals. We asked two of our storytellers for their thoughts on renting cars:

Q: What was your first experience of renting a car like?

Rob: The first time was a little nerve wracking. But the associate who helped me was very helpful and walked me through the process and made it a very seamless and painless procedure.

Serena: [laughs] The first time I rented a car, I was 18 and a freshman in college, and there was only one place that would rent cars to 18-year-olds, called “Rent-a-Wreck”.

Q: What about the cost? Did you feel you got value?

Rob: A seamless transaction and a smooth ride can easily contribute to the overall experience.

Serena: At that time, I had to pay a high price because it was the only place that would rent to anyone under 24. Since then, I’ve aged, and car rental prices have gone down for me. It’s pretty cheap to rent a car in the US in my experience, but not so cheap in Europe, for example.

Q: Were there any problems? Was the car clean/were there any mechanical problems?

Rob: I’ve used most of the major agencies now and feel that they take a great deal of pride in presenting a clean, working product. I did have a problem once, but a call to the company quickly resolved the situation. Don’t be afraid to use the emergency numbers. I can at least say that the major companies back up their product.

Serena: I’ve never encountered a rental car problem. Rental companies usually give you fairly new cars in great condition. The biggest issue is learning the idiosyncrasies of each car—some turn the motor off while you idle at a light, others are keyless, others require you to pull up on the shifter knob to put the clutch in reverse, [...], etc. So you’re always playing around, turning on high beams and windshield wipers, looking for the right control and feeling like you’re in a comedy routine.

Q: Do you have any tips for anyone who’s thinking about renting a car for their trip?

Rob: I do actually. Don’t always go for the smallest, cheapest car. Especially on vacation. Enjoy yourself. You’ve splurged on many facets of the trip. Don’t make the car, where you’re going to spend a lot of your time, a weak point in your whole visit. Don’t let a few dollars difference detract from the experience.

Serena: In the US, you pay an airport tax if you rent at the airport, so consider taking public transportation to an off-airport rental company. I’ve never done this, though, because I consider the airport tax like a convenience fee for having all my services right there near baggage claim.

Another tip—going through online dealers may not be best since they are middlemen that purchase the rental for you, similar to online travel booking sites. Booking with the car rental company directly can sometimes be best in terms of getting all your individual needs taken care of (you might need a car seat for an infant, or to return the car 60 min later than the contract says).

Q: Would you recommend renting a car?

Rob: Oh, absolutely. Transportation will end up being the single thing that makes your trip pleasurable. It may seem simple, but getting from point A to point B is still part of the journey.

Serena: Yes, as long as you feel comfortable driving wherever you are. I’ve found that driving in foreign countries sometimes brings on a level of stress that I don’t want on vacation. Driving stress has threatened many a marriage. [laughs]

Q: Any final thoughts?

Rob: Don’t be afraid to shop around. Often times, paying up front, as opposed to paying at the counter, can save you substantially. In our case, it saved us hundreds of dollars.

Serena: Keep in mind that in other countries, diesel fuel is more common, and stick shift is the norm, so you would pay extra for the luxury of an automatic.

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