tips for renting/driving a car abroad

komiža, vis

When I was planning my trip to Croatia last fall, I quickly found out that the only way I'd be able to see the places on my list would be to rent a car. As confident and capable as I am about driving back home, I began to have anxiety about driving abroad: a foreign country with different road signs and a manual car?! Surely I was going to die. But here I am! Months later, alive and well* and happy to share my tips with you:

1. Get your international driving permit before you go (just in case). Bring two passport photos to AAA and they'll hook you up. The permit is good for a year and only costs about $15.

2. Study up. Do you need to drive on the opposite side of the road? What do common road signs look like there? Even if you can't memorize all of the signs, you won't regret becoming at least a little familiar with them.

villa koruna, mali ston

3. Reserve your car early-- or at least, make sure you reserve your car. Even if you decide to rent from a global company, chances are that their European counterparts are smaller, independently owned franchises. If you show up without a reservation, they might not have a large selection left or at all.

4. Have a copy of your reservation confirmation on hand. This is helpful for most travel bookings, but with rental cars especially, make sure you know what kind of car you're getting, how much you'll pay total (and in what currency), and any other important details for your reservation (*cough* reserving a GPS *cough*)

detour to montenegro

5. Look out for extra fees. Since I was crossing the borders, the rental agent made it seem like I needed to pay extra for a border-crossing pass, but this was actually unnecessary as renting a Croatian car already included an "insurance green card" that made border crossings possible. Do your research!

leaving dubrovnik

6. Before you pay their daily rate for insurance, see if your credit card offers rental car insurance. (My Chase Sapphire Preferred does-- and internationally!)

7. You probably already know that most of the rest of the world drives manual cars and that renting them is cheaper than getting an automatic. Although I had a short stint of driving a stick in the French countryside, I decided to pay more for an automatic as I was driving along cliffs in a foreign land. If you can drive manual or practice a lot before you get there-- great! If not, paying a little extra for peace of mind (or to get through the deluge rainstorm on twisting and turning cliffs) is well worth it.

quick stop in zagreb

8. Although it's great to have a GPS, if you find yourself without one or without data on your phone, you can still use your iPhone as a pseudo-map! While you're still connected to wifi, map your route and keep the app open. Once you leave and are no longer collected to wifi, the built in GPS of your phone will show you where you are on the map (as the blue dot) so you can at least see if you're headed in the right direction. Or, you know, you can use a real map.

9. Don't be a afraid to stop. Take in the view! One of the best things about having a car is being able to travel at your own pace. 

plitvička lakes


10. Get lost. This is the other best thing about having a car. You can go further off the beaten path or take a scenic route. If you get really lost, you can always retrace your steps or even better, ask a local!

*It should be noted that I took a wrong turn into a very small, very narrow village. Upon seeing my sad, American girl struggle, a handful of locals came over to help me navigate my way out of a tight turn that would have surely ruined my rental car had they not been there. As none of them spoke English and I certainly don't speak Croatian, I look back on the experience as adorable and heartwarming. It really does take a village.

All photos taken with my phone, processed with VSCO Cam, and shared via Instagram. Each of these places was much more easily accessible because I had a car!

stiniva, komiža
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