In my opinion, the BEST choice that we made on our trip to Scandinavia was renting a car. Believe it or not, this was my first international trip that involved renting a car — I typically prefer to travel by train or another type of public transportation, especially in countries that I am unfamiliar with. So needless to say, the experience of driving in a foreign country was a bit out of my comfort zone, in fact it was a WHOLE LOT out of my comfort zone, but I wouldn’t have wanted to do our trip any other way. When it came to our Sweden and Denmark trip, B actually took care of most of the stuff involving the car. So as a special treat for you guys, I’m going to have him take over from here!
Hey all! B here, and here’s some of my tips on driving abroad:
Know your options when picking out a rental
One of the big things I discovered when looking for a rental car was the fact that an automatic transmission vehicle cost extra. This was not a problem for us, as my daily driver is a manual, but if I didn’t know how to drive one, we would’ve had to pay the extra fee to get an automatic. When you’re trying to save every penny you can when planning a trip, any extra cost not needed to be spent is a plus! Knowing how much luggage you will be taking will also be a big thing to consider. You don’t want to rent a 2 door if there’s more than 2 of you and you have large checked bags.
Know the conditions of your destination
If you want to rent a Porsche, but you’re going to be driving in a lot of snow (or any snow for that matter), why pay the extra money for it??? Rent a car that will fit well with the country and conditions you’ll be visiting. Driving in the winter in the mountains? Might be good to get a 4WD vehicle of some sort. Going to be driving long distances during your travel? Comfort may be a big thing to look at when picking a car. Also, contrary to popular belief, the only countries in Europe that drive on the left hand side are Ireland and the UK, so don’t let that deter you too much!
Look for parking options when booking overnight stays
While there are quite a few perks to driving a vehicle during your vacation, one of the big drawbacks is constantly having to worry about parking. Finding hotels/AirBnBs that offer parking options (cheap and/or free) are a must. We got lucky for the most part, although we had a little snag the last night we stayed when we didn’t realize that the parking garage closed at certain times during the night, which brings me to my next point…
Be sure to learn how parking garages/lots work ahead of time
Many of the places we parked in the larger cities were parking garages, and most of them had kiosks to print a ticket off. The vast majority of them had English language options, but the few that didn’t were a little trickier to navigate. Quite a few places also had apps you could download and enter your information to pay. One particular instance was when we were in Malmo and we were trying to figure out the parking garage kiosk (which didn’t have an English option). Needless to say we didn’t have much luck. We ended up going on to the street and trying our luck at one of the street parking kiosks, when a wonderful couple saw us struggling and informed us that parking on the street was free that day (it was a Sunday).
The biggest tip regarding this is make sure you know the hours of operation of the parking garage you are utilizing. That “little snag” mentioned above happened on our last day, when we woke up to leave for the airport. We woke up around 4:30am and went to the parking garage at around 4:45 to get our car and head for the airport. That’s when we learned that the parking garage (and most within the city) was closed from 12am-7am (which obviously didn’t work for us). We went back to the hotel where we talked with the desk attendant, and we ended up having to contact security. These then led us to have to pay an extra fee to have them come and open up the parking garage early. We ended up making it to the airport with some time to spare, but it taught us a lesson we’ll never forget! We also learned that specific parking garages associated with hotels gave the guests 24/7 access. While there may not be a cost savings by utilizing these parking ramps, the convenience is unparalleled.
Know street signs/speed limits
Thankfully for us, most of the traffic signs in Sweden were wordless, but fairly ubiquitous in what they meant. However this may not be true for other countries, so knowing some of the common traffic signals would be a wise thing to study up on before you head out! Also, for you speed demons out there, be sure to learn if there is any sort of leniency when it comes to speeding. Here in the US, you can typically get away with going 5 mph over, but we didn’t know if that was the case in Sweden, so we ended up going the speed limit 99% of the time. This was also due to the fact that there were speed cameras located along most of the main roads and this would allow them to easily know we were speeding. We had heard from a friend who had recently traveled to Iceland that their speeding tickets started at $400 USD, which definitely helped to scare us silly!
Do your research, Pt Deux:
Along with everything listed above, also take into consideration the following
Gas Prices – Be aware of what the cost of gas is, and look out for gas stations that may charge more than usual (we paid more at an unmanned gas station than a normal one! Like 2.5 times more.)
Travel times – Know when you’ll be arriving at a destination, and when it gets dark, because one of the scarier things we had to deal with was driving at night, in a neighborhood we didn’t know, trying to find a place we’ve never been to.
Use public transport for convenience – If you get a place outside the city, consider taking public transport into town for easiness sake. It is so much more convenient since you don’t have to worry about parking or driving in a busy part of town.
For people who like short lists, here’s the pros and cons of renting a vehicle:
- Not restrained by public transportation
- Can make last minute changes to your stops
- Opportunity to see things off the beaten path
- Ability to drive a vehicle you wouldn’t normally drive
- Have to pay for gas
- Worry about navigating traffic
- Can make for a long day if most of your day involves traveling
- Having to worry about parking
Ultimately, we’re both really glad we rented a car and would do it again on our next trip, but we’ll probably end up staying a short ways outside the city and taking the bus or train downtown. Doing that allows us the flexibility of renting a car, but the easiness of navigating downtown. I hope this helps, and if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask in the comments!
Happy Travels! – B