My friends and I are going to Europe and plan to rent a car for some exploring in France, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy. Is there anything we should know ahead of time?
Since it appears you will be doing some extensive driving in numerous countries, I highly suggest that you attain an International Driving Permit (IDP). While not a mandatory document, the IDP (carried in conjunction with a regular driver's license) is valid in over 150 countries, the permit contains your name, photo and driver information translated into ten languages. If you don't speak French, German or Italian the IDP can help you communicate quickly with foreign authorities if needed. Furthermore, some car rental companies may require an IDP in order to rent a car. Clearly, purchasing an IDP prior to departure can save a lot of potential hassles.
The U.S. State Department has authorized only two organizations to issue IDPs to U.S. citizens. The organizations are AAA (American Automobile Association) and the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA). Both AAA and AATA can issue IDPs to those at least 18 years old holding a valid driver's license. The charge for an authorized IDP is $10 each and requires a valid driver's license along with two passport size photos. Beware; there are numerous scams online and off touting easy IDPs for an enormous fee. The best way to apply is through the two aforementioned organizations.
As for renting the car, it's best to do so before leaving. Rental companies offer
special rates to Americans traveling overseas, but if you wait until you
arrive at your destination you won't be eligible and could end up paying a lot more. Auto Europe has some of the best deals anywhere.
Keep in mind, European cars are about half the size of American cars, so an economy-size vehicle can be very tiny and more basic in amenities than what we're accustomed to. When you make the reservation, ask for an automatic (unless you prefer stick). And, make sure you get a car with enough space to transport you, your friends, and all the luggage.
I hope I've been helpful. Have a wonderful vacation!!
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