For many of us, summer is synonymous with "road trip": The simple and joyful act of packing your family into your car and driving to new and exciting destinations.
It gets a little less simple when you plan a "fly and drive" excursion involving a rental car. And it can be downright complicated when your destination is overseas.
Our family just returned from a two-week visit to the United Kingdom, where we covered a lot of ground in England, Scotland and Wales. It was an adventure that began when we started scouting the web for a vehicle to get us around the country.
That's when we discovered that passenger cars in Europe have funny names (to Americans, anyway). I was familiar with Vauxhall, which is a make owned by GM... but would their Corsa be large enough to transport three adults, a teenager and baggage? And what the heck's a QashQai?
Hertz "Super Agent" Berry Ross offered us some guidelines for selecting a rental car overseas.
"Many European vehicles are smaller than what we’re used to in the U.S., but then again, the roads are often narrower too!" he says.
Berry notes that:
• Vehicles described as "Economy class" typically have two doors and a hatchback, accommodating two adults, and three standard pieces of luggage
• Compact vehicles typically have four doors plus a hatchback, accommodating two adults plus two children, and 3 standard pieces of luggage
• Midsize cars are typically are four door vehicles with a trunk, providing room for four adults (or two adults and three children) and four standard size pieces of luggage;
• Full size vehicles often can accommodate the same amount of passengers and luggage as a midsize, but have a larger engine, providing more horsepower if you’re driving through a region with hills;
• And a station wagon typically can accommodate as many passengers as a midsize or full size, but can fit five standard pieces of luggage.
We ended up with a Ford Focus Titanium wagon, which was a somewhat more luxurious vehicle than the Focus models I've driven in the States. It was also large enough to handle our family and our luggage as we made our way through London, Cardiff, Liverpool, Blackpool and Cumbria (in the northwest corner of England).
If you plan a road trip in another country, you need to find out if it's actually legal for you to drive there. We've never had a problem in the UK (which is where my husband was born). It's one of many nations where a valid US driver's license is sufficient for visitors. However, the State Department suggests it might be worth your while to obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP) as a supplement to your license. The Automobile Association of America (AAA) is the only authorized provider of IDP's in the United States.
I briefly contemplated getting behind the wheel myself this time, but chickened out (as I have on the previous dozen times we've visited my husband's family in Wales). I'm terrified that I'll forget to stay on the left-hand side of the road.
This is something to keep in mind when traveling to many former lands of the British Empire (like Australia, New Zealand and India). But the Japanese roads are left-sided, too, so again, you need to do your research before you go.
Fortunately, my husband is ambidextrous when it comes to driving. That's a good thing, because it's not just left-right disorientation that frightens me away from the driver's seat in Britain. The narrow, windy roads are different there, beginning with the circular intersections and funny-looking road signs.
Hertz's Berry Ross advises travelers to remember that in Europe, "the color red on a road sign signals negative information such as a
warning or prohibition while the color blue is positive in that it
signals an obligatory action or some feature that you can take advantage
of – such as a bicycle lane, a rest stop or a parking garage."
Berry says that when you
match color with shape, some other standard sign formats include:
Diamond signs that indicate priority
• Red triangles that are
• Red circles that are restrictions
• Blue circles
that are requirements
• Squares and rectangles that give guidance
Berry also points out that in Europe, dashed center lines mark passing zones while solid center lines denote no-passing zones (just like the United States). But while in North America yellow markings separate opposing traffic flows and white lines separate traffic moving in the same direction, in Europe, white lines are used in both cases.
Finally, like Boy Scouts, drivers should always be prepared. The emergency number to call in the United Kingdom is 999; if you get into an accident in a European Union country, 112 is the number to dial. Many cellphones are already pre-programmed with both these numbers, as well as 911.
For more information, check out the Hertz European Drivers Guide.
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