As much as I adore traveling by train in Europe, there’s nothing like having the flexibility of a car when you’re exploring a new region. So when my mom and sister flew over to Europe to visit me, we decided to renting a car was the only logical option for our week-long trip around France and Spain.
And unsurprisingly, it wasn’t cheap.
Renting a car with Hertz
We rented a car from Hertz for $300 USD for one week via autoeurope.com which offered the cheapest price. We specified that we wanted a larger car with an automatic transmission.
We ended up being very pleased with the car: a roomy, brand-new Peugeot mini-van with a built-in GPS (SUCH a lifesafer).
At first the car freaked us out a bit as it ran on diesel fuel and sounded like a dump truck, but once my mom got used to the roaring engine we felt very comfortable with the car and were especially pleased with its built-in GPS. (It made my job as the navigator so much easier!) And as my mom is a lifetime mini-van driver, I know she felt safer driving a larger vehicle.
We opted not to purchase travel insurance as it cost almost 300 euros extra (more than the car rental itself!) That was perhaps imprudent, but as nothing happened to the car it was the right choice for us.
Overall I was very pleased with both the car and customer service we received from Hertz.
The roads are impeccably well-maintained in France. There’s not a billboard or pot-hole in sight, and the interior of France is actually eerily empty and rural. Driving was easy and we didn’t have any problems with aggressive drivers.
Costs on the Road:
Toll costs: 100 euros ($130 USD)
The toll-booths: Warning- the tolls in Europe are finicky and expensive. None of the toll-booths would accept my French debit card because they mysteriously didn’t take Maestro. And because the toll-booths only accept chip-in cards we weren’t able to use our American cards either! We quickly learned to keep a lot of cash in the glove box (especially coins), as some of the tolls cost up to 20 euros.
If you are road-tripping in Europe, carry lots of cash (at least 50 euros in smaller bills at all times.)
Gas costs: 200 euros ($260 USD)
Gas costs: We filled up several times during our trip, as well as filled the tank up completely before dropping the car back off at Hertz in Paris. Considering we drove from Paris to Spain and back, a grand total of more than 1,100 miles (1,900 kilometers), I was pleased with the amount we paid for gas (around $260 USD)- I had assumed this cost would be much, much worse.
Our journey began Paris, took us down the French Atlantic cost in La Rochelle and Biarritz and continued all the way to San Sebastián, Spain. On the way back up we spent two nights in Sarlat and then returned to Paris.
The unforeseen costs:
The biggest unforeseen cost of our trip didn’t have to do with driving, but I was shocked at how expensive it is to travel with three people as opposed to two. When booking hotels online, there was often not an option to book for three people so we simply showed up to the hotels and explained our predicament. What often happened was an added cost of about 50 euros a night- ugh.
The views from the car in beautiful Basque Country.
The total cost: $690 USD (for just car costs alone!)
Rental ($300 USD), Tolls ($130 USD) Gas ($260 USD)
Trip regrets: I made the rookie mistake of planning way too fast of a trip; because of the ridiculous amount of destinations I wanted to see, we ended up driving for five hours every other day. I also regret only staying one night in Biarritz which ended up being our favorite place on the trip. Overall we clocked 20 hours of driving in one-week which was needless to say, excessive.
Also, the trip ended up being too expensive. Hotels, meals and driving all add up quickly, especially when you’re paying in euros. Towards the end of the trip we were stressing out over our finances- we had drained my mom’s checking account, so I cashed in almost 600 of my own euros. Ouch.
Trip highlights: Despite some stresses, the trip was amazing. Not only did I have the chance to see my family after months apart, it was wonderful showing my 13-year old sister Europe for the first time. Renting a car was definitely the right choice- I loved being able to pull over and stop in little towns on a whim, as well as journey to activities that would have been a hassle on public transportation. Plus, when you’re road tripping in France, you can make pit-stops at 16th century châteaus if you so choose.
Though it can be pricey, road-tripping in Europe is an incredible experience I would recommend to most travelers.
If you’re not used to driving a manual car, definitely request a car with an automatic transmission in advance. Most cars in Europe are manual so it’s important to ask ahead of time.
We had a great rental experience with autoeurope.com. It was the cheapest car rental site we could find but the service and car itself were great.
Keep A LOT of cash on you; Europe has many cash-only tolls. I would recommend keeping at least 50 euros in smaller bills and coins in the car.
Even if you opt out of the car rental insurance, it’s important to have insurance of some kind. I’ve used World Nomads for years and highly recommend it.