Rental Car Anxieties Abroad.
I don’t like driving rental cars, especially outside of this country. My worst experience with a rental car off of U.S. soil was on Grand Cayman Island in the Caribbean. It’s a British Overseas Territory, which means they drive on the left side of the road. That was off-putting enough, but when I picked up the little rental car, of course the steering wheel was on the right side of the front seat. And furthermore, it was a manual transmission and I had to work a stick shift with my left hand! Everything was opposite from what I had been doing since I was sixteen!
Driving is really different in Europe … small cars, narrow roads, no place to park, and having to mentally translate road signs on the fly. And European drivers run right up on your bumper, tailgating you if you’re not driving fast enough. And—trust me on this—no matter how fast you’re going, you’re not driving fast enough.
Try as I might to avoid it, I’ve rented a car almost every time I’ve been to Europe. I’m always worried that I’ll have an accident driving on unfamiliar roads. And, yes, I know this is really unfair, but you do worry that, with a language barrier, someone will find a way to take advantage of you.
Several years ago, my wife and I were traveling in France—mostly by train, but we did rent a car in the city of Saumur. The company’s office is at the far end of the bridge in the photo above and just across the street from the railway station. It was small and staffed by just one person. While handing over the keys, he noted that on our last day in Saumur, three days hence, our train would be arriving during the noon hour. Naturally, he shrugged, he would be at home enjoying the excellent dejeuner his wife would be serving at the same time we would be returning the car and boarding our train. Therefore, he asked that we simply park the car in front of his little office and leave the keys with the man in the auto repair shop next door. We did as instructed and departed Saumur on the train which, of course, came and went exactly on time.
Weeks later, after we had returned home, I received a copy of my bill for the rental car in Saumur. It was substantially more than the estimate I had been given and it didn’t take long to figure out why: I had been charged for two extra days.
I don’t know if it was just a clerical error or if the agent was trying to nick me for another two days of rental charges, but I did get it straightened out—copies of our train tickets leaving Saumur and of our hotel bill in Vienna were more than enough proof and after a number of back-and-forth emails, the rental car company’s customer service people made it right with a refund.
I still don’t like driving rental cars—especially in Europe.