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I'm planning a (mostly Western) European trip starting in London and ending in Rome, and am considering the possibility of renting a car for the entire trip.

The countries I'll be entering are the UK, Ireland, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, potentially a day trip to Slovakia, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Monaco and Italy.

The trip is for November 2019 - February 2020.

I know that I'll need to:

  • have winter tyres for some countries
  • get vignettes for some countries
  • pay more for a one-way rental
  • have an international driving permit (for at least some of the countries)

What I'm not sure about is whether this is a feasible, or even good, idea.

  • I've seen some rental companies state that while you can take a car on a ferry (eg. from Scotland to Northern Ireland, and Ireland to Wales), their insurance won't cover any damage while doing so.
  • Picking up a car in a non-winter-tyre country might mean it's difficult to ensure I'm complying with regulations in every country I'm passing through.

My main priority is keeping things simple and having flexibility: being able to take day trips/drive to country areas; not having to lug luggage between trains, etc. I don't mind paying extra for the privilege, but don't want to break laws or get myself into difficulty.

My question is: is this a feasible plan, and if so, what aspects am I missing in the things I need to plan for? Alternatively, is it worth splitting into multiple rentals (eg. UK & Ireland rental; train from London to Paris; Paris - Rome rental) to simplify the process?

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    Multiple rentals would be easier I think. Only studded tires are illegal in some countries. You may have missed the German Umweltplaketten, which you need to be allowed to drive in citites in that country. There may be similar schemes elsewhere, eg France. – Tomas By Mar 16 at 22:24
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Trying to do this as conventional rental (Hertz, Avis, Europcar, etc.) will be extremely expensive, even if you find one. It's also inconvenient to drive a car from the "wrong" side, so I would at least break it up between the UK and the rest of Europe.

Unless you are planning to drive every single day, you may be better off with a combination of flights, trains, ride share, local public transit, and short term rentals. In most larger cities, having a car is actually a headache since traffic tends to be bad and parking is sparse and expensive.

Short term rentals can be conventional and "car sharing": For example in Germany there are services like https://www.car2go.com/DE/en/ (not intended as endorsement), where you can simply pick up a car nearby and drop it at your destination (in the same town).

Trains and flights are good for larger distance (my wife and daughter just flew from Berlin to Rome for $17,- each). Once in you are a larger city you can rent a car to drive around locally and explore the surroundings. Local rentals also ensure that you have the right equipment and configuration at a reasonable price.

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    Despite what @Fattie says, many of the countries on this route are served by very comprehensive rail networks and feature major cities that are fairly to extremely inhospitable to cars, including expensive parking in the city center. It, of course, depends on the kind of trip you want to take and where you plan to go (this is all less true if you're only visiting country areas), but cities like, say, Amsterdam are not configured to be explored from a rental car. You'd be paying for the rental, paying for parking, and paying for public transit between the parking and the city center. – Zach Lipton Mar 17 at 21:38
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    In other words, I'd focus on strategically renting a car for the segments of the trip where a rental car is the best means of transportation for your destination. – Zach Lipton Mar 17 at 21:43
  • @ZachLipton, you might as well say "When in Paris, there's no need to bother with all that French food stuff. You can stick to McDonalds for 9 out of 10 meals, and only occasionally you'll be troubled to have to eat at a 'restaurant' or 'cafe'." The fundamental joy of being in Europe is driving around. France exists to be seen by car; possibly the single greatest pleasure in life is driving around Italy; et cetera. The OP is going to see the countries, ie drive in them. Your talk of "segments of the trip" is bizarre - as in my "McDonalds" analogy. The raison d'etre is driving, – Fattie Mar 18 at 1:42
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    @Fattie Absolutely, get a car and see what you want to see. But it's illogical for a tourist in Paris to wake up, decide they want to visit Notre-Dame, the Louvre, and the Eiffel Tower, and proceed to drive their rental car between those places, finding parking at each one. – Zach Lipton Mar 18 at 6:32
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    Having driven around Paris, I strongly contest any notion that driving to a well-located Paris hotel is "the easiest thing". – CMaster Mar 18 at 14:23
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The solution here could not be simpler,

  • Just hire a car in the UK (pick it up and drop it off anywhere you want), and

  • Just hire a car in Europe (pick it up and drop it off anywhere you want).

(It's trivial to transfer between say Folkestone and Calais by train, or between any UK airport and say Lyon.)

It's completely commonplace to do this.

You'd be one of a zillion tourists doing it this year!

The idea of using one car for both UK/Europe is a non-starter, just forget about that.

One of the great joys in life is motoring around the Continent. Enjoy!


Some further points:

  1. Once you are on the continent save a massive amount of money by making a loop rather than a one-way rental.

https://travel.stackexchange.com/a/38154/19233

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One-way car rental in Europe is fantastic, but it is incredibly expensive.

  1. Whatever you do, in the name of goodness avoid the "living hell" major airports (all London airports, Paris). Fly to a city such as Lyon or Munich The quality of your holiday is boosted to a whole different level.

For the record, note that it is no big deal to take a UK rental car to the Continent for a day trip returning to the UK ... if for some reason you want to do that.

(Example, Sixt promoting the concept of a day trip! link )

Again, you would never do this for a longer tour: simply rent a car on each landmass. Enjoy!

  • 1
    You say it is "no big deal" but it is worth noting that many (most?) car hire companies charge a substantial premium to take the car out of the country - to the point that I've driven longer routes to stay in Slovenia rather than cutting through Italy, and got a train across the France-Spain border. – CMaster Mar 17 at 16:36
  • no, you misunderstand me. Many car hire companies (I'll go source this inn a moment) chage a per day charge for every day it is outside the hiring country, even if you return it to the original country. – CMaster Mar 17 at 17:50
  • Right - we're just talking at cross-purposes! :) Sure, if you take a day trip across the channel: no problem. But the OP's stated idea is a total non-starter. Both because (A) the cost would be staggering and (B) it's completely silly and inconvenient. Sorry if my addendum was unclear. – Fattie Mar 17 at 17:54
  • So, when I hired a car (via a broker) from Sixt Slovenia, it was not allowed outside Slovenia without an additional charge. That doesn't appear to tbe the current rule, but hiring from say, France with Hertz, you are only allowed to drive to 20 countries - 5 of them non EU. Your route given would not be possible with Hertz, as the Czech Republic is one of the forbidden territories. hertz.com/rentacar/reservation/reviewmodifycancel/templates/… – CMaster Mar 18 at 14:20
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Typically, there is little trouble in taking a rental car through all the countries you listed - I have done more than half of them in the same rental car already. It becomes only difficult if you would want to go further east, like Bulgaria or Poland, as most car rental companies don't allow that.

Your main issue will be cost for the one-way (an arm and a leg, for sure), and to find a company that accepts international one-ways. Consider that the company has to get the car back to the original country, so they have to pay someone to fly to your destination, and drive the car all the way back.
It's worth a try, but you would save thousands by making it a complete loop - for example, fly to France, rent, drive directly to GB, and then start your trip. At the end, add a day, and drive it back to France. You will lose a day each at the beginning and at the end, but save serious money.

Note also that rental are typically not allowed over 30 days. You will have to turn the car in and take a replacement every 30 days latest.

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    I think that the 30 day limitation will be a factor but not much of a hassle. When I have rented cars for multiple months (years even) it was just a matter of organizing the next rental, driving to the location and basically getting out of one car and into another. – Peter M Mar 17 at 14:43
  • between EU and Switzerland it's probably more like 8 days instead of 30 days because of customs regulations. – cbeleites supports Monica yesterday
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There used to be a car hire programme called Le Swap. Suppose you are heading from the UK to France, you would return your right hand drive UK car, travel by Eurostar, and collect a left hand drive car on the other side. I cannot easily find evidence that this programme still exists but you could still try to arrange something similar. Look for rental locations at the points where you cross water. The side of the steering wheel issue won't apply between the UK mainland and the island of Ireland but the cost and complications of taking a rental car on the ferry would still apply. This strategy would certainly work if you were flying over the water but will probably work by ferry or train as well.

If you really want to drive all the way then it might actually be cheaper to buy a car. Still expensive and complicated but maybe a little less less so. There have been some recent questions on this subject.

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There are some regulations that ban EU citizens driving non-EU rental cars in the EU.

https://www.theguardian.com/money/2016/may/28/eu-citizens-car-hire-switzerland

This can be awkward for hiring in Switzerland and presumably the UK shortly. You may also find insurance more expensive as a result.

  • Wow, that’s interesting! I’m a non-EU citizen so presumably wouldn’t be affected but that’s good to know. – Tim Malone Mar 18 at 3:48
  • As I understand the regulation (German customs has some explanations zoll.de/DE/Privatpersonen/Reisen/…) there is no ban (but a rental may decide not to hire out a car to you), it's "just" that EU citizens importing a car from outside the EU must follow customs regulations. There is in fact an exception for rental cars, but this is limited in that the car must leave the EU again within 8 days. AFAIK, the Swiss reciprocal rules are similar. – cbeleites supports Monica yesterday
  • (i.e. rental companies cannot register their cars somewhere outside the EU where it's cheap and then rent them out inside the EU for long periods of time). – cbeleites supports Monica yesterday

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