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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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    @Fattie, do mind Willeke, she does delete more if the same user keeps spamming commends with answers. – Willeke Mar 18 at 4:47
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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 completely trivial to transfer between Folkestone and Calais or whatever, or between some UK airport and Lyon or the like.)

It's completely commonplace to do this.

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

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


Just some further points which go against what you say in your question:

  1. As many have said, save a massive amount of money by making a loop rather than a one-way rental.

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

enter image description here

One-way car rental in Europe is fantastic, but it (usually) costs a lot.

  1. Whatever you do, in the name of goodness avoid the "living hell" major airports (all London airports, Paris). Fly to Lyon or Munich or the like, and the quality of your life/holiday is boosted to a different level.

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


Just for the record, note that it is no big deal to take a UK rental car to the Continent for, say, a day trip ... if for some reason you want to do that. I've done this a number of times in both directions.

Funnily enough here's Sixt promoting the concept of a day trip!

https://www.sixt.co.uk/one-way-car-hire/london-to-paris/

(However, regarding the question at hand, note that Sixt state they do not have one-way rentals to the Continent.)

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

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    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
  • Sorry - just to add to the confusion: say you hire a car in, oh, Germany. And then you drive all the hell over the continent. Italy, France, Sweden, the works. I have never, ever had to pay more for that, it's a standard thing with "car hire on the continent". You can go anywhere you want, other than weird places like Eastern Europe.. (Maybe something has changed lately, IDK.) – Fattie Mar 17 at 17:57
  • 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
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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.

  • There is no such program. – Fattie Mar 17 at 15:42
  • @Fattie No, but there was once: adage.com/article/news/hertz-drives-left/89264. I was just using it as inspiration. Something similar could be arranged without a specific programme. – badjohn Mar 17 at 15:46
  • There are no such arrangements mate. It is utterly, utterly commonplace that tourists simply hire one car in the UK and a different one on the Continent. You just take the train over (one station) or a cheap flight. – Fattie Mar 17 at 15:47
  • @Fattie I'm not claiming that there are, only that there was once. My memory of it suggested what you are suggesting. – badjohn Mar 17 at 15:50
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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

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