Renting a car abroad for dummies

On a recent trip abroad I experienced what can only be described as a baptism of fire into the world of rental cars and other-side-of-the-road driving.

Now in hindsight (which is never really that helpful) there are a few salient questions and facts I should have taken note of but as they were painfully obvious, I like any good driver ignored them.

To prevent other amateur drivers from shame or terror and to somewhat alleviate my own shame and terror here are my rules for renting a car abroad.

The following examples all unfortunately happened on a recent driving holiday to the Canary Islands.


1. Parking

Whatever you do, do not park outside a police station. To avoid this simply scan the road for a police station which will be covered in no parking signs and double yellow lines. I don’t know if it was the heat or my lack of lunch but I did park outside a police station one afternoon. The next day I paid in embarrassment. On going to return the car keys, I was told in a very loud matter-of-fact-you-are-an-idiot voice, by the animated Hertz employee who found this all so very hilarious, my parking mishap. Barely suppressing the bubbles of laughter rising up from her throat she explained that I must go to the police station to pay the fine. To make matters worse I said, and this pains me to write it, where is the police station? Then ensued a half hour long interview in my broken Spanish after which I paid an actual monetary fine. Sigh.


2. Check it out

Check if you can rent. I had only had my licence a month or so when I tried to rent a car. I didn’t realise this was a problem. It is. I spent a morning trailing the high street, becoming increasingly hopeless, searching for a place that would rent to a newbie like me. There doesn’t seem to be steadfast rules in this area, one company practically chased me out of the shop for having the gumption to presume I could rent with one month on my licence, others couldn’t decide whether to let me or not. The last place I tried accepted me, hooray, but I could have done without the tour of car rental companies and checked online beforehand.


3. Roundabouts

I don’t like roundabouts. And I certainly don’t like roundabouts when driving on the other side. Make a mental note, stick a reminder on your windscreen, or do whatever you can to remember not to drive the wrong way round the roundabout. It doesn’t end well. Luckily for me it happened once, on an empty roundabout and I realised my mistake as I was exiting. Unfortunately the driver coming on the roundabout also noticed my blunder and darted an angry neck from his window, craning round like a crazed swan and with hysterical eyes asked me if I was trying to kill someone. I didn’t think it the best time to point out, politely, that there wasn’t a single car on the roundabout, so it was no real biggy. Although I’m sure my instructor would not have the same opinion on that matter.


4. Signs

It’s always a good rule of thumb to read signs when you drive, or more precisely to read signs properly. If you don’t you may end up stuck in the airport system for half an hour when you meant to take the road to the surfers’ beach. Or you may drive up a no entry road in a small town and scare a local man into leaping off his stool and flinging his breakfast bowl straight into the air. His anguished cry indicated that I might have driven a bit too close to comfort to the curb and his sunny breakfast spot.


5. Ask questions

Ask questions. You can’t ask too many questions. The questions I should have asked were what type of gas does this vehicle take and where is reverse? This would have saved me the gamble on which type of fuel to load up on, that paid off in the end and the hour stuck at the port trying to reverse. It was not a pretty picture; sweating with fury and oscillating between simmering rage and frustrated swearing I eventually was reduced to pleading with the gear stick for compliance and kindly cajoling it. Talking to inanimate objects does not work and when I realised that treating the gear stick like some disobedient child was not working I begrudgingly walked the mile or so back into town to admit my idiocy and ask for help at the car rental place. What did not help, at any point, was the port staff giving me the stink eye when I explained I couldn’t back out for the time being. (N.B it was one of those pull up the gear stick type deals which I had never used before.)


6. Dude, where’s my car?

And lastly remember where you’ve parked the damn thing, the following will not go down well.

The car and I had finally worked out our differences towards the end of the trip and nothing too painful had happened in the last few days. So feeling the rough waters settled I parked up for the last time late one evening and sauntering off for drinks in town, planning to return my keys the next morning.

I woke with a start and lurched out of bed. I had of course missed my alarm and I had half an hour in which to return the car or face a fine. Not another. I stumbled around my room, pulling on clothes, like a discombobulated baby goat and ran off to town. Only when I arrived at the parched strip of naked stone, I believed I had parked the car on, it suddenly dawn on me that this was the wrong road. Definitely the wrong road. For one thing my car wasn’t here. But then was it the wrong road? Where the hell was the bloody car? Had it been towed? Or worse, stolen? The sun was beating down onto my head, my heart started to skip, and panic set in. Something was going wrong and it was definitely all my fault. In the next few minutes I dashed, crazy woman style, from street to street, frantically searching and scanning, begging the powers that be that it would miraculously materialise. It didn’t. Hanging my head in shame I went back to the car rental company. The news was not well received. Obviously I had to find the thing. But slightly calmer and with map in hand I walked down every street crossing them off as I went and, yay for me, found it. Next time, simple rule, write the road name down, it’s not too hard.

A few things to perhaps think about the next time renting a car abroad is a consideration.


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