As mentioned in a previous post, my friend Anna and I did a six day road trip in the South of France! To move around, we opted to rent a car instead of using public transportation to have more flexibility. Here are the steps you can take to rent a car:
1. Get an international license.
Although you can get by without having an international license, it is strongly recommended that you do [for worst case scenarios]. If your trip is less than 90 days, then France allows you to drive with a valid U.S. driver’s license if it is accompanied by a notarized translation in French. Fortunately, getting an international license is pretty easy! For an American, all you need to do is go to an AAA branch, bring two passport photos of yourself, your license, and $20. The process takes no more than 10 minutes – probably the most hassle-less task you’ll ever complete in your lifetime. This international license is valid in 150 countries (as long as you show your original license) and is valid for a year.
2. Rent a car.
To rent a car, we used drivy – a French start-up for car rentals (kinda like airbnb, but for cars). Online, you can search through hundreds of cars and decide which one works best for you. A lot of cars have a minimum age requirement (like 24 or 30), which restricted us from renting a convertible Mercedes :(. Also, we looked for a car that was not automatic – which is bit harder to come by in Europe. Finally, we decided to play it safe and picked a Prius – a pretty standard American car. Now, to rent a car, you must be approved by the owner (just like airbnb or couchsurfers). Bear in mind, when you ask to rent a car, you must specify how many kilometers you plan to drive – we decided on 700 km, a rough estimate of how much we’d drive and then some. Once you have been accepted then, the congratulations – you [almost] have a car! Drivy also gives you the option of buying out insurance that would cover the costs if you were get into an accident. We chose the cheapest option, and even though [thankfully] did not come in handy, it sure took off some stress.
3. Pick up the car.
Luckily, when you rent your car, the owner will drive to wherever you are. Once the owner meets you, he/she will check all your documents (this is when your international license becomes of UTMOST necessity) and show you the basic workings of the car. Once that’s over, you hop into the car with the owner, drive him/her back to home, and from there you can begin your journey!
4. Drive safe.
It’s important to remember that when driving, EVERYTHING is narrower – the roads, the parking spots, etc. We assumed that we’d have a much easier time with a Prius, a typical small car in the US, but joke’s on us – the Prius is actually a decent sized car in Europe, so my job driving was not at all easier. Especially in the hilly around Verdon Gorge, I had to be extra cautious driving through windy roads on the side of the hills. Also, the owner takes pictures of the car before he/she gives it to you and has all its previous damages documented – so if you make a scratch on the car or something, prepare to pay! Lastly, it is important to be aware of all the kilometers you drive – going over your limit will cost you 0.12 euros a km.
5. Be aware of additional costs.
Tolls add up! Tolls are usually present on highways that get you quickly from point A to point B. Luckily, you can opt out of taking the highway and chose an alternative route – usually takes a little longer but definitely much more scenic! Also, you will need to stop for gas and its not cheap – we paid roughly 50 euros for gas. When you return the car to the owner, the gas tank must be filled to the same spot was it was before.
6. Return the car.
Mostly likely, the owner will want you to come meet him/her at home and then drive you to wherever you need to go. But before you’re cleared, the owner carefully checks the car for marks and mileage. This stressful process will take a few minutes, as you silently pray that a mysterious scratch does not show up on the car. But don’t worry, once its all checked out, you sign off, and you’re good to go!