Should you rent a car when you travel, or no? The decision is a real bugger when you’re planning travel to places you’re unfamiliar with. And with gas prices through the flippin’ roof these days, traveling at all can be a strain on the old pocketbook.
Here some things to consider when determining if you need a rental car as well as a plane ticket, and a few tips to help you find the lowest prices.
If you are visiting a major city, you probably won’t need a car. Major hubs generally have good transportation systems. Do a Google search on public transportation for the city you’re considering visiting. Most large cities also offer prepaid unlimited usage visitors transit passes, so definitely look for those to help save you time and money. New York, Dallas, Atlanta, Memphis, Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, and London all have good city-wide public transportation. And you can always take a cab in compact cities (like New York).
If you’re having trouble finding a public transit authority, have a look at the city’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau website. Many cities that do a large amount of tourist trade often have trolley or streetcar systems in place to shuttle visitors from attraction to attraction. Gatlinburg, TN, and New Orleans, LA are great examples.
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If public transportation is just absolutely “no-go” at your destination, check with other travelers on sites like TripAdvisor to find out which cab companies are the most reliable and upfront with their pricing.
Check with your destination hotel and see if they offer complimentary shuttle service to the attractions or areas you want to visit. Many do in heavily visited cities.
If you don’t mind the company, check to see if there are other travelers who will be in the city at the same time as you and who have the same interests, then chat about sharing some costs for transportation to and from events. Chickable is a great online community resource for women who love to travel.
If all else fails, you may have to rent a car. But that doesn’t mean you have to rent an expensive car!
Use consolidator sites to your advantage. Check out a consolidator engine like Cheapoair (give them a go to look for airline tickets as well!). Put in your info and find the lowest price in their list. But don’t book your car there! Go to the least expensive rental company’s website and check for often unadvertised “web specials.” Put in your information on the rental company’s website, and you should find a price $10-$50 cheaper overall than consolidator sites.
Unless you’re traveling with a huge entourage and tons of luggage, you can probably make do with an economy car rental, which will also help you save money on gas. Additionally, most car rental companies offer hybrid rentals now as well as traditional vehicles. Call the rental company before you book and see if you can request a hybrid specifically.
If you’ll be driving to another city in your rental, you can get a good idea how much it will cost you in gas by doing a “trial run” at AAA’s Trip Gas Price Calculator site. Just input your starting city, your destination, and some info on the car and the calculator will give you an estimate – both one-way and round-trip – on mileage and gas cost. If you don’t know what car you’ll have, check the company’s site for examples of the type you rented. If you rented, say, an economy car, most companies use the Hyundai Accent as an example of economy styling, and rentals are generally no older than two years.
If you are only going to need a rental for a few hours, check with the rental company about renting it by the hour instead of by the day. Most will allow hourly rentals, and the price could be greatly discounted.
If you’re winging it on your trip and don’t know where you might end up in your rental, it’s always best to go with the “unlimited mileage” options. There’s nothing worse than driving 100 miles out of town on a whim only to find that you overextended your mileage limit on your rental.
Oh! And most importantly … request a map of the city when you pick up your rental, or if you can swing it into your budget, you can rent a navigation system as well.
Wherever you decide to visit, have fun!
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