Renting a car in Europe


For our recent trip to Europe, we left on a Friday and returned the following Sunday. Two full days of travel left eight days on the ground, which were spent in four different countries: Germany, Austria, Italy and France.

The bulk of our transportation was arranged 11 months in advance, our flights across the pond and back, as well as our stopover flight from Venice to Paris, which I wrote about yesterday. 

That left a major hole in our transportation plans though: how where we going to get from Munich to Salzburg to Venice? My first idea was to take the train, and tickets from Munich to Salzburg were cheap, less than $20 a person. But the difficulty was finding a train from Salzburg to Venice. There was only really one option, and it said it could take anywhere from six to eleven hours with stops, and was going to cost several hundred dollars a person, which pretty much ruled it out.

Not what we would call a 7 passenger van in America, but it did the trick.

Not what we would call a 7 passenger van in America, but it did the trick.

We decided to book a rental car, and did some research to learn that the cheapest and most reliable rental car company in Europe is Sixt Rental. We needed a van big enough for the six of us and several big pieces of luggage. There was a Sixt office right across the street from our Munich hotel, but unfortunately they didn’t rent vans from that location, so I choose another one in central Munich.

The morning we were supposed to pick up our rental van we decided we needed to pick it up earlier than we had reserved. We were unable to reach the office via phone, but walked across the street to the other Sixt location and they confirmed it would be fine to get it two hours early. Caleb and I took the train and then walked to the office, and had no problems at all signing for the van. All we needed was his passport, driver’s license, and a credit card. I planned to use the United Explorer Card, which offers primary coverage, but realized we had canceled Caleb’s and left mine open and it needed to be in his name. I added him as an authorized user but unfortunately the card never came in time, so we used a different Visa card. In the end nothing went wrong with the car luckily, so we were glad we used a card we were trying to hit spend on.

Trying to figure out how to work the European gas pump. Like many European vehicles, it was a stick shift and used diesel fuel.

Trying to figure out how to work the European gas pump. Like many European vehicles, it was a stick shift and used diesel fuel.

Once the brief paperwork was complete, the rental agent handed us the keys and gave us walking directions to a parking garage. We were a bit confused when we arrived because there was no other Sixt office or agent there, and we didn’t have a spot number. We had difficulty even getting in the garage but finally someone showed up with a key fob and we walked in behind them. We had to use the alarm on the key ring to locate the van, and to our horror when we found it it was smaller than our Ford Escape. Technically there were seats for seven, but it would be impossible for two adults to ride in the back since there was about three inches of leg room, and there was zero space for luggage in the back with the back row seats up. I knew vehicles were smaller in Europe but I never expected our $800+ rental to be that small.

Fortunately our family were troopers and we were just barely able to get all the luggage in the back with the seats down and four of us squeezed in to the back seat.

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While the rental car was a bit pricy, it wasn’t that bad split three ways and was still considerably cheaper than train tickets. Having a car also allowed us more flexibility to set our own schedule and to make additional stops along the way.

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