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Renting a Car to travel Central and Southern Europe

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Dec 29th, 2004, 10:36 AM
  #1
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Renting a Car to travel Central and Southern Europe

We are planning to travel in June through Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, and Croatia. Our plan was to rent a car in Budapest and drop it off three weeks later in Prague. We thought the costs of the rental car didn't seem that much more than the trains. And, the car would give us a lot of flexibility to see more of the rural areas and stop at small towns along the way. Now, we are hearing not to do this -- distances are too great and roads are in terrible shape. Even Rick Steves says to take the trains and buses instead of renting a car.
Any advice would be appreciated.
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Dec 29th, 2004, 01:34 PM
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rex
 
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Bringing your message back up "to the top" - - I'd be intrested in seeing answers others can provide with actual experience. I have experience in Czech Republic and Poland, but not in any of the four countries you mention.

Best wishes,

Rex
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Dec 29th, 2004, 02:06 PM
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Rex, 3211hart mentioned dropping the car off in Prague, so I think your observations about driving in the Czech Republic would be useful.

3211hart, of the countries you've mentioned, the only one in which I've driven is Hungary. That was in September 2004. Well it wasn't actually *I* who drove. I was a passenger in cars being driven by experienced locals (cousins and a family friend).

The roads were pretty good. There were some highways that were up to western standards, but even secondary roads were paved, and I thought they were fine.

In Hungary and in Serbia, where we also travelled by car, we found that local drivers were more aggressive than those we were used to at home. They took what we thought were inordinate risks when they were overtaking.

I didn't have to navigate, but I imagined I was navigating. I would look at the map before we set out for a drive. Then, once we were on the road, I would look at the signs and "test" myself to see if I would have known which turn to take if everyone in the car had been relying on my judgement.

I must say that navigating was a bit of a challenge, but in most cases pretty feasible. It really helps if there is one person driving and another person who has experience with maps focusing his / her attention on navigation.

I had brought a compass with me because I knew it could be useful in a strange new city, e.g., when one emerged from a metro station and felt disoriented. Well, that's true of cities, but there were a couple of times when we were grateful we had my compass during rural drives too.

I personally liked the combination of cities and small towns. I really did get a sense that I was experiencing a country in some depth, and I liked that very much.

The downside to travelling in the countryside is that one is likely to encounter more people who don't speak English, and that makes it more challenging to ask directions, etc. I found that, if people didn't speak English, there was a good chance they spoke German. Boy oh boy, did my scant knowledge of German ever come in usefully.

In cities such as Budapest and Prague (we visited the latter by train), most people who interact with tourists (hotel receptionsists, waiters, etc.) speak English.

NOTE : The law in Hungary requires that one's headlights are on at all times when one is driving, be it day or night.

Be very sure you know all of the legal requirements when you rent a car and when you take it across borders (what registration papers you need, what sticker -- if any -- you're supposed to be displaying on your windshield, etc.).
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Dec 29th, 2004, 05:30 PM
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rex
 
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Yes, I understand that my experiences in the CR are potentially relevant. From a dozen plus OTHER car rentals, I can say that generally, the idea of returning a car in a different country (from the one where it was rented) is likely to be a bad idea - - likely to generate a high drop charge.

I can think of no negatives associated with our driving into the CR (from Vienna, Austria), onward into Poland and back through the CR returning the car in Graz - - except for the high cost and low availability of parking in Prague. We rented an apartment (actually a pair of adjoining apartments), and our landlord had contract "garage" space (3 miles away) for parking our car, and we never used it except upon arrival and departure.
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Dec 29th, 2004, 07:03 PM
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I'll agree with Judy on Hungary regarding both the conditions of the road (pretty good) and the speed of the drivers (pretty fast). I enjoyed driving there though and got into the swing of it quickly for the first time driving continental Europe. I wouldn't have a second thought about driving in Hungary again. I've seen secondary roads in the midwest US that were no worse than the secondary roads there. Felt much safer driving there, condition-wise, than did Romania (although that was manageable too).

Something else to investigate though - drop charges for a car. I feel pretty safe saying that every car rental company will charge a fairly substantial (to me anyway - usually several hundred dollars US) fee for picking the car up in one country and dropping it off in another. A suggestion: If that cost is prohibitive to you, consider a loop that brings you back to Budapest and compare the cost of train tickets onward to Prague vs the drop fee.

Have a great trip. We loved Budapest and try not to miss the town of Eger in Hungary.
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Dec 29th, 2004, 07:07 PM
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Oops, sorry. I just noticed that Rex already mentioned the drop charges in his last post.

I do usually try not to be too repetitively redundant where I repeat what someone has already said, more than once.
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Dec 29th, 2004, 07:11 PM
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In 1975 we sent form Munich to Prague to Slovakia, then eastern Hungary, Budapest and Vienna. If we could do it then with no problems, you can do it now.
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Dec 30th, 2004, 09:24 AM
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Postscript.

I've just remembered that Hungary's legal blood alcohol level for driving is zero percent.

Just so you know.
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Dec 31st, 2004, 09:03 AM
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If you take your original itinerary which includes Prague in the north and Slovenia in the south, you might want to do a circular trip that starts and ends in Vienna, thus avoiding drop-off fees.
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