On my recent trip in Eastern Europe, I spent a few days with friends with a rented car, and also travelled on my own using public transport. Let’s talk about pros and cons of each option.
If there you are travelling with a friend and/or a girlfriend, the best choice is almost always to rent a car. I say almost, because, as usual, there are exceptions to any recommendation or rule. For example, are all people in your party going to drive? Are you travelling to a country with good roads? What is the criminal situation like in the remote parts of the country you will be driving in?
It’s a no brainer that your own vehicle will give you loads more flexibility. You can just look at the map and decide where you want to explore, not giving a crap about buses or other public transportation. You can go to places where public transport won’t even go. Finally, you can keep loads more luggage with you in a car that you don’t actually have to carry. A car is great when you need to move from point A to point B and it’s raining, or is freezing cold, or you simply want to see the most in the shortest amount of time.
But it’s not all just advantages. You have be mindful of quite a few things with a rented car. First of all, it’s almost always expensive unless you are travelling in the US where you can usually find a great deal on a site like Momondo, for example. Factor in the insurance, and the cost can really fly through the roof. That’s why I mentioned it makes more sense to rent a car when you have 2 or more people – at least you can hopefully share the expense.
With a car at your disposal, you would inevitably have to park it somewhere, and parking rarely comes free in our money-hungry world. Not only that, you’d have to be concerned with parking it safely – remember all that luggage you are hauling in the boot? Cars do get broken into all the time. Not only that, you’d also have to worry about road rules. Police in far too many a country is very keen on zapping a tourist with a huge speeding fine or a bribe. And sometimes your fine will come to you in a mail, if you get caught on one of thousands of speed cameras especially prevalent in Europe. Make no mistake: they will find your address, and your rental company will charge you.
Generally speaking, I strongly recommend renting a car in when travelling in North America due to the sheer size of the continent and many natural attractions not always linked by public transport. I also recommend hiring a car in Europe. You can certainly get around by public transport there, but it might not be convenient to get to beach areas, some national parks and mountain areas. Also, a car will give you flexibility when it comes to accommodation – you can choose a hotel or an Airbnb anywhere you like, not just within a walking distance of a bus or train station.
When it comes to third world countries, I’d say, unless you have a group of 3 or more, take advantage of cheap and frequent bus (and sometimes train) network in most countries. You wouldn’t have to worry about parking, security, police, bad roads or bad traffic. Most of the countries I visited, I did it by public transport, and about the only countries I can think of where I wish I had my own car were Peru and Costa Rica due to the bus network there being not so frequent.
If you decide to rent a car for your trip, it is definitely advisable to book it online, as opposed to hotels. You can save large amounts that way. If you simply show up at a counter, you would be taken to the cleaners by most care rental agencies. One of the online engines I use is Momondo – it works as an aggregator of cheap car rentals wherever your destination may be.