Rental car in Italy advice

Rental car in Italy advice

Are you traveling to Italy soon?? As part of an Italy series, I wanted to talk about car rentals in Italy. This is coming from our personal experience. In our recent two week trip to Italy we rented a car AND traveled by train. Each has it’s pros and cons. Read on to hear my rental car in Italy advice!

Check out some other Italy posts for inspiration:

-Pros-

First of all, lets start with the pros of car rentals in Italy.

You have more freedom

One of the best reasons to get a rental car in Italy is because it provides freedom.

You won’t be at the mercy of train schedule or routes. You can wake up and be spontaneous if that’s how you role!

If this is a super priority for you when traveling in Italy, a car rental might be worth the consideration.

With that said, I am always impressed at the extent of train systems throughout all of Europe. They can get you all over the place — much more than in the U.S. So don’t let this deter you from considering train-travel.

You can access more rural locations

A rental car gives you the ability to drive around more rural parts of Italy — even compared to a thorough Italy train system.

This was a highlight of our time in the Piedmont region in Italy. A rental car truly gave us the flexibility to drive out to a small town where my husband’s great grandfather was born. It gave us the ability to stay at a beautiful Airbnb up in the foothills of the Alps. Every day we drove the 15 minutes to and from town to do some genealogy exploring.

We would not have been able to accomplish this without a rental car.

If you are considering doing anything like this on your trip, I would highly recommend a rental car.

Now, I probably could have done some more research and found us a train out to nearby that town. We could have requested a taxi or found bikes to explore every day. But this just didn’t seem as realistic for us.

Potentially cheaper as a group

If you’re traveling as a family, maybe another couple, or a couple good friends it’s possible a rental car could actually be cheaper.

Especially if you’re considering long-distance train travel for 4 adults compared with 1 rental car in Italy….

But it just depends and you need to do the math….

You might see it as a fun challenge

If you enjoy driving, you might see it as a fun adventure. It just depends on the person and your travel style. For some people, driving is their go-to and always will be!

Rest-stops and spontaneous stops

When you’re driving from place to place, you have the ability to make random stops. If something looks beautiful you could pull over.

This includes rest stops. One thing we liked about driving was that we could stop at rest-stops, stretch our legs, use a toilet, and grab some food.

Now you can do some of this on trains, but you’re a little more confined.

-Cons-

Now let’s talk about the negative sides of renting a car in Italy….

It can be expensive

Probably the number one downside, is that it most-likely is going to be more expensive. The exception will probably be if you’re traveling with a group — like I mentioned above.

When you rent a car you pay for more than just the “listed” price. You will probably do add-ons that is priced per day. This could include GPS and various coverage’s. If you want an automatic, it will cost you more per day. It’ll also cost you extra per day for each extra driver.

We have gotten around some of this by only listing one driver and always taking a manual. Even with this our car rentals have been more money than a train would be.

AND, this doesn’t account for any scrapes, hail, or dings that happen to the car while you’re driving it….

You have to take care of the car

Unlike traveling by train, you have to manage a vehicle. This involves looking for a garage at your accommodation, managing parking, cleaning it if you drive through dirt roads, and hoping that you don’t get hailed on.

Yes — I keep bringing up hail — because this happened to us — and unfortunately it wasn’t covered in our coverage. This meant we had to pay an extra fee a couple weeks later.

And I’m talking over $500!

You have to fill up for fuel/petrol/gas

I don’t know about you, but I really dislike getting gas at my home! Let alone in another country.

Well, if you rent a car, you will have to search for gas stations, you will have to make sure you fill-up with the correct fuel, and you might have to manage doing this in Italian.

So brace yourself!

Risk accidents

No travel is without risks. But if you’re really risk adverse and you’re weighing train travel risks vs. car travel risks, I might argue you have more risks driving.

When we drove throughout northern Italy, we didn’t spend a ton of time in traffic. But on our way from Piedmont to Lake Como, there was no other way to get there than driving around Milan.

Here we found quite a bit of traffic. And it was a little nerve wrecking. We were more aware and focused than we would have had to been on a train.

Have to navigate different road rules and laws

Road rules in Italy seemed to be more relaxed.

We definitely adjusted to this. For example, driving around Lake Como was breathtakingly beautiful!

It was also stressful driving on 2-lane narrow roads with a high cliff on one side and a drop to the lake on the other side. Cars pass much more aggressively than we were familiar with.

We definitely adjusted, but it wasn’t easy to just take in the view.

Signs may be in a different language

Not everything is in English. If you’re in a touristy area, you will probably see more signs in English, but when you’re driving in another country, you’re going to have to expect some signage in a language you aren’t familiar with.

You have to have an international drivers license

Italy requires an international drivers license in order to drive.

It wasn’t actually very difficult to get an international license. But it is another step you have to take to go this route.

Tolls

The final con of traveling by rental car in Italy is the tolls.

After driving a rental car through Croatia — we learned the hard way to always ask the rental car company how the tolls work!

We learned what sign to go through to be able to pay cash and/or card. After we figured that out, we felt more comfortable.

But this is yet again — another complexity to traveling by car in Italy.

-Steps for renting a car in Italy-

For rental car in Italy advice, let’s talk about the steps involved.

Research car rental companies

Take some time to research the different car rental companies. Weigh the pros and cons of each. Check out the costs of each company. Look at the coverage and risks of each company.

Some companies you should consider are: Avis, Sixt, Europcar, and Budget. But this is just to name a few.

In our travels through Croatia and Italy we booked with Sixt. We generally have had really good experiences. Except that we got charged because of hail damage in Italy. We learned that we should have booked more coverage, but this was disappointing that something like this would cost us….

You could also consider booking through Expedia or Priceline. But again, do your research!

Book your car rental

I would say, do this as early as you can!

From my experience, the “sweet spot” for affordable rental bookings is “the earlier the better.”

When booking be prepared to understand what coverage you want to get (Consider paying for most of the coverage — it could be worth it), how many drivers you will have (Can you manage with just one? It’ll be significantly cheaper), and consider if you want to pay for a GPS in the car or if you can use data on your phone.

And if you really want the freedom of having a car, but you don’t want the cost, consider renting a car for a day! Or renting for part of your trip. You can break it up!

Get your international drivers license

This is a fairly easy process. You don’t need this to do the booking (at least with Sixt).

But I would prioritize doing this as soon as you can so you don’t put it off. This is mandatory to have in Italy, so I would say you should do it as soon as possible.

You can do this through AAA — either in-person or by mail.

It’s pretty simple. If you go in-person you can complete the form in advance, they will take your pictures there and then you’ll get your international permit right away (if I remember correctly….).

Do some research on the road rules

To provide you some comfort, spend time researching the road rules in Italy. This might help you feel more prepared when you actually get there.

With this said, we actually didn’t do this and we did okay….

Download Google Maps

Whenever traveling to another country, I always like to download Google Maps to be used offline. This can be helpful if you don’t want to use international data. But even if you are, I think it’s a smart back-up to have.

That way, when you’re driving around Italy and you realize your data isn’t working, you can use the offline version.

On arrival go pick up your keys — and ask questions!

This is your moment!!

If you have concerns or questions, ask away at the desk when you pick up your car.

I ask so many questions!! AND take lots of notes (so I don’t forget).

This includes: What fuel do we use to fill-up? How do the tolls work? Do we need cash or card for the tolls? Does our car have previous damage? Do you have any recommendations on where to stop on our route? What do we do if we get a flat tire? Who do we call if we do get in an accident?

Check for any scratches/dents — and take pictures!!!

This is a super important step!!! Take pictures of ANY scratch, dent, mark, paint differentiation that you see. We were surprised when we got to our rental car and found so many marks and scratches. We spent a good 20 minutes taking pictures.

When you return your car, make sure you show the staff person your pictures and make sure they put it into the system.

You don’t want to get charged for these things.

AND it’s a real possibility that your rental car will not be perfect.

-Ultimate advice-

So ultimately, is it worth it to rent a car in Italy???

There’s not one answer. But my opinion is that it could be worth it in these scenarios:

  • If you’re traveling extensively through rural Italy, around remote towns a rental car might be worth it.
  • If you’re traveling in a larger group — it’s possible it’ll be a better financial decision. But even then you might want to consider if the complexities and risks are worth it
  • If you want to take a day trip to a more remote area (ie. Piedmont or Tuscany). This could be a good way to explore at your own pace for a day — while not absorbing the price and risks.

I hope you found this helpful!!! I can say that if we return to rural parts of Italy, we probably will travel by rental car. But if we can, traveling by train is much easier and more relaxing!

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