Rent a car or take the train?
It's a question we ask frequently when traveling in Europe. Because we just can't stop that trip to Amsterdam from becoming a trip to Amsterdam, The Hague, Antwerp, Ghent and Brussels (we are powerless to authentic Belgian chocolate and waffles). While road tripping might be our go-to in the States, in Europe most trains cost less than dinner out—and then there's the issue of driving stick shift. Our concierge share the six questions you must ask yourself to decide which form of transport is right for you.
Am I Already Comfortable Driving A Manual Car?
You'll pay a premium for an American-style automatic, so you'll want to be comfortable driving stick shift. It's not the kind of skill you pick up quickly, especially on unfamiliar, fast-moving roads. Driving isn't the kind of thing you want to learn trial by fire.
Am I Comfortable Reading Road Signs In A Foreign Language?
We want the colors of road signs universalized—but that's not going to happen soon. In Europe highway signs are blue as opposed to green, written in different fonts and posted in a foreign language (not a surprise, but worth restating). While these are the kinds of things you can pick up quickly, it is an extra layer of research to add to your trip and another hassle of renting a car.
How Much Luggage Will I Be Carrying?
Be honest: do you pack a lot? Will it be a drag to roll your suitcase over cobblestones or lug it onto a train car? While we firmly believe in traveling light, we realize it's not always possible. If you know you're going to be packing more than usual, a car can ease headaches and backaches. This is usually the case with destination weddings that require you bring a whole formal ensemble.
Is My Schedule So Tight That A Delay Will Throw Off My Itinerary?
We always like to leave wiggle room for unplanned discoveries, but there are some destinations where there is just SO MUCH TO DO that your schedule can't help but be jammed full until your flight home. If that's the case, look into potential train delays and how far railway stations are from the city center. At the same time, look into traffic reports and where you'll be picking up and dropping off your rental car. If one form of travel seems to offer significant time savings, opt for that one.
Am I Visiting A Series Of Large Cities, Or Focusing On Exploring A Smaller Region In Depth?
While most European cities are well connected by train, smaller regions can have sparse service. This is true even across countries with fast and easy rail connections between London and Brussels, Paris and Milan. For exploring Tuscan hill towns, a rental car will be your best option to avoid waiting for infrequent bus service.
How Safe Are The Roads In The Country I'm Visiting?
Some countries aren't known for safe roads. If that's the case with your destination, take the train, even if it means skipping a visit to that gem of a church in an out of the way town. Leave the winding lanes to experienced drivers—one less thing to worry about.