For our upcoming Italy trip we’re planning to take the train most of the time but we have a few days in Tuscany where there are a number of small sights on our to do list so having a car is a must. Plus it would be cool to say that I’ve driven in Italy.
I found 2 great resources on this topic:
These forums confirmed my suspicion that I need to get my international driver’s license and that driving in the big cities doesn’t make a lot of sense (especially for Venice and some of the walled cities where there are no cars or strict limits on cars). There were also some warnings of how aggressive Italian drivers can be, but I’m looking forward to it. From my experience things seem to work okay as long as everybody is driving the same way so that you can anticipate what everyone is going to do. My strategy is to either keep up with them or else get out of the way if I can’t!
I started my research for picking up a rental car in Florence 3 days ago using my usual jumping off points of the Flyertalk, Fodors, and Slowtravel message forums. Right off the bat there were strong recommendations to use Auto Europe, a rental car consolidator. The general consensus seemed to be that you would often get a car from Avis or Hertz through them for less than booking directly.
This piqued my interest and I quickly punched my dates into the Canadian Auto Europe site. Poking around I found that I could get a Peugeot 207 for around $200 CDN. Poking around further I found that I could get a convertible Peugeot 207 for just under $400!
My pulse quickened at the thought of driving around Tuscany with the top down. What better way to explore the countryside? Plus the drop-top would make it even easier to look for great photo opportunities where we could pull over (safety first!) and take the photo without even getting out of the car!
In my younger days I would have just made the reservation, but my older, more responsible self who has been burned by these decisions before decided to think it over. As a general rule I now prefer not to rush into decisions when I am not familiar with all of the options and variables. Usually this is for the best as I don’t have a great track record for impulsive decisions.
Would the covertible have enough trunk space (sorry, boot space) for our 2 suitcases? What don’t I know about the Auto Europe guys? Which pickup location is closest to my hotel? The web site says that the reservation charge is fully refundable, but how easy/difficult would that be? There were just too many unknowns so I decided to sleep on it.
As often happens now that we have kids, sleeping on it for one night turned into the rest of the weekend. After reading more forum posts on Monday I decided that I would take the plunge and go for it. I punched my dates into the website and guess what? None left. Uh oh. I then checked with both Hertz and Avis who were also sold out (which in hindsight makes perfect sense since Auto Europe uses their cars). To make things worse the cheapest cars left that I was interested in were in the $250-300 range now. Nuts. When you play it safe you win some and you lose some.
As a last resort I’ve tried calling their reservation line in person to see if there are any other options. Unfortunately the convertible is considered a “specialty car” and I have to call back tomorrow. I’ll update if things work out!
Re-learning a valuable lesson I realized I should just book a cancellable car ASAP. I went back to Avis, my favorite company for renting cars in North America. I quickly booked a car and felt reassured by the familiar booking interface. Based on my research Hertz seems to be the preferred rental agency in Europe but their prices are basically the same as what I have already booked with Avis.
As I type this I’m also booking a car through Hertz and I’ll decide which one to cancel later. It looks like if I’m making a pre-paid Hertz reservation that I only have 7 days to cancel without penalty so I’ll have to decide soon.
Update April 13 2010: I got it! http://averagetraveller.com/tuscany-rental-car-kemwel-comes-through-with-peugeot-207-cc/500/