Renting a Car in Europe: Plan It or Cram It

Once you break the 5 person family barrier, it sometimes seems like the travel world doesn’t quite know what to do with us. This is especially true for renting a car in Europe. The options are a plenty for crews of 3-5, but narrows as the team gets larger.

This was our plight during while in the Netherlands for the last leg of our Europe trip. We stayed about 45 minutes north of Amsterdam in an awesome town called Alkmaar. My wife is Dutch American so it was our first trip to her motherland. We decided to visit the area of Yerseke about 2 1/2 hours south of Alkmaar where her great great grandparents grew up. A quick check of the train routes proved that this mode of transport would be too long and costly. So our best bet was renting a car for the day.

Limits in Size & Transmission

Simple enough I thought. We booked a nice minivan for our East Coast trip a few years ago so this would be no problem. However, most major rental companies don’t fill their fleets the same in Europe as in the US. Larger vehicles like minivans are tougher to come by especially with automatic transmission.

There we were excited to visit the land of my wife’s people with no stick shift drivers in the family and not enough seats. So we did what any responsible parent would do…just jammed four kids in the back of an Audi station wagon!

Renting a car in Europe can offer a lot of freedom, but plan ahead to get the right size vehicle.

While not our kids favorite option, the 5 hour round in the luxury station wagon was well worth it and certainly a funny memory we talk about often.

Plan Ahead for Everyone’s Comfort

Some words to the wise for those of you who may not want to suffer the same fate as we did when renting a car in Europe…

  • If you can’t drive shift, perform your search and book at least one month before you go. Spontaneity is nice, grouchy claustrophobic children are not.
  • If you have a travel rewards credit card, perform a search through their program as they will have more options across multiple brands.
  • When you find an option, first check if signing up for the rental car company’s membership will offer you discounts. You don’t have to pay a fee or be required to book a certain number of rentals to become a member.

Renting a car gives your family the freedom to travel wherever you like on your schedule. It also reduces per ticket costs incurred from train, bus or other transit. However, make sure to weigh the benefits and expense closely. The daily rates on larger vehicles can be double the cost of standard size ones. Adding the cost of fuel and potential parking fees could make this a losing proposition.

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