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Tips for a multi-country road trip

Hello Travellers! I'm looking for some advice on the best way to traverse multiple countries. The loose itinerary is rent a car in Milan (we really appreciate the freedom and flexibility of having a vehicle) couple of days at Lake Como, couple of days in the Swiss Alps, down to the French Alps and into Provence, ending in Marseille. Trouble is, taking a rental car out of its country of origin is very cost prohibitive (for 2 weeks we're looking at about $3k, which is about the cost of our flights from the US). It seems like this should be simpler than it is. Am I missing something? Or will we have to pick up/drop off cars near borders, find public transport to cross borders, etc.?

Posted by
965 posts

I believe it's usually expensive when taking a car to a different country due to the extra fees.

Posted by
7723 posts

We dropped a rental car off near border, took a taxi across to closest town with rental cars and off we went! Our hotel in first country found the driver for us. He didn’t speak English but got us to the car rental pick up in country #2.

Use trains in Switzerland then pick up car #2 in France. We had been quoted a $1000. drop fee which motivated us to do what I described. Maybe dropping Switzerland from your plans and going directly into France to get your car would be easier.
We were told a driver from the first country would have to be sent to pick up the car where you left it off in the other country thus the huge fee.

Posted by
24 posts

Thanks for the input, Suki. Sounds like you did what I feared we'd have to do--a bunch of messing around dealing with transportation. From our experience renting cars in Greece, Romania, and Italy, it can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 1.5 hours each time you have to drop/pick up a car, and THEN we'd have to figure out transport between cars. I'm thinking you're right--maybe drop Switzerland for now. Now I'm thinking about Milan-->Como-->Italian Alps/Dolomites-->Venice, drop car in Venice (still in country of origin) and catch a flight to Marseille.

Posted by
221 posts

In my experience, Switzerland is easy by train...and it is easy to get to Switzerland from Italy and to France from Switzerland. There are plenty of trains and connection so still plenty of freedom and flexibility.

The biggest impediment to desired freedom and flexibility is likely to be your itinerary...and the train is probably better for the start of your itinerary than to rent a car. In fact, I would recommend train travel for Milan-Lake Como-Swiss Alps-French Alps. Rent your car once you reach France, to explore Provence to Marseille.

Posted by
21077 posts

I haven't spent any significant time on Lake Como, but I remember comments here that lake boats are a better way to enjoy the scenery than cars, because the view from the road is often not great. And up in Switzerland, you often need trains or alpine lifts to get up to what you want to see, anyway.

Your second idea does sound smoother, though I don't know that a car will be helpful until you get to a place like Bolzano and are ready to head up into the mountains. And even there, the bus service works pretty well.

It sounds like you intend to cover a great deal of territory in two weeks. Provence has a lot of variety. I wouldn't fly into Marseille intending to spend just 2 or 3 days in Provence. However, it seems you are experienced travelers, so I guess a quick pace works for you. Do keep in mind that theft from parked cars can be a significant risk.

Posted by
157 posts

Its been a couple of years.

I rented a car in Paris. Drove around Loire Valley, over to Germany, then Luxembourg and then dropped the car at Brussels International.

No fuss. No crazy drop fees.

Posted by
6872 posts

The problem with dropping the car off in another country is that the rental company's going to have to transport the car back into the original country where it's licensed. That's why you do better renting a vehicle in the same country you're flying out of.

Another issue is that there are not famous rental car agencies in every town. In the above case, Marseille is about 250 miles from the nearest big city back in Italy--Genoa. And that's a little too far to just run the car back to.

Sometimes it's easiest to take a train to the next country. Or, fly to France on a budget European airline.

Posted by
34 posts

If you can get creative, you can make it work IMO. We are renting in Berlin and wanted to drive to Budapest via a few places. We ended up returning the car in Austria for a fairly minimal fee with Sixt. Other places were charging much more. You need to check all the different rental places and check in cities that might be a train ride away from where you really want to go.

Don't forget about some countries needing "vignettes" for the toll roads. You can often get an e-vignette. Some countries don't require them at all. Just check. And don't forget to get an IDP (international driver's permit). You never know and it is super fast and easy. $20-30 at a local AAA office (no need to be a member). No appointment is necessary for most locations.

To give you an idea of what we are paying, for just 3 days, we are paying about $550 dollars. However, this is for 4 people and even if we took the cheapest transportation to go to the various places we will be stopping, we still come out ahead on the car.

Perhaps do a mix of train and car? It may also be possible to rent from airports instead of neighborhood locations? That is often better for the drop-off in a different country fee. Or maybe drop the car in Switzerland and take a train into France? There is only one way to find the cheapest option and that is by going through each and every permutation. It can take a long time and be a bit complicated to try and create the perfect itinerary for cost and convenience but IMO, it's possible. It just takes time. :)

Posted by
959 posts

Multi-country car rental can be expensive with that one way drop off fee. If you're trip is long enough you can avoid some of that by doing a short term lease but you have be gone like 18 or more days. Look at Kemwel and Auto Europe if your trip is that long. We are doing Italy, Switzerland and France and opted for trains and private drivers for Italy and Switzerland. All yo can do with your car at Lake Como is pay to park it so its definitely not worth it there. A car for Provence is almost a must however.

Posted by
24 posts

Thanks everyone for your input--it's greatly appreciated, and I think I've figured out a good itinerary:

--Milan Malpensa to Menaggio @ Lake Como (3 nights) via rental car (per my "freedom and flexibility" comment earlier, this is an hour and a half drive vs. 3.5 hours via train and bus. The drive along the lake looks stunning, based on some cruising on Google Maps Street View. We'd also do a boat tour of the lake).

--Menaggio to Bolzano (1 night). This is almost a 5 hour drive, and while I'm sure it's gorgeous maybe I'll find somewhere else for us to stop for the night. But we're archaeologists, and we want to see Otzi!

--Bolzano to somewhere near the Tre Cime di Lavaredo. Cortina? (Would greatly appreciate any Dolomite tips) Two nights.

--Drop car at Venice. Two nights

--Fly to Nice. Get another car. Drive to Eze. Stay somewhere around there for 2 nights (Nice or Cannes? Maybe Saint Tropez? Tihs will be early September, so not sure if the beach clubs are still open, but would like to spend a day splurging on something like that).

--Drive to/through Provence. Three nights somewhere central enough to daytrip to nice places.

--Train from Avignon to Paris. Two nights in Paris (anniversary) before flying home.

I know! That's a lot of ground to cover in 15 days, but we're in our 30's and like to travel when we travel while we still have some stamina! I'm sure the tide will shift pretty soon to more relaxing trips, but this pace works for us. I do feel like I'm going to want more time in Paris, but I think I'd prefer to get a taste and go back for more later, rather than just skipping it. Plus, if we flew back to the States from Provence, it's likely we'd fly through Paris anyway.

Again, I thank you all! I really couldn't imagine planning trips without these forums!

Posted by
6872 posts

We're glad ou've got it handled well.

We used to drive as far and fast as our car would go when we were in our 30's. But $9 per U.S. gasoline in Italy brought me to my senses. Now we travel slowly, and we see so much more this way.

We try to stay in great cities a minimum of 4 days before going to the next city. We like to travel to cities that are in relatively close proximity to each other--and in a straight line. I'm talking places like Dresden-Prague-Vienna. Or, Munich-Salzburg-Vienna. Or, London-Paris-Barcelona (by train.) And sometimes we'll save time to fly EasyJet or RyanAir to a completely different place on the other end of Europe--like Lisbon or Copenhagen--before flying home to the U.S.

Have a great trip.