I am speaking at a conference near Katowice this summer. Afterwards I would like to spend several days exploring the Alps. What are the pros and cons of renting a car in Poland and driving through Austria and Switzerland versus taking a train from Katowice to Austria and renting a car there?
You would pay more by renting a car and Poland and turning it in in another country. I would skip the rental car altogether and use trains. With trains and centrally located hotels, you don't need a car. There are certain areas you aren't allowed to take a car into and finding parking is a hassle. Trains in Austria and Switzerland take you to glorious sights and if you stay in a centrally located hotel in the cities, you can walk or use excellent public transport to get where you want to go.
A car rented in one country and returned in another costs extra; I've seen reports in this Forum of between €100 and €600. Of course, sometimes it's worth paying for various reasons. But for your itinerary, Terri Lynn is right. Get from Poland to Austria or Switzerland by train or plane. You then may want a car rental for part of your trip; as long as you return to the same country (even if different cities), there's usually no surcharge. But, for many places in those countries, a car is either not needed or is an actual hindrance. Some of the most beautiful places in Switzerland are car-free, so you pay a high fee to keep it parked while you take the trains and lifts.
If you post what places you are thinking of seeing in Austria and Switzerland, others can give better advice on transit there.
It depends on where you will be returning the car. If in Austria then by all means take the train and rent there. If you are driving back to Katowice then there is no problem. I have driven all through Austria and Switzerland and it was stunningly beautiful. While a train will take you point to point, with a car you have the freedom to be spontaneous and stop whenever you want. Some of my best memories of those countries are the roadside picnics watching the sunset or sunrise. Also, finding obscure little villages and simply exploring them at will.
Thanks very much for taking time to reply. You helped me get further down the road in my planning.