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Winging it in terms of transportation-help!

So, my type B husband (I'm the type A) has refused to set anything in stone for our pending 3-week stint in Europe. We leave for Paris in a few days and all we have is our flights booked as well as an apartment in Paris for the first few days.

After that we plan on renting a car and heading into the countryside - we have a rough itinerary in mind - so that's not a problem.

My question is, once we arrive in Europe, what's the best way to actually book travel, without paying obscene prices, and without randomly showing up at the train station or Avis location to see what's available? It seems like most of the resources I've found online (i.e. raileurope.com) are directed at people booking their tickets BEFORE leaving home. Any quick advice for the best way to proceed once we're already there? :) Thanks!

Posted by
10344 posts

This just answers one of your questions:

The standard advice on this forum has been: book car rentals from the US to save significant amounts of money. The walk-into-the-car-rental counter method has not been used by people here, it might occasionally be necessary but you will probably pay substantially more, and it's likely than in Europe all they'll have is stick shifts (automatics have to be booked in advance).

Posted by
15 posts

Thanks Kent - I realize that, but this is out of my control. The hubby does not even know for sure what date he would like to start the driving part of our trip.

(and stick-shift is our preferred choice anyway)

So I suppose I'm looking for a compromise of sorts - surely some people do wait to book rentals until they arrive in Europe, and surely there must be at least a few hints to avoid the "biggest" ripoff. ?

We'd be booking for 7 days probably, and although we have an Avis frequent traveler card (or whatever it is called), we're totally not set on going with an international (i.e. familiar) company.

Any advice? thanks.

Posted by
2978 posts

Hi Sarah,

If you can't rent in advance I'd say "relax and go with the flow." If you get there and a rental car is too expensive or not available just take the train and purchase tickets as you go.

Best wishes!

Posted by
8700 posts

If there are a lot of unsold seats for a particular route, sometimes you can get cheap last-minute train tickets on TGVs in France. However, if you simply show up at a station, most of the time you'll have to pay full fare.

Will you be visiting any other countries besides France? If so, have you picked specific cities in those countries?

Posted by
811 posts

Last year my husband and I were in Dubrovnik and (last minute) decided to rent a car to drive to the Bay of Kotor in Montenegro. We spent the better part of a very entertaining afternoon going from car rental place to car rental place (Avis, National, etc.) trying to find anything available for the next day. Over and over we were told there was nothing available. Nada. Zilch. Not a single car was to be had in aaaall of southern Croatia, we were told.

So we went to an internet cafe, went to AutoEurope's website, and placed a reservation for a car (still for the following day). We checked our email once again before going to bed and we'd already gotten a personal reply from a rep at AutoEurope telling us he was working very hard on our request. By morning we had another email from the same rep telling us he had secured a car for us - from the same National Car Rental office we'd been to the day earlier that said under no circumstances did they have a car available. Not only that, but the rate was about the same as what we had seen from the States well before we left, back when we were toying with making the reservation in the first place.

Soooo, it might be worth your while to consider AutoEurope for a last minute booking when you are already in France. I don't know if I would leave the reservation down to last nail-biting moments like we did, but we have always found their customer service to be top-notch and they clearly were able to come through for us.

Good luck!

Posted by
881 posts

Hi Sarah,

The rental car difference is significant. Make a refundable reservation now, if you don't use it, cancel. We are talking a huge price difference.

Most car companies will let you reserve without paying in advance (not all, but most).

If you're over there, and decide to do it spur of the moment, go on the web, and check the US sites, or call the US reservations offices. Odds are you'll get a better price booking in the US, than booking there.

For the train - wouldn't worry about it too much, unless you specifically now you're going on a busy route, or during some kind of event. Yes, you can get discounts in advance - sizable ones, but really - European trains are pretty affordable. (PS - Avoid Raileurope like the plaaaague).

When you arrive in town, just check out what options are available for going to your next destination before you leave the station.

Posted by
12040 posts

Echoing the others, except on some of the high-speed lines on certain day and night trains, there usually is no advantage to booking rail tickets in advanced. You almost never need a reservation, and most of the time, it isn't even possible to make one.

Realize what Rail Europe's business model is- selling marked-up ticket prices on a limited number of trains to provide "peace of mind".

I've probably spent close to a thousand hours on European trains over the years, and on only two occassions did I need a reservation: on a night train leaving Russia and on the Thalys high-speed line from Brussels to Paris the day after Christmas.

Posted by
1357 posts

Prices for rental cars can rise significantly a couple of weeks before you want them. My sister and I rented cars in Ireland this summer, and luckily I had some quotes emailed to me, because I checked the websites about 3 weeks before our trip and the prices had almost doubled. I was still able to get the prices from the quotes.

Posted by
31271 posts

Sarah,

I suspect that your husband's reluctance to "set anything in stone" will result in higher costs for your vacation (hopefully you have a generous budget).

The others have provided lots of good tips which will hopefully allow you to get a reasonably priced car rental.

Will you be driving only in France or in other countries as well?

Good luck and happy travels!

Posted by
1767 posts

Sarah,

Find a nice friend in the US.

When your husband decides it's time to drive, contact friend and have him/her book something. DO NOT TELL HUSBAND! Send him to the counters and let him get the massive quotes. Then pull your "ace" out of the hole. It will be more then if you had booked well in advance, but probably still cheaper then walking up. Maybe he will learn? (I would suggest having the "pre and actual" prices on trains too!

As others have said, considering the strength of the Euro, I hope you have a good budget! :)

Posted by
2349 posts

When you don't plan ahead, sometimes you spend ages looking for a place to stay or a car to rent, you spend too much, and life sucks. But sometimes it all works out fine, you get a great place to stay, dinner is wonderful, and life is great.

When you plan everything ahead, sometimes your room smells like dogs and mold, there's a transportation strike, they lost your reservation, and life sucks. But sometimees it works out fine, etc, and life is great.

My point is, don't let this cause a big fight between you because you're mad that he didn't/wouldn't plan ahead. Take deep breaths, sing a little "go with the flow" song. Do a little dance with it to loosen yourself up.

Posted by
1 posts

I would suggest you avoid RailEurope. Their prices are way too high compared to what you can obtain directly in Europe from the national rail companies.
This summer, we (3) visited Scandinavia and made reservations via RailEurope. The online cost was initially US $ 906, including insurance. They responded that, due to "market-driven demand", the cost was now US $ 1225, including insurance.
The local prices for exactly the same tickets on the same day, same travel class, came out to US $ 561 (give or take a few dollars because of exchange rate fluctuations).
In my experience, it is not difficult at all to obtain tickets for trains. I would only do reservations for the high-speed trains, because they require it but generally not because of a lack of space.

Have a great trip!

Posted by
9363 posts

No matter how you book it, "last minute" equals "big bucks". It won't matter if you book on a US site, or have a friend book you from the US, if it's last minute, it's going to cost you. The best advice I could offer has already been said - book a reservation and cancel it if it doesn't work for you. A few rental companies charge for cancellations, but most don't. I've even booked way ahead of a trip then watched for deals that might pop up before my trip, changing to a new reservation if I find one.

Posted by
15 posts

Well our trip has now come and gone...(great trip! can't wait to go back!)

Long before I had posted the question in this thread, I had received quotes from Avis, Hertz, and Europe by Car.

The long and short of it is that booking last minute (we went with Avis, online, 2 days before we picked up the car) didn't change the price in any significant way.

Europe by Car's quote for a "Small economy" vehicle for 7 days was about $660.00 USD, and that was including a fee to pick up at the airport and drop off in a completely different city/country. (It would have been about $175 USD less to pick up and drop off at the same downtown location according to the quotes I had) I don't have the details of the quotes for Avis and Hertz handy but Hertz was more than Europe by Car, and 7 days at Avis was about $575 CAD for the cheapest car, airport pickup, and different country drop-off.

When all is said and done, we wound up picking up our car, a Citroen C5 (i.e. NOT small economy, but rather, a fairly nice sedan) at a downtown Paris location. We reserved it for 7 days and kept it for 12, without even telling them, because we could not get in touch with them (long story). We then dropped it off at a totally different location in Lille, at the train station (extra fee for that, as with airports)...

GRAND TOTAL....$756 CAD...for 12 days instead of 7...a nice car instead of a tiny one...

We hit 2 toll highways in France for a grand total of 7 euros and a tank of diesel cost us $100 CAD. We went through 1.5 tanks. The overall cost was reasonable to us and the flexibility of booking when we felt like leaving the city was very convenient.