The Secret to Renting a Car in Europe for More than 2 Weeks for One-Way European Road Trip
The last time I visited Portugal and Spain, I did it via a plane/train/bus combo, starting in Lisbon and finishing in Barcelona. On that trip, I swore that the next time I visited the Spanish and Portuguese coasts, I’d rent a car. I soon found out that rental fees plus insurance plus giant one-way, drop fees from the typical car rental companies in Europe like Avis, Hertz, Budget, EuropeCar, AutoEurope and Sixt for 47 days were astronomical. I had to find a better way at a better price on a one-way rental in Europe. I wanted to go from Rome to Lisbon along the Mediterranean, and I wanted to find a car I could rent that would be affordable.
A Giant Road Trip from Rome to Lisbon
We are on a perpetual five-year international house hunt (see video) that may or may not end when we find the perfect place. Portugal and Spain have been high on our list of possible places to make our home, and we wanted to be sure that we visited all the darling coastal towns along Costa Blanca, Costa Brava, Costa Dorada and all over the Algarve, the southern area of Portugal. Trains and busses don’t easily go to the small towns like Denia, Xavia, Tavira, and Lagos. The goal was to visit towns and cross them off our list, narrowing down the list to a desirable number to return to in the future. Could I rent a car in Barcelona and drive to France, or could I rent a car in Portugal and drive to Spain? I found out I could rent a car in Rome and drive to Lisbon. Here’s how we did it.
We weren’t successful in narrowing the list. It just grew and grew.
Plus, it didn’t help the list that we picked up the car in Rome and tackled not only the Italian Rivieria north of Rome but also its neighbor, the French Riviera. Nice, France, La Spezia and Portofino, Italy got added to the list as well.
Total Cost for a Road Trip through Europe
So how did we rent a car in Rome, do a Europe road trip, drop it in Lisbon and what did it cost? You can see our video about the entire road trip and where we went. Roughly, though, we picked up the car in Rome, toured Tuscany and Venice, headed north along the Italian Mediterranean coast, skimmed the French Mediterranean coast and included Nice, Cannes and Monaco, then jutted up to San Sebastian and Bilboa on the Spanish Atlantic coast, came back down through Madrid to the Spanish Mediterranean coast to hit up all the small towns between Barcelona and Gibraltar, then dropping into the Portuguese Mediterranean coast to enjoy all the small towns in the Algarve, then headed north, dropping the car in Lisbon. The best place to rent a car in Europe was not to rent a car at all.
It was a 5000 mile, 8000 km trip with a total cost (including the daily rental rate, gas, tolls, and parking) was $3375.
But let’s break that out with all the details of how we got the car for a one-way lease in Europe.
How Much It Costs to Rent a Car Affordably in Europe for More than 30 Days
I had heard there were ways to lease cars in Europe, picking them up in one location and dropping them off in another. After some research, I determined that the French car companies have figured out a way to offer a longer term rental to non-EU citizens thus bypassing their responsibilities to pay VAT tax (which can be over 20%). Essentially, you buy the car from them and they buy it back from you, but it’s considered a lease for technical purposes. I figured out I could rent a car in Europe by doing a lease with a French company and do a European road trip like I wanted to travel. We could do a one-way car rental in Europe without drop fees or extra fees.
There are several French companies that do this scheme. We decided to use Auto-TT. This is how it works. You go to their website and pick the car you want to drive. Auto-TT offers the French brands, Dacia and Renault. You state where you want to pick up the car. They give you the following choices: 11 airports in France including Paris and Nice, 10 airports in The Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and Italy, and 5 other cities in France, Spain, and Italy. Basically, if you’re driving in western Europe, they’ve got you covered. We could rent a car for a month or more in Europe and not get stuck with huge fees and have unlimited mileage. Our two-week itinerary became a 6-week itinerary for a European car trip.
Once you pick your pick-up location, you pick your drop-off location. The choices are the same as the pick-ups. There were so many options for one-way trips. Of course, you could also drop off and pick up in the same location, too. Our long-term car rental worked out perfectly. The car had navigation throughout Europe, so we got around easily. We loved our Portugal Spain France Italy road tip itinerary.
Next, you give them your dates. You must give about 21 days notice, and you must rent for more than one day. Due to the worldwide car production shortage, you may need to plan for a longer timeline. Right now, cars are only being offered for four months from now.
Finally, you pick the car you want. They have about 15 car choices which include manual transmission, auto transmission, hybrid/gas/diesel, and sizes ranging from small hatchbacks to larger SUVs. And the good news is you can pick up a car in Madrid and drop it in Rome, or pick your car in Lisbon and drop it in Barcelona. Most combos of big European cities work.
The more automatic the car and the larger it is, the more expensive the total rate. None the less, all rates include all drivers, comprehensive and liability insurance, unlimited mileage, and no age limits. The more days you keep the car, the lower the daily rate.
When we booked, we didn’t have to give a deposit, and our total bill wasn’t due until just a couple of weeks before pick up. So if you change your mind, there’s no fear of loss of a deposit. Thus, if you’re thinking about doing this, go and book your car now. You can always cancel with no penalties (be sure to read all the fine print, as things do change!)
As you make your choices on the Auto-TT website, you can see how the price changes based on which car you pick and the amount of days you need it. The rate changes right on the screen. Once you make your selection, you can add a baby seat and/or a full tank of gas (the car comes with just enough gas to get you to a gas station), you’ll confirm the details, and then finish the transaction. Next, they ask you to upload your passport, your drivers license and your arrival/departure information (if you have it.) There was no need for an international drivers license. They accepted my Texas license with no problem.
Total Price for a Car Rental in Europe for 47 Days
Finally, you can chose to pay right away or 15 days before pickup. We ended up paying $1936 total for 47 days, or just over $41 a day. We liked that we could pay with our Chase Sapphire card as well.
We loved working with Auto-TT throughout the entire interaction. I had several questions and changes. We changed our drop-off dates and locations a couple of times. Each time they provided written instructions and maps in English. In addition, because my amount of days changed, they modified my rates. There were no change fees.
Our Experience Renting a Car in Europe for More than a Month (47 Days)
We selected a gas-powered, manual transmission Renault Clio. It was very similar to a Honda Civic hatchback, but nicer. It was fully equipped with GPS, navigation, smart cruise control, AC, and back-up cameras. When we picked it up, it had 3 km on it! Sadly, we weren’t allowed to pick the color, but we were happy with the dark blue we received.
Picking Up a Rental Car in Rome
We picked up the Renault in Rome at the airport. It could not have been easier. They gave us exact instructions on where to meet them when we landed (outside of baggage claim on the upper level on the street). They picked us up in a nice van, and took us 10 minutes away to our car. At their facility, we quickly signed paper work. They gave us a tour of the brand-new car, handed us the keys, and we drove away.
Paying Autovia Car Tolls in Europe
From there, we enjoyed a 47-day road trip through Europe. The roads were great. I mean really great. Getting used to all of the traffic circles and some of the funnier road signs took a few days, but we quickly adapted to European driving. We also learned that we could change the navigation to either include tolls roads or to exclude them. The tolls roads were costly–but they certainly cut travel times in almost half in some cases. Other times, we were in the mood to meander, and we’d give off the Autovia and investigate the smaller towns.
From Rome to Lisbon, we paid $302 in tolls.
The tolls were super easy to pay, too. Just drive through the toll booth, use your contactless or credit card and tap. There is no chasing down of license plates or surprise toll bills in the mail later. Just pay as you go. In Portugal, we did have to drive-through a credit-card registration, but in all cases, we never had to worry about penalties or surcharges for not having toll transponders nor pay-by-plate scenarios.
Paying for Car Gas Fuel in Europe
Gas, on the other hand, was always an adventure. Sometimes our credit cards would work, and sometimes they wouldn’t. Between Steve and I, we have at least a dozen different cards. No matter what we’d do, none of our cards would work. But then we’d go to the next station down the street, and we’d have no problem. Cash, of course, worked too. We always made sure we had at least 50 Euro with us. In addition, many of the stations would be closed on Sunday, but if you had a EU credit card, you could pay at the pump even if the station was closed.
Gas ran about 2 Euro a liter or, roughly $7.50 a US gallon. For our 5000 miles, we paid about $946 in gas.
Paying for Car Parking in Europe
Since we had a car, we had to constantly think about parking. Of course this affected us as we toured all the centros and sites, but it also affected us in our hotel and Airbnb choices. We had to find accommodations that had free parking, or we had to be willing to pay up to $40 a night in parking rates. Several times we changed our destinations due to parking scenarios. Although parking was generally cheap in the city at about $2/hour, you have to pay to park almost anywhere you go. There really is no free parking on the streets. Once we finally realized this, we would just find a parking garage, which were generally underground, and squeeze into parking spaces. Thank heavens we had a small car. Parking is t-i-g-h-t all over Europe.
We paid a total of $189 in parking fees.
Total Costs for Renting a Car for 47 Days in Europe
The lease for our car, all inclusive with insurance, unlimited mileage, and unlimited drivers was $1938. Here is a pie chart of how all the car expenses broke out for the entire road trip. The total cost, all in, was $3375.
Dropping Off a Car Rental in Europe
Finally, it was time to drop “Frenchy” off. She had served us well, and we had really gotten to enjoy her. Never did I think I’d drive a brand new French car. Comfortable, reliable, and great on mileage, she had plenty of room in her trunk for our two carry-ons and two backpacks. We also purchased a cooler which we kept in the back seat with a constantly changing bag of groceries. We contacted Auto-TT and confirmed an appointment to drop her off at the Lisbon airport. They had plugged in the drop-off address in her navigation. We punched it in, and we arrived exactly where we were supposed to be.
An Auto-TT representative was on the street waiting for us. We pulled into the parking lot, he inspected the car, took our paperwork, and signed us out of the car. He then gave us a ride back to the airport, just a few minutes away, and we jumped on transit to go into Lisbon.
Was renting a car and doing a fast-travel road trip the cheapest way to enjoy the Mediterranean coast? Absolutely not. We probably could have done most of our trip for about half of the price. But we wouldn’t have gotten to the tiny towns we dreamed about, we loved the flexibility of having the car, and we did more with Frenchy than we had originally planned.
Would We Do It Again?
Would we use Auto-TT again? Absolutely, in a heart beat. But would we drive 5000 miles through Europe again? Probably not. We’d probably stick to plane/train/bus next time. None the less, we enjoyed our time immensely and highly recommend the exact trip we took.