We’re beginning to plan our US short road trip for early next year, and there are a few things we’ve picked up in the course of our research that it’s important to be aware of.
Hiring a car in the US can be quite different from hiring in Europe or Australia/New Zealand, and it’s important to ensure you know the ins and outs of what’s involved, before signing on the dotted line.
Here are some of the main things we’ve discovered in our planning, which will hopefully help when planning your own US road trip adventure!
Plan your route carefully and factor in weather conditions
When traveling in the US, it’s easy to get carried away and want to see and do it all. But it’s a HUGE place, and in our experience, it’s best to explore a smaller portion of a place in-depth than do a flying visit to many and spending most of the time in the car.
One of the challenges of planning our trip has been trying to narrow down what to see and do. We’re flying into LA and there are so many options – should we travel up the California coast? Drive to Vegas and onwards to some of the National Parks? Head south to San Diego?
A big factor in our decision has been weather conditions. As it will be during the heart of winter, this limits some of the places we wanted to visit. For example, Yosemite National Park can get heavy snow in the winter and additional factors like needing snow chains and heavy reliance on weather forecasts at the time mean planning is complicated, so we are going to give it a miss this time around.
Similarly, traveling through Death Valley in the height of summer with 45+ degree temperatures may not be the most sensible decision!
So be sure to know what the weather is likely to be like when you’re planning.
Another important thing to be aware of is the cost of a one-way car rental. In some popular routes (for example LA to Las Vegas) the one-way rental cost is minimal. However, we’ve looked at doing a longer route in the past like New York to Miami, and the cost to book the car one-way was very expensive. Planning a circular route and dropping the car back to the same point you picked it up from can be the most cost-effective option.
RV or rental car – what’s the best option?
The kids have been super keen to rent an RV for our road trip – the fun of sleeping in the back, roasting marshmallows over a fire pit and just taking to the open road had us all hooked!
But then we looked at the cost of it versus hiring a rental car and staying in budget accommodation. Turns out it is a LOT more expensive to take the RV option.
In popular destinations (such as the Pacific Coast in California), the charges for campgrounds are high. Many we looked at were starting at around $60 USD per night for the RV and 4 people, not that much cheaper than what we could book a comfortable budget motel for.
We then looked at fuel costs for the route we were considering, and it was going to cost 3 times as much to travel in an RV than a rental car. The baseline RVs seem to start with a V8 engine, and they’re thirsty beasts! Gas is definitely cheaper in the US than many other countries, but it was still going to be costly.
Finally, most of the RV options we looked at only had a small mileage included in the price, and we would have needed to purchase costly ‘mileage packs’ for the routes we were looking at.
Hiring an RV means you get only the RV – every other accessory you have to pay for. So it was a considerable amount once we added in bedding, kitchen equipment, and outdoor chairs to sit on!
Ensure you know whether the mileage is included in the price
Every car that we’ve rented in Europe, Asia, and Australia/New Zealand has always included unlimited mileage in the price. However, in the US the model can be very different.
Many agencies will charge for miles either per mile or in mileage blocks (eg 500 or 1,000 miles). So it’s something to look out for and be aware of when you’re booking – make sure you know if mileage is included in the price or not.
Book with a reputable car rental agency
We’ve had some nightmares in the past with renting vehicles (arranging a car only to discover it wasn’t insured in Bali and the agency in Romania that wanted a 3,000 euro bond before they’d release the car to us, spring to mind!)
So we take extra care when renting vehicles to ensure that we’re going through a legitimate, reputable company.
Trustpilot is a great website to compare like with like, and a good way to find out what other customers’ think of a company. We used Trustpilot when researching car rental aggregator websites, and here’s what we found:
1. Viajemos.com (rated 4.7 / 5)
The reviews for Viajemos mention that they have the best price, include the mileage (super important to us!), and have excellent customer service. Many customers comment on the friendliness and knowledgeability of the staff.
2. Miles Car Rental (rated 4.7 / 5)
95% of customers say Miles Car Rental are either ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’. Their highly competitive prices and offers are frequently mentioned in reviews, and again the mileage is included. Users stated that it’s super easy to make a reservation and excellent customer service.
3. Despegar.com (rated 4.5 / 5)
Despegar customers mention how intuitive and easy their website and app is to use, and the great customer service they receive from Despegar staff. They also offer payment in installment options.
4. Rentalcars (rated 3.9 / 5)
Rentalcars.com users like the wide range of companies you can search for using their app. They find the website simple to use, and fast and easy to make bookings on. Customers found it easy to modify reservations if they needed to.
5. Holidaycars (rated 3.8 / 5)
Customers like the tips and interesting information found on the Holidaycars.com website. They liked the wide selection of vehicles available to hire, and the simplicity and speed of reserving and booking a vehicle.
Ensure you’ve got enough space for everything
An important consideration is to make sure you’ve booked a car that’s big enough for all of your luggage.
It can be incredibly expensive to upgrade your rental car to a larger vehicle once you’ve arrived, so you want to make sure you’ve got the room for all your bags – and any shopping you plan on doing!
So there you have it – hopefully some handy tips for booking your rental car for family travel in the US. Have you got any tips to add to these ones?