Renting a car is often the best way to get around when travelling with kids. But it’s important to know what to expect before you hit the road or your much-anticipated family vacation could have an unpleasant start. So to make the process as smooth as possible, and let you relax and enjoy your vacation, here are our top tips for renting a car while travelling with kids.

Tips for Renting a Car While Travelling

Book Ahead

This kind of goes without saying, but you’ll want to book a car rental ahead of time. You may luck out and find a rental at the last minute, but you don’t want to be stuck if there isn’t anything available!

Rental rates are also usually cheaper when you book ahead or online. We use rentalcars.com (through the booking.com app) to find the best deals on car rentals.

We’ve used them several times when travelling in Romania, Albania and in Chile, all without any problems.

Learn to Drive a Manual Transmission

Or if you can’t drive a manual transmission, be sure to check if an automatic is available.

In many countries, automatic transmission cars are not the norm and chances are the rental car will be a manual transmission. Be sure to check with the car rental company before you book.

International Driving Permits

Depending on which country you are renting a car in, you may be able to use your driver’s license from home, but some countries also require you to have an International Driving Permit.

They’re easy to get (CAA in Canada and AAA in the U.S. both issue them), so if you’re unsure, it’s not a bad idea to get one ahead of time.

**The IDP is only valid for one year.

Check Insurance Coverage

Most car rental companies will provide you with basic insurance but it’s always best to check what they cover!

Even if you have car insurance at home, they may not cover you abroad, so be sure to double check with your insurance company before renting a car abroad.

Some credit card companies will provide coverage if the car rental is paid with the credit card.

Ask About the Extra Driver Policy

Almost all rental agencies require the main driver to be present when picking up the rental car.

If someone else is going to be driving the car at any time, make sure to ask about the extra driver policy. Many times there is an extra fee for having an extra driver, but it’s definitely worth it to avoid any hassles.

Rent a GPS

While you probably have a map app on your phone, data can get pricey and coverage may not work in certain areas (Northern Ontario for example!).

It can also be tricky to navigate when road signs are in a different language or even different characters.

Alternatively you can probably pick up a paper map – if you’re driving within Canada and the U.S., check your local CAA or AAA for a map.

Plan Your Route

Before you leave, be sure to map out your route. This will help you avoid any surprises, like unexpected toll roads, and save time.

Google maps is great to use and it allows you to see traffic conditions so you can plan your route accordingly. Another great option is the Waze app.

As we mentioned above, cell reception (and data) isn’t always available in some places, so it’s a good idea to have a backup – like a paper map, or download the google map ahead of time.

Check Rules & Regulations

It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with the local rules before you arrive.

Which side of the road do you drive on, can you turn on a red light, who has the right of way at a traffic circle are just some of the things to consider before you rent a car internationally.

Also be sure to check with local regulations, for example in Chile, every car must have a fire extinguisher and safety vest, which your rental company should provide.

Check for Parking at Accommodations

Again, not something you always think of, but when you have a rental car, you probably don’t want to be parking on the street, especially if it’s a bit of a walk from your accommodation.

One of the reasons that I like using booking.com to find our accommodations is that you can filter for parking (among other useful things like wifi).

If there isn’t free parking, enquire about parking nearby. Some places, like the Citadel at Sighisoara, parking – and driving – isn’t permitted inside the city walls, so be aware of this before you book your accommodation.

Toll Roads

When you pick up your rental, be sure to ask about the rental car procedure for toll roads.

Some countries have stickers in the car window which automatically deduct the toll for you (it will be added to your bill when you return the car, or applied to your credit card afterwards) or you may have to pay for each toll as you drive through. Either way, be sure to check as you don’t want to be paying twice without realizing!

Ask Questions

When you pick up your rental car, be sure to ask if you are unsure of anything. Little things, like how to put the car in reverse (the car we rented in Albania was different than any other stick shift I’d driven before!), how to open the gas tank, or even what type of gas to put in the car.

Keep Emergency Numbers Handy

You don’t want to think of needing emergency numbers, but just in case anything happens while you are driving, you need to know how to contact the rental company, roadside assistance or even emergency services. These are all important numbers to have before you drive off in your rental car.

Things to Know about Renting a Car when Travelling with Kids

Car seats

If you are travelling with young children, it’s important to have car seats for your kids. While some rental companies do provide a child seat – for an extra charge – the seat may not be the right size or fit for your child.

And you have no idea of the condition of the car seat before you rented it – how has it been stored (yes, we’ve seen some child car seats outside in a pile beside the rental cars), has it been in an accident, has it been cleaned?

While car seat rentals are definitely more convenient than bringing your own seat, be sure to verify the size and condition of the rental car seats before you arrive.

Booster Seats

If you’re thinking of using a booster seat for your child, be sure to check local regulations and guidelines beforehand. (We use the mi-fold and love how portable and easy it is to install in a rental car or taxi.)

Some countries have different weight and height regulations for using booster seats. Always follow the rules of the country you are traveling in.

Pack Snacks

While this goes for the whole family, it’s especially important if you are driving with kids. You don’t want them getting hungry and cranky while you’re on the road.

I like to pack a variety of snacks and drinks that can last a few hours, in case of delays or long drive. Here are some great ideas for healthy snacks on a road trip.

Extra Bags

Extra bags will always come in handy when you’re taking a road trip with kids. Whether you need a bag for garbage, or to hand back to a kid who gets carsick, it’s a good idea to have at least a few on hand.

And while we’re talking about that, it’s a good idea to have wipes too!

Road Trip Activities

When you’re travelling with kids, especially in the car, you’re going to want some activities to keep them occupied.

Depending on the age of your kids, you may want to bring along some colouring, sticker or activity books.

We also like to bring specific travel games – you can find a whole post on the best games to travel with here – as they’re usually small, easy to pack and will work well whether you’re in the car, at a rest stop or at your hotel.

You can also make a road trip scavenger hunt, as we’ve found the fantastic looking ones on pinterest don’t always work well for some of the places we’ve rented a car.

For a full list of ideas for road trip activities, you can find the post here.

Podcasts

Even if you’re not travelling with kids, you can still take advantage of this tip. Listening to podcasts or audiobooks can make the time fly by, especially on a long drive. There are some great podcasts geared for kids, and kids will love listening to them on a road trip.

Check the Size of the Car

Depending on where you are renting a car while travelling with kids, the car may be a different size than you are used to. (European cars are smaller than the standard North American cars.)

Think of how many doors you will need (or that will make life easier), how many car seats you need to install plus the luggage you have – do you have extra baby gear or a stroller that needs to fit in the trunk? It might be worthwhile upgrading to a bigger vehicle for your trip.

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What other tips do you have for renting a car while travelling with kids?

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