Why renting a car in a city is dumb

Do not rent a car for any portion of your vacation when you are in a major city

Use your rental to hit the road, not to hit the town. In fact, avoid having a car in town at all costs. I can think of no aspect of travel less exciting, more stressful, or more wasteful of your precious cash.

Cars are useless in cities

Rather than seeing, say, the Louvre or Eiffel Tower in Paris, you’ll wind up spending an hour or more crawling through traffic on the Champs-Elysées then fighting Europe’s biggest daily demolition derby, an anything-goes traffic turnstile which they call L’Etoile encircling the Arc de Triomphe with eight lanes of near death experiences between Peugeots and Renaults. Who wants that?

Not only are cars useless in town—where public transportation is widespread, easy to use, and laughably cheap (max around $2 per ride for subways, buses, and trams)—but the parking fees will gobble at your travel budget.

Free curbside parking in cities is rare these days, open spaces even rarer, and often it’s just an invitation to have your window smashed. So your best bet is a lot. However, whether it’s a public lot, private garage, or hotel garage, expect to pay anywhere from $25 to $90 a day—just to park a car you don’t need in town in the first place.

The Strategy

OK, so your trip starts in Paris and you’re wondering why I’m giving you advice you can’t use since your heart is set on renting that car in order to explore down the Loire Valley then shoot on down to do the villages of Provence before returning the thing in Nice after two weeks.

Actually, it’s simple to avoid Parisian and Niçcoise traffic on this trip—and save a couple of hundred bucks in the process. Just save the vehicle for exploring the countryside.

Arrive in Paris and spend a few days enjoying the City of Lights, using the excellent Métro to get around. Arrange to pick up your rental car the morning you leave Paris then to drop it off as soon as you pull into Nice (then you can take a train to your Côte d’Azur resort for three days in the sun on the French Riviera).

This is advice so basic it boggles my mind that more people don’t realize it. I’m sure you do, but I’ve gotten letters from folks thanking me for this tidbit and gushing about how it saved them $400 before they even left on their vacation. (They never seem to include, say, a check for a 10% cut of those savings by way of showing their gratitude, but I’m not complaining.)

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This article was by Reid Bramblett and last updated in April 2011.
All information was accurate at the time.

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Copyright © 1998–2013 by Reid Bramblett. Author: Reid Bramblett.