What To Consider When Choosing To Travel By Train Or Rental Car On Holiday

What To Consider When Choosing To Travel By Train Or Rental Car On Holiday

If you’re travelling to Europe, getting a rental car or taking the train both have pros and cons that can make it hard to choose. Travel guru Rick Steves lays out what to consider when deciding between the two for your next holiday.

Image from tracyhunter.

Rental cars give you more flexibility with your schedule and can take you to remote spots, but leave you open to car theft, damage and parking fees. Trains on the other hand allow you to see the landscape and travel at a relaxed pace, but can be slower than driving or not take you exactly where you want to go. Next time you’re planning a trip where both are an option, here are a few things to think about:

  • geographical range (trains are better if you’re covering a wide area)
  • rail coverage (for example, Switzerland is crisscrossed by an extensive train network, whereas Ireland’s trains are sparse)
  • urban vs. rural (a car is a pointless hassle in big cities, but helpful in the countryside)
  • number of travellers (a car is usually the cheaper option when shared with more than two people)
  • luggage (a car is better if you’re bad at packing light)
  • kids in tow (car travel is more flexible, but trains give kids room to move around)

Consider cost and safety, too. Some rental car companies tack on extra fees, or the price of petrol may be high in the country you’re visiting. Train tickets can also be expensive, especially if you want to book a cabin for overnight travel. Both cars and trains have related dangers in less safe countries, so do your research before you go and figure out if you can afford a private driver or guide.

Rent a Car or Take the Train? [Rick Steves]


  • There may be considerable charges when crossing national borders in Europe on a oneway rental car journey.

  • So this discussion about rail and car hire in Europe is accompanied by a picture of people on a train in China (a hard seat on a conventional train) where it is virtually impossible to rent a car at all except if hiring a driver because foreign driver’s licences are not recognised at all. The exception is at Beijing where a temporary 30 day licence is available at the airport but rental car companies are still reluctant to hire out cars without a driver.

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