Generally as we travel, our minds are opened and we find ourselves being less certain about…well…everything. It’s hard to stereotype people when you personally meet more and more of them. It’s hard to state that a certain way is the best way when you experience other ways that seem to work well.
With that in mind, I can objectively tell you that budget car rental companies are in fact the scum of the earth.
Daniel says I exaggerate a lot, but on this point he tells me that I may in fact be too understated.
We have found that budget travel means using budget airlines which means flying into small cities well outside of a major city. For example, when we flew to Italy, we actually flew into a small airport an hour outside of Vienna.
For this reason, we have needed to rent cars more often than we would like in order get from Point A to Point B. Most likely renting from reputable companies is not as bad as renting from budget ones. Unfortunately, we can not speak to that as we are budget travelers, remember? We are continually looking for the cheapest fare and the cheapest hotel room (within reason of course.) And our reason is starting to tell us that budge rentals ARE NOT WORTH IT.
In Italy our rental experience went something like this. We waited in line at the airport for an hour to pick up our car despite there being only two groups in front of us. Once we got to the window, the employee told us that we were well past our reserved rental time and the car we wanted was no longer available. We were forced to take a more expensive and less fuel efficient car.
After signing all the paperwork, we followed directions out to the parking lot and into a large garage full of cars. There were signs all over for different rental companies, and yet no sight of an employee. Finally a man approached us and attempted to find our car. He spoke Italian, we spoke English, and the car was no where to be found. He grew increasingly frustrated, as did we….although neither of us probably understood why the other was frustrated.
So fast forward five minutes and Daniel is trying to get into a car that he thinks is ours when another vehicle comes to a fast stop in front of us and a young man emerges. This young man tells us that he will take us to our rental car. He shouts to the other man, and seems to be an employee himself, so we follow him into his car and speed away.
And this is where we are murdered. Just kidding. But seriously, we drive away from the airport with this kid and into the rear parking lot of some unmarked building about 5 minutes away. Apparently we are in overflow parking for the rental company and this is where our car is parked. We go through the standard checks of fuel level, damage, etc and off we go.
In England we went with an even more budget car company than in Italy. On paper, the cost was meant to be $45 for a three day rental. I know – how is that even possible? Turns out it is not. But let’s start at the beginning. The car company office wasn’t even located in the airport. We walked more than a mile away (with our luggage) to a hotel where the car company rents an office in the lobby.
As he always does, Daniel made the reservation online beforehand. We hoped it would be an easy signing of papers when we arrived. YEAH RIGHT. It turned out that this company (Green Motion) refused to accept our credit card because the numbers are not embossed. Keep in mind, we have Chase’s premium credit card. So Mr. Green Motion told us that he needed a different credit card….which we did not have on us.
Mr. Green Motion went on to explain that in order to use our credit card, he would need to charge our debit card with $140 fee…which he called an insurance fee. However, he could not simply put the whole charge on a debit card, he still needed a credit card (but of course with embossed numbers). We were stuck. So Daniel made preemptive plans to dispute the charge with Chase and we signed the form.
Redeeming sleazy budget companies
I found myself increasingly irritable through each of these situations. And I know – this entire post is first world problems. We are obviously still in Europe, still on vacation while experiencing these things. And yet it is eternally infuriating when you think you are paying one thing for a specific experience and it turns out that you are not.
Where is the redemption in all of this you ask? Let me respond with another question – do you know that home town loyalty feeling? Like when you are on vacation and meet a random person whose grandma lives in the same town you grew up in? Or someone that attended the same college as you? There is a feeling of instant camaraderie in those connections. THIS is what we experienced at the car rental companies.
Remember the guy that came speeding up in Italy? Well he was from Ukraine. He had completed some schooling in Italy, but his girlfriend and his dreams remained in Ukraine. And what about England? Well the man who looked over the car with us was from Romania. Daniel had a very pleasant conversation with him in Romanian.
The reality in Moldova (and Eastern Europe) is that many, many people leave their homes in order to make a living for themselves and their family. They work less than ideal jobs in order to make ends meet. The Eastern Europeans we meet working in Western Europe could well be the uncle or cousin of one of the students we work with. Frankly, they could be Daniel’s own relatives.
Moldova is home-away-from-home for us during this year. And it was wild to experience a piece of that home while traveling in the rest of Europe. What is even more wild, though, is that the little piece of my new home gave me a genuine smile in the midst of each of these miserable experiences.
The car rental company still gets the last laugh
In fear that I will leave you with too many warm, fuzzy feelings of global community, I should add one more negative car rental story. After we returned to Moldova from England, we got hit with another fine. Apparently we went through a toll that is only payable online. Apparently this toll also only exists between the hours of 6 AM and 10 PM. We happened to pass the toll at 6:07 AM. Because we failed to pay within 48 hours, the car rental company charged us a $100 administrative fee. [Please note that Daniel did go back and pay the fee online after the window.] All in all, our $45 rental turned into a $300 rental. Man, I hate budget car companies.