Western Europe: By car or train?

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A reader of this blog, Lyle Harris of Knoxville, asks for advice:

We are planning a trip to Munich, southern France, and

Paris for three weeks this September. Each person we ask has a different

notion how best to travel. Some say combine rail and auto, some say auto

only, some say rail only. What say you?

We plan to take as many side trips as possible and see small villages and wineries. We are in our 50s and the couple we travel with are in their 70s and in relatively good health. We plan to hike and bike on occasion. Advice would be welcomed.

Here's my advice about booking rental cars in Europe. Add your own two-cents by posting a comment below.

Your itinerary promises a memorable trip. The stops in villages and wineries, and the hikes and bike rides, ought to be fantastic.

Assuming that you are comfortable driving in a foreign country with foreign-language signs, a rental car will give you the most flexibility. In your case, a rental car will allow the four of you to avoid hauling your luggage on and off trains. (Another option is to choose a multi-sport tour company, such as Backroads, which will supply you with bikes and hiking guides and use supply trucks to tote your luggage from one stop to the next. However, such tour companies often charge high prices for their European offerings.)

Usually, you can rent a car from a major car rental agency without needing to obtain an International Driver's Permit. But if you get in a car accident--especially in a rural area--having such a permit along with your driver's license may come in handy. Why? Because it may assure local authorities that you are a cautious driver. (In contrast, train travel may take away the worries of driving. If you decide to hit the rails instead, consider buying a multi-stop pass for inter-city rail from RailPass.com.)

Here's Budget Travel's advice about rental cars.

Try AutoEurope.com first. The service rents new cars via the major players, such as Avis or Enterprise, which is important should anything go wrong. Chances are you'll pay less at AutoEurope than at a mainstream agency because you are required to pay a deposit in advance. (But still look at the bigger companies, also, to compare). As a rule, AutoEurope is a top option for short-term rentals all over Europe.

Renault Eurodrive is often a less costly option for longer-term vacationers abroad, meaning people who are staying at least 17 days in Europe and who plan to take out a short-term lease. Compare with AutoEurope's rates.

Hope this helps! Enjoy your trip, and if you come across any good solutions to your problem while traveling, please let our readers know! And, hopefully, a reader or two will post their own suggestions.

Earlier: Budget Travel's top tips for renting cars.

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