Friday, June 16, 2017

{england: road trip tips}

That photo above was taken when we were still in the rental car parking lot.
So many pamphlets. So much jet lag. So little makeup.

Did you think I was finished writing about our England trip??

I thought I'd write a post on renting a car and driving in England, from an American's perspective. It may have been our favorite part about the whole vacation, so I couldn't recommend it more. We can't wait to do it again.

Here are my big tips:

Tip #1: Reserve the car you're most comfortable in, but I recommend an SUV.

We booked our rental car with Hertz through credit card points. (I'm not sure if the rates are higher than UK companies, but I felt more comfortable with a brand I was familiar with and had membership to.) It was super easy to get to from Heathrow—just a quick shuttle ride to the lot.

When we made the reservation, we booked a 4-door hatchback that was automatic (very important!!) and had air conditioning (probably standard).

But... we ended up upgrading to another car once we arrived to Hertz. I don't care that we fell for the sales pitch. Yes, we paid more, but we have no regrets. The Hertz employee pointed out that an SUV may be easier for first-time English drivers—since it's higher off the ground—and that made total sense to me. And bonus! It had a navigation system built into the car. We ended up driving a Kia which I loved. (They almost gave us a super nice Audi and I don't think I've said "no" faster in my life.)

Tip #2: Before driving off the lot, take a look at the car to make sure there aren't any scratches or bumps. Take pictures, if there are. You don't want to be charged for something that's not your fault.

Tip #3: Book the car through your credit card and get travel auto insurance through them. (And then decline the insurance the rental company "insists" you need. You don't.)

We decided before the trip that I would be the driver and Dylan would be the navigator. We did this for a few reasons, but the main reason was because I would be the only driver covered under rental insurance since I booked the trip.

I have auto insurance in the US for my car, but it did NOT cover me on international roads. (Other plans may, but mine didn't.) But since I reserved the car through my points, my credit card company acted as my insurer. In order to have proof of rental auto insurance, I asked Chase to send me a letter proving that I am covered by them and brought it with me. Hertz never asked for it, but I was glad to have it just in case.

Also, you do not need an international driving license in England.

Tip #4: Google Maps is crucial, but a GPS is better.

Before the car upgrade, we didn't know if we'd be able to 1) get a GPS or 2) want to spend the money on one. We prepared to go without one just in case.

Using GPS on our phones would require a lot of data roaming (aka $$$$) but we were nervous to only use physical maps. I have nothing against paper maps; in fact, that's all we used when we road tripped in Ireland. But England has significantly more roads, and since we only had three days in the countryside, we didn't want to waste time getting lost.

Enter Google Maps. Logged into my account, we spent DAYS pinning places on the map: all of our Airbnbs, Heathrow, Hertz, restaurants, Warner Brothers, museums, historical sites, etc. Even places that were a bit random and on our "maybe" list were pinned.

There's an option on the Google Maps app that lets you download a certain area for 90 days. Once it's downloaded, you can use the map "offline"—not connected to data or wifi. It was a lifesaver. Even when we weren't driving and just walking around London, it was so convenient for us to use in the city.

With all that said, we are so happy we had a GPS in the car. I didn't know this before going, but every house/business/etc. in England has it's own zip code. So wherever we wanted to go, we looked up the zip code on our Google Maps pin, entered it into the car's system, and off we went. It made navigating SO MUCH easier and less stressful, and we never got lost once. It took us door to door every time.

We split up London and the Cotswolds and downloaded two different areas. But this is what our map looked like after we pinned everything:

This photo shows our route. Going clockwise: we started in London, drove southwest to Salisbury, drove north through the Cotswolds, then east to Oxford (below Luton), and back to London.

Tip #5: Do your research on driving. 

Sounds funny to do research, but it was actually very helpful. After all, driving on the other side of the road and other side of the car is very different than what you're used to.

Get familiar with street symbols. Learn what each road line means (especially for parking purposes). Watch videos! England has a ton of roundabouts, so I watched a few clips on how to master them.

Study up, but don't over-do it. A few websites had me freaking out before we even arrived because some of the tips and articles out there are designed to make you nervous. It takes getting used to, but eventually everything becomes second nature. I even became a pro at parallel parking!

Some of the roads in the Cotswolds are extremely narrow, but there are always spots to pull off to in order to let opposing traffic by. That's another tip: don't try to pass people—let them pass you. We didn't drive in London at all (there's a congestion fee you have to pay), so the only real city we drove through was Oxford. It wasn't as nerve-wracking as I'd assumed it would be.

This website is incredibly thorough and has helpful tips and links. I didn't follow everything he outlined because it was a little excessive (no need to write down exact GPS coordinates) but it's a great jumping off point for a lot of resources.

Long story short: if you follow what I outlined'll be golden.

Tip #6: Do it!! :)

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