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As I planned my *epic* solo trip through Europe, one of the top items on my bucket list was to rent a car in the UK. Although I don’t have the best track record with driving (I’ve totaled my car 3 different times – oops!), I decided that it was time to bite the bullet and live out my dream of driving across England and Scotland. I wanted to look back with fond memories and say to myself, “Wow! You drove a car on the opposite side of the road all by yourself!” I was looking forward to taking my time, being my own boss. I wanted to roll down the windows and breathe in the fresh air as I moved from town to town, crossing country borders; something you can’t do on a bus or train.
And that is exactly what I did… but not without a few hiccups along the way. Below you will find my very best tips for renting a car in the UK so that if you choose to do so too, you can move seamlessly through the process and avoid some of the mistakes that I made along the way.
8 of the Best Tips for Renting a Car in the UK
1. ALWAYS call ahead of time to confirm your reservation
Do as I say, not as I do.
As I bought guidebooks, read blogs, and looked at Pinterest pins I began dreaming up my dream England + Scotland road trip itinerary. When I finally picked dates and started to book hotel arrangements, I got online to rent a car. I ended up settling on Enterprise in Bath, England where I would pick up my car only to drop it off a week later in Edinburgh, Scotland. I picked a nice, small, automatic car and crossed that part off of my “to-do” list.
Fast forward 3-months later and I showed up to Enterprise on the day of my reservation to pick up my automatic, compact car, and little did I know… they only had manual cars. They did not care that I had booked an automatic and told me that “most people here drive manual”. The lesson? Always, always, always call ahead to make sure that the car you ordered will be available.
By the way, if you’re renting a car in the UK I also suggest searching on QEEQ to compare different companies and ensure you’re getting the best price.
2. Get familiar with your car before getting on the open road
One of the key elements to maintaining a smooth road trip in an unfamiliar country is to first get acclimated to your car. Where is cruise control? How do you work the radio? What about built-in navigation? If you’re coming from a country that drives on the other side of the road than the UK keep in mind that all of the car’s bells and whistles will be turned around. If you’re used to the blinker being on the left side, it’s probably now on the right side, etc.
3. Before leaving, ask what the gas etiquette is
If you rent a car in the UK the typical etiquette is to fill up your car first, then pay inside when you’re done. While you’re still in the parking lot, before hitting the open road, make sure you know how to open your gas tank and familiarize yourself with which side of the car it’s on. Also, make sure to ask what kind of gas your car requires before filling up.
4. Familiarize yourself with the road signs and the rules of the road
All around the world road signs are different and mean different things to each country. In the UK, that is no exception. Make sure to familiarize yourself with the different signs so that you don’t get confused when driving. Or worse, get a ticket! Also keep in mind that because you’re on the opposite side of the road, the slow lane is the left lane and the right lane is the fast lane where you pass. For more information on the different road signs in the UK, check out this website.
5. Be roughly familiar with converting km to mph (and vice versa)
A big difference between America compared to other countries is that most other countries use the metric system, whereas in America we use the system of Imperial units. Because distance and will be in km (instead of miles), it will be useful to be able to roughly convert between the two. (1 km = 0.6 mi).
6. Have the phone number of the car rental shop and local emergency responders handy
Always be prepared in case of an emergency. Know how to contact local law enforcement, your car rental agency, and even a tow truck in case something were to go wrong. Also, double-check that you will have cell service with your phone company and if not find an alternative. There is nothing worse than being stranded and not knowing how to contact the local authority or having the cell service to do so.
7. Focus, go slow, and be aware of your surroundings
Because you’re driving in an unfamiliar country with unfamiliar rules and unfamiliar signs, go slow and stay alert! If people are frustrated with the way you drive, they can pass you. Just keep breathing and remember that it is best to arrive alive.
8. HAVE FUN!
And my best tip of all – have fun with it! Laugh at yourself, breathe it all in, stop and take too many pictures, and enjoy the little mistakes you make along the way. Because after all, if it isn’t fun… what’s the point?
If you’re looking for more information and inspiration on renting a car in the UK, you might find these posts helpful:
Why You Shouldn’t Rent a Car As a Solo American Traveler in the UK
Solo Guide to a 7-Day Road Trip Through the UK
6 Solo Road Trip Tips – How to Have An Epic Road Trip When You’re Alone
You can also be like me and ask the rental car agent to come along with you and do all the driving, hahaha. I am glad you successfully drove in the UK! You made it look easy too with your rental!
Hahahah I should’ve asked the rental guy to come with me! Would have saved me a heart attack or two. I swear that trip took a few weeks off my life!
I was never so relieved as when you had turned “Betsy” back in!! WHEW! And it took a couple weeks of of YOUR life??? took a couple YEARS off of mine ?