Cars along the way...

When you start planning a one-year trip around the world, and when you know that you will be using various means of transportation, it is a good idea to do your homework and make sure that you do not end up spending time, money and frustrations on “doing it wrong”. Frustrations and waste of money should not be a part of any journey. Least of all the journey of your life!

In order for us to be able to get an overview of whether to spend our entire savings or just 3/4 of it, I started doing some research in terms of renting cars and campervans, and also the cost of train and flight tickets. It quickly became clear to me, that with a bit of research you can actually save significant amounts of money. Money that we would rather use for something extra as we made our way around the world.

One of areas that surprised us was renting a campervan. We were going to use this particular transportation form in Australia and New Zealand. In my mind I had been preparing myself for this to be somewhat more expensive than renting a “normal” car. But as we were traveling outside the peak seasons in both of these countries, plenty of good offers were made available to us. The market for campervan rental is heavily depending on the seasons, and during off seasons many of the vans are simply just parked in a big parking lot, waiting for better times. The rental companies are eager to get at least some of them on the road. 

Thus we were able to drive through northern Australia in a big and comfortable Toyota Previa for just 25 dollars per day. We had covered ourselves with insurance elsewhere. More about this later.

A Toyota Previa is by no means a large campervan, but as a normal car it is absolutely wonderful, and we could easily carry our backpacks and Anton’s stroller with us at any time. 

In the evening the back of the car would easily be transformed into a comfortable and surprisingly spacious sleeping area for two adults and a child. Perfect for us!

Our initial plan was to spend 19 days in our Spaceship, driving from Brisbane to Cooktown, and back to Cairns, where we would drop it off. But three times we found ourselves calling the rental company and ask for extension. So we ended up living comfortably and happily in the Spaceship Campervan for a total of five weeks. In the evening we would simply just open the back, attach the canvas and our bed was made!

As we drove up the coast of Queensland, Australia we met other travelers who obviously had not done their homework properly. They drove around and slept in normal vehicles. Oftentimes even the smallest ones. We saw a young couple sleeping in a Hyundai Getz! The lowest rental price I could find on such a car was 69 dollars per day! Clearly the market for “normal” car rental is an entirely different story!

In southern Australia and in New Zealand we were also able to make good deals on campervan rental. Both of these places we ended up in a remodeled Toyota Hiace. A hightop made it possible for up to two children to sleep under the cabin roof. Thus Anton actually had more space than any of us. We, the adults, had plenty of space as well in the back of the cabin, where the benches and dining table could be transformed into a double bed within just a few minutes. The mattresses were a bit thin though, but all in all it was OK.

We paid apprx. 30 dollars per day for a Toyota Hiace, and during our entire three months in New Zealand it served as our home and only way of transportation. And it served us well!

As we arrived in the US we already had done some research and we knew that our time as campers would be over. There are camp grounds and campervans on the road. But the smallest campervan we could find was much larger than a Toyota Hiace, and we did not want that. A couple of the New Zealand and Australian market players are also offering their services in the US, making it possible to rent a Toyota Previa or the like. But as we arrived in Seattle the winter was coming and we simply just knew that it would not really be working for us!

Instead we went for a normal car. A Ford Fusion. An American Ford Fusion that is! It is about the same size as a European Ford Mondeo. Now it was time for us to stay in hotels and for some parts of the journey we would be staying by friends. 

What a Ford Fusion lacks in cabin space it makes up for in terms of comfort. This was an entirely different ballgame! A campervan is built to drive around and see things, yes. But it also has to serve you as a home, with all the facilities needed. So needless to say that some things have to be compromised. Neither our Previa, nor our two Hiace’s were uncomfortable, but the comfort when sitting behind the steering wheel in an American Ford Fusion is simply just several levels higher! And in spite of the fact that we were now driving around in a normal sized car, we were still able to fit all of our belongings into the trunk. With a bit of use of the backseat as well!

As we arrived on the east coast of the US we wanted to have a bit of fun. Just a bit! We wanted something like a Ford Edge, but as we arrived in Washington on a dark, cold and snowy evening in early January, no Ford Edge was available. To Anton’s immense disappointment! Instead we took off in a nice Toyota RAV4, which would be our companion for the next 20 days. It gave me more leg-room than any of our previous cars, and an engine with power and a will to move forward! A four-wheel drive turned out to be just the right thing for the season, as the US east coast saw some pretty rough snow storms during our time there. And more than once we had icy roads. In other words: Severe conditions. I dare not think about how this would have turned out in any of our campervans!

Upon our arrival in Ireland we ended up in a Ford Focus. A European Ford Focus that is!Thankfully we had donated Anton’s stroller to charity just the day before leaving Washington, so now we just needed room for our backpacks and an extra duffel-bag that we had to buy, in order to carry all the toys and other stuff that we couldn’t resist buying during our time in the US. The Focus was heavily loaded, but it went surprisingly well, I must say! And I quickly re-adjusted to the left-side driving. During our entire journey we only had right-side driving through the US. In all other countries we would drive on the left side of the road. You adjust surprisingly fast. In fact, I had a much harder time getting back to driving on the right side of the road again, upon our return to mainland Europe. 

In England we would mostly be staying with the family in London, but twice we would rent a car, to drive to Scotland and southern England. The first car we rented was a brand new Fiat 500. With only 100 kilometers on the meter, as I exited the depot. Oh yes! Now that we could leave the majority of our belongings by the family and only take with us clothes for a week, we just needed one backpack. I am pretty certain that our experience as backpackers now came in handy. We laughed at the fact that until we embarked on our journey around the world we could not have imagined this at all! One backpack for three people! But it went well without any problems at all!

The Fiat was a dream! Little, feisty and immensely fun to drive! It brought me back to my early days when I drove an Alfa Romeo 147. It is by far the best car I ever had and I just loved each and every kilometer I drove in it. The Fiat had much of that same driving pleasure, that I have been missing ever since. I am 196 cm tall and have pretty long legs. The sales rep behind the counter looked at me with an odd expression and cautiously asked me if I wanted to upgrade. But no! We had agreed on a Fiat 500 when we booked it, because we wanted to test whether this model could potentially serve as our family car at home as well, should we be needing a car at some point in the future. And our conclusion was: Yes! - it certainly can! Even for big boys there is plenty of room for the long legs in a Fiat 500. We got a “Sports Edition” with a bit of the “extra fun” such as leather steering wheel and stuff like that. The seats were more comfortable than in any of the previous cars we had had. Maybe apart from the Ford Fusion, which was a bit of a cruiser!

The last car we had on our journey was to be a brand new Peugeot 208. We had hoped for yet another Fiat 500 but none were available. The Peugeot was larger than the Fiat 500, but completely lacked the driving pleasure and charm. It was comfortable, all right, but I simply could not get used to the clutch and I just never really came to like it.

In total we had 8 different vehicles during our journey. All with their individual advantages and disadvantages. Campervans are good for getting around, but they are not particularly loaded with driving pleasure. So if you are focusing on that, you may want to just go for a normal car, and then stay in hostels or hotels. 

The Fiat was the one that made me smile the most, as I sat behind the wheel. It was a true pleasure. Of course it has its limitations, especially when it is fully loaded with family and luggage. It is not the fastest car on the highway. On the other hand it is brilliant when cruising the narrow country roads of Scotland and it is no problem to find available parking spots in the curvy streets of the small towns. 

Conclusion: Each car has its purposes and its time. They all served us well for their individual purpose.

Lastly some advice on car rental. In general: Check the market thoroughly before signing anything! Particularly the insurance rules vary from country to country. Before we left home we had signed a “Super Duper” travel insurance policy that would cover us in almost any case we could possibly think of. In Ireland, however, it was particularly confusing, and they simply would not let us have the key if we did not make insurance locally. This doubled our daily cost!

And this is often the case! If you are not extremely cautious you will end up paying a fortune in extra insurance! They are all good and it all makes sense, but if you are already covered by your travel insurance it is simply just a waste of money. The sales reps behind the counter know ALL the tricks and they know how to sound convincing! But it does not change the fact that it is extremely expensive! Especially for long term rentals! We simply could not have bought local insurance in New Zealand, as it would have tripled our cost. It is OK for an extended weekend or even a week. But for 90 days it is a deal breaker!

When you pick up the car, leave your luggage somewhere else, if at all possible! The reps behind the counter will take a look at your load of belongings and immediately suggest that you upgrade! Adding extra costs, of course! The times that I had to argue the least, was when I picked the car by myself, and without any bags at all. So even though you have your entire family with you, and have just arrived after a long flight, just try to go to the counter alone! Stay focused and remain politely rejective of anything that you do not necessarily need. When renting long-term you can save a lot of money buying your GPS and toddler seat. Many rental companies will offer you a fixed, daily rate. This is ridiculous!  We got a quote on 700 dollars for a toddler seat for our 5 week rental of the Ford Fusion. The value of the seat was no more than 80 dollars. Instead we upgraded ourselves and bought a nice seat for Anton for 120 dollars in the nearest baby equipment store. The same goes for the GPS. They cost around 100 dollars in the US. The rental company wanted 56 dollars per week!

In Australia they got it: A fixed, daily rate up until a certain point. For 5 weeks in our Spaceship, we had GPS for just 40 dollars in total! Anton’s booster seat was free of charge!

Read more about camping in Australia and New Zealand here!

/Anders

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