It’s not just a myth that the Italians have no road sense. They are known to be in a hurry and can pull off some spine-chilling road stunts. And let’s not even start about the parking. There seems to be something about Italy, that when people (normal, sober people) hit the roads, they suddenly drive like they’ve become Valentino Rossi or Fernando Alonso! The Italians can be somewhat territorial and a little deviant in their ways to get from point A to point B. The best advice I can give anyone heading to Italy is to drive your own car. This is a liberating and inexpensive way to commute and also avoid long queues in the bus, train and taxi stands. The bigger, more crowded cities in Italy can be trying and so always go prepared with directions, maps and plenty of time at hand. The mad traffic can eat up a lot of your tight travel schedule.
Allow me to share some clever car rental, driving secrets and parking tips with you, which in my opinion will hold you in good stead in and around most of Italy.
1. Are you allowed to drive a car abroad? Make sure that you have a valid international driver’s license when you book a car on hire in Italy as the cops can be very strict about this. Before speeding off into the horizon in an Italian rental car make doubly sure you know about local road rules and safety measures. The traffic wardens may not always excuse your ignorance even if you play the tourist car.
2. Local taxes – Almost all the major cities have now begun to slap city taxes on cars coming in and this can be a wee bit heavy on the pocket. Make sure that before you get into the bigger cities, you park your vehicle in the outskirts and hop into some local transport (the bus or a train) to reach city center. A small price to pay methinks and this will save you the terror of driving through maniac Italian city traffic. As you leave the city, once again take some form of public transport and reach the spot you had parked your hire car.
3. Don’t ask strangers for directions they will confuse you! To me it’s like the proverbial slip between the cup and the lip. Whenever I’ve asked for directions to reach somewhere in Italy, the whole exercise has been futile as so much time is lost in understanding the Italian words and the nicknames for streets and buildings. It is way easier to get a trusty travel map, or better still, have a GPS navigation system fitted to your rental car. This also means fewer stops and a trouble-free ride.
4. Go local – Like almost everything in Italy the best option is usually the local one and so too for car rental. Pick a local Italian car hire company and you will be guaranteed a more efficient service. From local travel info, handy hints for travelers, knowledge of shortcuts and the best times to visit some monuments, a local car hire company can offer you more than just a car. Car hire rates are unlikely to be lower than the market but it’s the grip on the local nuances that is the deal maker.
5. Look out for the scooters! There are hundreds of two wheelers out on the roads in any Italian city and they can be very fast, occupy the parking space for cars and create some more havoc in the already heaving Italian traffic.
Final word on scooters – like them or hate them, they’re everywhere in Italy. Just give them way and keep out of their way!
6. No parking zone – If you thought driving was maddening enough, wait till you look for parking spots in Italy. Though not an issue in the smaller cities or towns, to find a parking space in cities like Rome, Milan, Venice, Florence and Naples is a problem. Add to this the innovative ways the locals park in tight spaces making the whole experience of negotiating parking both stressful and time-consuming. The secret to parking in Italy is to look for parking garages or public parking enclosures which may be just outside the city center but easily reachable via public transport or a brisk walk.
If you are using rental cars in Italy, it’s best to play by the book, follow local rules and not get stressed by swelling traffic or lack of parking spots. Keep a cool head and try to think a little out of the box. Italy is incredibly exciting both in the summer and winter with plenty of things to do, foods to taste, adventure activities to experience, historical sites to visit, art to appreciate and rich culture to absorb. You are bound to come back from a trip to Italy, refreshed, relaxed, rejuvenated and raving about the things you did there. So happy travelling and oh, yeah don’t forget to book a rental car before you go. They’re not always available at the last minute.