I try to act cool and put-together, but those who know me know I’m a nerd with no common sense. I’m more like Sheldon than Penny in Big Bang Theory. Killing it with book smarts, no street smarts at all. It’s actually a wonder I’ve managed to travel as much as I have. But I think the travel has taught me a whole lot of street smarts and I’m much better off because of it. One thing that hasn’t been improved through my travels though is my driving. I’m definitely not the worst driver you’ve ever seen, but it’s not my strong point. Add on to that several years of not owning a car so I’m out of practice, add a rental car that I’m unfamiliar with and potentially unequipped to drive, and add just for fun trying to drive in a foreign country where I don’t know the driving laws and can’t read the streets signs…and well, you have a recipe for disaster. Several disasters actually.
It was my most recent failed attempt at driving a rental car that hit the point home to me that this is not something I should be doing. I’m not sure what possessed me to think I should try it in the first place, since I prefer walking and public transit over driving any day. It was probably an over-confidence in my skills and a hankering for adventure. Well, adventure is what I got! After three strikes, I realized I need to bench myself, take myself out of the rental car game. What follows are the stories of my misadventures with rental cars, for your enjoyment. Three strikes, I’m out!
My Misadventures with Rental Cars
I’m in Panama, excited to find that renting a car cost about $6 a day. Perfect time for a road trip. I get into the smallest compact car they have, plug in my destination on Google Maps on my phone, turn on my road trip playlist, and hit the road! With wide highways and scenic views, my road trip was off to a good start. Then Google Maps tells me to turn onto an unpaved exit. Uh oh. I’m not in an off-roading vehicle by any stretch of the imagination! What are you trying to do to me Google? Seeing no alternate route, I decide to give it a go. Off-roading is an adventure! (Right??)
This can’t go on for that long, I think. The other road was so nice and new. Surely this will yield into another paved road after that turn up there. Nope. Damnit. Driving at a snail’s pace to minimize damage to the underside of the car, I’m barely making any progress. An hour passes, I’m beginning to panic. I haven’t seen any other cars. Then I’m passed by a guy on a horse. On a horse! Looks like a way better mode of transport honestly. Why didn’t I just rent a horse? How is this road still going on like this? How can Google Maps consider this a road? Ahh! Google you’re being so mean to me!
Another hour passes. Quarter tank of gas. 31% battery on my phone. No water, no food. No end of this road in sight. What am I doing here?! Am I going to get stranded out here? Oh my god, I’m going to die on the side of this non-road and no one will ever find me. Until the rental car company comes and tracks down their missing car, probably. Either way, definitely not making it out of this alive. It starts to rain. Of course. Wait, could that be? Up there, is that pavement? Oh! It might just be! Waaahooooo! A paved street!! It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen! Oh thank goodness, I’m saved.
Only problem is that I’m still really far away from my destination and running really low on time. I miss the last ferry of the day, lose my hotel reservation, have to find another hotel for the night. Whatever, just happy to be off that darn road. The next day I make it over to the Bocas del Toro islands and rejoice in the sweet freedom of just walking everywhere. The 4×4 rental company tries to sell me on a rental for the day to explore the island. Ha! That’s a hard no, thanks anyway.
When it was time to drive back to return the car, I ask the hotel concierge to draw the directions on a map for me. Not taking any chances!
I’m driving a rental car in San Francisco, a city whose steep streets make it infamous for driving. That’s why I’m so happy to find a plot of flat land to park the car while I go for dinner. There are plenty of spots open on the street, and I feel lucky to have good timing. I lock the doors and go find some dinner. Feeling like a burrito I think! An hour later, with my belly full, I come back but I don’t see the car. Looking around, that’s the house with the green door I like, that’s the porch with the rocking chair, this is definitely the same place where I left the car. But where the heck is it?! Did somebody steal the damn rental car? Well I locked it so probably not. Oh my god, did it get towed? Damnit. Well that sign doesn’t say anything about no-parking zone. I should be fine here, I see other cars parked on this street. Oh no, that’s someone’s garage. I parked in front of a garage. Damnit. They definitely called to have me towed. I wasn’t even here that long! Urggghhh!
I hail a cab to take me to the closest impound lot. He says if I’ve been towed I should take a picture of the spot and the sign so I can fight it! Thanks, I say, but I’m definitely in the wrong here because I parked in front of a garage. He didn’t want to say it but I could tell he was thinking that I was pretty dumb. Whatever! I was just excited to find a flat parking spot!
At the impound lot, the attendant tells me I’ll have to pay $600 to get my car released. My jaw drops. But it’s not even my car, I protest. She doesn’t care at all. Ma’am if you want to get the car out of the impound lot, you have to pay the fee, she says in monotone. So so mad at myself, that was such a dumb mistake. Fine, it’s my mistake, I’ve got to pay the fine. Ego crushed, I get out of there as quickly as I can. Well that sure was an expensive lesson to learn! But just to be sure I really learn my lesson, I make myself sleep in the car that night. My hotel money just went to the City of San Francisco anyway!
The third and final strike was when I tried to rent a car in Croatia. I get into the car and try to turn it on but it won’t go. A man walking by says through the window, “Press on the clutch.” Uh oh. It’s a manual car. I never learned how to drive a manual. I tried once in the Falkland Islands but I definitely don’t know enough to try it unsupervised. Okay well I’ve already paid for the car and for my accommodation 5 hours up the coast, so let’s give this a try. No time like the present to learn a new skill! I do some research on my phone including a few written and video tutorials. Cool, doesn’t look that hard. I’ll give it a try.
After stalling out about 18 times before leaving the parking lot, I get myself onto the road and I’m moving along in second gear. Look at me! Once I get going it’s not that bad, it’s just those pesky transitions between starting and stopping and between gears. After about an hour I’m feeling good and I pull over to use the toilet and get some water. The road is pretty busy so I wait for my turn to pull into the gas station on the left. When a break in traffic allows I turn the wheel, release the clutch, and press the gas, but it stalls out. Turn it off, turn it on. In neutral, starting to roll backwards. What the heck? I’m on a hill! Uh oh. Stall out. Turn it off, turn it on. Roll backwards and sideways since the wheel is turned. Mind is panicking. Car is sitting diagonally across both directions of traffic. Cars are honking all around. Turn it off, turn it on. Stall out again. Rolling backwards. Turn it off. Can’t move the car. Blocking traffic. Oh my god. Okay, gas station is now directly behind me. Turn it on, keep it in neutral, roll backwards into the parking lot. Turn it off, keys out, emergency brake on. Get out of the car and step away. Car is some sort of uncontrollable demon.
Gas station attendants descend upon me to see what’s wrong. In rural Croatia, they don’t speak English. They fetch the manager. She is very kind, she too is just learning to drive and since all the cars here are manual she sympathizes with my struggle. After calming me down she explains about how to handle the hill situation (basically just don’t stop when you’re on a hill, ever).
When I’ve calmed down and can think clearly, I realize this was potentially the worst idea I’ve ever had and I should return the car. The car rental center however, is an hour away! Sigh. It’s better than pressing on and driving further away from the rental center. I clearly am not ready for an adventure in a manual car.
Without any other major incidents (just a few dozen more times stalling out) I manage to get the car back in one piece. I’m not sure how much internal damage I did to the car but I was just glad to be rid of it. When the car rental attendant asked why I was returning the car so early, I told him I simply changed my mind.
It could have been worse. The people next to me at the rental desk were being charged $2000 for damages to their rental car!
Well there you have it, my misadventures with rental cars. That was a pretty embarrassing post to write! Ha! But I think I’ve learned my lesson and I won’t be driving any more rental cars in my travels. I guess I’m just motorized-vehicle-challenged. Three strikes, I’m out. I hope you at least enjoyed a laugh at my expense reading about my misadventures with rental cars. Now please make me feel better and share your terrible rental car stories with me below!
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