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Vacations Without a Rental Car

Updated on February 28, 2013
Enjoy a great vacation without renting a car!
Enjoy a great vacation without renting a car!

Avoiding Car Rentals on Vacation

Renting a car is the worst part of a vacation.

Car rentals are expensive, with the average weekly rental rate of a compact car booked a week in advance from an airport location at about $400. The rental process is filled with costly add-ons like fuel-service, taxes, concession fees, license fees, energy recovery fees, etc.

The rental agent may push expensive additional insurance like loss damage waivers, personal accident insurance, personal effects insurance, and additional liability insurance. You have the Hobson’s choice of paying up to buy this insurance, or hoping you have sufficient coverage from your personal auto policy and/or credit cards. If you do reserve a car rental, you need to hope the car rental company still has a suitable vehicle available when you arrive. The rental agent then grills you like a common criminal before handing over the keys. Finally, when you return the car, you need to hope the light scratches in the car’s paint aren’t noticed when the agent checks the car.

Is it possible to avoid this process by not renting a car for your vacation? Can you use public transportation, hotel shuttles, walking or other forms of transportation to eliminate the need for a car rental? Is it possible to put the $400 you normally spend on a car rental towards something fun? Is it possible to save the time you normally wait in the car rental queue? Can you lie on the beach without wondering if your personal insurance will pay if someone dings your rental car?

The answer is “yes”. Here are 10 great vacations without a rental car.


A great vacation that doesn’t require a rental car is a cruise. Fly to your port of embarkation, take a taxi to the ship, and off you go. To avoid the anxiety of possibly missing the ship’s departure should your flight be delayed, fly in the night before the ship departs, take a shuttle to a hotel and then a taxi to the ship the next day. You can drive to the port if you live close enough.

Once the cruise starts, there's no need for a rental car. You can eat all your meals and enjoy many activities and entertainment options on board. When the ship stops at a port, take a tour to see local attractions, or walk around the port city.

Big City

In many big cities, it's easier and less expensive to walk, take taxis or use public transportation. That way, you won’t need to drive through crowded streets, find parking or pay for parking. Big cities where no rental cars are necessary include New York City, Boston, Washington, Chicago and San Francisco. Many smaller cities also have excellent public transportation networks.

Dude Ranch

If you book a week’s vacation, your dude ranch will often send a shuttle to pick you up the airport, and drive you back later. During the week, you'll stay at the ranch and enjoy daily horse rides, barbecues, home-style cooking and entertainment. Most ranches are fully contained, and there's no need to leave the ranch’s grounds.

All-Inclusive Resort

All-inclusive resorts in Central America, the Caribbean and other locations will also arrange for your transportation from the airport to their properties. Once there, you'll have access to restaurants, beaches and entertainment venues located on the resort’s property. As with dude ranches, all-inclusive resorts are mostly fully contained.

Cross-Country Rail Trip

It's still possible to travel across America by rail. Amtrak operates cross-country rail routes that enable its passengers to see America at a pace slow enough to savor its vistas. Passengers are served all of their meals aboard or at stops along the way. Cross-country rail travel is also available in other countries or regions, including India, Russia and Europe.

Motor Coach Tours

Many organizations and tour operators provide escorted motor coach tours that combine luxurious bus travel with three or four-star hotels. AAA, for example, operates many motor coach tours across the United States. Motor coach tours are also widely available in Europe and Asia.

On-Mountain Ski Resort

Ski resorts are another vacation destination where car rentals are not always necessary. Many resorts have shuttles to pick up their guests from the airport, and are close enough to the mountain so guests can ski out the door or take a shuttle to the ski-lift base. These resorts have full-service restaurants, or are located in alpine villages with many restaurants to choose from. Between skiing all day and hitting these restaurants at night, there is little need to rent a car to go anywhere else.


For a more exotic vacation that does not require a car rental, consider a safari in Africa or other off-track location. The safari operator will generally arrange for all of your transportation needs.

Hiring a Driver/Car

In some countries, it's common to hire a driver (and his car) rather than rent a car only. For example, India is a destination where hiring drivers is common. It's practical since labor costs are low, and also because it would be very difficult (and dangerous!) for drivers accustomed to the civilized manner of driving in the United States to navigate the utter chaos of driving in Indian cities.

Oceanfront/Village Condo

There are other vacation destinations where it is possible to simply stay downtown, in the village, or in an oceanfront condo or hotel, and then walk or take local transportation. For example, my wife and I rented an oceanfront condominium on the beach in Siesta Key, Florida last winter. We simply walked to the beach, and then walked for a mile to the nearby village for our meals and groceries.


Of course, another option is to vacation close enough to home that you can use your own car. While “staycations” are enjoyable, and while they became even more popular during the Great Recession, there is still an allure to the thought of hitting the slopes, enjoying the rays at the beach, or otherwise enjoying other parts of the country or world. Luckily, it doesn’t require a rental car to do it.


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