By Rick Steves
For longer car trips, leasing a car can be more affordable than renting; for short jaunts, consider a car-share program. Neither is as widely available as rentals. For a cheap lift, consider ride sharing.
Leasing gets around many tax and insurance costs, and is a great deal for three weeks or more. Leases are available for periods of up to five and a half months. Leased cars can most easily be picked up and returned in France, but for an additional fee you can lease in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Great Britain.
Prices include all taxes, as well as zero-deductible theft and collision insurance valid all over Europe, including eastern countries. You won't pay extra for additional drivers or for venturing too far east, and you get a shiny new car. Auto Europe, for example, leases no-frills Peugeot 208s for as few as 21 days for about $700 — about $33 per day. Renault Eurodrive offers similar deals. In general, the longer you lease the car, the lower the price.
Car sharing makes the most sense for day trips. Car-sharing providers place cars throughout a city, let users rent them for just a few hours or days, and charge no enrollment or annual fees. You book your car online, pick it up at a set location, and return it to the nearest location when you're done. The fee includes insurance, fuel, and GPS. There's no extra fee for drivers ages 21–24, and prices are relatively reasonable — in London a Ford Fiesta costs about $15 per hour or $75 per day. Europe's main car-sharing provider is Hertz 24/7, currently available in Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Zipcar operates primarily in Great Britain and France, plus Barcelona and Istanbul. Car2go, which rents the smallest Smart model, operates mostly in Germany and Italy, plus Amsterdam, Madrid, and Vienna.
BlaBlaCar, operating throughout Europe, connects passengers with drivers who are making long-distance trips. Riders pay a low fare (called a "cost contribution") that is often cheaper than public transit. The fee is paid through the website, and drivers can't profit off the service (fees cover fuel, tolls, maintenance, insurance, and other car-related costs). The website allows passengers and drivers to rate each other, and for drivers to indicate how chatty they are (from one to three "bla's").