A car is the best way to get away from the touristy areas and get a feel for the rural parts of the country. Any town not connected by a train is bound to be quieter, more authentic and have less tourists in it, and a car is just the means to get there. To make renting a car worth your money (it can be quite expensive) you really need to get a group of three of four people together to share the costs.
If you are going
to rent a car, there are several things to consider before
doing so. For starters, driving in the city poses many problems,
including: aggressive driving styles of the locals, finding
and paying for parking, theft and possible accidents. There
are some cities that would be virtually impossible to drive
in -- Paris and Cairo come to mind immediately. Going out
into the country would be safer, but you still have to get
the car out there some how. And even once you are in the country
it still may be unsafe. In Egypt, for example, drivers don't
turn on their headlights at night, both in the city and on
the inter-city highways! Head-on collisions are not uncommon.
Gasoline prices in many countries are another reason to think twice about renting a car. In the US and Canada, we enjoy extremely low gas prices compared to European countries. Expect to pay up to 5 times as much for gas in many countries.
In Northern Europe renting a car is an excellent idea if you can get a few people together to make it affordable. But be prepared to pay highway tolls to travel on major roads and enter some of the larger cities and then pay even more money for parking (if you can find it). You need to hook up with a few other travelers so you can split the costs of renting the car, collision insurance, road tolls, parking and any other associated costs. And don't forget that car rental companies have a minimum age requirement for rentals.
Rental cars are prime targets for thieves. They break into rentals knowing that, more often than not, there will be valuable items in the car. The key to avoid falling victim to an auto theft is to make your car look less like a rental car and more like one of the locals'. Take off the rental company stickers (if possible) and place a local newspaper in the back window and on the dash. As well, be sure to hide all valuables in the trunk where they are out of site. Leaving your glove box open and empty also helps convince thieves that there is nothing of value in the car.
For plenty of useful information on driving in Europe, check out Travlang's advice in European International Road Signs and Conventions or the Moto Europa website. If you are planning on driving in Australia, check out Traveling in Australia By Car. They have lots of useful information for adventure travelers looking to buy or rent a car and drive their way around the country.
Car Rental Companies