Car Rental Ramblings

Liz and friend on their road trip - in front of an empty bullring in Santonya.

Living in the city, not many of our friends have cars.  Renting a car makes us feel like adults.  No waiting for buses, dealing with late trains, etc.  If you are coming from out of the country, sometimes renting your car in advance is cheaper.  Liz Pitt, our guest writer and expert from Northern Spain, loves the adventures a car brings when on a road trip with friends.  Gas stations are few so plan ahead.  When you rent a car on line, you have to have the same credit card when you pick up your car or no deal. 

By Liz Pitt

As far as travelling around the Iberian peninsula (and Europe in general), one of my favorite modes of transportation is renting a car. It’s easy, cheap (if you do it right), and gives you much more flexibility.

My friends and I recently rented a car for the day and set off to explore the neighboring autonomous community of Cantabria. It’s an often-overlooked region of Spain, but this makes it one of the best-kept secrets. There are serene beaches, delicious food, and things are a lot cheaper than in Basque Country. We ended up checking out two towns, Santonya and Noja, and I was really impressed with the beautiful scenery and the overall tranquility of the region.

Fill your van full of friends and save lots of moolah.

Here are my 5 tips for renting a car (and seeing Cantabria!).

1. Bring a friend

Renting a car is always cheaper when you have more people. For this reason, whenever we rent a car, we try to stuff it with people. On this trip, we had four people. The car cost 52 euro, plus 20 for gas. When everything was said and done, we paid 18 euro a person to have the car for an entire day. Yes, it might be a little more than a bus or train ticket, but it’s worth it to have the car for the entire day.

2. Learn how to drive a manual

Most cars in Europe are manual, not automatics that us Americans are used to. Unfortunately, that means that there are not very many of us (myself included) that can drive a stick shift. It is possible to rent an automatic, but they are usually a lot more (often hundreds of Euros) expensive than a manual. Luckily for me I have a friend that shares similar travel interests and can drive a manual, so he is always the designated driver for our excursions, but I suggest trying to learn before you get to Spain. It’s a great life skill to have!

Beach in Cantabria

3. Read the fine print

Car rental companies are notorious for having strange conditions and nit-picky rules. Make sure you know what insurance you need and what the company will cover should something happen to the car. When it comes to licensing, you can get an international drivers license from AAA, but in all the times I’ve rented a car in Europe, we have never been asked for anything more than our US licenses.  Check to see if your company offers unlimited miles or not.

4. Know the rules of the road

Ignorance is never an excuse. Make sure you know the rules of the highways. When we were driving down a country road, a policeman was following us, and it was a little unnerving, but our driver handled the roundabouts with ease and we didn’t have any problems. Always take note of the speed limits, and figure out how roundabout work before you find yourself in the driver’s seat. Your passengers will thank you.

El Barco restaurant in Santonya

5. Don’t be afraid to get lost

My favorite part of renting a car is not having time restraints. On our trip, we decided to just drive into Cantabria and see what we could see. We ended up getting to play around in an empty bullring, find a museum that was made to look like a ship coming out of the pavement, and eating at an eccentric café called “El Barco” in Santonya where there were life-sized fish, sharks, and other marine life on the ceiling. Sometimes just driving around stopping at random beaches and roadside cafés can make the trip. Like someone famous once said, it’s not always about the destination, it’s about the journey.

Related Spain Scoop:    For unusual places to drive your car and more cool stuff to do in Northern Spain, we have The Scoop on restaurants, beaches, museums, etc.

Liz Pitt is a Wisconsinite who transplanted to Bilbao, Spain almost 2 years ago. She currently teaches English at a local high school. While she doesn’t speak Basque, she loves everything about Bilbao, from the pintxos to the beaches, and will talk your ear off about it if she has the chance. When she’s not exploring Basque Country, she travels to other European destinations. You can check out her stories and photos on her blog,

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  1. Posted July 16, 2012 at 12:10 am | Permalink

    I want to know more about Liz Pitt. I think it will be very interesting for us. Can you share more information about it?

  2. Posted July 16, 2012 at 12:44 am | Permalink

    I want to see more images of this car. Can you provide it?

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