How Kiwis can drive across Europe on a budget
Our car was brand new – with just 280 metres – yes just 28,000 centimetres on the odometer.And it was cheaper than a rental car. Much cheaper.
Sitting at Paris airport, about to embark on a four month trip around Europe, I couldn't quite believe our luck.
Two months earlier, when we first had the idea of driving around Europe's castles, forts, farmers markets and lavender fields – the plan was to buy a car.
Then, the Great Wall of European Bureaucracy hit. We needed a local address for the compulsory insurance, to pay numerous taxes, fill in countless forms. It was firmly placed in the too hard basket.
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LONG TERM RENTALS?
Reluctantly, we started searching rental cars. I say reluctantly, because the last rental experience I had involved brandishing a weapon at the rental agent. He wanted $500 for a tiny shopping trolley scratch somebody else had done.
My weapon was a ruler, but it worked. The scratch was just 4cm , and luckily I'd read the fine print which said anything less than 10cm is not considered damage.
We planned to drive Europe for 4 months, but most rentals were priced around a hefty €4000 (NZ$6300) for the trip.
I eventually found one for around $35 a day. But on the last page of the fine print, the grenade hit.
I discovered we could only do 3500km over the four months, and we would be charged $1 per kilometre extra for anything above.
We ended up driving almost 15,000km, so that would have been a resuscitation worthy $11,500 shock to the system.
LEASING A NEW CAR
In desperation, I googled something a former colleague had told me about. It's a French based scheme, and involves leasing a brand new car, which you can drive all around Europe. It sounded complicated and expensive, so I never really looked into it.
I was very wrong; in fact a little shocked at how low the prices were. I assumed the hidden extras would exorbitant.
But it included full insurance – with zero excess. That means you can scratch it, dent it, it doesn't matter. No extra cost. And you can drive through more than 40 countries.
WHY SO CHEAP?
Our car came to around $32 a day for a 4 month lease. The price increases to around $57 per day for a one month lease, although they often have specials cheaper than that.
It's difficult to find a European rental with full insurance, unlimited kilometres and the ability to drive in more than 40 countries for anywhere near that price. Let alone, one with less than a kilometre on the clock.
The French Government established the scheme 50 years ago, but surprisingly few people know about it.
It works like this:
You lease a brand new car off a French car company, such as Citroen. You technically own it; so when you return the vehicle it's second hand.
Because the car is used, Citroen doesn't have to pay a new car tax. So it sells a virtually new car, a lot cheaper, into the French market.
There's big demand to buy those cars, so the the likes of Citroen offer discounts to attract tourists so they have enough supply.
It boosts tourism and the local car industry.
WAS IT WORTH IT?
The big question a lot of people have is: why ditch public transport in Europe, when it's so good.
But after doing trains and buses a few times before, we wanted to explore outside the main centres and not be constrained by timetables.
And having done both now - there is no comparison. We stumbled upon countless surprises; from medieval castles to farmers markets and shimmering turquoise beaches we would never have seen on public transport.
We drove through France, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Italy (including Sicily) San Marino and back to Paris.
And best of all I didn't have to brandish a weapon when I returned the car. Yes, it had a small scratch courtesy of Dubrovnik's impossibly narrow streets.
But all I got was a "well done" - the returning agent had one quick glance then added "I would have expected more over four months"
- To be eligible for the scheme you need to live outside the EU.
- Citroen EuroPass has a New Zealand agent: citroeneuropass.co.nz
Last year Brook Sabin and his partner Radha Engling quit their jobs and sold everything to travel. They started a blog onflightmode.com and now call themselves fulltime travellers, making a living selling travel photos and video all around the world. Each week Kiwis in Flight will take you on their adventures.
The author did photography work for Citroen EuroPass during his four month trip.