On Your Dream Trip? You Don’t Need a Rental Car

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An expensive rental car is rarely required to get around after you touch down at your dream vacation spot. Here are the low-cost alternatives.

You’ve flown to your dream vacation spot. Now, how do you get from Point A to Point B without paying expensive taxi fares or outrageous rental car fees?

Over the years, I’ve picked up some tricks for keeping this particular line item under tight control. Here are some valuable resources for local travel information and alternatives to high-priced ground transportation.

Public transportation

You can easily save money by doing what the locals do — taking the city bus or subway. For intercity transportation, consider the bus or the train. In many cities, the bus and train stations are centrally located downtown, perhaps within easy walking distance of your hotel.

There’s likely a handy app to learn more about public transportation at your destination. City-Go-Round has assembled a myriad of helpful ones all in one place. Options include apps for the New York City subway, the Washington state ferry system, the Halifax, Nova Scotia, metro, rail travel in the United Kingdom, and many, many more.

Water taxis and trolleys

Venice, Italy, is famous for its gondolas. But water taxis are likely more common than you think. So are trolleys, particularly those that cater to visitors.

Use your favorite search engine to look for water taxis and trolleys in your destination. We quickly found water taxis in cities like Chicago, San Diego, Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Orlando, as well as in multiple international destinations. The locations with trolleys even include  smaller cities like Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tenn.

The website of the tourism office of your destination city will let you know quickly about the availability of river buses, water taxis and trolleys. For example, the tourist website for Daytona Beach, Fla., has information about a beachside trolley that costs only $1.25 per adult.

Car sharing

There’s no law that says you need to book a vehicle through a big national chain. If you need a car for some side trips, you might be better off with a short-term rental. Some possibilities:

  • Getaround.com offers peer-to-peer car rentals in several U.S. cities, including Chicago, San Francisco, San Diego, Portland, Ore., and Austin, Texas. Rates start at less than $10 per hour, including insurance.
  • Car-sharing service Zipcar is available in more U.S. cities, as well as some cities in Canada, Great Britain and Spain.
  • Services like DriveNow and Car2Go let you leave the car at your destination instead of having to take it back. Both are available in some U.S. and European cities.
  • Locally based car-sharing services may be available. This is where using a search engine may help.

Bicycle sharing

Hugely popular in Europe, bike sharing is starting to make its mark in the U.S. Travelers can pick up a short-term bike rental at one station and check it back in at a separate station near their desired attraction. Prices vary depending on the city.

While bike-sharing programs sell annual memberships, many also offer short-term commitments that would work well for tourists. For instance, bike sharing in Montreal costs $7 for 24 hours of access, with additional fees for more than 30-minute trips.

This resource from Bikes Belong provides links to American cities that have taken the shared-bike plunge, including Denver, Miami and New York City. The Bike-sharing Blog also has a lot of useful information.


Some destinations are remarkably walkable. Cities where I have found plenty to see within walking distance of my hotel include Florence and Venice in Italy; Key West, Fla.; and Cuzco, Peru.

How do you determine whether your destination is easily walkable and safe for pedestrians?

  • Guide books. Good travel guides provide detailed information about public transportation and walkability. Lonely Planet tends to have exceptionally informative city center maps, and is my personal go-to choice for indie getaways.
  • Walk Score. This site scores the walkability of cities around the world and provides other essential information, like the location of nearby grocery stores, restaurants, cultural sites and much more. It also has a free app.

Another useful tip

If you must rent a car, a travel agent might have inside knowledge about deals and about the  overseas car rental companies that are most transparent about taxes and fees.

A close friend of mine recently booked a rental car for a month to visit her mother and help during a surgical recovery period. By going through her local AAA agent, she scored a price of $200 with unlimited mileage. A definite deal in anyone’s book.

The cost of getting from place to place on vacation is nearly impossible to eliminate entirely. However, with the savvy implementation of a few of these strategies, it is possible to greatly reduce the overall cost.

Stacy Johnson

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