Here we are in 2016. A stunning development considering just a few short weeks ago we were looking ahead to 2015—at least it feels like weeks. Time seems to fly at warp speed, but well do our best to keep up.

Travelin' East

Germany is the place to rent the car if you plan to drive from a western European country into former Eastern Bloc countries. For example, this December you can rent a compact car in Germany for a week for $152 and drive it in Zone 1 eastern countries (Czech Republic, Poland, Croatia, Slovenia, Slovakia, Hungary). Travel east from other countries is either prohibited or more expensive. The east travel rate for the same car from Vienna is about $275, from Zürich $273, and from Venice $353. With a few exceptions east travel is typically limited to Fords, Skodas and Opels, so you can forget driving a BMW, Audi or Mercedes into Zone 1 countries.

Higher prices and more restrictions apply to Zone 2 countries such as Romania, Serbia, and Bulgaria. Get a written quote.

“Outside the Box” Rental Car Advice

This story is illustrative of the car rental advice we offer on a daily basis. A family of three wanted to pick up a compact car with automatic in Salzburg and return it in Frankfurt. The Salzburg price for a week was $486 plus an international one-way fee of $171 for a total rental of $657. We suggested instead an 8-minute train ride from Salzburg to Freilassing, Germany, where they could rent a compact automatic from Europcar for $278. With the lower price and no one-way fee the customer saved $379. Get a written quote or phone 800-521-6722.

Use Your Smartphone for Navigation

Except in luxury and premium rental car categories, GPS is seldom included in the price of a European rental car. The cost to add navigation—often a portable device rather than factory installed—ranges from about $5 to $25 per day. Even after you pay, your troubles aren't over. You may get one that is difficult to set up or doesn't work properly because it's been abused by previous renters. But you don't have to worry about any of that long as you take your smartphone to Europe. You see Google announced today that it isn't necessary to have an Internet connection to use its super app, Google Maps. That's right, turn-by-turn directions, no Internet required. For step-by-step directions on how to make the app work on your phone, see the Google Blog Post.