(Though prices quoted in this article are subject to frequent change, the principles of in the rental car vs. rail decision still apply.)

In times such as these, shouldn't we set aside, at least for a while, the “famous-destination” model of European travel? The classic Paris-Venice-Munich-Vienna sort of itinerary is not only expensive, it's often a stressful succession of crowded airports, rail stations, hotels, restaurants, and sights. The big-city traveler stays in a centrally-located hotel where employees speak English, he marches off each day with battalions of other North Americans to view renowned pictures and buildings, orders food off an English menu, congratulates himself on successfully negotiating the public transportation system, and all the while pays top euro.

Now is the time to be where the pace is slower and the dollar goes much farther; to wander around small towns and villages and explore the countryside. But getting off the more familiar path requires some research, a little savvy, and a willingness to stick your nose a little deeper into a different culture. A travel style done best by car.

The aforementioned Paris-Venice-Munich-Vienna itinerary is tailor-made for the train. One is whisked from city center to city center, with no worries about $50-plus per day parking, or driving in heavy traffic on unfamiliar streets. But for the countryside, get thee to a rental car. It has the ability to quickly and comfortably take you to places the vast majority of tourists never go. It provides easy access to historic, off-the-beaten-track villages where the inexpensive hotels and restaurants are to be found. Plus, you move on your own schedule, the car is there whenever you need it. Trains are fast, comfortable, and romantic, but there are a lot more miles of highway than railway in Europe. If you want to be in the company of other Americans and visit big cities, rail is the way to do it. (The exception to this, of course, is Switzerland, where nearly every hamlet can be reached on a Swiss Pass that includes trains, postal buses, and lake boats.)

Comparing costs between rail and car rental is difficult because of the profound differences in their very nature. One is public, the other private. But the main difference lies in the way they are used. A four-day, second-class German Twin Pass for $396 ($522 first-class) may be just right for a couple whose itinerary is, say, Frankfurt-Cologne-Hamburg-Berlin-Frankfurt. All they require is four days on a train. But for a couple that wants to explore the Franconian wine country's back roads, discover the Bavarian Forest, or meander the curves of the Mosel river, the rental car is really the only choice. For two weeks it will cost them about less than $425 plus fuel, but the car will be at their disposal for 14 days. And, if needed, they can take it anywhere in western Europe, the only added cost will be fuel.

Renting a car in Europe has become more complicated in recent years. The rental car shopper must be knowledgeable about insurance, currency exchange, European automobiles, and the many ways rental companies and brokers obfuscate charges added to the basic rental rates, many of them mandatory. See our free special report: What You Should Know About Renting a Car in Europe.

Book your rental car in Europe with Gemütlichkeit's travel department and get the best rates, personalized, knowledgeable service and our unique at-the-rental-counter safety net that ensures our customers get what they are promised. We book with all the major companies in more than 35 countries. If you have questions about rentals in Europe, or simply prefer to deal in-person, phone us at 800-521-6722.