If you’re looking to cover a lot of ground quickly, the best way to get around the Polish side of Pomerania is to rent a car.
While Poland does have public transportation available, there are a number of reasons not to consider it as an option for your trip. The primary concern with Polish transportation, such as trains and busses, is that the network is not very expansive and is unlikely to go to the smaller villages, especially in the interior farming regions. Public transit timetables also run at inopportune time intervals, making it difficult to make the most of your time in Pomerania.
This is why you should rent a car. Although it can be more expensive than public transportation, the amount of time saved for more experiences is well worth the slight uptick in cost.
Booking a Rental
There are several options to consider when renting a car. Who should I rent from? Manual or automatic? Compact or SUV? Is gas mileage a factor of concern? Should I purchase insurance? What licenses will I need to legally drive? These were all questions I had in advance of making my first trip to Poland. I’ll attempt to answer all of the major concerns–keep reading!
Apply for Your International Driving Permit
To rent a car, you will need to have a valid international driving permit (IDP). Your state license will not suffice. You probably won’t need to present international information when booking, but rental companies will not let you leave the lot without presenting the IDP.
I highly recommend using AAA. The process took me approximately half an hour and only costed $20. AAA will have you fill out some paperwork (name, address, phone number, etc.) and present your valid state driver’s license. Some of this can be filled out in advance by printing out a form from the AAA website. Dress for the occasion because they will take your picture to be used on your international driving permit. As a final note, international Driving Permits may not be issued more than six months in advance of desired effective date. For example, mine was effective June 10, 2019. I applied for mine in the spring the same year. The IDP is conveniently valid for one year from its effective date.
It can be overwhelming to figure out where to rent the car from. From the Solidarity Szczecin–Goleniów Airport, there are several options, some including more familiar names: Avis, Hertz, Europcar, Budget, and Panek. These rentals are located within the terminal, which makes pick-up and drop-off easy.
Ultimately, I ended up renting from CarFree. I found them through the Holiday Autos website, and I chose them because of the lower price point over the longer duration of my stay. I wouldn’t say that the staff was extremely helpful; they knew about as much English as I knew Polish and we muddled our way through the hand-off of the keys. However, I was able to extend my rental nine days longer without needing to return the car. I originally paid $318.45 for the rental from June 24 to July 6. The additional days cost an upcharge of $459.57.
When you pick up the car, an approximately €500 damage deposit will be placed on your card.
Although it is possible to book a car directly through the rental company, I like to comparatively shop for the best deals. These are a few of the sites I personally use and trust:
Use for comparisons:
If you are a student or youth between the ages of 15-25, or are a teacher or faculty member, StudentUniverse offers massive discounts on rentals and travel. Sometimes, they have deals for adults–it’s worth the extra few minutes to register to see how much you can save.
Rental Insurance and Credit Cards
Many local insurance companies do not insure for collision damage outside of the U.S. Unfortunately, rental insurance can be a significant additional expense to your travel bill. Call me crazy, but I didn’t buy the insurance package. And I’ll tell you a secret–if you have a credit card, you might already be covered!
At the time I needed to rent a car, I didn’t have a credit card. The options are exponential. I decided to apply for the Capital One Quicksilver Visa card. It offered 1.5% cashback rewards and a $150 cash bonus by spending $500. By paying for my rental car with this card, I did not need to pay for a collision damage waiver and was protected from theft. To be covered, you must decline coverage through the rental company. However, each credit card is different. Check with your credit card company to see if you have coverage. If not, it might be worthwhile to apply for a card just for travel that will provide you with protection and perks. (As a side note, it’s always smart to bring a second form of payment that is accepted by most retailers worldwide in case of an emergency.)
Read the fine print on both your credit card policy and your rental agreement. Not all policies will cover all types of damage. For example, cracked windshields might not be covered under your credit card’s collision/loss damage waiver.
It’s wise to review your credit card policy thoroughly before booking a rental. Bring along your credit card policy as proof of this coverage; it’s easier to argue you don’t need collision coverage if necessary.
Choosing a Rental: Considerations
Coming from America, I’ve always driven “grandpa” cars that were longer than boats. I’m cheap and I have long legs. While I’m only an average height, I hate hitting my head on the ceiling of most modern cars. Although I pack light, I usually pick up enough souvenirs while traveling that I need a second suitcase by the end of a trip. The extra space would make an SUV the ideal choice… right?
My wife had to park the car at our flat in Koszalin because I couldn’t get out of the driver’s side door. Trying to park the car in the tiny space was a nightmare and required careful deliberation of going forwards and backwards in short bursts–about a 10 minute ordeal each time we parked.
My rental was a newer Nissan Juke. (It was supposed to be a Renault Clio Estate, but rental companies have the discretion to substitute a similar vehicle based on availability.) It wasn’t a particularly large vehicle by American standards, but in Europe, it’s significantly larger than most. Roads are more narrow, have fewer lanes, and parking can be a headache. I would recommend a smaller car for driving around Poland. It should help make the trip less stressful. I was gripping the steering wheel with white knuckles for several days when I first arrived because of how narrow the lanes were. Also, most roads don’t have shoulders and concrete barriers feel inches away from the car’s mirror.
By renting a smaller car, you’ll also reap the benefit of saving money on gas.
Another consideration is the rental’s transmission: manual or automatic? Although manual automobiles are typically cheaper and use less fuel, it means manually shifting gears on unfamiliar roads with different traffic signs. Unless you are already adept at driving a stick shift, I do not recommend driving a manual. Pay the upcharge and rent an automatic. On country roads, it will leave one hand free for taking pictures through the window.
Rental Locations and Border Crossing
It is also important to consider where your rental car will be picked up. It can be cheaper to rent from car companies in Germany, and Berlin is a close enough hub to Poland and has its own airport.
However, if you plan to take your rented vehicle across the border, be aware that most rental companies have stipulations on which vehicles are eligible and border crossing fees may be added to your bill. These fees could be applied daily, weekly, or as one flat rate depending on the agreement and the countries that the vehicle will enter. I was personally advised by a German resident to avoid the hassle and rent a car directly in Poland. If you do not have that option or if you plan to travel between Vorpommern (which is in Germany) and Hinterpommern (which is in modern-day Poland), contact your rental agency to determine additional fees and determine whether any special toll stickers need to be purchased. (This was the case when I crossed the border into Austria to Salzburg in 2014. Read more about these types of Autobahn toll stickers to avoid hefty fines.)
Prepare for Driving Abroad
I planned ahead for my travels and printed out a list of all major traffic signs I would encounter. I reviewed them thoroughly, but there was still a bit of culture shock when pulling out of the rental lot. I’ll cover more about this in my post about driving in Poland.
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