Many visitors to Europe will enjoy the cost-effective option to travel by train thanks to a vast network of rail lines connecting the many nations of this continent. Even going from city to city within a given country or traveling in and around a single city by this means is often feasible. But if you’ve only got a few short days, you might want to expedite your travel plans by renting a car to use. And if you happen to be spending some time in Italy, you might not be familiar with roadways, much less the rules that govern them. While you can certainly rely on trains and buses to relieve you of the hassle of finding your way around and dealing with traffic concerns, the truth is that you simply might not have time for all of the stops these modes of transportation are prone to make. So if you’ve decided to brave the roads of Italy in a rental car in order to avoid spending your entire trip looking out the windows of public transit, here are just a few tips that will help you do it right.
The first two things you need to take care of are a driver’s license and insurance, and it’s a good idea to arrange for both before you travel. Like many countries, Italy requires that you carry an International Driving Permit before you are legally allowed to drive on their roadways. It isn’t good enough to flash the license from your home country; this could net you fines or even an arrest if you get pulled over by Italian police. And while many rental car companies won’t ask for this paperwork when they hand you the keys, you probably don’t want to risk an arrest on foreign soil.
So head to your local AAA to apply for your international license before you travel. Members pay $8 while non-members are charged $15, the license is valid for one year, and it is honored in 150 countries. You might want to give yourself a few weeks to receive the permit if you are applying by mail, and remember that it is only valid when presented with your original driver’s license. As for insurance, you’ll simply have to call your current provider to find out what options they have for international coverage. Chances are that you’re not currently covered for automobile accidents when traveling abroad, so you’ll likely have to purchase a temporary policy for your trip. You might also look into travel insurance, discount vehicle insurance online, or simply ask your car rental dealership about the types of coverage they provide.
As for getting on the road, the main thing you need to be aware of is that unlike residents of many European nations, Italians drive on the right side of the road. It’s also important to remember that the left lane on highways is strictly for passing, you must have your headlights on any time you operate a vehicle (day or night), the country is entirely hands-free where mobile devices are concerned, and you must have safety vests in the cabin of the car in case of accident (you are required to wear them when exiting the vehicle should you be involved in an accident or break down). As for obeying speed limits and road signs, it’s probably a good idea to download a guide to Italian road signs so that you can learn to identify the important ones as you go.