Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Car Rental / Big USA Road Trip for under-25 years old

Hi Jamie,

My boyfriend and I are seriously considering a road trip to the USA after our final year of university. We are hopefully going to save a fair amount of money this summer so we can go the following summer. One problem though - we will both be 21 and I have read that most car rental companies don't hire cars to under-25s and if they do they have a young drivers fee. I have looked at renting a car for about 2 months (June-August) and prices seem to start from £1000. We would probably be starting and finishing in opposite parts of the USA although we haven't planned our route yet, really like your website though as it makes things so much easier to start planning! We had an idea that we saw somewhere that we could buy a car drive around in it, then sell it when we were done with it, although the logistics of that may be a little difficult. Have you ever heard of anybody doing this or do you think it would just be safer to hire a car?

Many thanks!

Ana (student from London, UK)


Hi Ana --

Many thanks for writing in, and I hope you manage to make your big USA trip. The things you ask about -- renting cars when you are under 25 years old, and/or buying a car to drive around the country -- are indeed annoying problems.

I can't exactly suggest a way around them, but what I can suggest is a variable on your road tripping theme: find another way to make the big trips -- like buying some "internal flights" within the US, or taking a train (which are rare but do exist!), or even a Greyhound bus (which is cheap, but sometime unsalubrious), then once you covered the big distances by public transport, you can rent a car and travel around the extended area -- using smaller, more localized car rental companies which will rent to you even when the big companies (like Hertz and Avis) don't seem to want your business.

One example "local" company that will rent to you is called Rent-a-Wreck; their age policies vary from location to location, but I understand that most locations will rent you a car so long as you are 21 years old, and have a credit card, and a drivers license. They charge an extra $5 a day for drivers between 21 and 25, which doesn't seem like a "deal breaker", does it? (The name is attention-getting, but their vehicles are all new and in good shape -- not wrecks, for sure!)

This way, with the aid of Rent-a- Wreck and similar companies, you could, for example, fly from London to LA, sleep off your jet lag for a few days in Venice Beach, then get a car for a few weeks to see the rest of LA, Las Vegas, and the southwest deserts. Then drop off the car and hop a train to SF and see that fine city (without a car!), then do the same in Portland and Seattle, and maybe get another car (from Seattle?) for a couple of weeks, and take a road trip through the forests and national parks of Montana et al, then hit Chicago and do Route 66. Then go to New Orleans, see the sights then pick up another car for a road-tripping cruise across the Mississippi Delta up to Memphis.

Then hop along to New York and Boston, getting a car to explore the back roads of New England. And so on, all the way across the USA.

Buying a car is indeed a huge hassle, because of insurance etc -- so unless you know someone in the USA who can help you with the legalities, it probably is not worth it.

OK, hope this helps you plan a great trip. Good luck with your studies and your road-trip money-saving. And a belated Happy New Year, too,

Jamie Jensen
Road Trip USA

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