Tag Archives: travel

Driving a rental car in Switzerland

Recently, I visited Switzerland for vacation (Sep ’18) and spent a week driving around sightseeing with family.

Disclaimer: you should do your own research (regarding topics such as driving laws).

While I’ve read many great things about the public transportation system (trains & buses) and I would encourage you to take their excellent train system, driving made sense for our situation.

Pros

  • Direct transportation. Walking between the train station & hotel each day is not trivial. The uphill hike from the train station to Gruyère didn’t seem easy either.
  • Flexible. Not being tied to a train/bus schedule allowed us to see more places.
  • Scalable. Having a large car makes sense financially with a large group. Our 8 day car rental was $400. A 2nd class, 8 day unlimited train ticket is over $400 for one person.
  • Storage capacity. Storing infant items, extra clothes, etc. in your car is very convenient.
  • Park centrally. All the city centers we visited had parking near the tourist areas (such as old town). The blue ‘P’ signs are very easy to find when you are looking for parking nearby.

Cons

  • Parking
    • Expensive. This goes without saying if you are planning a trip to Switzerland. Parking in the city center for a day is not cheap. Bern was particularly expensive to park in. In Bern, I made the tradeoff to pay more for parking and enjoy the city longer.
    • Coins. Older parking areas may require coins (if they do not accept credit card).
    • Tight parking. Many older cities (such as Zurich) have extremely narrow parking spots & turns. This is a huge factor if you care about not scratching your rental car. Drive carefully & slow.
    • Language. The parking signs may not have English instructions.
  • Speed limits. I did my best to stay under the speed limit everywhere. I was told (online & in-person) that speeding in Switzerland comes with big fines. Driving & constantly checking your speed makes for very stressful driving.
  • Expensive. The cost of car rental, parking, and gas quickly add up. However, I felt the cost of driving wasn’t bad compared to buying a few train passes.

Tips

  • While driving in Zurich, many parking garages would show “FREI”. This confused me initially as I read it as “free parking” (no cost). The actual meaning is “free spots” (parking available).
  • Not a big deal, there are a lot of tunnels to drive through around the country.
  • My rental car had a number of helpful features: current location speed limit display, parking collision detection, and standard GPS navigation. I’d highly recommend these features.
  • To stay under or at the speed limit, I often relied on my rental car’s cruise control system to set the exact speed. Beware because you will often enter lower speed areas, and you’ll need to lower your speed suddenly.
  • While driving in Switzerland, your headlights always need to be on. I set my car rental to have automatic lights. Easy.
  • I would recommend renting from Sixt at the Zurich airport. (I have no affiliation with them.) I was able to get my BMW 2 series rental quickly and received good customer service.
  • There are car free areas in Switzerland, so do not plan to drive to them.

Driving in Switzerland is not cheap, but it comes with many benefits. I would recommend driving in Switzerland if you are traveling with a large family or kids.

Travel Overhead

Traveling to new places is fun and exciting. This year, I visited amazing parts of Europe and Hawaii. I really enjoyed Santorini and Waikiki.

One thing that seems to get overlooked in trip planning is travel overhead. On paper, if you were to go to three countries in Europe, that looks great! You’re accomplishing so much by checking out so many places. The reality is that travel can impose a heavy, relative overhead cost between destinations if not properly managed.

For example, if you have a flight at 2pm, your schedule for the day looks something like:

  • 11 am – pack and check out of the hotel
  • 12 noon – travel to the airport early enough
  • 1 pm – wait at the airport gate
  • 2 pm – board the plane
  • 2:30 pm – fly to your destination
  • 3:30 pm – arrive and possible baggage claim
  • 4:30 pm – arrive at your hotel and check in

Your 2pm flight blocked over 5 hours of prime vacation time.

When traveling, I’ve found that the daytime is the prime time to do things. Whether eating food, going shopping, or hitting the outdoors – you’ll want to do it when it’s actually open and the sun is still out. If you have a 2pm flight, chances are that you’ve used up most of your day’s prime hours, which means one less day of vacation you actually get.

Even without worrying about airport flights, staying at different hotels in the same area can really impact your trip. Coordinating your check out time (or late check out time) with travel time to the next hotel can be tricky. Not to mention finding time to grab lunch.

While those who travel much more than me have internalized all of this overhead stuff, I’m getting exposed to it and it frustrates me. Spending prime vacation time lugging bags around and waiting for a bus/plane is a huge waste and should be avoided (planned around) if possible.