Rental cars make vacation transportation easy, but this mode of getting around can sometimes be out of your budget due to expensive rental costs and gas prices. Additionally, driving can be an exhausting hassle when your vacation priority is to relax and have a good time. Thankfully, there are plenty of other ways that you can get around without the need for a rental car.
Here is how to get around on vacation without a rental car:
- Public transportation
- Rideshares and taxis
- Car sharing
- Hire a driver or tour guide
The rest of this article explains each of these transportation methods in greater detail, so you can make an informed decision about which rental car alternative is right for your personal travel needs.
1. Public Transportation
Public transportation is one of the most accessible and affordable ways to navigate large cities.
Transit systems are different wherever you go, and some cities have better systems in place than others. While each city’s public transportation is bound to be different from others, they usually consist of similar vehicles.
Here are some common modes of public transportation:
- Trains or subway systems
- City buses
- Sightseeing buses for tourists
Let’s explore each of these options in greater detail.
Trains and Subway Systems
Many large cities have trains or subway systems that make it easy to get around.
Trains tend to stop at the most popular attractions and neighborhoods, so for vacations, you should have no problem relying on them for transportation.
Subway routes can be a bit more complicated than train routes, but they typically have detailed maps to assist you in your navigation endeavors. The lines are usually labeled by number, letter, or color, which makes it easy to understand even if you do not speak the local language.
Taking a train is the best way to travel between cities when you do not have a rental car. Taking a train can take longer than driving or flying depending on the distance between you and your destination, but they are usually the cheaper option.
If you are in a country with high-speed trains, you can expect this method of transportation to be a lot faster than driving, which is convenient when you do not have a rental car.
If you want to vacation in the US or Canada by train without a car, I recommend reading the book Bradt’s USA by Rail (available on Amazon.com). I love this particular book because it lists destinations you can visit by train, provides detailed maps, and offers planning guides for travel by train.
Buses are one of the most convenient options for traveling between different locations within one or two close cities. Though they cover less ground because they don’t always travel between multiple cities, their routes tend to be a lot more detailed than trains.
Buses are great because they give you access to both tourist-heavy locations as well as less touristy neighborhoods. If you want to save some money, you can find a hotel or other accommodation further out from the city but near a bus line that will help you get around every day.
While buses are convenient, they can often take a long time because they have to make frequent stops. However, they are one of the cheapest modes of public transportations and require affordable fees. They’re excellent options if your budget is a higher priority than time.
Ferries are used in cities that neighbor bodies of water like rivers, lakes, or seas.
They’re a great way to reach popular tourist attractions like Alcatraz in San Francisco. However, you can also use ferries to reach different areas that aren’t always tourism-related.
Cities like San Francisco and San Diego have ferries to take you across the bays to reach islands in the city. Chicago has water taxis with stops along the river to help you get around the city. Some ferries are free, and others cost a small fee as trains and buses do.
Sightseeing Buses for Tourism
Sightseeing buses are common in large cities across the globe like London, New York City, San Francisco, Toronto, and Berlin. This mode of transportation is a good way to get around if you plan on visiting popular tourist attractions because they often include narrated tours and frequent stops.
These buses also offer a variety of ticket options. The most common options are one-day, multi-day, and single-ride tickets. This means that you only have to pay for as much as you want to see and how often you plan on using the bus.
There are plenty of cities in the United States that are easy to travel to without a rental car. This YouTube video highlights 15 cities that make it easy to travel around without a car:
If you’re physically able to walk reasonable distances, walking can be one of the best ways to get around on vacation without a rental car. It’s completely free and has little to no limitations regarding where you can go.
If you are staying at a hotel, they can provide you with a map and let you know how to get to all the popular attractions, good restaurants, and anything else you want to see when you get around on foot. You can also find a local tourism or information center that will provide you with maps and guides.
Hostels and tour companies offer free walking tours, so you can go with a guide to check out the city you are staying in and get some inside information. Doing a walking tour on your first day or two of vacation is a great way to get acquainted with the city before exploring it on your own.
Furthermore, when walking around a city, you will see places you would not normally see from a car or bus. You can take detours down pedestrian-only streets, admire the beauty of where you are, and stop in restaurants and shops that you are passing by. It also makes it easier to take photos and videos so you can document your experience.
3. Rideshare and Taxis
Rideshares and taxis are some other great ways to get around on vacation without a rental car. This method of transportation is great in cities where getting around with a car is easiest, but you do not want to rent one yourself.
You can download apps on your phone to call your ride, or you can have the front desk at your hotel call or schedule one for you.
Combining a rideshare or taxi service with walking is a great way to get anywhere you need to go. You can get a ride into the city or area where you will be spending the day, then walk through the day, and finally, get another taxi or ride back to your hotel at night.
4. Car Sharing
Car sharing is similar to using a rideshare or taxi service, but you are the one driving someone else’s car instead of having them drive you around. While this is similar to renting a car, it is a little different, and there are two ways that carsharing works.
The first way is where a company buys cars and leases them out. They have designated parking places where you can pick up the car. You pay a small fee to sign up for the car sharing service, and you can then borrow the cars hourly or daily. You just need to drop it off at a designated location when you are done.
The second type of car sharing service is similar to Airbnb, where you borrow another person’s car. You should go through a service when you do this, so you are protected if there is an accident or issue with the car. This option is the most similar to renting a car, but you can skip the rental counter and the high prices.
Bikes are an easy way to get around when you are vacationing in a place with nice weather, and you need to get around a town or city.
You have a few options for obtaining a bike while on vacation. Lots of cities offer bike rentals, and you have the option to rent them for part of a day, one day, or multiple days.
Lots of cities also offer bike sharing programs that are similar to car sharing programs. There are bike stations around the city where you can pick up a bike, either using an app on your phone or a machine at the bike station. Then, you can ride it around until you are done, and you can drop the bike off at any station around the city.
You are charged for the amount of time you use the bike, either by the hour or by purchasing a day-long pass and using as many bikes as you need.
Hitchhiking can be a convenient way to get around, especially when visiting other countries. However, it can be incredibly dangerous without taking the right safety precautions. But when done right, hitchhiking can be a great way to not only travel, but to meet locals as well.
People who pick up hitchhikers can be friendly and enjoy talking to travelers. You can get tourism recommendations as well as a good sense of how the locals live by chatting and asking questions with your driver.
The downside to hitchhiking is that you may have to wait a while before someone is willing to take you in the direction you want. It can also be dangerous if you get in a car driven by the wrong person.
With hitchhiking and travel in general, you should always trust your gut and take precautions to keep yourself safe. If you feel uncomfortable in someone’s car when you are hitchhiking, you should get out and find another way to get around.
Here are some of the most common places to hitchhike:
- The Netherlands
You will have no problem finding someone to give you a ride in these countries. In some countries like the United States, it will be much more difficult to find someone to give you a ride when you hitchhike, if you can find a ride at all.
This Youtube video shows you how to hitchhike across America through one man’s experience:
7. Hire a Personal Driver or Tour Guide
Hiring a personal driver or tour guide can be another great way to get around while on vacation. Let’s explore each of these options.
Hiring a personal driver is great if you need a car to get around but don’t want to overpay for a rental. This option is great because you also don’t have to deal with parking, which can be a hassle when you’re in an unfamiliar place.
You can hire a driver for part of a day, an entire day, or for your whole vacation. You just need to give the driver or car service your itinerary, so they know when to pick you up and where you need to go when. Then, you just need to sit back and enjoy the ride.
Tour guides are a great way to get around if you want to see a certain place or the best attractions in a city but do not want to do any planning or driving. Not only will a tour group or guide take care of all of your transportation, but all your attraction tickets and sometimes even meals are included too.
Additionally, many of the vehicles used on tours have amenities like wifi, power outlets, and air conditioning. If you want to relax and have an expert take care of the planning for you, a tour service is the best way to go.
Getting around on vacation without a rental car is easier than you might think. You can utilize public transportation systems, walk, rent bikes, use paid driving services, share cars with other tourists, pay for tourism services, or even hitchhike.
Whatever option you choose, make sure to do your research to ensure that your choice meets all of your vacationing needs.