I believe that anyone who feels remotely comfortable behind the wheel can (and should) consider giving this experience a try. However, depending on where you’re from – or are used to operating a vehicle – driving in Romania may take a little getting used to.
Why rent a car?
The two biggest reasons we avoid renting vehicles while travelling are because one: most places are so easily accessible by buses and/or trains, it’s rarely an issue. The other reason, of course, is cost.
While travelling long-term, cost plays such a huge factor in almost every decision we make. And while we certainly love to splurge from time to time, it’s only when the experience can be well-justified.
Iceland for example, the costs of that trip were astronomical, it’s nearly impossible to do that gorgeous country on a budget. That, and the fact that everything is so spread out, to see much outside of Reykjavik, a vehicle is almost a requirement.
When we visited San Francisco and the Napa Valley we rented one as well, it was my birthday and Kylee was treating us to the full experience. In Sardinia as well, being part of our honeymoon, we wanted the best!
Aside from those few examples, we simply haven’t encountered enough to justify the costs.
We’d prefer to spend the savings on food!
So What is Different about Romania?
The decision to rent a car in Romania came from two places. First, although the country is quite well-connected via bus and shuttle, many of the smaller spots are only able to be visited on a tour. The northern region of Maramures for example, one of our favourite spots in Romania, has some wonderful little villages, intricate wooden churches, and quirky cemeteries.
Visiting these on a tour, while very much possible, removes the freedom to stop on the side of a field at sunset and capture the moment, rather than simply passing it by. This is equally important for visiting the straight-out-of-a-movie castles of Transylvania. The freedom of a vehicle allows you to visit with not only the best lighting for photos but the lack of crowds!
And then there’s the epic (and I don’t throw that word around lightly) Transfagarasan highway. White-knuckling the steering wheel, as you hug the corners of this twisting road over the highest peaks in the country, cannot be replicated in a bus.
Finally, if these reasons haven’t convinced you to break your budget just yet: renting a car in Romania is CHEAP!
Renting a Car in Romania
The rental process in Romania is no different than most European countries. As part of the European Union, the standards should be exactly the same as any other EU nation. As well, most of the same rental companies exist, which is even better if you’re a frequent renter and have a loyalty program.
Our first rental was moderately priced, still out of our budget, though much cheaper than we’ve found in other countries. However, it was when we discovered Klass Wagen that our minds were blown. Our rental came out to just over 70 euro for ten days!
Now, because my credit card has insurance for car rentals included, we were able to opt out of the rental company’s policy. That being said, even if we paid for the insurance, it would have been just over 200€. So even if your credit card doesn’t offer coverage, you’ll likely spend little more than 20€ / $23(US) / $30(CAD) per day!
If you’re fortunate enough to have a drivers licence from an EU country, things will be even better for you. If you’re from another country, like Canada, you’ll pay slightly more for the mandatory insurance fees. This is simply due to the standardized testing for licences within the Union. Don’t take it personally though, you not knowing the fine details of driving in Europe is simply more of a liability for these guys. And it really isn’t that much of a difference.
Driving in Romania
Although driving in Romania is technically no different than anywhere else, in the general sense anyway, there are a few important things I’ll mention.
A Few Important Signs
First, for the non-European drivers, there are a few road signs that are probably quite unfamiliar to you. Stop signs, yield signs, and general warning signs are fairly standard and easily recognizable. However, here are just a handful of the more important and lesser familiar ones.
This means no parking or stopping. One single line means no parking.
These are speed limit signs (in kilometres per hour!). Just the number is referring to the start of the speed zone, the red line means that zone has ended. The most important thing here is that these signs are often not clearly posted in Romania. Often you’ll have the speed zone “end” sign without another telling you the current speed.
This is fairly simple: Do not pass.
Finally, this is one that I personally had never seen until Romania, and it occurred quite often. It essentially tells which lane entering an intersection has the right-of-way. Pay close attention to these ones!
Following the Rules
Now that you’ve got a car and are familiar with the road signs, understand that in many places, you may be the only person following them. In many parts of the country, people drove at incredible rates of speed, far above the posted limits.
Most drivers following the limits will stick to the right side of the road, hugging the shoulder, to allow those in a hurry to pass with ease. However, there have been several occasions during our time when an impatient driver would pass us on the left, which comes as a bit of a shock when you’re keeping to that side to allow passing on the right…
And if you are someone with a heavy foot, understand that police radar traps are very common across Romania. People are pulled over all the time – usually when speed limits drop upon entering a town.
Finally, in regards to rules at least, unlike many countries that have some tolerance for alcohol consumption, this is not the case in Romania. If you’re planning on sampling any wine or even having a cool beer with your lunch, avoid driving. The zero tolerance rule is enforced.
Careful With the Maps
As for finding your way around, having a decent map is a great help. Most travellers these days are using maps.me because of it’s fantastic offline option, and we love it too. However, when it comes to using it to navigate Romania with a vehicle, it’s all but useless. We’ve had to detour and turn back many times when the “roads” we were following, according to the app, turned into horse trails in the bush.
Stick to Google maps and you should be fine. Even better, go old school and pick up a paper map if you can. It’s not worth the struggle.
Oh, and speaking of horses; while exploring the smaller villages in the countryside, you WILL be sharing the roads (and highways) with old school horse-drawn wagons.
Enjoy Your Road Trip!
Romania is one of the most beautiful countries we’ve visited and much of the reason we were able to see as much as we did was that we opted to rent a car. If you’re planning a visit to Romania and can spare a little extra to hire your own vehicle, do it!
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