Travel Tips

Published on August 26th, 2018 | by Mark Chesnut


When is Uber Better than a Rental Car for Vacation Travel?


There’s no debating that having a car provides freedom and flexibility. That includes when you’re on vacation or a business trip. But while I traditionally rented cars on a lot of my trips, over the past year or two I’ve come to a conclusion: Using ride share programs like Uber usually makes more sense for me than paying for a rental car. Here’s why.


Rental Cars are Expensive. When you rent a car, you need to factor in several types of expenses to see the real cost: First, there’s the rental fee (usually either a daily or weekly rate). Then add taxes and service charges. Don’t forget about insurance. Then add what you’ll be spending on gasoline, tolls and (perhaps) parking. During a recent trip to Louisville, my husband and I had to pay for parking nearly everywhere we went, and that adds up when you’re on vacation. At the end of our trip, we added up everything, and realized that we could have spent less if we’d just relied on Uber, even if  we’d taken it four times a day.


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Ride Shares Save Time. Even when you factor in the time you wait for a driver to pick you up, you can still save time when traveling by Uber, especially if you’re visiting a destination you don’t know well. Rather than relying on driving instructions, you’ll be with a driver who likely knows how to get where you’re going (even if he or she doesn’t, they can figure it out, which takes the burden off you). You also won’t have to worry about taking time to find parking. They pick you up, they drop you off, and that’s it.


You can Get Travel Tips from Ride Shares. Uber drivers are often pretty knowledgeable about the place where they live. So they can be a great resource about the best restaurants, shopping and attractions. And if you use Uber Pool, which offers cheaper rates when you share a ride with other travelers, you just might meet other interesting folks who have stories and travel tips to share. I recently used Uber Pool to get around Denver for three days, and found it a fascinating character study — similar to the route taxis that operate in Trinidad.


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Ride Shares are Safe. If you’re traveling to a destination where safety is a concern (which can be just about anywhere), companies like Uber can provide an extra level of security. They’re safer than street taxis, for sure, and you won’t be alone, like in a rental car. Drivers are registered and your ride is tracked and documented. I have a female friend who lives in Mexico City and always avoided street taxis, but now she takes Uber everywhere and says the service is so good, even when she left her cell phone and laptop in a car, she got it back.


There are some circumstances, of course, when a rental car is still advantageous — such as times when you’ll be traveling greater distances or to rural areas. We certainly needed a rental car in Kentucky when we rode out into the countryside to visit My Old Kentucky Home State Park. I also needed a rental car for a couple days when I was writing part of the Fodor’s guide to Panama, and had to leave Panama City to explore part of the Pacific coast. In addition, rental cars can sometimes be so cheap in Panama that they’re more economical than any taxi or Uber.


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Still, even with the rental car’s economic advantage in Panama, it’s not my preferred way of getting around Panama City itself. Who wants to deal with the headaches of heavy traffic, confusing streets and scarce parking in a big city? I’d rather leave that to a friendly driver.



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About the Author

The founder and editor of, Mark has more than 15 years of experience as a writer, editor and manager. He's worked with some of the biggest consumer, in-flight and travel trade publishers that cover Latin America.

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