For a short trip, consider rail-and-drive passes. Along with a railpass, you get vouchers for a few Hertz or Avis car-rental days (www.raileurope.com).
A GPS unit can be a helpful tool for navigating unfamiliar European roads. You can sometimes get a unit with your rental car or leased vehicle for an additional fee around $15/day; be sure it’s set to English and has all the maps you need before you drive off. If you have a portable GPS device at home, you can take it with you to Europe. Or, you can rent a GPS unit in the United States to bring with you.
If you don’t decide until you get to Europe that you want to rent a car, just go to a local car-rental office or travel agency. You can rent a car for even just a day.
Be sure to bring your driver’s license; it’s all you need to drive in most European countries. Some countries such as Spain, Austria, Italy and Greece also require you to carry an International Driving Permit, which is sold at your local AAA office. However, I’ve driven throughout Europe, and have never been asked to show it.
Learn the rules of the European road. Check the U.S. State Department website, www.travel.state.gov, select “International Travel,” specify your destination country, and click “Traffic Safety and Road Conditions.”
Once you’re behind the wheel, you may curse the traffic jams, narrow roads, and macho habits, but driving in Europe carbonates your experience. Driving at home is mundane; driving in Europe is memorable.
Rick Steves ( www.ricksteves.com) writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and public radio. Email him at email@example.com.