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Hire expensive private driver or wing it
Old 02-15-2012, 05:39 PM   #1
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Hire expensive private driver or wing it

Has anyone ever dealt with the issue of deciding whether to hire a private driver in a foreign country (where one doesn't speak the language) versus attempting to use public transportation?

The private driver would run close to $1000 US for a day, for the planned excursion, but would avoid the fear of being lost in a deserted bus stop and unable to read the bus maps and time tables. (The destination is pretty out of the way.)

What would you do in my place?
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Old 02-15-2012, 05:44 PM   #2
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Depends entirely on the country.
In Europe, totally unnecessary. Parts of Asia or Africa, probably a good idea.
Where are you going?
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Old 02-15-2012, 05:46 PM   #3
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Depends on the country.

We hired a private driver (friend of a friend) in China to save time and it was cheap, but it was only for a one-day excursion.

In another situation, I might think the adventure of public transportation would be a treat in itself. I was recently in France where I do not speak the language and got around just fine on public transportation. I must've looked like I knew what I was doing as many folks came up to me to ask questions (presumably for directions) in French.

My relative did hire a private driver in Europe to get from a cruise ship to various internal sites. It was well worth it as no delays getting on bus and arriving with lots of other tourists at sites. Tickets to museums & showings were pre-bought for various entry-times as well, so the driver just had to get them to the place by the specified time. Thus, little waiting in lines.
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Old 02-15-2012, 05:50 PM   #4
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Depends entirely on the country.
In Europe, totally unnecessary. Parts of Asia or Africa, probably a good idea.
Where are you going?
+ 1. The company is used to work for forbid us to go without a driver in Mexico (City). It's not hard to find people who speak English in some countries too, so we can't answer the OP.
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Old 02-15-2012, 06:02 PM   #5
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We've rented cars and driven ourselves and we have also hired drivers. And used public transportation. Like the others say, it depends on the specifics. Is there some risk or danger other than getting lost? Do you (or other trip members) have experience driving in unknown areas, especially foreign countries? If you do get lost, is there a consequence other than being late somewhere else, such as missing a flight?
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Old 02-15-2012, 06:07 PM   #6
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I have, in England. I was there only for a fairly short layover and I couldn't afford to get lost and miss my flight that night so I shelled out the $$$. In your case, I don't know. Where are you going?
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Old 02-15-2012, 07:09 PM   #7
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Agree it is country specific. No way we would have attempted the roads in Mongolia without a driver, as there are no roads, and all the signs are in Cyrillic.

But in Peru, heck yeah, we drove our own, ahem, vehicle with...well, actually, maybe I'm not the right person to ask. Never mind.
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Old 02-15-2012, 08:32 PM   #8
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We're going to Tuscany in Italy. The destination for the day excursion is a small town called Saturnia, to visit its hot springs. My web research says that it'd be hard to find English speakers around the bus stops and in the town.

The only consequence of getting lost is the stress of trying to book hotel rooms or find our way back out of Saturnia without speaking Italian.
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Old 02-15-2012, 08:36 PM   #9
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Neither of us have experience driving in unfamiliar, foreign surroundings.
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Old 02-15-2012, 08:48 PM   #10
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Just thinking out loud here but can't you get a GPS with good road and highway maps for Italy for much less that the cost of hiring a driver? Car rentals are probably expensive but still the total cost of car plus gps must be substantially less than hiring a driver. It has the makings of a memorable trip.
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Old 02-15-2012, 09:01 PM   #11
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We tried that once in Germany, leaving the Porsche factory. Went to the train stop, which had a ticket machine with no sign of English instructions. Nobody was there to help us, and we had no idea what to do once we got the ticket anyway. So we walked back to the Porsche gate and had them call us a taxi. Not terribly adventurous.
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Old 02-15-2012, 09:02 PM   #12
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Rent a couple of Vespas, buy a good road map, and enjoy the landscape!
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Old 02-15-2012, 09:05 PM   #13
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In Italy I'd be okay with driving. I drove my mom around there and didn't have a word of Italian to my name. You'll be fine if you want to rent a car. Or take public transport. Pantomiming and writing down the names of things will help. You should make a little cheat sheet of basic directional words: right, left, corner, blocks, etc. that will help a lot.
Go for it, you'll do fine! And if not, the stories will be good!
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Old 02-15-2012, 09:20 PM   #14
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We have rented a car and driven ourselves in Italy. The roads are good and the other drivers generally attentive to their task. The traffic flow is just like the US (although they do stay in the right lane unless passing) and the signs are universal. If you have a good map and an adventurous spirit, you should be fine, even if you don't speak Italian (which is, I might add, a very easy language).

The only time we hired a driver was when we visited the Amalfi Coast, when we hired a driver for the day. I wanted to look out the window and see everything rather than keep my eyes glued to the road navigating the switchbacks.
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Old 02-15-2012, 09:21 PM   #15
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Any good travel book will tell you how to use the bus system in Italy. You need to know how/where to validate your ticket after you buy it (usually using a device on the bus itself). We used it to get around without knowing any Italian and didn't have any issues.

As an earlier poster said, writing down your destination will make it easy for someone to help you or for the ticket window to understand your request.
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Old 02-15-2012, 09:48 PM   #16
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Hm, heartening to hear that so many have successfully used the rental car with just a bit of added preparation. I read it costs as much as $100 US per day to get an automatic in Italy, but it would still be much cheaper.
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Old 02-16-2012, 03:35 AM   #17
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Car rental companies now offer GPS for an extra fee all over Europe and the systems work in several languages. When you book the car, directly book the GPS in english to come with it.
Also, in Tuscany the driving itself is not difficult. It is rural area. Print out a list of popular street signs like at
Road signs in Italy - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Do you have some days in country in advance? You will realize that the street signs are not difficult to understand.
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Old 02-16-2012, 05:41 AM   #18
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Hm, heartening to hear that so many have successfully used the rental car with just a bit of added preparation. I read it costs as much as $100 US per day to get an automatic in Italy, but it would still be much cheaper.
You may find this website helpful. I read the whole thing before our first Italian car rental experience and found that it boosted my confidence.

Slow Travel Italy - Driving in Italy
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Old 02-16-2012, 06:38 AM   #19
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Hm, heartening to hear that so many have successfully used the rental car with just a bit of added preparation. I read it costs as much as $100 US per day to get an automatic in Italy, but it would still be much cheaper.
Less expensive would also free funds that might taste better if used for a fancy dinner. yum...
You might want to look at the forums at Fodors.com. I have used them and also just answered questions there, and a topic like renting autos in Europe is quite common with much helpful advice (like here). One example Car Rental in Italy--incredibly basic question | Europe Forum | Fodor's Travel Talk Forums Gumby's link looks helpful as well - I already bookmarked it.
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Old 02-16-2012, 07:02 AM   #20
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Myself and the DW have been traveling for a long time (since 1976) both while in the USAF and personal traveling, we always rent cars and now GPS when we travel.

I love to drive and use public transportation make my own plans. I have driven in Okinawa, Korea, England, Ireland, Germany, Philippines, Luxembourg, Italy, and many, many more. I don't know much about the languages, but getting around was a blast and made the trip less structured.

Going to Ireland again this year, drive on the wrong side of the car and the road is fun; DW uses the GPS and gives great directions, it make it fun when Ireland opened new roads within weeks of our last trip (2009) and they had not been added to the GPS so always have a map for backup, watch the signs for familier names that you should jot down before hitting the road.

Enjoy the adventure and save money for great sites and food!!!
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