Uber vs. Rental Car: Should You Hail A Ride or Rent A Car on Vacation?

FT Contributor
A couple packing their luggage for vacation in either an Uber or rental car.
Reading Time: 4 minutes

When planning a vacation, you need to consider how you’re going to get around after you arrive. Renting a car has long been the go-to for travelers, but rideshare services like Uber and Lyft are becoming increasingly popular. Before you settle on one option or the other, consider a few important points.

Compare the Costs

Cost is often a defining factor when deciding between a rental car and a rideshare. Rental car companies charge a daily rate for a rental, in addition to taxes and fees. Some companies limit the number of miles you can drive before incurring additional fees, and you’re still responsible for gas, tolls, and parking. Opting for extra insurance, as well as add-ons like prepaid gas, car seats, GPS devices, or toll booth transponders can also drive up the cost.

When you hail a ride from a rideshare, you only pay for that ride. Fares are based on the number of miles in your trip, but depending on when you ride, you could be subjected to surge pricing, which can be as much as 2.5 times the normal fare. You’ll also need to tip your driver. Opting for a pooled ride can save some money, but when you take multiple rides over the course of your trip, the fares still add up.

To accurately compare the costs between a rideshare and a rental car, consider all of these factors. If you are going to be out and about, traveling long distances between stops, your Uber fares can quickly meet or exceed the daily cost of a rental car. If you only plan to take the occasional excursion, then using a rideshare can trim your vacation transportation costs.

Avoid the Hassle

After cost, hassle is a key factor in deciding whether to rent or use a rideshare. As with cost, there are pros and cons to both sides.

For families with young children, the hassle of a rideshare often outweighs any benefit, and renting a car is the best option. Not all rideshare vehicles are set up for large families, and if you need a car seat or booster seat for a little one, a rental car can eliminate the hassle of requesting one from Uber or Lyft.

Having a rental car you can use whenever you need it, without having to wait for your ride, is also an advantage. If you want to explore your destination and have the freedom to stop and check out attractions, restaurants, and shops at will, you’ll be happier with a rental.

Using a rideshare can eliminate hassles in some locales, though. Not only do you not have to worry about parking or finding a gas station, rideshare drivers are more familiar with the area. You don’t have to worry about getting lost in a crowded and unfamiliar city. In most cases you get door-to-door service, and save time and headaches.

Research Your Destination

Before deciding how you plan to get around on vacation, do some research about transportation options. Many cities have robust public transportation options that are efficient and affordable, and are more than adequate for getting you around town.

Depending on where you’re traveling, renting a car might be inadvisable; for example, visitors to London are discouraged from driving a car due to congestion in the city and extra charges for driving during peak periods. Instead, visitors are encouraged to use public transportation, taxis, or rideshares during their stay.

Some destinations may lack public transportation options, though, making a vehicle necessary. Rideshare services aren’t readily available everywhere, either. If you’re traveling to a place where alternatives are either not available or expensive, a rental car is your best option.

Which Is Safer?

The safety of any form of transportation is largely a matter of personal preference. If you feel more secure in your own vehicle, and the idea of using public transportation or riding in a car with a stranger leaves you feeling uncomfortable, then a rental car is your best bet for peace of mind.

Compare the Convenience

Rideshares are popular in large part because of the convenience they offer. Simply request a ride on the app, and wait for a driver to arrive. When you’re on vacation, though, waiting for a ride can eat up precious time, especially during surge periods. You may not want to wait 20 to 30 minutes for a car when you’re eager to head out sightseeing. Having a rental car you can use whenever you need it may be more convenient, as you can just hop in and leave when you want to.

Check Availability

If you’re traveling to a popular destination during a busy time, you may have trouble even finding a car to rent when you need it, or you may find that the rates are exorbitantly high.

You might be able to compromise by renting a vehicle for only part of your trip, or opting for a smaller car, but if that’s not possible, rideshares could be your only option for private transportation. Rideshare services may also be your best option if you can’t rent a car due to your age; many rental car companies have age restrictions, requiring drivers to be 21 or 25 to rent a car.

Before reserving a rental car outside of the U.S., check the restrictions and the availability of cars you can drive before you leave. Some countries require renters to have an international driver’s permit, and without one, you can’t get a vehicle. And in Europe especially, many rental cars have manual transmissions. If you can only drive an automatic transmission vehicle, you’re going to struggle navigating unfamiliar roads. In that case, it’s best to leave the driving to the professionals.

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