On the Fly

Rob Gilley's tips on getting the most out of your surf travel dollar

Rental cars always end up being one of the most expensive aspects of surf travel, but there are ways to minimize the financial damage. Photo: Gilley

Chapter IV: The Rent-a-Car

In the past it might have been considered overkill to dedicate an entire chapter to renting a surf trip vehicle, but lately things have changed. Leasing companies have become aggressive and the cars themselves super-expensive. Simple sedans that used to rent for $20 a day now commonly rent for $60...and that's without insurance. Worse yet, more companies are now back-charging for often unjustified cleaning and damage fees.

The other reason to pay so much attention to this is that on the majority of global surf trips--Australia, New Zealand, North America, Europe, South America--you're going to spend a crap-load of time in the car. You want to make sure your chariot is as safe, fuel-efficient, roomy, and inexpensive as possible.

So with this in mind, let's approach the process step-by-step:

1. Know Your Insurance
The principal driver on your trip should check with his or her credit card provider and car insurance company before leaving home to see if he or she is covered in a particular foreign country. This is one of the oft-overlooked perks of having a major credit card--many of them come with built-in insurance for international leasing. Also, if you have fairly comprehensive car insurance at home, you might have a certain amount of foreign coverage included. The point is to really do your homework before approaching the rent-a-car counter. Some countries require you to buy additional insurance, but much of the time the agents are trained to talk you into buying unnecessary and often redundant insurance to make more money, and they often use fear tactics to do it.

2. Reserve and Guarantee Your Rate Beforehand
This is really important because often there's a huge disparity between a pre-arranged rate, and what they want to charge you at the airport without a reservation. The good news here is that reserving a rent-a-car is usually non-obligational, so if you do happen to find a better deal, you can pursue it without sacrificing a deposit.

3. Get the Largest Vehicle You Can Afford
It's hard to overstate the peace of mind that comes with having your boards inside your car. Otherwise there's fairly constant stress about boards falling off the roof, and boards being stolen while the car is unattended.

4. Don't Pack the Car Right Away
This is where things get a little more subtle. Sadly, rent-a-car agents are on the lookout for surfers and other types who might pack a vehicle to maximum capacity and/or stack things on the roof. This sends them a red flag to inspect for potential damage and dents on the back end, consequential or not. So, even it involves you and your friends stashing your boards around the corner, try not to load the rent-a-car directly in front of the agency.

5. Refill the Gas
Just another way for rental agencies to bend you over. Put a post-it note on the windshield if you have to.

6. Get the Car Washed Before You Return it
What? Yeah, you heard right. This can be a worthwhile strategy because a clean looking car gets a quick, cursory inspection, whereas a dirty, mud-encrusted vehicle will usually get the Gestapo treatment when you return it. A savvy hedge-bet and potential time saver.

7. Split the Cost
One of the peripheral benefits of going on a surf trip with friends is financial efficiency--a $900 car rental is a hell of a lot easier to swallow if you're splitting the bill three ways.

8. Back-End Recourse
There's nothing worse than receiving an exorbitant, unexpected charge on your credit card when you get home--especially if it's for some Mickey Mouse scratch or dent that you may or may not have caused. The bad news is that signing the small print on a rental car contract gives them this right. However, you also have the right to fight these charges, and the best way to do this is through your credit card company. American Express is by far the best entity to use for challenging a charge, and together with other emergency services that it offers, AMEX is likely the best credit card to travel with. If you can afford the membership fees, don't leave home without it.

Stay Tuned.

Click here to read Chapter I: The Flexible Itinerary, here to read Chapter II: Packing, or here to read Chapter III: Getting There.