When I was elbows deep into planning my trip, I quickly realized that I was going to need to rent cars in Hawaii and New Zealand. The bus systems were inadequate and would absorb too much of my already short time in those places. And if I wanted the ultimate freedom as a solo traveler, I would need a car. I have no regrets renting a car in both Hawaii and New Zealand. Although it is not the cheapest option, it has made my trip significantly better and easier. In Hawaii, I was able to carpool friends I made along the way. In New Zealand, I am able to book the earliest tour times and take detours when I have extra time. That being said, I have learned quite a bit about renting cars in the three short weeks I've had one. I would like to share what I wish I knew before I rented a car so that you can learn and hopefully get a laugh from my mistakes.
You're probably wondering what happened in New Zealand. When I was traveling the North Island, I was in a hatchback and quickly realized that I did not like the lack of security with it. I had no way to hide my backpack in the trunk when I left my car. So, a couple of days before I arrived in the South Island, I changed my rental car booking to a sedan. Unfortunately, I did not pay attention to what company the rental was coming from because I was being careless. When I landed in Christchurch Airport, I pulled up my reservation and did not recognize the company, Drive NZ. I googled the name and this image came up:
Yes, I was less than pleased. Yes, my gut was telling me to run for the hills. No, I did not listen to it. I decided I would take the shuttle to pick up the car and just make sure I was not getting ripped off, because it was late and I did not know if I could cancel my reservation (turns out I could not cancel). When I walked up to the counter (which was in a different company's building because Drive NZ does not even have one -- RED FLAG #2), I told the representative to not charge my card yet so I could take a look at the car. I marked every area of prior damage on the contract and was on my way. The car drove fine and I was feeling a bit of relief.
The next morning, I got up early to drive to the coast for a wild dolphin swim tour. I have always wanted to swim with dolphins, so this was an exciting day for me. I placed my bags in the trunk of the 2013 Toyota Corolla and as I shut the trunk's door, I realized my keys were still in there. For a minute, I stared at the trunk in silence. I even checked all my pockets and the ground in case I happened to put it somewhere else. But I knew. I always put the keys down in the trunk when I am situating my bags. It was clear to me that I was not going to be swimming with any wild dolphins.
What happened next was a circus.
I called Drive NZ and they told me to call AA.
I called AA, they told me the car was not registered and it would cost about $150 NZD to come and unlock it (but she did mention the AAA overseas partner program with AA and with an AA membership it would be free).
I called Chase, they told me it would cost $75 to unlock the car (which I later found out was only in the United States, the first guy just misheard me say I was abroad).
I called Drive NZ again to tell them the car was not registered, they told me to call a locksmith (A LOCKSMITH?! WHAT THE HECK?!).
I called AAA to get my membership card emailed to me, they told me my membership expired.
I called my lovely father, and he got me added to his AAA plan immediately.
I called AAA, they sent me my new membership card.
I walked 30 minutes to the nearest AA Centre and signed myself up for an overseas membership, which they then told me it would take 24 hours to activate.
I called AA immediately (I mean, I got this far so why not at least try?) and thankfully they did not care that I had just signed up for the overseas membership. AA told me someone would be by my car in 15 minutes to an hour. I sprinted back to my hostel (30-minute walk, remember?) and made it back as the AA serviceman was coming out of my hostel back to his van. The man (I wish I had got your name, kind sir!) unlocked the car in .5 seconds and I was free to finally drive to the coast -- three hours later. No, sadly I did not make it to my dolphin tour.
This is the first and hopefully only time I lock my car keys in the trunk. Although the experience was not pleasant, it was a minor bump in the course of my trip. I ultimately took it as a sign that I will need AA's assistance again on my trip, so I might as well get it right at the beginning when I am in a city center. Future Michele here! Turns out, I did need AA's services again. While driving back from the coast, I felt really tried and sick. I decided to listen to my body and pull over to take a nap. Unfortunately, it was raining and I accidentally left my headlights on. While I was asleep, my car rental's battery died and AA literally saved me from being stuck in the middle of nowhere.
My experiences only solidified that Kiwis (nickname for New Zealanders) are some of the friendliest and nicest people I have ever met. Every Kiwi I came into contact with that morning was incredibly kind, helpful, and understanding. From the woman at the hostel who printed my AAA membership card for free and recommended a delicious coffee shop to stop by, to the barista who asked me if there was enough flavored syrup for my liking, to the AA employee who was patient, and the AA serviceman who was a ray of sunshine while unlocking my rental car.
I would also like to give a special shout out my dad. Thank you for advising me and adding me to your AAA membership so I can reap the benefits. You are the real hero of this story!
When In Rome
Two of my most cherished hobbies go hand-in-hand. Writing is my favorite way to reflect after traveling to a new country. I have kept this blog ever since I studied in Rome to share my travels with families and friends. I hope you enjoy learning about my experiences and getting a sense for my writing skills. If you have any questions, please reach out!