We were struggling to find the best way to get to Slovenia from Italy the week before our trip. Idealistic thoughts of renting a car and the flexibility it would provide filled our minds. It wasn’t until we saw how cheap it was that it became a possibility. With Sixt, an economy car (Renault Twingo or similar) was $32.97/day. The insurance will cover minor scratches, bumps and buises but, as with any car, crashing it isn’t recommended. They offer a third party insurance, however, for any who like to be safe. We rented one for 36 hours and I was charged $65.94 (50,59€)
Time is Money
Cliché, yes. True, even more so.
Going from Trieste, Italy to Lake Bled, Slovenia, for example, is only a 1.5 hour drive. The buses depart right next to the Trieste train station to Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia at 7AM. Round trip rides take 2 hours and weekend fares go at 41,50€ for the whole thing. Nice enough, right?
The only problem is it’ll make your adventure a 24 hour one since the Sunday bus departs at 5AM. I work at 9AM, so taking the same bus on Monday would get me into Padova around 9:15AM. From there I’m still 30 minutes from my desk and have to wait on the bus schedules. James would have been worse off because he’s in Milan, much farther from Trieste.
You’d also have to book another night at your hostel or bnb. But most importantly you’d be missing out on the rest of Slovenia by only seeing the capital. I’ve heard it has cool architecture and cafés, but I prefer more active adventures.
Which is why we decided to forgo the capital entirely and hit lots of specific sites. I mention them later. (And will probably blog about them later.) We ended up taking a bus at 7AM in Trieste for 3€ to Koper, Slovenia. It is a coastal town. (If you have time swing by the beaches of the Adriatic Sea an hour nearby!) Though the schedule said the bus ride would take an hour, it actually took 30 minutes given that it was early and there wasn’t any traffic. If you miss this one the next hop over isn’t until noon. A taxi ride will run you $35.
If you’re anything like me you have a ton of more questions. But you should really go to Slovenia. Really. She’s breathtaking. So here’s what I found out about the car and rental process.
1. Cars are manual. Sorry, but most cars in europe are. That’s what people learn with. Luckily, I had someone who knows how to drive manual transmission. The cheapest automatic shift car is $56.45. (Find a travel buddy? Or ask your Euro neighbors to teach you? Though its always better to have a travel buddy to split costs with.)
2. There are Sixt’s all over Slovenia. You can pick one up right from Lake Bled at the same rates. The only difference is the location’s hours. So if you’re flying into the country, there’s one at the airport.
3. You need to be 21 to rent a car in Europe. (They get to do everything earlier across the pond.)
4. You just need a valid driver’s license. I read lots of forums and we took the risk that no one would ask us for an International Driver’s License. In the end the Sixt representative just took James’ Rhode Island license and never asked about the IDL. You can get them for $15 at any AAA. It takes time to process and its basically just a translation of your driver’s license. In Slovenia at least, their policy is that if its in a Roman character based language – no arabic or chinese symbols – then your DL will do. Apparently, if you get pulled over by a police, they may ask for it and fine you. At least with the rental car you’ll have Slovenian license plates so you’ll look like a local from behind. We had no time or way of getting an IDL so we skipped it. Many avid travelers do too.
5. You need a credit card with $300 on it. They just need to hold the amount as collateral. So pay some off your credit card. Or if you have one of those debit/credit cards that can be charged as credit cards, it will work too. That’s what I used. Don’t panic about the money hold. I saw it back on my account by Tuesday afternoon. But if you’re running low in foreign countries this could be a problem since you won’t be able to access it until things are processed. Given that your entire rental took place over the weekend, the initial hold doesn’t get in until Monday 9AM. So the money is available Tuesday. Lastly, the longer your rental the more your credit card hold will be. Though it might vary with age. This information wasn’t made explicit to us, so you’ve been warned!
6. From the minute you arrive at the office, you’ll be driving away 40 minutes later. (Even if the guy is in a bad mood like ours was.)
7. Gas is around $1.50/liter or $5/gallon. But European cars get very good gas mileage and we only had to fill the tank once. After dividing our travel + gas sum by 2, it was around $50 for the trip.
Driving in Slovenia
Will allow you to see breathtaking sights like the photos I’ve posted here. In fact, all of these were taken along the drives. We just pulled over to the side of the highway or road and ran out to explore. From the Lake Bled area, we drove to the mountains of the Triglav National Park (1hr) to the Soča River (1hr) and back to Lake Bled (3hrs because we took a different route). This was all in a day. Probably the most beautiful day of my life because we decided to go white water kayaking on the Soča. But this was until the next day when we saw the dreamy lake. It took longer on our way back since we decided to go around the mountains. On the drive up, I discovered what switchbacks and hair pins are. They’re best taken slow so as not to induce vomiting. There are 2 main highways you’ll need. The 1 and the 2. On either you should only drive on the left side if you mean it. People will tail you even if you’re going 120km/hr (75 mph). The highways are easy enough to locate on most maps and there are signs along the way for the cities you’ll need along your path. We bought a map for 1€ and it turned out to be an awesome investment. Don’t get lost and get one! (Or get lost and discover beautiful unknowns.) The smaller paths are country roads. You’re likely to drive past people’s homes and old men sitting outside sipping coffee at cafés. They are very narrow. You have to be careful if you’re rounding a corner. Fortunately, the roads are not very traveled on so cars trickle up every now and then. On our second day after spending the day on Lake Bled, we took a detour to the Škocjan Caves on our way back to Koper where we rented the car.
Slovenia is stunning. Grab a car and you can see it all in a weekend.
(Of course, none of this applies if you aren’t going for the weekend or on a time constraint. If you stumbled on this because you weren’t sure what to do, I still say go with a car. Unless you have more than 4 days for your trip. At this point you can take a bus from your starting point and hop around other buses fairly cheaply. This website shows you how to start from the Northeast tip of Italy.)