After booking my flights to Namibia (a horrible, stressful experience which you can read about here), it's now time to consider what car to rent for my 2-week road-trip round this fantastic African country. If you are road-tripping around any country, your vehicle is arguably more important than your accommodation as it will be taking you on your journey round the country. If there is a part of your trip that you need to spend more money on, this is it. Just imagine if it broke down on you. You'd be in trouble, especially in such a sparsely-populated country such as Namibia. Therefore it's worth spending more to have something more reliable. Not only might you consider spending a little more, there's a hell of a lot to look into and consider. Some of it, you may never even have contemplated before! So, let's delve into all the important aspects of renting a car for your road-trip round Namibia.
UPDATE: Think of this blog post as part 1 to my guide to choosing the perfect car. These tips are all great but boy I have I learnt even more! Part 2 can be found here: A Tough Lesson: Why You Should Always Book in Advance.
Avoid Mainstream International Rental Companies
I would not touch these companies with a barge-pole and if you look at reviews of these companies, you will see why. Here are some examples of companies to avoid: Europcar, Avis, Hertz. They offer extremely poor customer service and customer service is essential if you have a problem. What happens if your car breaks down? Or what if you change your mind on what car you want? Furthermore, there are often many hidden costs within these companies: expensive booking fees, admin fees, petrol - they really add anything to the costs really. So even if an initial quote may seem cheap, look at the terms and conditions to see just what's included and you'll often find it isn't as reasonably priced as you thought.
Admittedly, I've never used these companies in Namibia but I've had experiences in other countries so I can't imagine they'd be miles better here.
Choose local instead. There are so many local car rental companies in Namibia that it would be crazy not to choose them. Some offer really decent prices too. Customer service is a lot better as the companies are small. Their websites are actually really good too and tell you exactly what you're getting with your rental.
Decide whether you'd like a tent included in your rental
Now that we've ruled out those international companies, the next thing to consider is whether or not you'd like a tent included in your rental. Initially I was going to fly my own tent across the world and use that but I've actually changed my mind and decided to get a tent included in my rental. I'm sure you're interested in why as this will undoubtably cost extra on top of my rental so let's go into the benefits of having a tent included in your rental.
1. They're so easy to put up
This really was my number 1 reason for opting to have a tent included. The tent lies flat on the roof of your pick-up truck. When you want to use it you just pop it up. I know - it's that simple. My road-trip around Namibia involves me staying in 11 campsites so that's a lot of setting up and down my tent. It would be a nightmare if I had to peg it up, blow it up, move all my gear inside for 1 night then blow it down, peg it down and roll it up.
Having the tent literally popping up on the roof of the car means I'm not spending the full duration of the trip fiddling about with my ground tent and there's nothing to gain from staying in a campsite for many nights. I may as well explore a new area everyday as every time I go out on a drive, the tent must come down.
2. You don't have to lug a tent across the world and potentially lose it on the way
A tent will take up an entire set of hold luggage which is valuable space. Not only that, can you even being to imagine what you'd do if your luggage got lost? You'd stand scratching your head in the airport and think, well, that's my accommodation gone. It would ruin your trip. You'd then have to spend a fortune on a lodge or 2 while you waited for your tent to arrive and who knows how long that will take? I've lost luggage for up to 4 days before.
3. They don't cost that much extra
I don't even just mean the tent. You get everything you could possibly need for camping included. You get: a gas bottle, a gas stove, sleeping bags, camping chairs, camping tables, cutlery. I could go on.
4X4 is a Must
I touched upon this briefly in my guide on planning your Namibian road-trip. Namibia consists of dirt-tracks as roads that are dotted wth gravel and pebbles. A 4x4 will be able to tackle this terrain a lot better than a 2 wheel drive. Parts of the roads are apparently just like driving through a beach. Think how a regular car would tackle that. The suspension in a 4x4 also makes it a lot more pleasurable for any passengers and will help avoid a bad back!
CONSIDER THE RELIABILITY OF THE CAR
If you're going on a road-trip, you want to minimise the amount of issues that you encounter whilst on the road. A break-down is not inevitable. Camping Cars shows photographs of what look like some old Nissan 4x4s. Their prices are certainly the most reasonable that I've seen but one can't ignore that the fleet is older and therefore may be more unreliable.
Other websites don't show photos. You can't assume that because the little image is of a new vehicle that the car definitely will be as it could just be a stock image. Instead, look in the description for the age of the vehicle. Some websites say "2016-2017 models" which is encouraging. If there is no mention of age, send the company an email.
THINK ABOUT EXTRAS
When renting a car you have to consider every possible thing that could possibly go wrong. How often will I have to fill up with petrol? What happens if I have a flat tyre? What happens if I leave the lights on and the electricity runs out? Therefore you will want to make sure that your car comes with as much as possible to avoid disaster. Here are some to look out for:
1. Large Fuel Tank
Fuel tanks of Namibian rental cars tend to come in 2 sizes: 85 litres and 160 litres. What this refers to is the amount of fuel the car can carry at one time. If you go for the larger fuel tank, you will not need to fill up with petrol as often. This is an important consideration as towns in Namibia are very far apart and sometimes you won't know when you'll next encounter a fuel station.
The size different between the two fuel tanks is great. The 160 litre tank is almost double the 85 litre tank so you will run out of petrol around twice as often with the smaller tank.
2. 2 Spare Wheels
A spare wheel comes as standard with any Namibian rental car. However, most offer a second spare wheel. Because there are so many cars that offer 2 spare wheels, it's definitely recommended that you find one that offers this. If you look at images of Namibian roads, you will see why! A flat tyre is a very common occurrence.
3. Double-Battery System
If, like me, you're incredibly clumsy and could easily leave your car's lights on and thus drain the battery, it's very handy to have a double-battery system in place. Many Namibian rental cars come with this handy feature. That way, if you do unwittingly allow the battery to drain, you have a second battery in place so your car doesn't die.
4. Satellite Phone
This isn't a necessity but I opted to have a satellite phone with my rental. It's handy because if you do have trouble with the car, you can call the rental company to come and help you. Phone signal is very poor in Namibia, hence the need to communicate via satellite. This will cost me about £6 extra per day but at least I know I'm in safe hands with this.
Check the Terms and Conditions especially for age limits
I mainly do this to check what the age restrictions are on the vehicles. I am 22 years old so I need to find a car I can actually drive. It's a good thing I checked because age limits vary from company to company. Some vehicles have a minimum age limit of 30!
After lots and lots of research on the topic, I decided to book through Asco Car Hire. The reason for this that they had good reviews and good cars. I couldn't find a single thing bad about the company and they offer the most diverse fleet of cars that I have seen. All cars are no more than 3 years old and many come with the large fuel tank. They also offer camping extras.
The specific car I decided to rent was the Toyota Hilux 4x4 Single Cab with camping gear. This will cost me around £100 per day. I have also decided to add a satellite phone for an extra £6 per day.
UPDATE: I didn't go with Asco car in the end. Read my next blog post to find out why. Part 2 can be found here: A Tough Lesson: Why You Should Always Book in Advance.