Car Pay Diem

As I’m sure no one knows, I have a significant birthday coming up. This birthday has been highly anticipated for years, and has occupied a piece of my travel planning mind ever since I learned what an airplane was; by far more significant than turning 16, 18, or 21. Next week, I share a dream with my 25th birthday. 

If you’ve ever rented a car, you know why this is an essential age for travel. Between the ages of 18 and 24, car rental companies can charge upwards of $80 extra dollars a day to rent a small car for personal use. This shall tax me no more! As of one week from probably today (depending on when this is published), I can, without hesitation, rent a car for a completely normal price.

In honor of this momentous celebration, I’d like to take you on a journey through the car rentals of my life. Please understand that wearing a seatbelt is necessary as we will be going quickly and only taking insurance mandated stops in towns outside of volcanic towns.

The year was 2018 — age 21. 

This was my first time dealing with a rental car, especially since I wouldn’t have my license for another three months. Me and my group of high school theater friends were planning our annual vacation, Splish Splash, and we had decided on the Florida Keys. I took the lead booking everyone’s flights, arranging the condo rental, and figuring out how to get a car. We had 8 people on the trip that year, and I quickly learned most cars seat up to 7. I ended up booking something close to a Ford Escalade and begrudgingly paying the surprise extra fee at the airport. 

This was also notable because I had overestimated how much the trip was going to cost, so we all had plenty of extra money saved up and it wasn’t really an issue. Only our pride was hurt. 

One of our friends is notoriously smaller than the rest of us, and so we invented a seating workaround. We grabbed a pillow from the condo and tossed it on the floor of the car, and boom, seating for 8. 

For a while we took turns on the ground, but on the drive back from Key West (the furthest Key and legitimately closer to Cuba than our condo), I sat wet and shivering on the ground for two hours because everyone had pointed their AC away from them. The good news is we didn’t get caught. We would hide our floor person whenever it mattered, but also, it was Florida so it was kind of a free for all. We even saw a man on the highway doing wheelies on his dirt bike. We were the safest people on the road. 

Overall, 9.7/10 car rental experience. 

Next was December 2020, same group of people — age 23. 

This time, we took our Splish Splash trip in the winter and with only five of us because of the panini. We were also determined to fit in one car. And boy howdy, will this car live in infamy in all of our memories for the rest of our life. The plan was road tripping to Santa Fe, the Grand Canyon, Roswell, and White Sands. We were prepared for heavy duty winter camping which means we were simultaneously overpacked and underpacked. But oh, the car. 

Right off the bat, the driver’s seatbelt refused to acknowledge when it was buckled. This meant that everytime we started the car, it beeped for ten minutes, and then on and off occasionally after that. Everyone had bags and blankets in their laps (except the driver of course) and we were generally stuck in our seats. The poor car was weighed down significantly.

Each leg of this trip was a minimum 5 hour drive and I think the longest drive we had was 11 hours. At each stop, we had to seriously think about whether it was worth getting out of the car because the process of unburying ourselves was an Effort. We camped one night by some mountain somewhere in Arizona, and I remember our blood running cold hearing our friend try to start the car. The engine just kept turning over and over and over. Everything ended up being  fine. She wasn’t used to a push-to-start and was doing it wrong, but if we had gotten trapped out there? In the middle of nowhere? We were deep in the woods, I don’t know what we would have done. 

This car didn’t have a problem driving on ice or up a mountain, nor was there an issue driving on sand. In Roswell, New Mexico we vacuumed her up and gave her a nice wash before returning her the next day. We all agreed to not mention what we put this car through, probably because it put us through more. I think we did try to get a discount because of the seat belt thing, but I can’t remember if that worked or not. 

The worst part of this car was undoubtedly the lower back condition it caused me. I needed to go to a hospital but I didn’t know that until a couple months later. It was torture to sit, to stand, to move, to bend, to basically do anything other than lie still on my stomach. I had to sit on my neck pillow in the car so I could utilize the donut hole shape. It was so painful I felt every bump in the road. I still managed to roll down sand dunes which was fun. #NoRegrets. 

4/10 car rental experience. Lost major points for the medical condition, gained some back for nostalgia. 

Lastly and most recently, September 2021 — age 24. 

I visited my friend up north in Seattle, and we took a three day road trip around the state to look at trees. She’s 25, so for the first time, I felt the freedom of no extra fees. And it was going great! We didn’t overpack, so we were incredibly comfortable, the car was nice and we had downloaded music and maps ahead of time. 

We drove to Forks, Washington and La Push beach (because I’m a freak), the Hall of Moss, Crescent Lake, and through the Olympic Forest. When it came time to go to Mt. St. Helens, I drove so my friend could take a nap. Naturally, 30 minutes into the drive, we passed some large cliffside and a small pebble tumbled off and embedded itself into the windshield, eye level. 

It was so loud my friend instantly woke up. That or it was my scream that roused her from her sleep, it’s a toss up, really. We had to pull over in some town 40 minutes away from the volcano to deal with paperwork and insurance. It’s illegal to drive with the driver’s view obstructed, it’s also illegal to let the person not on the contract drive. So to everyone reading this, I was not driving at the time. Unrelated, but we also ate the worst fish and chips of our life in this town. 

Everything ended up being fine, we went to the volcano anyway (hiked around in some lava tubes), and a nice man with a tow truck met us that night and gave us a new car. However, he kept saying how lucky we were because he usually tows corpses, which was not appreciated considering I could have died, but I managed to change the subject to backyard astronomy and I taught him about Jupiter and how he can find it in the sky. The new car was fancier, had working Apple CarPlay, and successfully made it up and down Mt. Rainier and back to Seattle. 

But really, that pebble could have killed me. It had made it through the windshield just enough that I could feel the glass bump on the backside. I shudder at the thought sometimes. 

9.5/10 for this one. Nothing about the car(s) were the problem, but I don’t like being reminded I’m mortal while on vacation. 

So there you have it, the three car rental experiences I’ve had. I’m looking forward to many more adequately priced rentals starting next week. I plan on visiting Boston hopefully soon and would love to drive down to Salem for less than $120 a day. Society hypes up your 21st birthday, but no one talks about how great it is to afford cars. I’ll check back in at 30 and let you know how it went.

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