Everyone knows that travel isn't cheap. I'm self-employed and travel to make the majority of my income. Each of my work trips requires a lot of planning, from the shipment of specimens to the packing of scalpels in my checked baggage. Every time I travel, I have to arrange transportation - and rental cars don't come cheap when you're under the age of twenty-five.

Some trips are easy, because I stay with friends who have vehicles and they are willing to drive to pick up class supplies. Other trips are more difficult, especially in new cities where I don't know anyone and where there is a lack of good public transit. In these circumstances there are only a few options, taking cabs or other services (Uber, Lyft, etc.) or choosing to rent a car for the duration of the trip.

In the United States, all major car rental companies have either a limit on age or they charge an extra fee per day if you are between the ages of twenty-one and twenty-five. On average it's $25 per day plus tax - making a one-week trip cost an extra $200 or so. I've spent the last three years running a business while being "underage" according to major car rental companies, and I've tried all the alternatives.

My first experience was with RelayRides at the beginning of 2014. RelayRides is a company similar to Airbnb in that you are renting a car from another person. You choose the car through the RelayRides website and then arrange pick-up and drop-off with the actual car owner. You can look through hundreds of cars that are available and pick the one you want. The owner sets the rules on things like pets, smoking, mileage per day, and the radius from the original pick-up location where you are allowed to drive. At first, RelayRides was awesome! I rented two different cars from them and had a pleasant experience both times - then I got my credit card statement. I had been double-charged for one of the trips! I contacted their customer service staff immediately and was told that it wasn't their fault and they couldn't do anything about it. My next action was to issue a charge-back through my credit card company. I got my money back from the second charge almost immediately, but then in retaliation RelayRides canceled my account with them and banned me from using their services. My experience may not have been the norm for RelayRides, but if you use this service please tread with caution.

The next service I experimented with was FlightCar. FlightCar is similar to RelayRides, except that you don't get to choose which car you want specifically, only the category you want. For example, you can choose a 2001-2008 Compact or a 2001-2015 Luxury SUV and basically anything in between. When you land at the airport, you request a ride from FlightCar. They are supposed to pick you up, take you to the rental facility, and issue you a car from the category you chose. I've used their service since May of 2014 and it's been a disaster every time. This company is rapidly expanding to new cities without fixing the issues it already has, so their problems are now widespread. When you call to request a ride, they make you take a shuttle to a private parking lot (even in the middle of the night) and then pick you up in the parking lot. When you get to the rental facility and pick up your rental vehicle, it is rarely from the original category you paid for and there are no safety inspections performed. I always choose the compact car option and have only received one one time - with broken windshield wipers and no running lights, so I got pulled over. The other rentals from this company have been a 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee with a cracked windshield (costing over $150 in gas!), a Subaru station wagon with no radio, and a Chevy Volt (which I rented for a long road trip) among others. The final straw was when I rented a compact car and called the morning of my trip to make sure that I was actually getting one - I was told that they had a compact car ready and waiting for me. When I landed in Portland five hours later and called for a ride, they told me that there were absolutely NO cars available at all for the entire weekend, then left me on hold for thirty minutes while they made other arrangements. The "other arrangements" they made were with (you guessed it!) a major car company that charged a total of $856 because of my age. I chose to pass, and ended up without a rental for the weekend. Hey, at least I saved myself almost a grand, right? In short, FlightCar is a total clusterfuck. If you rent a car with them, the odds of you a) actually getting a car, b) getting the type of car you paid for, and c) a safe and/or driveable car are VERY slim. Additionally, drivers under 25 must provide their own auto insurance or pay up to $40 per day extra.

So, wait! What do we do? Luckily there are options, companies that won't screw you over or put you in danger! Here are some of my favorite options!

Getaround is my first choice. Like the first company I mentioned, they allow you to browse their website and choose the car you want. They're really affordable and they don't have an extra age fee if you're under twenty-five. You make an account by logging in via Facebook and then providing your driver's license. (Hawaii and Alaska residents need special extra verification, contact Getaround directly if you live in these states.) You pick the vehicle, pay with your credit card by the hour or by the day, and when your rental is starting you get an email with a link to an app that shows you via GPS exactly where the car is parked. When you're in front of the car, you press the "unlock" button on your phone, open the car, and the key will be somewhere inside of it. Rules for each car vary, but the one I just picked up allows 200 miles per day and is pet-friendly. When you're done with your rental, you park it near where you picked it up, hide the key where you found it, and press the "unlock" button on your phone. The best part? Insurance is included! No extra fees!

There's also a service called car2go in Seattle and Portland. I haven't tried it yet because I don't live here, but friends swear by it. I think it's similar to ZipCar in that you pay by the minute, but you can also earn minutes if you top off the gas tank. It's great for running errands.

Something else to look into would be local car rental companies. I struck out in Houston while I was in between RelayRides and FlightCar, so I looked up local rentals. For a really reasonable price I found Exelz - a small company with really nice cars. Don't let the cheesy name deter you - this company is run by a young(er) entrepreneur and if you ask nicely, he might even pick you up or take you to the airport. Every time I've rented a car from them it's been brand new - literally fresh from the dealership with less than fifty miles on it. Most cities have at least one small rental company - they're worth checking out! 

While I understand that this post may have come across as a little complain-y, by sharing my experiences I'm really trying to do my best to help protect other drivers under twenty-five that don't have hundreds of dollars to burn. If anyone else has ideas about car rental companies, or if you have a small local company you swear by, please let me know!