Planning to drive in a city you’ve never been to before? It can be a stressful proposition for even the most seasoned of motorists. Here are some tips for successfully navigating the asphalt jungle in Part 2 of our series, “Driving in Unfamiliar Places.”

1. Get the right rental

If you’re planning on renting a car to get around a new city, it’s wise to think before you pick. Visiting a hilly city (ahem, San Francisco), for example, might not be the best moment to choose a rental car with manual transmission. If you’re planning on doing a fair amount of street parking, smaller, compact vehicles will be easier to maneuver into cramped spots. Not a master parallel-parker? Check with your rental agency to see if any of their cars are equipped with parking-assist technology.

2. Prepare for tolls 

Whether it’s by bridge, road, or tunnel, when you’re approaching a major city, chances are you may have to pay a toll. Make sure you have cash on hand or plan in advance and pay electronically (many cities now make it possible for drivers to pay for tolls ahead of time). If you’re renting a car, be sure to ask your rental agency about their policy on processing tolls and fees. You can also consult your favorite driving app to minimize driving toll roads as much as possible.

3. Be city street-savvy

There are some unique challenges to city driving. Because the majority of pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities occur in urban areas, be mindful of pedestrians and bicyclists. Always drive the speed limit, taking corners carefully and slowly. Another tip for urban motorists: whenever possible, avoid left-hand turns where you must cross oncoming traffic. Left-hand turns take longer, use more gas while your car idles, lead to traffic build-up, and can be more dangerous to execute (stats show 61 percent of crashes that occur while turning are left-hand turns versus 3.1 percent for right-hand turns).

4. Research parking options

A slew of new parking apps and parking-assist technology is making urban parking easier, but that doesn’t mean all the challenges of parking in a big city are gone forever. Metered street parking can be stressful, with few spaces and lots of competition. Whenever possible, plan ahead for parking time and research street parking alternatives (like parking garages or public transportation). And remember, never leave valuables in plain sight. Try to choose a car with anti-theft protection to help deter break-ins.

5. Walk (and consider public transportation)

Just because you drove into a city doesn’t mean you have to take your wheels everywhere. Especially if you’re staying in a hotel or other accommodation with a (likely expensive) parking lot or garage, consider hoofing it whenever you can. Great walking cities like New York City, Boston, Chicago, and Seattle are best seen and appreciated by foot. Many also boast amazing and comprehensive public transportation systems that can move you around quickly, cheaply, and efficiently (giving you a welcome break from the hassle and expense of city parking).

Have you ever wondered if you need to buy car insurance for your rental vehicle? Get the 411 by checking out our myth-busting page on rental car insurance.

And in case you missed Part 1 of our “Driving in Unfamiliar Places” series, you can read it here and see what you need to do before you hit the road. Stay tuned for part 3, where we tackle the challenges of country roads.

Travel hacks | Getting there


about Rebecca

Rebecca is a freelance copywriter and editor living in the SF Bay Area with her husband and two kids. She enjoys productively channeling her anxiety into safety-minded articles for home and garden, running with her robot trainer, and advocating on behalf of the Oxford comma.