Car hire never used to be part of the holiday, it was the bit you endured. Something was always amiss, if you didn’t have to push a trolley of luggage over a motorway bridge and up to a portacabin, or queue for forty minutes while your four year old licks the vending machines, then after all that, the car you receive is not what you asked for and for some reason we’ve all just come to accept it.
But this time, for the first time in my whole life (no exaggeration), hiring a car actually felt like part of the trip. We landed from Lisbon, where we’ve spent the last year settling into our new lives. This was our big trip back to the UK to see family and friends (and perhaps gloat a little of our relocation life choice). On landing the first text I received was from The Out, ‘Hi Mark, Jarek has arrived at your location and is ready to hand over your car.’ Once through, Jarek was indeed waiting right where he said he would be, smiling and stood next to an all black, absurdly shiny new Land Rover Defender. He helped us with our luggage and handed over the keys. ‘…And don’t worry about bringing it back full’ he mentioned — which is quite possibly the best thing he could have said; after ‘don’t bring it back at all’.
Up until this experience I had always prepared myself for a fight when stepping up to the rental desk but in this moment I was disarmed. I wasn’t up-sold insurance, I wasn’t offered another car masked as an ’upgrade’, I was in-fact presented with precisely the car I asked for; colour and spec. The child seat was free and we didn’t have to queue. Do you know how many times I’ve made the family run for that connecting shuttle bus and missed it only to realise that the next one isn’t for 30 minutes? Well, at least twice. Getting the Defender was so quick, so smooth, that I felt like something was out of place. Wait, you don’t want me to go to another desk in another terminal because your photocopy machine is broken and you need to take a copy of my license?
This was a trip where we were to be spending a lot of time in the car. Quite literally driving the length and breadth of England. We stayed on the seafront in Brighton, camped in Dorset with friends, drove up north to the Peak District to visit family and then headed back down to London to see more friends and shop for the things we can’t get in Lisbon – clothes, Yorkshire tea-bags and bacon. With all the detours and day trips we covered over 850miles. Doing all of this in a top-of-the range Defender was a gift to the family, perhaps more for me but I was sure they would appreciate it too. Something comfortable, something practical and something that would make me smile as we ate up the miles. Perhaps this is how people who like cruises feel on cruises; the journey really is half the fun.
It was my first hands on the new Defender and even though this isn’t a car review, it’s worth mentioning that I struggled to return it. Strangers stopped to ask how it drove and my mum demanded a drive round the block. It may not have been the ultimate motorway tourer as a bulky SUV, but it proved to be the practical family wagon we didn’t know we needed. It was where my son consumed approximately one million hours of Roald Dahl audio books. It was the dry, seat warming refuge for the family as they watched me battle the elements to dismantle the campsite in needle sharp, sideways rain. It was their saviour again, when it gracefully tractioned us out of said camping field after it having become water-logged and impassable for other vehicles.
It was the glue that held the holiday together and turned the M1 into a road trip.
And so from now on, car hire is getting factored into the whole trip.