The Golden Bomber, packed to the roof

Handy hints: Choosing a rental car

Travelling with dive gear requires extreme patience, and great packing expertise. Fitting both clothing and dive gear into a single bag for airline check-in is a mission of note… Re-packing the wet dive gear at the end of a trip is even more challenging. Dive gear is bulky, and fairly heavy. BCDs and wetsuits are not very compressible, and you want to protect regulators and other expensive bits and pieces from being crushed on the conveyor belts.

Let’s assume you managed to pass unscathed through check-in at the airport, that your bag was neither too big nor too heavy, and that you’ve arrived to pick up your rental car. Let’s also assume that, like me, you are a budget traveller who prefers to splurge on things that will last after the trip – like an awesome experience, a special souvenir, or a nice camera to document things. That means you won’t have a big budget left over for the car.

As Fritz says:

“A rental car is a magic thing.”

But not all rental cars are equally magical…

Picking the cheapest car on offer may seem like a good idea at the time, especially given the other expenses associated with travel. We saw first hand on our Sodwana trip that cheapest means smallest, and that car manufacturers’ imaginations are limitless when it comes to space saving.

Gerard and his Kia Picanto
Gerard and his Kia Picanto, known as "The Golden Bomber"

Take the Kia Picanto, a spunky looking car – until you open the boot. It has just enough space for one piece of luggage… preferably HAND luggage… and then it’s full. I am not joking. We managed to squeeze a little handbag in on top of the togbag, but that was about it. On the way to Sodwana we packed it to the gills with four people, and as much luggage (very little) as would fit. Gerard managed a top speed of 144 kilometres per hour, downhill, with a tailwind. For the rest of the time, the car looked as if it was about to explode from effort as he coaxed maximum performance out of it.

The Golden Bomber, packed to the roof
The Golden Bomber, packed to the roof

The Hyundai Atos, which seems to be of similar size, actually has quite reasonable boot space and can accommodate a single large bag or two medium sized ones, with a bit of room to spare. We drove one in Johannesburg last month when we went up for the boat show. It has good headroom if you’re tall, but a high centre of gravity and ridiculous little Marie biscuit wheels.

The Hyundai Atos has reasonable boot space
The Hyundai Atos has reasonable boot space

We spent the Sodwana weekend driving a Hyundai i20, which has NO power on the open road and seems impossible to drive slowly and smoothly. Pulling away involved giving the car a massive boost of gas, and then easing off the clutch – waiting for the inevitable jerk as it took. Tony, who has driven almost every kind of car ever made, kept apologising for driving like a beginner.

The Hyundai i20 loaded with gear
The Hyundai i20 loaded with gear

The car is quite spacious inside, however. We fitted three people plus five people’s luggage into it (including bedding) on the way to Sodwana. It has lots of nifty gadgets (I was particularly taken with the Trip computer, and made extensive use of its statistical features when we came close to running out of fuel on the N2 heading back to Durban…) as well as aircon and a CD player.

In short, local dive travel requires a bit of thought on several fronts. Which bag will you take? How will you pack your gear? And which car will you try to fit it into? Not all rental cars are created equal!

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Lapsed mathematician, creator of order, formulator of hypotheses. Lover of the ocean, being outdoors, the bush, reading, photography, travelling (especially in Africa) and road trips.

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