Don’t EVER throw away your car rental car keys.
That’s the biggest travel lesson I’ve learned this year.
“But who does that, Janice?” you might be asking me now. “I don’t, and I never have.”
Well, neither did I…until last week, when a series of brain-fart events helped me do exactly just that. And no, it wasn’t deliberate, but how this all happened led to more stress I’ve encountered traveling than ever before.
So this post is a little different from any other I’ve written before. I just want to share some advice when it comes to renting a car in the Auto Armageddon of America.
Last week I was in Los Angeles, which was my second trip in what will eventually be three visits in just this year alone (the next time I’ll be going with JRS and NLS for the Christmas week). I attended the PhoCusWright travel marketing conference in downtown, going to and from between there and my sister’s house in the Los Feliz neighborhood – a 15 minute drive without traffic (which never happened), and a 30 minute drive with.
I never felt unsafe in such a small vehicle. It actually had a good amount of zip and maneuverability, especially as I was trying to avoid getting smashed by other cars coming at me at 90 mph down the San Diego Freeway.
But here start the lessons that I hope you will never have to use.
Lesson 1: If you fly into LAX, always reserve your car
Most airports around the US have rental car centers with most companies in one centralized location…but not in Los Angeles, aka LAX. While you can call them from the baggage claim area, all the companies are off-site and scattered around the vicinity. That means you can’t comparison shop, like you can at other airports.
I normally always make a reservation for a car, no matter where I go. But I had to change my plans for my flight at the last-minute, and so I cancelled my car reservation. When I arrived in LA, every rental place was going to gouge me at least $400 for a three days rental…for an economy car. Luckily I was able to go to Fox, a budget company we’ve had luck with before, and they gave me a price nearly half that.
(Of course, this part has nothing to do with the crazy problem of losing the keys, but I thought it would be helpful, anyway).
Lesson 2: Don’t EVER, EVER, EVER leave your rental car keys in a paper takeout bag!
Here’s heart of the matter. After the conference, I decided to drive to Santa Monica and take a long run on the beach. Later on, I went to Seoul Sausage in West LA, a place I heard about on Food Network because the guys who own it won on a couple of their contest shows. Hungry from my run and thinking I wouldn’t have dinner until later on, I ordered their fried rice balls – one with kim-chi and pork, the other with curried ground beef and potatoes. Short aside: I’ll try to write up about this place when we return next month – that small sampling I had was damn good.
I plodded my way back to my sister’s house, through interminable lanes of glacial-moving vehicles, first north through Sepulveda Boulevard, then east on Ventura Boulevard, then further east on the Ventura Freeway. When I finally got there, frazzled and no longer used to sitting and grumbling in 90 minute-plus traffic jams, I threw the keys into the bag with the rice balls. Bad move.
I took the box of food out, then threw the bag away in the kitchen garbage can. It never occurred to me to retrieve the keys that night.
Lesson 3: Invest in an AAA membership
The next morning, when I finally had to get ready to fly out, I packed up and realized the rental keys were gone. And it only took me five minutes to realize where they were.
In the trash, but not anymore. They were now on their way to some municipal waste facility, because the bag that got thrown out was taken out to the trashcan outside. And the garbage pick up had already come by. No way was I going to find those keys now.
So I made a whole bunch of calls, silently cursing my carelessness for the next hour. I called Fox, AAA and Southwest to make sure I could still leave later in case I missed my scheduled flight. To make a long story short, Fox said they’d get a tow truck to me, and AAA said they’d coordinate the towing service, which turned out to be free of charge. At least that went right. Actually, having a AAA memberships comes in handy for a lot of things, and this is just one of them.
And of course, because it’s Los Angeles, the tow truck was late getting there, and we encountered a not-so-surprising traffic jam on the way to Burbank, where I was to fly out. I was 110% convinced I wasn’t going to make my flight.
But somehow I did. I took care of matters with Fox, then ran what seemed to be two miles from Burbank’s rental car center to the little 1950s style terminal, sweat streaming down my face.
So take it from me…don’t be a bonehead traveler like I was. But fortune decides to laugh at instead of smile on you, and it does happen, forgive yourself. It inevitably happens to everyone.