12 Must-Read Rental Car & Road Trip Planning Tips

1.  Map it out.

Sounds easy, but you’d be surprised by the amount of people who just “wing” it.  I personally used RoadTrippers to map out my Arizona Utah Road Trip, but Google Maps is a close second after using it for my Iceland Road Trip several months later.  I love the RoadTrippers site because it provides mileage, route time between destinations, estimated gas costs, and a search feature for nearby food, lodging, attractions, etc.  Mapping it out is the best way to “see” your trip and make sure your route makes the most sense.  You can also drop pins for nearby attractions to see how far off route they are.

2.  You won’t get it “right” the first time.

Planning a road trip takes work!  Originally you may try to squeeze too many destinations into your trip.  You’ll switch the route, change an airport, add a stop, remove a stop, etc.  That’s okay!  Have fun and play around until you create a trip that feels right to you.

3.  Watch out for hidden rental car costs.

The “price” you see on rental car site is a starting point before they add on miscellaneous taxes, fees, and other charges.  Be sure to click all the way through the checkout process to see what the actual cost is when comparing companies.  If a company looks too good to be true, read the fine print.  Is the rental car company at the airport or off-site?  Is there a mileage cap per day?  Is insurance mandatory?  Are you restricted to driving in only one state?  What is the cost to add a driver?  I was able to find a very cheap rental car for my Arizona Utah Road Trip but I believe that was because the pickup lot took 2 shuttles to reach it and was approximately 30-45 minutes away from the airport.

4.  Triple check the car rental mileage allotment.

What’s the point in renting a car for a road trip if you can only drive 150 miles per day?  Overage fees will cost you so pick a rental company that allows for unlimited mileage and the ability to cross state lines.

5.  Gas counts towards your budget.

It’s easy to forget this!  RoadTrippers provides an estimate for the cost of gas.  I usually opt for economy cars or high-efficiency cars to save money on gasoline costs.  32 mpg (miles per gallon) in an economy car versus 19 mpg in a small SUV makes a huge difference in gas costs.

6.  Car insurance counts towards your budget too.

Insurance is a touchy topic.  Some people swear by it, others say its a scam.  Personally, I book my car rentals on my Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card which has built-in car coverage.  Double check your credit cards to see if any of yours have this perk too!  Should you get insurance?  That’s up to you.  I’ve traveled plenty of times and been fine without it, but I’ve also had friends and family get into accidents on the road and insurance saved them thousands of dollars.

7.  Check the car rental’s operating hours.

Typically airports are the cheapest place to rent from, have the largest selection of cars, and the most flexible operating hours (some are 24 hours).  Pay attention to the operating hours because delayed flights and other unforeseen interruptions can impact the time you pick up your car.  It would be so frustrating to arrive at your destination, yet have to stay overnight and wait until morning to pick up your car.

8.  Pick up/drop off at the same location will save you hundreds.

When planning a road trip you may wish to start at one airport and leave from another, but a one-way rental will cost you hundreds of dollars more with an unadvertised “drop-fee”.  These fees can cost upwards of $250!  Map out your trip so you can pick up and drop off at the same location.  There is one exception to this rule– once per season, car rental companies offer cheap one-way rentals to move the cars from one side of the country to the other.  Be on the lookout for these deals!

9.  There is always a discount code to use.

Spend some time hunting for discount codes (CDP) or rate codes (QR) on the internet.  There are tons of sites that offer active codes which could save you big time.  If you have AAA, always check for discounts on rentals and hotels!

10.  Always upgrade to get a trunk!

If you are traveling on the road and all of your belongings are in the car, wouldn’t it be smart to lock them up in a safe place?  Most economy cars are hatchbacks with no protection against theft.  Always upgrade to a car with a trunk, its worth the added cost.  Sometimes if you ask nicely at the check in counter, they will upgrade you for free.

11.  Download your favorite audio book.

Most car rentals have USB and auxiliary cord hook up capabilities.  If you have an auxiliary cord, it’s a smart idea to bring it just in case the USB doesn’t link with your phone.

12.  Don’t forget a cell phone charger!

This should really say, “Don’t forget a USB charger.”  While most car rentals have a USB port, it’s smart to bring a USB-friendly car charger to charge all of your electronics.  You are not limited to cell phone charging, as a variety of products such as cameras, portable backup chargers, batteries, etc. have switched to USB charging methods.  Utilize the time in the car to power up!

Where are you headed on your next road trip?  Do you have any tips?

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