The ideal road trip has a romantic quality. Whether it’s on your own or with your partner, family or friends, there’s something exhilarating about driving off into the sunset.

But if you don’t prepare, your summer expedition could become an unexpected financial hazard or a threat to your personal safety. Here are some tips to ensure your road trip is a smooth one.

1. Use apps to find the cheapest gas. Apps like GasBuddy can help you compare gas prices to make sure you don’t pay more than you have to. However, if you plan to drive on a remote highway, make sure you know where you can stop for gas before you’re running on fumes.

2. Make the most of your cash-back card’s gas rewards. If you don’t have a cash back card with gas rewards, now is the time to consider one. A gas card issued by a major oil company may not be your best rewards option. A NerdWallet analysis found that on average, cards with 3% or even 2% cash back on gas purchases offer better rewards per gallon than a gas card.

3. Save money on food with rotating or fixed cash-back categories. As long as you’re using your cash-back card for gas, stock up on snacks before you head out. If your card has rotating rewards categories for restaurants or warehouse stores, be sure to take advantage of those.

4. Get creative with your lodging. In remote areas, motels and hotels may be few and far between, making it difficult to find a competitive price. If you have a travel card, see if you can use your points at the nearby hotels. If your destination is a heavily populated area, browse alternatives like Airbnb and HomeAway in addition to Priceline and Hotels.com.

5. Prepare for emergencies. Ideally, you should get your car’s oil changed and a full diagnostic check before you embark on a long-distance journey. But mishaps can happen, so pack emergency supplies including an inflated spare tire, jumper cables and an empty gas can, to save from having to get a costly tow. If you have a service like AAA, stock a portable phone battery to be sure you can call for help, and don’t forget extra drinking water for hot summer days.

When you find little ways to save money, make a plan to optimize your credit card use and equip your car for safety, you’re ready for anything a road trip has in store. Preparedness may not be romantic, but it will make your adventure that much safer.


Veronica Ramirez is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: vramirez@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @veraudrey.