Road trips are iconic in America, the nation the car built. Limiting your travel to flying means missing out on all the adventures in between. From bunking down in lighthouses or sleeping under the stars, there’s a wealth of experiences you’ll only find on the roads in-between. And wherever you go, your credit cards can take you there.
Credit Cards + Road Trips = Freedom
America’s not just about the big cities – it’s that slice of pie in the roadside diner miles from nowhere or the unexpected viewpoint overlooking a green valley as far as the eye can see. Even abroad, you’ll see places in a whole new way if you drive through them.
But road trips can be adventurous in far more ways than one. I can’t fathom my parents’ credit card statement after our VW camper broke down in Oregon for five days, with only a posh hotel nearby – but it’s among my favorite childhood memories. Things can, and probably will, go wrong along the way, but credit cards will help you get back on the road.
Adventures can come in myriad ways – like buying a rare Western collectible you’ve always sought in a Midwestern roadside curio shop or seizing the chance to take a swamp tour in Louisiana. It’s the freedom to order a picnic in Napa Valley to enjoy on the sprawling lawn of your favorite winery, or having that resort massage you crave after four days of driving.
Road-Worthy Credit Cards
When choosing the right card for your lifestyle, there are many options. When looking at travel-related cards, big brands like Marriott get a lot of notice, but chain-specific cards can be limiting with budgets and locations.
The Hotels.com card from Wells Fargo* is ideal if you stay overnight in various locations, often – it’s accepted at more than 500,000 lodgings worldwide, from independent guesthouses to national chains. This no-fee card is simple to understand, too. Every $500 spent gives you a “stamp,” as does each night stayed at a lodging booked through Hotels.com. Ten stamps deliver a “reward night” valued at $110. (Stay at a pricier place, you’ll get a $110 credit against the full price.) Among the only cons is that rewards expire after a year.
With a similar rewards rate, the Wells Fargo Active Cash℠ Card is the best cash-back card we’ve ever seen, offering an uncomplicated, unlimited 2% cash rewards on purchases. With 0% intro APR for 15 months from account opening (14.99%-24.99% (Variable) after that) and $0 annual fee, this card’s attractive from the get-go. But you’ll even Earn a $200 cash rewards bonus after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. There are no restrictions or limits on the maximum money you get back, or on which purchases earn cash back. Imagine how much you could rack up if all your gas, groceries, lodging, and incidentals went on your card monthly. With no rewards limitations, that money adds up fast.
Another card we like for road trips is the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express. It’s a no fee card for the first year, but a fee kicks in for year two. There’s 0% on purchases for 12 months and an ongoing 13.99%-23.99% Variable APR after that. We like its impressive 3% back on transit-related charges, including everything from gas to parking and toll booths, which is perfect for a road trip. When stocking up day to day, the 6% back at supermarkets (up to $6,000) will easily cover your annual fee when year two rolls around.
Getting the Most from Road Trips
It’s a combination of research and allowing free time to improvise along your way that will get you the most out of your adventure. Look for restaurants along the way that you’d like to try or destinations you want to drop into. Google Maps reviews are great for that. Think about travel times, crowds, holiday days – try to hit your most treasured locations on weekdays, if you can, to beat the crowds.
Planning road trips can seem limiting, but it’s better when you think of it as, say, shaping your dreams. Imagine planning a day that ends in you arriving at your destination in the evening – driving northward on the Pacific Highway, the sun setting over the ocean on your left. Who wouldn’t want that experience? Dream up a day outside Boston that ends with a lobster roll at the well-loved Arnold’s and take a moonlight stroll on the white sands of Cape Cod National Park. What’s limiting about that?
Road trips offer so much potential in so many ways. But take a couple credit cards along those highways because you never know when one might be compromised, or a payment network might go down. A back-up could save your trip – or just take the edge off it. Where could your cards take you?
*The information related to The Hotels.com card by Wells Fargo has been compiled by the CompareCredit Editorial team and may not have been reviewed by the credit card issuer. All offer terms and benefits are accurate as of the publish date. See issuer site for the most current terms and benefits