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10 tips for anyone taking a road trip right now

Sept. 11, 2021
8 min read
family road trip
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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new information.


I regularly work from home in Towson, Md., a suburb north of Baltimore. I live in a nice two-bedroom, 1.5 bath apartment with a large living room, a dining room, an office, a full-size stacking washer and dryer and a balcony. Before the coronavirus pandemic, I thought my 1,300 square-foot apartment was pretty spacious — until I had to shelter-in-place with a wonderful, but moody teen who missed school and her friends.

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My family lives in San Antonio, Texas. So when my sister first called in April 2020 and asked me and the kid to come home, I jumped at the chance. I decided to rent a minivan (at a bargain price of $134 for two days), pack it up and make the 1,700-mile drive. Since then, I've made the drive two more times. I actually canceled the plane ticket I bought in August 2021 in exchange for taking my third road trip because I was worried about the delta variant of COVID-19.

I have a feeling I'm not alone with this. Even with the delta variant spiking, people still want to travel. And like me, they are taking to the highways instead of the skies this fall. Here are some tips before you go.

Related: Travelers are nervous about flying again after coronavirus, IATA finds

(Map courtesy of Google)

Related: 7 fall vacation destinations for travelers clinging to summer

Car rentals are still expensive

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

I considered renting a car again for my road trip. I looked at prices on several rental car sites for an overnight rental on Oct. 20, 2021. We all know that car rental prices have shot through the roof since the beginning of 2021. Personally, I refused to pay $420 to drive a car (the Kia Soul) that I already own, so I chose to drive it instead.

(Screenshot courtesy of Budget)

Related: Can’t find a car rental? Here are 7 secrets that may help

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Check your car

Don't get caught far from home with a car that needs repairs. (Photo by: Kurt Wittman/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Right before my August road trip, I took it to my mechanic to check it over, because the last thing you want is to have your car break down hundreds of miles away from home. He looked at everything from my oil levels to my transmission and gave me the green light. I also have AAA in case of car issues, but you may have roadside assistance with your credit card, so check your benefits before you start that long drive.

Related: Best credit cards that offer roadside assistance

Gas Prices are rising

(Photo by Rudiecast / Shutterstock.com)

During my first road trip in April 2020, I spent a total of $77 on gas. Prices ranged from a high of $1.41 to a low of $1.09 for a gallon of regular gas. But for my August 2021 trip, I paid between $2.50 and $2.70 for regular gas. So make sure you use a credit card that will allow you to at least earn points every time you fill up, such as the Citi Premier® Card (3x) or the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express (3% cash back at U.S. gas stations; cash back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be redeemed as a statement credit).

Related: Best credit cards for gas purchases

Bathrooms are sketchy

I admit it — I’m a germaphobe and I can’t tolerate public restrooms. While I’m not at the level of supermodel Naomi Campbell, I do carry Clorox wipes and hand sanitizer whenever I fly. I knew I’d have to use a bathroom during the trip, so I came prepared with my spray bottle of Clorox cleanser and a roll of paper towels. I was pleasantly surprised at how clean most of the restrooms were on my original trip (but I still gave them a Clorox wipe-down). But this trip? Not so much, despite spike in the delta variant.

Related: When you gotta go: Your guide to public bathrooms

Fast-food outlets still practice social distancing

The ones we visited on the first trip all had workers wearing masks and gloves. However, Chick-fil-A was by far the most thorough. A worker came to your car, took your order and asked you to swipe your card. Instead of being handed your food through the drive-up window, a gloved and masked worker had your food in a gray bin for you to pick up. These safety measure were still in place at the fast food outlets I used during my August 2021 trip.

If you don't want to make a stop, pack a cooler filled with sandwiches and drinks, and have a bag of road-friendly snacks.

Related: Dining out, taking out and ordering in: These are the best cards for foodies

No more hotel bargains

(Screenshot courtesy of the Kimpton Aertson)

Because I wanted to get my 5x points per dollar spent on my Platinum Card® from American Express, I pre-booked a deluxe room with two queen beds at the Kimpton Aertson in downtown Nashville back in April 2020. The room came to $209.42. That same room now costs $332.60 a night in October.

On this trip I actually ended up paying for two hotel rooms, since my first one turned out to be a nightmare. I was lucky to find a new one, since college students were moving back and rooms were tough to find.

Related: Why I checked out of the Hotel Indigo Lower East Side after 15 minutes

Traffic is back to normal

We departed Towson in April 2020 on Thursday at 7 a.m., knowing that we would need to be on the Baltimore Beltway going toward I70 West at the beginning of our trip. At that time of day, traffic is at full swing, and pretty slow — but not on that day. The roads were practically empty, dominated more by 18-wheeler trucks than cars. Fast forward to August, where highways were back to normal and I even found myself trapped in traffic several times.

Speeding still abounds

Although speed limits on the trip ranged from 55 in Baltimore up to 70 in Texas, no one paid any mind to them during both of my trips. The interesting thing was there were plenty of highway patrol officers on the road, but I only saw two cars (at once) pulled over during the entire trip.

Road construction is in full swing

(Photo by: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
(Photo by: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

States were taking full advantage of the traffic lull to work on road projects -- including painting road lines, repaving existing roads and building new ones -- in April 2020. And the same was true during my last trip, especially in Alabama and Texas.

Cities and towns are open for business

I’m of an age when I remember when everything was closed on Christmas and Thanksgiving. I always enjoyed seeing how quiet things were when one of my parents would take me on that holiday drive every year. It was like those holidays every day during my April 2020 trip. But not on my latest trip. Stores, restaurants and businesses were open.

Bottom line

The Wilson family home in San Antonio. (Photo by Benét J. Wilson)
The Wilson family home in San Antonio. (Photo by Benét J. Wilson)

For those who still want to travel and are reluctant to fly, a road trip is a good option. As long as you prepare before you start the engine, you can really enjoy seeing American from the ground.

Featured image by Getty Images/iStockphoto
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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TPG featured card

Best premium travel card for value
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

1 - 10X points
10xEarn 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
5xEarn 5x total points on flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
3xEarn 3x points on other travel and dining.
1xEarn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases

Intro offer

80,000 bonus points
Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

Annual Fee

$550

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more
Best premium travel card for value
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10xEarn 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
5xEarn 5x total points on flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
3xEarn 3x points on other travel and dining.
1xEarn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

    80,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $550
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more