5 Mistakes That Will Bust Your Road Trip Budget
Planning a road trip this summer? Expect some company on the expressway. Even amid rising gas prices, Americans are packing up their cars for a vacation. According to a recent AAA survey, 64 percent of Americans traveling this summer are planning a road trip, and it's the most popular option for family vacations. But to stretch your travel dollars while you’re on the road, you’ll want to avoid these five common mistakes.
1. Paying Top Dollar for Gas
Start by downloading GasBuddy on your smartphone. Using real-time fuel price information reported other users, the mobile app (available on Android and iPhone) can direct you to the cheapest gas stations along your route. Another way to conserve fuel is by packing your car lighter, so unload excess weight before you hit the road. Also, studies show using cruise control on highways can maximize fuel efficiency.
Driving a car that gets poor gas mileage? It might make financial sense to rent a fuel-efficient vehicle for your trip. Also, paying with a gas-rewards credit card will put money back in your pocket each time you fill up. The Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express is a favorite from credit card comparison website NerdWallet; the card lets you earn 3 percent cash back on U.S. gas station purchases year round.
2. Overspending on Lodging
Many hotels and Airbnb rentals raise their rates during the summer, but you can save big on lodging by doing a little careful planning.
Want to stay at a hotel? Call the concierge to find out what the rate is—sometimes the over-the-phone price is cheaper than the online price. Another option: use a bidding site like Priceline where hotels compete for your business. And make sure you avoid paying hidden hotel fees. (These days some places are even charging a fee to use the in-room coffee maker!) If you’re comfortable waiting until the day of to book a room, use HotelTonight, a mobile app (available on Android and iPhone) that offers same-day bookings of up to 70 percent off at luxury hotels.
Shopping for an Airbnb? Try haggling with the owner for a lower rate. You’ll have more leverage if you’re requesting a multi-night stay.
Looking to pitch a tent? Find a free campsite near your destination using the iOverlander mobile app (available on Android and iPhone). One caveat: some outdoor parks require a camping permit, but these generally cost only $5 to $20 per night.
3. Missing Out on Free Entertainment
Summer is peak season for free outdoor concerts, festivals, art shows, sporting events, and other community gatherings. You can find things to do along your route by visiting Festivals.com, MacaroniKid.com, and your destination city’s tourism website. Nearify, a free mobile app (available on Android and iPhone) that compiles happenings in hundreds of cities, is another tool for discovering cool events near your location. Also, local newspapers, magazines, and alternative weeklies typically have events calendars.
A number of cities offer free walking tours. You find these on Google and FreeToursByFoot.com.
4. Eating Out Every Meal
Reality check: Dining out costs money. A lot of money. But you don’t have to eat out every meal when you’re on the road. Plan ahead by stashing some food in a cooler, like deli sandwiches for lunches. Non-perishable snacks are also good to have on hand. Pro tip: Pack nuts, potato chips, crackers, and other foods that won’t melt in a hot car.
Of course, some meals are worth the splurge, like that four-star restaurant overlooking the ocean. But when you do eat out, always check for deals and coupons on Groupon, LivingSocial, and Yelp Deals. Traveling with kids? Find a restaurant where children eat for free.
5. Road Tripping to Big Cities
Put simply, some road-trip destinations are less expensive than others. Big cities tend to have pricier lodging and restaurants; plus, they’re crowded. To trim expenses, travel to towns where your dollar will go further.
A road trip can also be an opportunity for you to check out locations in your corner of the country. Staying within your state, as opposed to taking a long road trip, can also help reduce gas costs—and keep the kids from going stir-crazy in the car.
Ultimate Art Lover’s New England Road Trip
Each time my family drives into Bennington, Vermont, it feels a little like coming home. Though I’ve never lived in this little town for more than a few days at a time on vacation, it strikes a deep, familiar chord with me. Perhaps arriving in Bennington feels like home to me because, as a boy growing up in the Bronx, I recall vividly my first discovery of the great American painter Anna Mary Robertson, better known as Grandma Moses, who lived and worked in Bennington. The gentle curves of the Green Mountains just outside of town provide a soothing natural backdrop to this historic place, and they are the very mountains that appear in Grandma Moses’s folk paintings, depicting rural life and seasonal rituals such as sugar-mapling and trick-or-treating. The interplay between the natural world and the art world is at the very heart of this short and totally manageable road trip. DAY 1: BENNINGTON, VERMONT Bennington offers a range of accommodations, but we’ve become fond of the family-friendly Knotty Pine Motel, which has a dog-friendly policy, a very attentive and helpful staff, and a lovely swing set and pool. We especially appreciate the big map of New England that hangs in the main office. My youngest daughter kept asking to go visit the map, and I was so pleased that she’d connected with New England, tracing her finger over my sister’s home in New Hampshire, the beaches of Falmouth and Nantucket where we’ve visited, and the charming little city of New Bedford. It was only later that I realized that my daughter was actually less interested in the map and much more interested in the bowl of Tootsie Rolls the motel proprietor kept on her desk. Oh, well. The map is still a sweet memory, even if the candy was sweeter. In Bennington, the must-see for art lovers is the Bennington Museum and Grandma Moses Schoolhouse. Here, you can view a wide variety of art in a charming and manageable setting. The museum’s permanent collection includes fine art, furniture, and household items from Vermont’s history as well as strikingly modern work by contemporary Bennington artists. The rooms devoted to Grandma Moses (the largest public collection of the “primitive” artist’s work) offer you the chance to see the Green Mountains in Moses’s iconic paintings or rural life and then peek out the window and see the real thing. Unforgettable. The adjoining one-room Grandma Moses Schoolhouse includes chalk-boards and antique schoolbooks, games, and dress-up clothes. If you’re traveling with kids, they may be more enthralled by the schoolhouse than the art, and that’s fine: Let them go. They’ll remember how that schoolhouse made them feel long after they’ve forgotten your lectures on folk art. In 1777, Bennington was the site of a major Revolutionary War battle, and each August, the town celebrates with a parade. Residents and visitors alike line the streets and cheer for the bands and marchers. We’ve been lucky enough to time our visits to parade weekend, and it is a nice way to meet the town’s year-round residents. Don’t be fooled by the name. Kevin’s Sports Pub and Restaurant, in North Bennington, is much more than a place to watch a game on TV. We love its imaginative riffs on burgers, fish and chips, and other pub fare, and the local ales on tap offer a variety of vibrant flavors and textures. In nearby South Shaftsbury, the Robert Frost Stone House Museum surprises, delights, and educates visitors with Frost’s famous poetry, such as “The Road Not Taken,” adorning the walls, with brief, easily digested lessons on his rhyme schemes and meter that even young kids will understand and appreciate. (If you’re headed for the Atlantic coast, drop by another Frost museum, his farmhouse in Derry, New Hampshire, on the way.) Psst! Outside Bennington, there’s a hidden gem of a local lake whose name I promised not to publish because its modest snack bar and canoe rental business are really meant for locals. If you find yourself in conversation with a Bennington local, do ask about places to canoe. We had a family paddling adventure on the lake and down a nearby creek that we’ll never forget. DAY 2: WILLIAMSTOWN, MASSACHUSETTS Williamstown, just across the border into Massachusetts down U.S. 7, is another town where you can easily stay more than one night just to drink in all the art and natural beauty on display. The Clark Art Institute is home not only to a world-class permanent collection that includes European and American art from the Renaissance to the early 20th century (especially rich in work by American painters Winslow Homer, George Inness, and John Singer Sargent), but also to one of the finest museum snack bars I’ve ever experienced. For real. I recommend its salads and sandwiches, especially in good weather when you can eat out on a terrace. The museum’s grounds, including a children’s learning center, are a work of art themselves (they made Architectural Digest’s list of “buzz-worthy” museums). Williams College Museum of Art is another fine collection; focused on the college’s mission, the museum offers a broad range of pieces, from ancient Egyptian art to contemporary American and international work. Williamstown Theatre Festival has been bringing acclaimed productions to the Berkshires each summer since 1955, another example of the exciting synergy between the natural world and human creativity that makes this region so special. Williams Inn is a cozy place in the heart of Williamstown to rest your head in the Berkshires, having welcomed visitors since 1909. As with Bennington before it, you may want to stay more than one night to see all the sights. DAY 3: NORTH ADAMS, MASSACHUSETTS The cherry on top of your art lover’s road trip is the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA), in North Adams. The nearby mountains and small-town vibe on the streets are a contrast to the hot, ultra-modern work you’ll encounter inside this restored 19th-century mill complex. The museum is an epicenter for the making of visual and performing arts, with residencies that bring cutting-edge creators to town. New exhibits of contemporary artists, including the museum’s Kidspace, are ongoing; check the museum’s excellent website, massmoca.org, for updates. When you’re ready to refuel, MASS MoCA’s Lickety Split lobby bistro is open during museum hours for breakfast and lunch (plus ice cream, espresso, fresh-squeezed lemonade, and, on show nights, a light dinner menu). The cute streets of North Adams also teem with international cuisine, funky cafés and coffee spots, and cool pubs. Ready to hit the hay? The Porches Inn at MASS MoCA is self-consciously kitschy. (In keeping with the museum’s mission, the inn describes itself as “retro-edgy, industrial granny chic.”) You’ll enjoy closing your little hipster eyes in the imaginative heart of the Berkshires. BOOK YOUR HOTEL WITH BUDGET TRAVEL You can find and book a great hotel deal right at Budget Travel's Book a Hotel page.
Budget Travel has been celebrating the Great American Road Trip for more than two decades, and while some of our favorite drives (think Utah’s National Parks, New England’s autumn leaves, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula...) remain the same, the vehicles in which Americans hit the road have evolved exponentially. For Budget Travelers like me, who came of age when a car was, well, just a convenient means to get from Point A to Point B, the latest crop of high-tech rides c3an seem a little sci-fi - you’re basically driving a hybrid smartphone/entertainment center that talks. For that reason, we sometimes assume all that technology is out of reach for thrifty shoppers. Nope. A new generation of reasonably priced cars, such as the latest models of the Chevrolet Cruze Diesel, Toyota Yaris, Ford Focus, and Subaru Impreza, offers an array of tech-driven benefits that will transform your next road trip. Some of the features that are standard or reasonably available in cars under $20,000 include: Wi-Fi. You can enliven your next family road trip by Skyping with family and friends (or co-workers, if you’re into that kind of thing), or downloading music, books, TV, and movies to your devices while on the move. Interactivity. For those of you who can’t bear to be separated from your phone, texting, and music apps, features such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto put those apps right on your car’s display screen, allowing you to talk to Siri, Google Maps, and other programs. Mobile App. Some manufacturers offer an app that transforms your phone or tablet into Mission Control for your car. Send driving directions to your vehicle before you get behind the wheel, start or stop your engine, lock or unlock the doors, or check on Wi-Fi settings and diagnostic information ahead of your trip. On top of the interactive features, we’re seeing great fuel efficiency (especially from the Chevy Cruze Diesel), safety features like a rear-view camera for help with parking and rear traffic, and unexpected roominess in smaller cars that allows for all the packing space you need and some elbow room for passengers.
Spectacular Florida Road Trips Every Traveler Should Take
Driving across Florida, taking in all the varied vacation opportunities along the way, is one of the best ways to discover this exceptional state. Here, the essential road trips we hope you'll take soon.ROAD TRIP #1: GULF COAST SEAFOOD Tarpon Springs to Pine Island Begin your morning in Tarpon Springs, a fishing village that boasts America’s largest percentage of Greek-Americans and was once called the sponge-diving capital of the world. You can still head out on a vintage vessel to watch a diver in a traditional suit harvest sponges from the seabed, but an even better option is grabbing a baklava and strong coffee from Hellas Restaurant and Bakery (785 Dodecanese Blvd., hellasbakery.com), as Greek fishermen have done for decades. Apropos of this trip, Tarpon Springs takes its name from a popular local game fish, though it’s unfortunately too bony to make good eats. Drive south along Route 19 and stop into the gulfside village of Dunedin. First opened in the 1930s, the Olde Bay Café & Dunedin Fish Market (51 Main St., oldebaycafe.com), located right on the marina, sells locally caught fish like cobia and mangrove snapper, available for lunch in tacos and sandwiches. Keep an eye out for grouper cheeks, the most tender part of the Gulf’s massive (and massively popular) fish. In bustling Clearwater, visit the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (249 Windward Passage, seewinter.com), a rescue, rehab, and research center that’s home to Winter, the bottlenose dolphin outfitted with a prosthetic tail who inspired—and starred in—the blockbuster film Dolphin Tale. Next, stroll along Clearwater’s Pier 60 (pier60fishing.com), a great place to watch sport fishermen in action or to rent a rod and cast yourself. For dinner, follow your nose to South Pasadena’s Ted Peters Famous Smoked Fish (1350 Pasadena Ave. S., tedpetersfish.com), which opened in 1951 and has become a bit of a foodie holy grail in these parts. Here, mullet, salmon, mahimahi, and mackerel are hotsmoked over red oak in a cabin out back, resulting in a flaky and intensely smoky fish, which tastes much more like good barbecue than like the cold-smoked salmon you’d eat on a bagel. Order the fish in a platter with German potato salad and coleslaw or in the famous smoked fish spread. Full and freshly perfumed with smoke, make your way to the hippest stay in St. Pete Beach, Postcard Inn on the Beach (6300 Gulf Blvd., postcardinn.com), a modish boutique hotel in a converted 1950s motel that calls to mind the surfer haunts of Montauk, NY. After a quick breakfast at the inn, head out for a day of more sun, sand, and seafood. Driving south along Route 19, you’ll cross Tampa Bay over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, with its iconic double-triangular cables, reminiscent of a sailboat. Running parallel are portions of an older bridge, which now stands as the Skyway Fishing Pier State Park (floridastateparks.org/skyway), the world’s longest fishing pier and a great spot to commune with endearingly awkward pelicans. Just west of the city of Bradenton, overlooking Sarasota Bay, you’ll find the charming fishing village of Cortez, which was settled in the 1880s by North Carolina families escaping the hurricanes that frequently targeted their Outer Banks homes. Be sure to stop into the Florida Maritime Museum (4415 119th St. West, floridamaritimemuseum.org) for exhibits on ship models and seashells, and then visit The Sea Hagg (12304 Cortez Rd. West, theseahagg.wordpress.com) for nautical antiques. For lunch, order the Florida stone crab claws at the dockside Star Fish Company Market & Restaurant (12306 46th Ave. West, starfishcompany.com, crab market price), which has been a wholesale fish market since the 1920s. Harvested from live crabs, they’re a major delicacy in these parts—most swear their firm, sweet meat is even better than lobster. Continue south along Longboat Key, and stop into the Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium (1600 Ken Thompson Parkway, mote.org) to view rescued manatees and sea turtles. Off-site, Mote researchers are working on aquaculture and farm-raised caviar programs that could reshape the future of sustainable Florida seafood. As night falls, drive into Sarasota, which has turned in recent years into a hub of artsy sophistication on the otherwise lovably scruffy Gulf Coast. Owen’s Fish Camp (516 Burns Lane, owensfishcamp.com), which occupies a 1923 cottage under a giant banyan tree given to the town developer by Thomas Edison, is a reminder of the Old South, with a menu of comfort classics like shrimp and grits. Equally homey is Sarasota’s elegant bed and breakfast The Cypress (621 Gulfstream Ave. South, cypressbb.com). Start the next day with a stroll on Siesta Key’s sugary white beaches, which have often been called the finest sand in the world. Made up of 99 percent pure quartz, it’s powdery and remains cool to the touch even on blazing-hot Florida days. Drive south along the Gulf, and grab an early lunch in Venice at the Crow’s Nest Restaurant (1968 Tarpon Center Dr., crowsnest-venice.com), which overlooks the marina. Be sure to order raw Gulf of Mexico oysters and a grouper sandwich, which is to coastal Florida as lobster rolls are to Maine or po’boys are to New Orleans. Continue south and stop into historic Placida, a quirky little fishing village filled with Caribbean-hued cottages housing boutiques and galleries. Take a detour around the wildlife-rich estuary known as Charlotte Harbor and keep an eye out for wading birds. Just before Fort Myers, turn right onto Pine Island Road and head through the time-capsule village of Matlacha (pronounced mat-la-shay), which boasts what many lovingly refer to as “the world’s most fishingest bridge.” In fact, this tiny town is little more than a collection of old fishing cottages on either side of the drawbridge out to Pine Island. Be sure to stop at Bert’s Bar & Grill (4271 Pine Island Road, bertsbar.us) for live music out on the dock, from where you’ll often be able to spot ospreys on the hunt—these birds of prey are just as keen on the catch of the day as we humans are! Covered with mango orchards, mangrove forests, and vast swaths of palm trees, the largest island off of Southwestern Florida’s coast feels a bit out of place—and wonderfully so—in a part of the state that is increasingly being turned over to luxury condo developments and resorts. End the night at the 1926 Tarpon Lodge (13771 Waterfront Dr., tarponlodge.com), a favorite among nearly a century of sport fishermen. And, because this trip wouldn’t be complete without a seafood-filled meal to cap off a seaside journey well done, be sure to hit the lodge’s on-site restaurant for a bowl of blue crab and roasted corn chowder and local littleneck clams. ROAD TRIP #2: THE SPACE COAST Orlando to Melbourne The Space Coast, a scenic, 72-mile stretch roughly between Titusville and Melbourne, is in transition. Back in the 1960s, it was at the white-hot center of an ambitious national space program—the area is so rocket-crazy that the locals even had the area code changed to 321. The beachside towns along the Atlantic coast became a powerful draw for big-domed rocket scientists and future-minded tourists who lined up to gawk at the frequent liftoffs. Visitors today are discovering the area's terrestrial pleasures: hiking, surfing, scuba diving, and swimming. On your way from Orlando to the coast, explore Titusville's historic downtown—a few sleepy blocks of late-19th-century brick buildings along the Indian River. Then head to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge (fws.gov/merrittisland). The 140,000-acre preserve consists of brackish estuaries and marshes, home to egrets, herons, manatees, feral hogs, tortoises, and American alligators. Sample a few hiking trails, from a quarter-mile to five miles, that are perfect for family members, especially the ones with short legs. Less physical, but no less rewarding, is the Black Point Wildlife Drive, a seven-mile road that allows you to steer straight into the habitats of bald eagles, osprey, and cartoonish-looking roseate spoonbills. Spend the rest of the afternoon at pristine Playalinda Beach, part of Canaveral National Seashore, across the water from the Space Center (where you must spend several hours seeing the impressive array of spacecraft, equipment, space suits, and a family-friendly hands-on presentation of America’s exploration of space, kennedyspacecenter.com). The beach is a great place to observe—but not disturb!—nests of giant loggerhead turtles. At sunset, head to the five-room Casa Coquina Bed and Breakfast (4010 Coquina Ave., Titusville, casacoquina.com) for the evening. A tall suit of armor greets you in the lobby, and local legend has it that Al Capone, who wintered in Titusville in the 1930s, rested his head and his guns here. You've got to love Cocoa Beach, a place that's home to the Mai Tiki Bar (401 Meade Ave., Cocoa Beach, cocoabeachpier.com), the Mai Tiki art gallery (251 Minuteman Causeway, Cocoa Beach, maitiki.com), and a "Welcome to Cocoa Beach" sign flanked by—what else?—a tiki torch. What all that tiki really means is that the beach is never far away. Even the cheapest hotels have, if not a view of the ocean, then at least the sound of lapping waves floating through your open window. Cocoa Beach's six-mile stretch of white sand plays host to world-famous surf competitions and was the stomping ground for surf legend Kelly Slater. It's also home port to the two retail monoliths that have grown up in his shadow: Ron Jon Surf Shop (4151 N. Atlantic Ave., Cocoa Beach, ronjonsurfshop.com) and Cocoa Beach Surf Company (4001 N. Atlantic Ave., Cocoa Beach, cocoabeachsurf.com). Both stores sell plenty of tchotchkes—fake plastic leis, bamboo back-scratchers—as well as more serious surfer garb like rash guards and board shorts. Both also rent gear and offer surf lessons. Bonus: Cocoa Beach Surf Company has a massive, 5,600-gallon tank with blacktip sharks and exotic fish, which kids love. Down the street, check into the oceanfront South Beach Inn (1701 S. Atlantic Ave., Cocoa Beach, southbeachinn.com), where the basic room boasts a pull-out couch and is comfortably big enough for a family of four, before heading to dinner. On the north edge of town, chow down at Roberto's Little Havana (26 N. Orlando Ave., Cocoa Beach, robertoslittlehavana.com), a cozy, family-run spot specializing in seafood and Cuban fare like the savory Cuban sandwich, served with an ample side of black beans topped with freshly cut onion. From Cocoa Beach, Highway A1A winds south past a series of appealing, well-maintained public beaches. At the beach across the street from Patrick Air Force Base, you’ll find gentle waves and a foot-friendly, sandy bottom. You can always see pelicans bobbing on breaks, and if you arrive early enough you can spot what the natives boast about, too—regular visits from families of dolphins. Next door, locals also favor family-run Sun on the Beach (1753 Highway A1A, Satellite Beach, sunonthebeach.co), where the owners import their own brand of Lowcountry cooking to Florida. At lunch, fried chicken dipped in buffalo spices is served on top of buttermilk waffles. But, with the beach and scuba-diving outfits like Hatts Diving Shop in Melbourne (2006 Front St., Melbourne, hattsdiving.com), even food this good won’t keep you indoors for long. ROAD TRIP #3: THE FLORIDA KEYS Key West to Key Largo Lined with Victorian mansions and late-19th-century commercial buildings, Key West's main road, Duval Street, is a picturesque thoroughfare pocked with rocking-loud bars. A quieter side of Key West is immediately apparent when you turn onto Petronia Street, heading into the Bahama Village neighborhood. At Blue Heaven restaurant (305/296-8666), in a courtyard that was the scene of boxing matches during the Depression, tables sit under a canopy of trees, a balmy breeze stirring their leaves, and at least a half dozen of Key West's free-roaming chickens scratch around for crumbs. The special is a lobster melt—like a fancy tuna melt—and it's as good as it sounds. Catch the tour at the Little White House (305/294-9911), an 1890 house on Key West's former naval base. Harry Truman vacationed there 11 times during his presidency. Don't miss Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square, a daily event since the sixties. Grab a margarita from a stand and wander among the crowds and street performers before turning in at the Chelsea House (chelseahousekw.com), in a converted Victorian house surrounded by a garden that makes it feel private and tranquil, though it's just a stone's throw from Duval Street. Before hitting the road the next day, stop by the Hemingway Home and Museum (hemingwayhome.com), where Ernest Hemingway lived with his second wife, Pauline, and their two sons from 1931 to 1940. It's said that Hemingway was given a six-toed cat—often called "mitten cats"—by a friend who was a ship captain; many cats, most of which are its descendants, live on the grounds today. As the writer quipped, "One cat just leads to another." And speaking of animals, don't miss the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory (keywestbutterfly.com), where you'll be amazed at the sight of so many elusive, fluttering beauties. When it's time to head north, Route 1, the Overseas Highway, is a sight in itself. In the 1880s, Henry Flagler, an original partner in Standard Oil, began developing resorts along Florida's east coast. He also started buying up and connecting the state's railroad lines. St. Augustine, Palm Beach, and Miami all owe their development to Flagler's efforts. Between 1905 and 1912, Flagler constructed the Over-Sea Railroad, 156 miles of track—much of it on trestles over open water—that linked Miami and Key West. When the first train rolled into town in 1912, it was greeted by 15,000 townspeople. Unfortunately, a fierce hurricane ripped through the Keys in 1935; an 18-foot tidal wave and 200-mile-per-hour winds washed out the embankment and mangled tracks, but the bridges and trestles stood. In 1938, the federal government took over the route and built the Overseas Highway. Route 1 is the main (and often only) road on the narrow strips of land that are the various keys. Mile-marker signs, which start from zero in Key West, are used as locators for addresses along the highway. The marvelous Seven Mile Bridge runs between mile markers 40 and 47. Until 1982, the bridge ran on the piers originally built for Flagler; those remains stand alongside the new bridge. In Marathon, the White Sands Inn (whitesandsinn.com) has rooms decorated with sunny primary colors and Caribbean-inspired fabrics. An hour's drive north brings you to Key Largo, where a bungalow at the Coconut Bay Resort (coconutbaykeylargo.com) and a slice of, yes, key lime pie, more than live up to the hype.
How to Make Sure Your Car Is Ready for Your Next Road Trip
Budget Travelers know that some of the best (and most affordable) vacations are road trips. With the chance to enjoy scenic highways, jaw-dropping national and state parks, cool small towns, and mid-size cities, the “great American road trip” is one of our favorite warm-weather rituals. Are you ready? Not so fast. AAA sure got our attention when it announced that it expected to rescue 7 million American drivers during the summer months. According to AAA, more than 60 percent of American families hit the road on vacation, and an estimated four out of 10 drivers are unprepared for emergency breakdowns. The top reasons for roadside emergencies are fairly predictable: Are you one of the two-thirds of American drivers who don’t test their car batteries? Are you the one in five who has no idea how to change a tire? Are you one of the four in 10 who don’t carry an emergency kit onboard? Here, AAA's common-sense three-step road-trip preparation list: 1. GIVE YOUR CAR A CHECKUP You know the drill: Schedule a maintenance checkup in advance of your trip. Check the oil, fluid levels, battery, and tires. Sure, this seems obvious, but chances are you haven't done it yet, right? 2. CARRY AN EMERGENCY KIT Auto science is not rocket science: Pack a mobile phone and charger that can plug into your car, flashlight (with fresh batteries and backups), a first-aid kit, basic tool kit (including tire-pressure gauge and adjustable wrench), windshield wiper fluid, jumper cables, emergency flares or reflectors, drinking water, and snacks for both humans and pets. Assembling an emergency kit may seem like a hassle. You know what's an even bigger hassle? Being stuck on the side of the road without any of the things on this list. 3. DON'T GET LOCKED OUT Carry extra car keys, always take a moment to grab your keys before exiting the car, and check the batteries on keyless-entry remotes and smart keys and keep them protected from water and other hazards. Some drivers find that establishing consistent car-key habits (you might even call them rituals) helps them keep track of their keys. For instance: Always store keys in the same place, say the word "keys" out loud before leaving your vehicle, and change batteries on remotes at the beginning and end of Daylight Saving Time.