After a rough winter, you're probably eager to roll down the windows and hit the open road this summer. But while you're packing up your sunscreen, swimsuit, and six-pack of beer (to be enjoyed after the driving part, of course), don't forget to grab your favorite credit card. Here's why credit cards are awesome for road trips!

Booking hotel rooms and rental cars
There are a few reasons it's a good idea to book hotels and rental cars with a credit card:

  • Booking often puts a hold on your account for the amount you owe, or, in the case of rental cars, the amount you owe plus a couple of hundred bucks. You'll have more flexibility if you do this with a credit card than with a debit card, especially if you don't have enough in your checking account to handle the temporary hold.
  • Many credit cards offer rental insurance as an added perk, so you won't need to pay extra when renting a car. Of course, you should check your card agreement to find out what's covered and what's not.
  • If you have a travel rewards credit card, you may be able to use some of your rewards to score free rentals or hotel nights. Check your available points and see if you can save some money on your trip by cashing in some of your rewards. Don't have a travel rewards credit card but want one? Here are a few of our favorites! Which brings us to the next benefit of taking a credit card with you on summer road trips ...

Earning rewards
Most rewards cards offer points for every purchase, along with bonus points for purchases in certain categories. Lucky for you, some of the most popular bonus categories include gas, hotels, rental cars, restaurants, and groceries -- all of which can come in handy on a road trip!

Review your card's rewards program to see if you'll be rewarded extra points for one or more of these categories. If you don't have a rewards credit card yet, check out this NerdWallet round-up of the best!

Disputing fraudulent charges
Unfortunately, travel tends to make people more susceptible to identity theft and credit card fraud. Thankfully, the most you can lose if your credit card is stolen is $50. If the card is still in your possession and just the information was stolen, you won't lose anything.

For debit and ATM cards, the losses may be greater. It works on a tiered system depending on when you report the card stolen. Your losses will range from $0 to the amount of the charges made by the thief. If you do happen to use your debit card instead of a credit card, make sure to report your stolen card immediately.

If your credit card is compromised, it will be canceled and you will be issued a new one to your home address. So it might be a good idea to have a second credit card as backup.

Bottom line: Credit cards are great tools when traveling. They can add extra insurance to your rental car, earn you rewards, and keep your money from being tied up in holds. And in the unfortunate event that your card information is stolen, they can protect you from being liable for most or any of the charges. Bring your credit card on your upcoming road trip, and enjoy the ride!