Chelsea and I recently flew with the kids across the country to Orlando for a conference and some much-needed vacation time. We waited until just days before takeoff to book our car rental, so we wound up getting the very last 7-seater in Orlando from a sketchy-looking off-airport spot that had a shag sofa in their waiting room.

10 tips for renting a car 70s-inspired decor aside, it worked out alright. We got a Nissan Quest – which is basically a stripped-down version of the minivan we have at home – and it got us from place-to-place with only a few minor speed bumps along the way. There are a few little tricks that made our time with the boys more enjoyable all-around.

Here are some Car Rental Lessons We Learned

Know thy road.

Do you need 4WD? Probably not, but you should get the lay of the land and figure out a rough itinerary so you book the right vehicle.

Ask if they have a mini-van with push-button doors.

You'll be getting in and out a lot.

Figure out fuel.

Regular, premium, diesel? These are key things to know when you're hauling around in a vehicle that isn't your own. You should also note how much gas the vehicle had when you picked it up, and return it with the same amount. Most car rental places charge a hefty surcharge for filling up.

10 tips for renting a car

Know where the gas stations are.

Not the ones in touristy areas! If you fill up next to the airport or near major attractions, you're likely to pay more. We headed away from town and tracked down a cushy gas station bearing the logo of our sponsor brand, Shell. The prices there were cheaper, and we were able to earn *Fuel Rewards® savings with our Gold Status.

We've registered our credit card with the Fuel Rewards® app so we earn 10¢/gal for every $50 spent at participating restaurants, 20¢/gal for every $50 spent shopping online, as well as a 5¢/gal “Gold Status” reward on our first 20 gallons (limitations apply) just for joining (that reward level sticks around if we fill up six times within three months which – needless to say – we did).

Best of all, the facilities were the quality we're used to. As much as we try to branch out when we travel, we stay brand-loyal when it comes to important service spots like gas stations. There's something very comforting about knowing we'll get the same level of service at stations all across the country. You can sign up for the Fuel Rewards program and start saving with Instant Gold Status here.

Load up on caffeine when renting a car

Caffeinate.

You will get lost, repeatedly, and there NEVER seems to be a drive-through coffee stand when you need one. Shell is, once again, our go-to solution. Chelsea loves that they have the unsweetened bottled Starbucks Cold Brew since that's her go-to refrigerated coffee drink. Most other places only stock the kind that has a bunch of cream and sugar added, and she's on some weird perpetual diet that restricts sugar intake. As for me, I stock up on DoubleShots.

Be prepared for weird weather when renting a car

Brace yourselves for wacky weather.

Umbrellas, ponchos, sunscreen and hats are often kept in the family's trunks, but that stuff won't be provided for you in a rental. Oh, and you should know that “summer storms” are actually a thing, complete with torrential rain and lightning. Being from sunny San Diego, that sort of caught us off-guard.

Know the rules of the road.

Can you turn right on red? The laws vary from state-to-state. You should also be prepared for local tolls, which can come as a BIG surprise if you're from an area that doesn't have them.

Grab snacks at the gas station

Load up on snacks.

Preferably cool local treats. Again, we love to scope out gas station finds. In California, you'll usually see nachos and taquitos, in Oregon there's a lot of trail mix, and in Florida you'll find Cuban specialties like plantain chips. A quick snack stop can help you maximize road time and minimize the amount you spend at restaurants.

Toddler car nap

Bring your own entertainment.

Our vehicles at home have Blu-Ray players in them, perfect for keeping the big kids happy if one of the little ones falls asleep and we want to hang out in a parking lot for a bit while they finish their nap. Rentals don't typically provide screens, so we kept busy with I-Spy.

Know thy wildlife.

In Wyoming, you run the risk of T-boning a stubborn buffalo or a leaping deer if you don't watch out. In Orlando, it's gators. Ask the rental attendants if you should be on the lookout for anything in particular. It's also fun to give the kids a heads-up about what they might spot along the way.

10 tips for renting a car in unfamiliar territory

Have you had good car rental experiences?

*Restrictions apply. To qualify for the Gold/Silver Status offers, you must be a Fuel Rewards® member and swipe your Fuel Rewards® card or enter your Alt ID when you fuel at a participating Shell station. With Gold Status, you will receive 5¢/gal in Fuel Rewards® savings on every fill-up. The 5¢/gal reward for Gold Status will be combined with other rewards in your Fuel Rewards® account. If you are an existing Fuel Rewards® member, you will receive Gold Status from 6/5/2017 through 12/31/17, the “Existing Member Introductory Period”. If you are a new Fuel Rewards® member, you will receive Gold Status for the initial month you join through the last day of the month, 6 full calendar months later, the “New Member Introductory Period”. The last 3 months of the Existing Member Introductory Period or the New Member Introductory Period (collectively the “Introductory Period”) is the “Qualification Period”. You will retain your Gold Status during the Qualification Period, but you must make 6 qualifying fuel purchases to qualify for Gold Status for the next 3 months, the “Benefit Period”. During the Benefit Period, you must continue to make 6 qualifying fuel purchases to maintain your Gold Status for the next 3-month Benefit Period. A qualifying fuel purchase is any fuel purchase at a participating Shell station in which you swipe your Fuel Rewards® card or enter your Alt ID and fill up with at least 5-gallons of any grade of fuel. For example, if you are a new Fuel Rewards® member and register on 6/15/2017, you will receive Gold Status through the New Member Introductory Period (i.e., 12/31/2017). You will need to fill up with at least 5 gallons of fuel at least 6 times during the Qualification Period (i.e., 10/1/2017 and 12/31/2017) to maintain Gold Status during the Benefit Period (i.e., from 1/1/2018 to 3/31/2018). Thereafter, if you continue to fill up with at least 5 gallons of fuel at least 6 times during the successive 3 consecutive month Benefit Periods, you will retain your Gold Status. If you do not maintain your Gold Status, you will receive Silver Status. With Silver Status, you will receive 3¢/gal in Fuel Rewards® savings. The 3¢/gal reward for Silver Status will be combined with other rewards in your Fuel Rewards® account. Redeem Fuel Rewards® savings with your Fuel Rewards® card or Alt ID at participating Shell stations. Fuel Rewards® savings are limited to 20 gallons of fuel per purchase, per vehicle, or fraud limits placed by Shell and/or limits placed on your financial card by your financial institution, each of which may be lower. Fuel Rewards® savings must be redeemed in a single transaction. Once you begin to dispense fuel using your Fuel Rewards® savings, you must dispense to the 20-gallon limit or you forfeit any remaining discounted gallons of fuel. For example, if you only pump fifteen (15) gallons of fuel, you would abandon the remaining five (5) gallons of discounted fuel. If you have a rewards balance greater than the current per-gallon price of fuel, the price will roll down to the maximum capability of the fuel equipment, and your remaining rewards will be saved for a future fuel purchase. Dispenser may require a price of up to 10.9¢/gal. It may not be possible to combine multiple discounts and/or rewards in a single transaction. For purchases of $75 or more, please go inside to pay. Unbranded diesel and alternative fuels may not be eligible. The Fuel Rewards® program is owned and operated by Excentus Corporation. Offer may be modified or discontinued at any time without notice. Not valid where prohibited by law. Please see fuelrewards.com for complete Fuel Rewards® program details and Terms and Conditions. Other restrictions may apply. All trademarks are the property of their respective owners. To learn more, visit fuelrewards.com/gold or call (888) 603-0473

Storms, wildlife, tolls, oh my! What to know when renting a car.