Defects in membrane trafficking and degradation are hallmarks of most, and maybe all, neurodegenerative disorders. Such defects typically result in the accumulation of undegraded proteins due to aberrant endosomal sorting, lysosomal degradation, or autophagy. The genetic or environmental cause of a specific disease may directly affect these membrane trafficking processes. Alternatively, changes in intracellular sorting and degradation can occur as cellular responses of degenerating neurons to unrelated primary defects such as insoluble protein aggregates or other neurotoxic insults. Importantly, altered membrane trafficking may contribute to the pathogenesis or indeed protect the neuron. The observation of dramatic changes to membrane trafficking thus comes with the challenging need to distinguish pathological from protective alterations. Here, we will review our current knowledge about the protective and destructive roles of membrane trafficking in neuronal maintenance and degeneration. In particular, we will first focus on the question of what type of membrane trafficking keeps healthy neurons alive in the first place. Next, we will discuss what alterations of membrane trafficking are known to occur in Alzheimer’s disease and other tauopathies, Parkinson’s disease, polyQ diseases, peripheral neuropathies, and lysosomal storage disorders. Combining the maintenance and degeneration viewpoints may yield insight into how to distinguish when membrane trafficking functions protectively or contributes to degeneration.