Ain’t smartphone technology great? In the year 2018, the phrase “there’s an app for that” can easily be replaced with “there’s an overwhelming number of apps for that.” Now that summer is upon us, we thought we’d help you cut through some of the noise by sharing nine gotta-have road trip apps to help you eat, sleep, and sight-see your way across America. All we ask is that you let your co-pilot work them while you drive – otherwise you’re gonna need the “Send an Ambulance” app.
All great road trips begin with the planning phase. Before you can hit that gas pedal, you’ve got to select your destination. And what’s a road trip without some scenic, historic, or downright quirky detours along the way? For a journey that will be just as great as the destination, we recommend starting with the Roadtrippers app. Roadtrippers has been in the game for a while, and as such, they have amassed an extensive library of guides that will lead you on pre-planned trips centered around themes like camping, weird history, haunted places, family trips, and specific cities or regions. You can build your own route from scratch, too. The app will suggest fun stops to break up your driving, like photo ops, museums, famous sites from television or film, and the most popular food to grab along the way. You can also use Roadtrippers in your desktop browser of choice, though to be honest, we find the mobile app much more reliable and easier to use.
Mapping: Google Maps
Look, we’re not expecting this to be big news. Chances are, even if this is your first road trip, Google Maps is already right there on your phone and is likely your first stop when you start planning. But this leading app bears reinforcing: it really is the best bet for mapping your trip. You can plan your route ahead of time and share it with whoever you like. The app will highlight traffic along your route and offer detour suggestions in real time whenever possible. A soothing AI voice will shout at you like a disappointed driving instructor to “key pleft” so you don’t miss your exits. Plus, in a pinch you can search for the nearest gas station, food stop, hotel, or t-shirt hut. Our humble advice says never leave home without switching on good old Google first.
“Isn’t navigation the same thing as mapping?” You might ask. OK, sure, sort of. But we’re making a distinction in this case because we really feel that a well-rounded shotgun navigator should be equipped with both Google Maps and Waze. While Google Maps does provide you with a snapshot of upcoming traffic, it just doesn’t give you the same highway play-by-play that Waze does. Waze lets users tag locations along their route to notify fellow drivers of anything from potholes to speed traps to stopped vehicles and debris. If there’s an accident or construction up ahead, good Samaritans might even save you a headache by leaving a comment to let you know which lanes are closed. It also conveniently displays the current speed limit right there in the corner so you can avoid unintentional reckless driving in areas you’re not familiar with. And if you ever end up stuck in an hours-long traffic jam, there’s a strange reassurance in reading comments from other drivers and bonding over shared rage.
One of the biggest expenditures on any road trip is fuel. You can’t get where you’re going without it, but prices can be frustratingly inconsistent. GasBuddy can track down the cheapest gas stations along your route, helping you save some cash every time you fill up. It has a community element to it, too – by reporting gas prices, you help others save big time and can rack up points that let you enter a daily contest to win $100 in free gas. You can also link the app with your checking account and GasBuddy will help you recoup some costs by giving you cash back on your fuel purchases.
Electric Car Charging: Plugshare
If you’re going to be roadtrippin’ in an electric vehicle, you’re going to need a way to find charging stations along the way. Plugshare is a community-driven app that will give you the details on every available electric charging station along your route. Search for stations based on the type of vehicle you’re driving and where you’re headed. Users can upload photos, leave reviews, and share helpful info like how many chargers a location has available.
Lodging: Hotel Tonight
Booking a place to rest your head on a road trip can be tricky. You don’t want to book every single hotel room ahead of time, since you never know what side adventures you’ll embark on or what delays might throw a wrench in your plan. On the other hand, you’ll be in a real pickle if you roll into Sandusky, Ohio at 3am and find zero vacancy signs. That’s where Hotel Tonight comes in. In addition to booking rooms up to 100 days in advance of your stay, the app can also help you find a hotel…well, tonight. You can search a specific city or find available rooms closest to you. The more you use the app, the more perks you’ll enjoy in the form of discounted rates.
Driving along the freeway is often a roll of the dice. How many times have you missed out on fine dining experiences or exquisitely sloppy road grub in the name of pressing on? You may never know, but you can put those days behind you. iExit lets you view the next 100 exits along your route so you can see precisely what’s waiting for you up ahead. In addition to showing you every tasty restaurant at any given exit, the app will also let you enter a custom search, for when you just gots to get that In-N-Out Burger in your grill before you can carry on. While we’re recommending the app as a food-finder, it can help you lots of other things too, including rest stops, hotels, gas stations, convenience stores, local attractions, and much more.
Bouts of boredom are a given on long car trips. You need to make sure you’ve access to great entertainment to get you through the more grueling stretches of your trip. We recommend getting your mitts on Podbean, a podcast app that lets you search, discover, stream, and download episodes from a huge library of internet chit-chat. Create playlists ahead of time so you don’t have to fiddle with your phone between eps. While it’s podcast-centric, the app also has a decent selection of audiobooks if you want to mix things up.
Camping: RV Parks & Campgrounds
Aside from saving money on hotel costs, camping also adds an extra layer of adventure to any road trip. Tracking down the best sites can be tricky if you’re in unfamiliar territory, though, so we recommend downloading RV Parks & Campgrounds from ParkAdvisor. The app will provide locations for a massive variety of camping options, from commercial parks to government and military campsites to RV-friendly parking lots and rest areas. It can also help you find fuel stops and provide you with extended weather forecasts based on your location. Click on a site that peaks your interest and you can call, visit their website, get directions, and see all that location’s amenities. A must-have app for outdoorsy roadtrippers.
There you have it: our favorite road trip apps. Stay safe out there, and happy trails!
Article originally published June 5, 2015. Last updated June 18, 2018.
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