Planning a road trip? Here’s everything you might need to plot a cross-country journey, a family vacation, or a solo trek.
These days, the phrase “there’s an app for that” can easily be replaced with “there’s, like, 50 apps for that.” Now that summer approaches, we’re helping you cut through some of the noise with ten gotta-have road trip apps to help you eat, sleep, and sightsee your way across America. All we ask is that you let your co-pilot work them while you drive – otherwise you’re gonna need a “Send an Ambulance” app.
Planning: Google Trips
All great road trips begin with the planning phase. Before you can hit the gas, you’ve got to select the perfect destination. And what’s a road trip without some scenic, historic, delicious, or downright quirky detours along the way? If you’ve ever found yourself ditching your phone’s native navigation app (you know the one we’re talking about) for Google Maps, then you should give their Google Trips app a try when you’re planning your trip. The app is essentially a pocket tour guide, offering suggestions and providing information about anything and everything there is to do at your destination.
Beyond suggesting stops, though, Google Trips will dive into every detail of your trip, basing its suggestions on information like what time you’ll be traveling, who you’ll be with, what your budget is, and how much time you have to spend at each stop. You can browse through the app’s suggested attractions by categories like Theme Parks, Quirky Shows, Kid Friendly, and Local Favorites. Google Trips will also provide you with critical information like the types of transportation available at your destination, contact info for emergency services nearby while you’re traveling, the busiest shopping hours at popular locations, and perhaps most critically, what your internet availability will look like at each stop along your trip (talk about a feature we can’t believe we’ve been traveling without!) Like other planning apps, Google Trips also has the ability to pull in travel data (like flight information and hotel reservations) from your email to help build your itinerary, and it also includes hundreds of pre-planned trips in case you’re not sure where you’re going yet.
Navigation: Google Maps
After our first suggestion, this shouldn’t be big news. Even if this is your first road trip, Google Maps is probably already right there on your phone. 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 A.I. voice will shout at you like a perpetually disappointed mother to “key pleft” so you don’t miss a single turn. Plus, in a pinch, you can search for the nearest gas station, food stop, hotel, or t-shirt hut. Our humble advice: never leave home without switching on good old Google first.
Traffic Info: Waze
We really feel that a well-rounded shotgun navigator should be equipped with both Google Maps and Waze. While Google Maps provides 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 letting you know which lanes are closed. It also displays the current speed limit so you can avoid speeding in areas you’re not familiar with. And if you ever end up stuck in a traffic jam, there’s a strange reassurance in bonding with other drivers over shared rage.
One of the biggest road trip expenses is fuel. You can’t get where you’re going without it, but prices can be frustratingly inconsistent. GasBuddy finds the cheapest gas stations along your route, helping you save cash every time you fill up. That alone is pretty dang handy, but it gets even better: by reporting gas prices for the stations you stop at, you help others save big time and rack up points that can save you even more. 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 road tripping in an electric vehicle, you’ll 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 plans. On the other hand, you’ll be in a real pickle if you roll into Sandusky, Ohio at 3 a.m. and find only “No Vacancy” signs. That’s when you’ll be happy you have Hotel Tonight in your pocket. 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 just find available rooms closest to you. The more you use the app, the more perks you’ll enjoy in the form of discounted rates.
How many times have you missed out on fine dining experiences or exquisitely sloppy road grub in the name of getting just a few more miles under your belt? You may never know the true scale of your past mistakes, but thankfully you can put your days of missing out (DOMO?) 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 gotta get that In-N-Out Burger Double-Double Animal Style in your belly tout suite. While we’re (clearly) recommending the app as a food-finder, it can help you find lots of other things too, including rest stops, hotels, gas stations, convenience stores, local attractions, and much more.
Roadside Assistance: Blink
A reliable roadside assistance app is a great thing to have on your phone at all times, but we consider it an absolute must if you’re planning a trip through unfamiliar areas. What we love most about Blink is the utter lack of surprises when it comes to cost. If you’re stranded with car trouble in the middle of your road trip, the last thing you want to hear is that the tow you called is going to cost twice as much as you expected. With Blink, every service has a flat rate, so the cost you pay is always the same as the cost you were quoted. So, there must be a membership fee, right? Nope. The app is completely free to download, and it costs you bagel to sign up. Blink offers towing, jump-starts, spare tire installation, vehicle lockout service, fuel delivery up to two gallons, and roadside winching.
Camping: RV Parks & Campgrounds
Aside from saving money on hotel costs, camping adds a dash of extra adventure to any road trip. Tracking down the best sites can be tough if you’re in unfamiliar territory, though, so we recommend downloading RV Parks & Campgrounds from ParkAdvisor. The app will provide locations for a ridiculous 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 current location or destination. Click on a site that piques your interest and you can call, visit their website, get directions, and see all the amenities they have to offer. This one’s a must-have for outdoorsy road-trippers.
Bouts of boredom are a given on long drives. To stay alert and entertained, get those mitts on Spotify, if you haven’t already. Aside from its library of over 40 million songs (not to mention the strange, comforting sense of companionship you’ll get from knowing a friend as intimate as Discover Weekly is by your side), Spotify is making a play for the podcast scene, too. Create a playlist of your best highway jams, dive into a totally addictive podcast, or let Spotify’s unparalleled discovery algorithms build the new road soundtrack you didn’t know you needed so badly. Sign up for a free account and gain instant access to enough content for a road trip around the world. Upgrade to Premium and you can enjoy all of it ad-free and offline.
There you have it: our favorite road trip apps. Stay safe out there, and happy trails!
Article originally published June 5, 2015. Last updated May 24, 2019.
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