Who is thinking about or planning a road trip for this summer? Today, I wanted to share my picks for the best apps to use to help make your road trip a success.
You may remember if you have been a follower of my blog for a while, that my 2 daughters and I went on a 5,300-mile road trip together last summer(part 1 and part 2). We had the best time together. I think a big part of the success of our trip came from some of the apps that I found. It also helped that we had an attitude to go have fun, but I really believe that the apps (especially one of them) really made a big difference in the success of our trip.
Regardless of the length of your trip, I’ve got some apps that can help make a 200, 2,000 or 7,000(which we did summer 2015) mile journey easier and a bit more fun…which isn’t that the point?
Before we get to the apps, I just want to say that having a good plan for your road trip is the first key to success. Some of these apps will help you plan, but nothing can substitue for doing a little pre-planning and research before you leave. I’m one for pre-planning and then knowing what I know making changes as we do or the day of. It works out really well for us.
I’ve taken all of my road trip experiences and put them together into a road trip planner. It has everything that I use when planning the trip. It allows me to have a good plan that may change many times, but I have the info. I need. You can get your planner and get started today.
By the way, before we get going with the essential apps for a road trip, all but one of these apps is available for either Android or iOS. I’ve linked to the site for the app versus the specific platform. Pick your OS from there and have fun downloading new apps.
1. Google Maps
My top recommended app is Google Maps.
In my opinion, it is the best GPS navigation there is available. The fact that it is built right into my phone and I don’t have to pack something else is a huge bonus to me.
On our road trip in 2014, there were at least 2 different occasions where Google Maps saved us 2+ hours on a day’s drive. It just pops up and says there is a faster route now available and you can choose to take the faster route or stick to the plan. I ALWAYS go for the faster route. In one case there was an accident that had the freeway completely closed. We didn’t know that at the time, but it told me I could save 3 hours by going a different route. Sign me up please…no need to sit on the freeway for a couple of hours with 2 bored kids.
Now as much as I will sing Google Maps praise, I will also tell you to have a backup plan or print out your anticipated route for the day. There haven’t been many times that my cell wouldn’t work, but there have been a couple of times that I couldn’t use the GPS because I had no service, like that time I got lost in Montana/Wyoming. 🙂 I’ve learned over time that you need a map in the car or a backup plan of some sort because being in the middle of nowhere Kansas or Montana with no GPS and no map is no fun. Trust me.
Also, one caveat for those of you reading this and planning a trip with children. Don’t trust the times that Google Maps will give you. It told me from our house to Nashville would be 9.5 hours. It took up 13.5 hours. That was day one and it was 600 miles. NEVER again will I attempt more than 500 miles in one day. It is too much with one driver and too much with kids. 300-400 is the sweet spot for us with an activity during the day.
My 2nd favorite app is an app that almost no one I talk to about road trip apps has heard of… and you need to have heard of Roadtrippers. I credit Roadtrippers with our trip being a success. Yes, I give Roadtrippers about 75-80% of the credit that our 12,300-mile+ of road trips with 1 driver and 2 kids have been fun. It is that good! The thing is that you can make it work for you whether you have a gaggle of kids or you are traveling alone and only want to see history museums for 5,300 miles. Let me show you what this fab app can do.
First, you will want to sign up for a free account, so you can save your trips or trip plans or dream trip plans. Roadtrippers has a desktop version as well as the app version.
I personally like to do my planning on the computer and then open the trip up on my cell or tablet on the road. You can do it any way you want, but it all syncs together.
Roadtrippers has a super powerful and diverse search ability. Put in the trip you want to take. For example, if I want to take a trip from Phoenix, Arizona to Portland, Oregon, I would put that in. It will generate a route for you (which you can change by entering different stopping points). Then you can tell it what you want to search for along the route from all of the categories you see in the picture above (plus sports and tours/experiences which aren’t pictured).
Each category has a drop down menu that you can use to search that entire category or select specific items within each category. We loved finding the offbeat attractions and I think there is a roadside attractions category as well. I searched for as many things sounded interesting.
This is one of the trips you can pull up on Roadtrippers (they have trips you can use or you can plan your own). Do you see at the bottom of the screen where it says “5 miles from route?” That is telling the app how far off the route you are willing to go to one of the attractions. I learned early on that we didn’t want to go very far off of our route. We like staying to 5 to 15 miles within the route, but of course, you can select the distance you are comfortable with.
When you find something you want to do or think you may want to do, you add it to your trip. It will add a number to it, like in the picture before this one. When looking at items, you will be able to see a description of the attraction along with any reviews that have been left. I love that right within the app you can find the phone number(and it will call for you if you push the call button) and link to the website. You can also click to navigate to that attraction. The app will then allow you to select the navigation app you would like to use…which of course, I recommend Google Maps.
All in all, if you only use one of these apps, I would take Roadtrippers for sure! It is how we had fun on the road. I planned our route, then we put a bunch of things that sounded fun that we found via Roadtrippers onto our trip route. The night before, we would look at what was on the following day’s route and select what sounded fun to everyone as well as what fit the budget for that day.
3. Weather Bug
Weather Bug is a must use app, in my opinion. It is great to have an idea of the weather in a location you are not familiar with. It was also very helpful when summer storms would come up. It was great to get instant access to the severity and the length of the storm to know if I wanted to keep going or stop and take a break until things settled down.
4. Gas Buddy
Gas Buddy saved me money. I love it for that! When you are on a road trip, gas can really eat away at your fun money. With Gas Buddy, when we would make stops for meals, I could quickly and easily pull it up and find the cheapest gas in the area. I can’t tell you the number of times I would open it up and realize that a Costco was nearby and that it had a gas station. Since we have a membership, it saved me big time. I would never have had any idea that the cheap gas was so close without this app.
Like most apps, they do want you to sign up or sign in when you use the app. Just know you don’t have to do so. You can click the skip at the bottom of the screen where it is asking you to sign in or sign up.
So, how does one adult drive that many with 2 kids and not lose her mind? Well, one thing that helped was a game that I played as well as my Sirius Satellite radio and when it got dark, Audible (affiliate link).
Generally, during the day I was fine. I enjoyed watching for license plates and seeing the scenery change. I kept my DSLR(affiliate link) in the front seat with me and would snap some pics. The girls did a little school work during the day sometimes, so we would chat about that, I would listen to the movie they were watching, I would listen to music and we made plenty of stops. When it got dark, none of those strategies worked.
That is when Audible was my big time buddy. The girls and I listened to at least 3 of the American Girl Doll book series (affiliate link) last summer. We plan to do it again this year. I just bought an Audible membership for the month we were on the road. You can cancel it anytime. It was well worth the money because having something entertaining to listen to when it gets dark really helps. A LOT!
By the way, I have an older car (a 2002 Toyota Highlander). It doesn’t have a jack for hooking my phone into the speakers. Last year I burned the books from Audible onto CDs. It was a pain. I’ve used both a cassette tape adapter (affiliate links) and a Bluetooth adapter with great success.
6. Sit or Squat
Now, this is just a fun app that is put out by Charmin. It is a handy way to find a bathroom when you need one. Truthfully we didn’t use it much, but there were a few times it was really handy.
Avoid the red toilet paper rolls…those are the nasty bathrooms. That is why this app is fun. You can rate the bathrooms and see visually whether you want to hold it a little longer or stop here.
This is another app that we haven’t used much, but I think with a teenager who now has a phone in the backseat (or maybe front seat) this year, I will have her load this app up and help us pick which exits to take for breaks.
This app will tell you what services, restaurants, etc are at each exit.
Again, I haven’t used it much, but it seems like it will be very handy.
Now to know me is to know my love of Starbucks. I couldn’t leave their app off of my list of the best apps for road trips. Let’s face it coffee (or tea in my case) is a necessity when you are on the road. Especially when you are the only adult and working late at nights in addition to all the fun during the day.
Starbucks is a necessity. By using the app, I don’t have to grab my purse when we head in to use the bathroom and get some refreshments. I just need my keys and my phone. Less stuff is always good. In addition to that, if you haven’t used the app before, you get a free drink every 12 drinks. Yep, free drinks…you’ve got me hooked! I’m going to be there anyway, might as well get a free drink every 6th day. LOL! Yep, I just admitted that, if possible, on the road I’m a two a dayer at Starbucks. Don’t judge. 😉
Instagram is my favorite social media for sure…and you should totally follow me so you can see pics from our 7,000-mile trip this summer.
I love that IG is picture based and it makes it fun and easy to share our adventures. Not that the other forms of social media are hard to share on, but if you use the appropriate hashtags, you can show your trip off to people who will care as well as see other pics in the area you are currently located. It is fun! As I said, I love IG!
I love playing the license plate game! (The one I have doesn’t seem to be available anymore, but this one looks really neat and has Canada and Mexico…I might have to buy a new app this summer) It might be borderline creepy. Just saying. I have the Melissa & Doug wood game board(affiliate link) that I keep in the passenger seat with me. I don’t use the app while I’m driving, but my girls and I play against each other with this app…and seeing as how they have a whole craft station and entertainment center in the back seat….I always win. Fun!
With this app, you can set up games of player versus player and set up different parameters. Then you just tick off the boxes you have seen. I either just remember what I have seen or after we have passed the car (so they can’t get the plate as well…gotta plan to win…lol), I pass my girls my tablet and ask them to check off some boxes for me. I am totally dedicated and this app makes another way to entertain myself…so again, don’t judge. 🙂
I’m sure you have heard of Netflix and if not, I’m guessing you are hiding under the same rock as the Geico caveman. Lol! I never use Netflix while I’m driving and I don’t have a cell plan with enough data to let my girls use it while I’m driving either.
I included Netflix in my list of apps because when you are driving cross-country alone with two kids and you get to the hotel late at night then you have to get kids to bed and work for a little bit, then you finally get to relax…guess what? The kids are asleep the room is dark and you know the rule….NEVER wake sleeping children. My tablet with headphones and Netflix with the hotel wi-fi and I could watch anything I wanted. Last summer I gorged on Royal pains. I had never seen it before and I watched almost every episode they had while on the road last summer.
You may or may not have heard of this app. It used to be a social app that you could ‘check in’ at the location you were at and get points for your check in. They still have that part, sort of, in the app listed below. Foursquare has morphed more into an app that can help you find places you will like where you are currently located. If you rate various places you have been it will get better at giving you recommendations of places you will enjoy. I use this primarily to find restaurants on the road.
We rarely eat fast food, so it can be a bit hard to find something decent when you don’t know any of the restaurants in a city to which you have never been. By rating things, over time, Foursquare is figuring out what I like and giving me great recommendations. One of our favorite pizza places last year was found this way. Great pizza followed by homemade gelato=perfection on a hot New Mexico summer day.
Swarm is now the part of Foursquare that you can use to check in. I never use it in my hometown because I don’t want someone to be able to track me down(yes I know and have privacy settings, but I’m still cautious), but when I’m on the road I love using it to remember the places we went. (As a side security note, I usually check in right when we are leaving…again better safe than sorry.) It integrates with Timehop, so I can see those in my daily Timehop in the years following and remember the fun. You can also earn badges and such and so on and I need entertainment when I am on the road. Things like this become my entertainment.
We have been using Goodbudget for quite a few years now. I don’t use it just for road trips. I use it every day to keep track of our money. It is an envelope budget app that can help keep you on track.
I mention it here because it did great helping me keep on track with our budget last summer. I had one envelope that contained our trip money and knew exactly where we were at with the money. It is quick and easy to enter a receipt right after you spend money so it is quick and easy to not go over budget…which could happen very easily on a long road trip.
I don’t necessarily use Wunderlist on the road, but it is an invaluable tool when prepping for the trip. You can set up a list for your trip and easily add whatever items you need to buy or things you need to do to be ready to go. You can access the lists from your phone or right from a chrome extension/app on your computer. Now it even integrates with your Google cards (in the Google app) and with your Google calendar.
Like I said it makes it really easy to keep up with what needs to be done. If you are out running errands and can’t remember what you needed to buy for the trip, just pull up your list in Wunderlist and you are good to go.
I’ve got even more road trip inspiration on my Real Road Trips & Travel Pinterest board, follow the fun!
What do you think of my best apps? Which one is your favorite or new favorite?
I wish you the best of luck and the best of fun on your road trip! Next up, let me show you exactly how we packed our car for a 5-week road trip. Can’t wait to show you.