Thinking about or planning a road trip? Today, I'm sharing my picks for the best apps to use to help make your road trip a success.
In addition to our attitude to go have fun and flex as needed, I think a big part of the success of our trip came from some of the apps that we used.
Regardless of the length of your trip, I've got a great list of apps that can help make a 200, 2,000 or 7,000-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 substitute for doing a little pre-planning and research before you leave. I believe in pre-planning and having a good solid fondation, I can easily make changes as we go. It works out really well for a fun road trip.
In order to pre-plan, you will need to how to plan and what to plan. I've taken all of my road trip experience and put it into a road trip planner. It has everything that I use when planning a trip. It allows me to have a good plan that may change many times, but I have the info. I need to be able to be flexible. To get started with your next adventure get your planner and get planning 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 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 first road trip, 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 need a backup plan or to 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. We tend to be slow travelers but remember that the time it is giving you is with perfect traffic as well as no stops. My bladder can't go for that long and there is just too much fun stuff to see along the road. Factor that into your 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 trips being a success. Yes, I give Roadtrippers about 75-80% of the credit that our 12,300-miles+ 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 and know it will all sync together.
Roadtrippers has a super powerful and diverse search ability. Enter 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.
We learned we don't like to go very far off of our route. We like staying to 5 to 15 miles within the route, but of course, you should 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 Costco 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 miles with 2 kids and not lose her mind? Well, one thing that helped was a game that I played as well as my Amazon Unlimited Music(affiliate link) 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 have listened to at least 5 of the American Girl Doll book series (affiliate link). 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. One year I burned the books from Audible onto CDs. It was a pain. Since then, I've used both a cassette tape adapter (affiliate links) and a Bluetooth adapter with great success since then. I personally love the Bluetooth adapter and use it every day in my car to stream my Amazon Unlimited Music(affiliate link).
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 app is super handy! I don't use my phone while I'm driving, but since I have a teenager with a phone, I can ask her to open up iExit and see what is at upcoming exits.
iExit will tell you what services, restaurants, etc. are at each exit.
It has helped us decided where we want to stop for both bathroom and food breaks. It is so nice to have ‘eyes' to see what is in a totally unfamiliar area.
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 while on a road trip(which means late 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 can earn free drinks by using the app. Yep, free drinks…you've got me hooked! I'm going to be there anyway, might as well get a free drink. When I'm on a road trip, I very quickly rack up free drinks with my 2 a day habit! Don't judge. 😉
Instagram is my favorite social media for sure…and you should totally follow me!
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 may or may not Snap like a teenager….Ok, I do! It is another super fun form of social media. You can follow me here.
What makes it fun for a road trip is that it has geo-filters. When you are in a certain location a special filter will be available in Snapchat, like when we were recently at IKEA. Of course, on a road trip, you will find more fun geo-filters than IKEA. Plus the other fun filters make Snapchat super fun!
I love playing the license plate game! (The app pictured above isn't available anymore, but I've been using the one I just linked to for a while and really like it.) It is neat because it has Canada and Mexico! Extra fun! I also 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 I can flip the plates on that board and add them to the app later. I'm possibly borderline obsessed with license plates. Cheesy grin!
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, Netflix, and the hotel wi-fi = I can watch anything I want. Last summer I gorged on Royal Pains(affiliate link). I had never seen it before and I watched almost every episode while on the road.
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 Swarm. 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. We have found amazing pizza places, ice cream, and burger joints to name a few and it seems to have learned we like whole food type restaurants because I get lots of those that show up in my feed. Love it!
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 financially.
I mention it here because I use it to keep on track with our budget while on a road trip.
I have one envelope that contained our trip money. By entering expenses as I incur them, I know exactly how much money I have left at any given moment. It is super 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 recently started using Samsung Pay. LOVE IT! With it or Apple Pay, you are able to use your phone to pay for purchases.
As much as I love a cute purse, I love going into stores or restaurants with just my keys and my phone. It feels so easy! When on a road trip, I really love feeling like I'm not hauling around a ton of stuff. That is where Samsung Pay comes in. Load your card into the app. When it comes time to pay, just access your card in the app and hold your phone near the pay terminal. Done and Paid. Easy!
The app then gives a notification of who you just paid and how much you paid them. It makes it really easy to add that info. into Goodbudget and walk away with whatever you just paid for and on budget.
Of course, you need to do the research and decide if you feel either of these are secure enough for your personal use. As for me, I'm sold! Samsung Pay also has a whole rewards program just for using their app…so you know I'm loving that. 🙂
We only recently became aware of this app. We have visited SO many national parks on our road trips and each time we do, I think I should get one of those books in which to put a stamp(affiliate link)….and then I don't get the book. I finally bought a book for me and each of my girls on our DC Road Trip. That is when I learned about the app.
The app will help you know what National Parks are around you via GPS or you can search for National Parks by Name, State, and Region. It will allow you to add to a list of Parks you have visited as well as those you want to visit.
When you find a park, you are interested in, you can find all kinds of info about the park, such as address, phone number, hours, a description as well as where you can find the stamps for your passport and information on entrance fees and the Junior Ranger programs among other things.
It contains a wealth of information on our National Parks and is perfect for a road trip.
I've got even more road trip inspiration on my Real Road Trips & Travel Pinterest board, follow the fun!