Road trips always seem like a good idea, but often end up in frustration, amirite? The constant whining, bad weather, crappy radio stations or reception, gross rest stops, jacked up gas prices…I could go on and on. Before you write off the idea of another road trip, check out these 14 essential road trip apps that will help you tackle almost any sticky situation that could crop up on a road trip.
Many cars come equipped with GPS systems, but I’ve never encountered one as impressive as the Waze navigation app.
Waze is like Google Maps on steroids. It will find you the shortest route, even if it means taking side streets. Waze will even warn you about construction and accidents ahead of you, if you want to avoid them, switch lanes, etc.
Some of my family and I recently did a road trip to Maine. It’s a road trip we’ve done many times, so we knew the route well. Despite this, I convinced everyone to let me be the navigator, so I could test out Waze.
And you know what? Waze got us there in record time, thanks to all the shortcuts it used. It also helped us get around at our destination, as the roads we were used to were all blocked off due to construction.
Waze will also tell you how much time and miles are left ’til you get to your destination. If you don’t think that’s important, then I seriously question whether you’ve ever even been on a road trip. We all know on a road trip someone inevitably asks multiple times, seemingly every 5 minutes, Are we there yet?
Instead of an exasperated Almost there! (which we all know is probably a lie and will result in being asked the same question every 5 minutes), you can give them a real-time update thanks to Waze. No, Fruit of My Loins, but Waze says we only have 21 minutes left ’til we get to Grandma’s house. I’m willing to bet that person will ask less and also be less whiny about it.
Oh, and Waze is FREE. I guess that’s cool, too.
2. Plan your road trip stops ahead of time with this app
The Roadtrippers app is the best way to plan out a route ahead of time, complete with fun pit stops. It can be used as a navigation app, but Waze does that better. If your navigator doesn’t want to use 2 apps while on the road, you can plot the pit stops into your route on Waze.
Roadtrippers excels at finding places along any route, whether it be a restaurant, gas station, or a 31 ft. tall Paul Bunyan statue. Yes, it’s a thing. I found it on the Roadtrippers app on the road trip before last. I tried to convince my family to go, but no one was interested. Can’t imagine why.
3. Find the best exits for last minute pit stops with this app
Not everyone likes to plan pit stops ahead of time, so the Roadtrippers app might not be your new app bff. But you’ll have to pull off the road at some point for a pee break or bite to eat, right?
The iExit app uses your location to list nearby exits, including ones that aren’t official rest stops, and shows you all the businesses nearby. Restaurants, coffee shops, gas stations. I even saw animal vets listed on iExit on a few stops during my most recent road trip!
4. If you’re extra AF and will only consider Instagram-worthy pit stops, this is your app
Fotospot focuses on helping you find Insta-worthy destinations, all by using your location. Roll your eyes all you want, but I bet you’ll find somewhere fun you want to go, even if you aren’t going to Instagram it.
But, if you love Instagram like I do, keep an eye on Fotospot on your next road trip for fun, spontaneous spots to pull of the road for a snap or 2. Or 20, because options. Your Instagram followers are already thanking me.
5. Avoid lame tourist spots and whack restaurants with the these 2 apps
Yes, people tend to write online reviews more so when they experience a problem. However, I find that the reviews on these 2 apps are well-balanced, so you can count on them to gauge whether the stop is worth it or not.
Lastly, yes, I really do recommend having both apps. Yelp is best for restaurant, bar, and local business reviews, while TripAdvisor is best for reviews on tourist spots and attractions. P.S. The iExit app shows you the Yelp rating, so you can also pop over to the Yelp app to read the reviews of spots at the next exit or get more info, like menus or photos.
6. Say so long to spotty radio reception thanks to this app
It’s not a road trip unless there are good tunes. But doesn’t it suck when the reception keeps going in and out while you’re trying to sing it out to Bruno Mars? Or when you’re driving through somewhere that doesn’t have a single station that plays your favorite type of music? That’s where the Spotify app comes in handy.
With a premium account, you can download songs, playlists, and podcast episodes to your phone or iPad and play them offline. Premium accounts are only $9.99 a month. If you’ve never had a Spotify Premium account, you can get the first 30 days FREE!
I recommend selecting the playlist and podcasts you want ahead of time, so that you can download them at home with reliable wifi.
7. Find a comfy place to lay your head at night with these 2 apps
If you’re taking a long haul, multi-day road trip, you’re gonna need to stop at some point to get some rest and a shower. I mean, I hope you’re gonna shower. No one wants to be stuck in a car with a stinky person.
If you prefer to schedule your overnight stops ahead of time, check out the Airbnb app for a place to stay. Rates for AirBNB rooms or homes are often less than a hotel, plus you’ll often have at-home amenities, like a kitchen or even a pool all to yourself.
AirBNB is also great for finding a place to stay in areas where there might not be any hotels that meet your needs. I LOVE all the options AirBNB has for filtering out hotels that don’t have, such as smoke detectors, wide hallways for your wheelchair, or a crib for your mini.
If you prefer to be super spontaneous, the HotelTonight app is the best way to find a hotel at last-minute, often at a discount.
For example, while writing this post, I decided I might want to go to New York City THAT NIGHT. With HotelTonight, I was able to find over a dozen spots with at least 1 room open, and all of them were discounted. I even found a room in THE tourist spot of all tourist spots, Times Square, for over $200 less than usual!
8. Get the best gas prices with this app
If the ever-changing price of gas has you worried about sticking to a budget on a road trip, you definitely need the GasBuddy app.
GasBuddy is a super simple app that pulls up all the nearby gas stations, along with their prices. I can’t even remember how many times I’ve heard “I bet there’s another gas station that’s cheaper,” on a road trip. Or “That’s a decent price, let’s grab gas now,” only to find a gas station down the road that’s better price-wise.
In other words, the GasBuddy app is the best way to make sure you stay on budget and get the best deals on gas on your road trip.
9. Avoid nasty weather, thanks to this app
Weather can easily get in the way of a successful road trip, but it doesn’t have to ruin it. Get timely weather alerts with The Weather Channel app.
Yes, every dad’s favorite cable TV station has an app, and it’s pretty freaking great! Along with the usual hourly, daily, and weekly rundown of the weather forecast, its detailed notification settings for severe weather (and pollen!!) alerts is what makes it a great road trip app.
The detail available in The Weather Channel app can help you plan a break to avoid a bad rain storm, readjust the time you want to leave to avoid a snow storm, or god forbid, pull off the next exit to find shelter.
While we didn’t experience any bad weather on my latest road trip, I did get a notification on my phone while I was writing this post about a thunderstorm that was due to roll in within 20 minutes or so. Sure enough, a t-storm rolled in about 20 minutes later.
10. Get access to roadside help with this app
For any road trip, it’s a good idea to have a plan if your car breaks down and needs repairs and/or towing.
Some people opt for subscriptions to OnStar, AAA, or similar services. For those of you that don’t subscribe to one of those services, the Roadside Assistance app is a great way to find a towing company or repair shop super quick.
The landing page of the Roadside Assistance app automatically displays the nearest assistance provider, but you can also tap over to a map that displays all options in your location.
It’s simple, but that’s what makes this app a winner. Its design helps you stay focused on getting help quickly in a time when you’re likely frazzled.
Another option for roadside assistance apps is to look into whether your auto maker (Ford, Toyota, etc) or auto insurance provider has an app that includes roadside assistance options.
I haven’t tried any of these myself, but I recommend looking into this, especially if your auto maker or auto insurance provider has restrictions on where you can get your car serviced.
11. Make sure you have enough change for tolls with 1 of these apps
This is one area where there is room for improvement as far as app solutions are concerned. I don’t think there’s a clear winner for this category. Since this is a big need for road trippers, I’ll go over the apps I tested, as well as what I did and didn’t like about them so you can make an informed decision on which app to use.
Toll Calc was a little finicky with addresses. The first address I entered wasn’t found, but it pulled up a wrong route instead of a clear error message. Once I was able to get the start and end points in correctly, it showed a tally for the all of tolls along my route, in cash. It made no mention of using the local electronic toll device, EZ Pass, which gives drivers a discounted toll rate. Maybe EZ Pass declined to sponsor them. Ha!
TollGuru was also correct with the toll tally, but only displayed the tally for EZ Pass. Since we weren’t using EZ Pass, I had to tap on each toll spot along the route and add up the cash total on my own. Not a huge deal, but also a poor user experience. I also feel that someone who isn’t familiar with EZ Pass might take the EZ Pass tally as the total regardless of payment type, which could result in not having enough cash on hand for tolls. Yikes.
What are your top road trip apps?
Before you leave, tell me your favorite road trip apps in the comments, so I can check them out next time I head out on a road trip. Oh, and don’t forget to check out my recommendations for the top camera apps so you can capture fun photos on your road trip, too!