Need Help Preparing for a Road Trip? There's an App for That
24 of the Best Road Trip Apps
In a bygone era, traveling could easily become a fly-by-night affair, and winging it was often the only option when your travel schedule fell by the wayside. Recounting his travel career in The Wall Street Journal, Stan Sesser wrote, “I’ve often arrived in a city without a hotel booking. Only once, in Paris, did I have to spend the night sleeping on a park bench. Moreover, the beautiful warm evening made that night in the park almost fun.”
The need for such bootstrapping has largely disappeared with the arrival of the smartphone. In fact, The Washington Post reports some have even leveraged smartphones’ always-on connectivity to fund their travels as they road trip: “Social media users … have been sharing their own experiences of Venmo-powered road trips as travel has revved up again.”
You may not want to rely on the kindness of strangers to pay for your road trip, but there are a whole host of best road trip apps that can help you plan, navigate, and stay entertained during your drive.
How Road Trip Apps Work
As you may imagine, most dedicated road trip apps work by taking once onerous travel-related tasks and letting you complete them via your phone or tablet either beforehand or as the miles peel away beneath your tires. Some apps are specifically designed for planning your trip. Others may help you shift your route to deal with unexpected traffic or find new destinations around your route. Should you fail to make a reservation or want to stop early, a few will help you find available lodging.
Finally, do not forget that many entertainment and communications apps not specifically designed for travel can still play a vital role on your road trip.
In the following sections, we will list road trip apps you can use for planning, driving, finding a place to stay, and entertainment. And if you have small children, we will even offer options that will help minimize their wiggling!
Apps For Planning
Any search for road-trip app will invariably lead you to Roadtrippers (iOS/Android: free to $29.99) and for good reason. This all-in-one app allows you to set routes, find applicable stops, discover gas stations, and figure out how long you will need to drive. You can even do all of your planning on the Roadtrippers website and then upload it. Note that user reviews state that paid versions perform much better than the free one.
Though originally designed for flyers rather road warriors, Tripit (iOS/Android: free or $49) helps you pull together all of your digital documents (e.g. hotel reservations), sync them with your calendar, and easily share a master itinerary with others.
Looking for offbeat locations on your drive? Roadside America (iOS: $2.99 to $6.99) offers more than 15,000 bizarre stops, such as pecan-pie vending machines, a talking transparent woman with glowing organs, and a hotel shaped like a cruise ship.
PackPoint(iOS/Android: $2.99) analyzes your trip and helps ensure that you pack everything you need. Plug in your destination, length of trip, and what you want to do, and PackPoint takes it from there.
The Outbound (iOS/Android: free) works in a similar manner to Roadtrippers. However, it focuses on the outdoors, providing information about hiking trails, camping sites, and scenic views.
Apps For Driving
Your phone doubtlessly has a real-time map app, but Waze (iOS/Android: free) offers multiple advantages over the preloaded stuff. Through the power of crowdsourcing, Waze will alert you to accidents, hazards, and upcoming speed traps. It also will reroute your drive when traffic gets hairy.
There’s no sensation quite like watching your fuel gauge tick down and not knowing where to find a gas station. GasBuddy (iOS/Android: free) has your back through providing you with the geographical proximity of nearby stations and showing those with the cheapest prices.
PlugShare (iOS/Android: free) provides a similar service to those with electric vehicles.
If running out of gas proves stressful, then searching for accommodations of a more (ahem) personal nature is even more so. Fortunately, Flush (iOS/Android: free) will help you find a nearby toilet in a jiffy.
Apps for Staying
If you have planned well, you likely will not need to use your phone to find a place to stay for the evening. Still, even the best-laid itineraries can go awry. HotelTonight (iOS/Android: free) provides you with last-minute hotel deals in minutes.
Similarly, Hipcamp (iOS/Android: free) does the same thing with glamping spots, RV hookups, cottages, and raw land where you can pitch your tent.
The Dyrt Camping App
Looking for public camping sites? The Dyrt Camping App (iOS/Android: free) has you covered.
Apps for Entertainment
Hoopla and OverDrive
Most everyone has a playlist of their favorite road-ready music, and plenty of road-trippers know about the joy of the audiobooks available on Audible. But if you want an e-book novel or audiobook for free, check out Hoopla (iOS/Android: free) and OverDrive (iOS/Android), both of which allow you to borrow titles from your local library.
For completely free audiobooks, LibriVox (iOS/Android: free) offers public-domain works read by volunteers. Understand, though, that some of the narration quality can be a little spotty.
If you want history more than fiction, HearHere (iOS: free to $74.99) is a subscription-based service that provides you with audio snippets synchronized with your route. Wondering about that mountain in the distance or who might have lived in that ghost town? HearHere may very well tell you.
Night drives through the plains or barren desert will become very special if you have Star Walk (iOS/Android: free to $9.99) installed. Synchronized with your GPS coordinates, the app helps you pick out constellations and ongoing stellar events.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, XCOM 2 Collection, and Invisible Inc.
If you do not have a Nintendo Switch or one of those fancy handheld gaming computers, you can still enjoy a video game or two on your mobile device. Save (or overthrow!) the galaxy in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (iOS/Android: $9.99), free the earth from occupying aliens with the XCOM 2 Collection (iOS/Android: $24.99), or act out your own Ocean’s 11-style heist with Invisible, Inc. (iOS: $6.99).
Apps for Children
Speaking of games, Toca Nature (iOS/Android: $3.99) is an edutainment offering for kids that draws inspiration from the Pokémon Snap franchise. Capture images of cute animals as you explore and manipulate their environment.
1 Second Everyday
Children inevitably complain, and during the hassle of a road trip, it is easy to forget all of the fun you and they had. Set them to work with 1 Second Everyday (iOS/Android: free to $49.99), an app that (appropriately enough) captures a single second of video daily and stitches them together into a movie.
A seeming cousin to the old Reading Rainbow show, Skybrary (iOS/Android: free to $39.99) features kid-friendly books narrated by none other than LeVar Burton and a cast of additional voice actors.
Finally, Sprayscape (Android: free) lets your kiddos create wild photo compositions by scrambling your phone camera’s gyro and panorama features. Perfect for snap-happy passengers!
Which App Will You Use?
While no app list can account for every eventuality, this guide should set you up for success no matter how far the road may take you.