By Melissa Hart on October 13, 2021 in Travel
Spontaneous stops and side trips make road-tripping memorable and fun, but a little planning before your adventure ensures you’re also ready for the unexpected. Fortunately, your smartphone can assist you with both preparation and up-to-the-minute discoveries. Low-cost and free travel-related apps provide information on everything from where to find the closest bathroom to where to pull over and hike to the top of a mountain overlooking the ocean.
First, check out “5 Must-Have Car Apps” for our car-related app recommendations. In this article, we go the extra mile and describe our favorites specific to road trips. Remember to always bring a phone charger; many of these hard-working apps eat up a smartphone’s battery quickly!
Plan Your Trip
These apps can help you prepare for your adventure.
PackPoint (iOS/Android, $2.99)
If packing for a trip makes you queasy, this packing-list app is for you. It asks you to type in your length of travel and your destination, as well as specific activities you’ve planned for your time away. It gives you a weather forecast, then produces a detailed packing list for your trip, suggesting items such as a laptop, charger, VPN key fob, non-cotton clothing, earplugs, and your house key. Plus, it generates a new packing list for each new location and activity plan.
Tripit (iOS/Android, free)
If you need to share a travel itinerary with friends and family, you’ll appreciate this app. It stores your trip details and allows you to share them on social media and with other app users. Forward your confirmation emails for transportation, hotel, shopping, and dining, and the app keeps track of your entire adventure.
Roadtrippers (iOS/Android, free)
This app provides you with information on millions of the coolest, most unusual attractions along your route so you can avoid overcrowded landmarks and touristy areas. Just type in your destination, and the app generates crowd-sourced descriptions of wacky museums, mid-city waterfalls, and fascinating architecture around the world. You’ll receive estimates on the cost of gas and how long your trip will take. The app allows you to share your itinerary with friends as well, so they can also suggest little-known places to visit. Top of Form
Roadside America (iOS, $1.99 per region)
If you enjoy bizarre statues, wacky museums, and weird amusement parks, this app has you covered. It’s all about kitsch. Log in to find hundreds of field reports organized by category and location, as well as traveler tips compiled over 25 years. A state- and city-mapping feature allows you to see the unusual stops along your route at a glance. Select and save spots, plot and print your route, or export the point of interest (POI) data for your GPS device.
The Outbound (iOS/Android, free)
Pursuing outdoor adventure travel? Access information from more than 15 million users for advice and stories worldwide, plus photos and reviews. Get detailed accounts of trips and tours complete with skill level, recommended gear, and packing lists crafted by locals. Add your own experiences to the app, and join the company’s mission to create a more inclusive and empowered community outdoors.
The Dyrt (iOS/Android, free and Dyrt Pro for $29.99/year)
This app allows you to access more than a million reviews of campgrounds around the world and search for them without cell service. Customize your search, bookmark your favorite sites, and share them with friends. The Pro upgrade provides information on free dispersed camping sites, plus discounts on campground fees and gear. A trip-planning feature enables you to map out camping road trips.
Use These Apps Once You’re On the Road
These apps can help you enjoy your long car trip a little more.
MoreCast (iOS/Android, free)
Download this app for up-to-the-hour weather information along your road-trip route, and get weather predictions up to two weeks in advance. The app provides low and high temperatures, daily duration of sunshine, and reports on precipitation, wind speed, humidity, pressure, and UV index. It allows you to plan your travel route with weather information along the way no matter when or where you choose to start your trip, and you can also select a route that avoids highways, ferries, and tolls.
iExit (iOS/Android, free)
If you’re driving on or near the interstate, this app will show you the businesses to expect along the next 100 exits. Each stop offers gas stations — including gas prices — restaurants, grocery stores, minimarts, hotels, hospitals, and rest areas. The app provides you with directions to each location. It also lists maps and interstate exits with distances between major cities and towns so you can plan spots to pull over for fuel and food.
Flush Toilet Finder (iOS/Android, free)
Open this app to find the nearest bathroom — no internet connection needed. It provides data on 100,000-plus public restrooms around the world. Look for details including directions, disability access, information on whether restrooms rely on a key or keypad, and whether they require payment or in-store purchase.
ParkMe (iOS/Android, free)
Get real-time updates on available parking spots in cities around the world. Discover lots, street sites, and meter rates. Identify the least expensive parking spots closest to a destination and pay daily or monthly fees in advance using a credit card. Get a map from your parking space to your destination, along with mileage information. As a bonus, a parking timer reminds you to move your vehicle to avoid tickets.
WiFiMap (iOS/Android, free. Pro plan, $19.99 annually)
No cell service? Need connection in a hurry? This app connects you to more than 100 million WiFi hotspots in 200-plus countries. Pay for the Pro plan and enjoy peace of mind with iOS safety and privacy on public networks. The Pro version also allows you to download offline maps.
Take a Break to Eat and Play
Hungry or stir crazy on the road? Open one of these apps to help you navigate to a place to take a breather and stretch your legs.
Open Table (iOS/Android, free)
Find the perfect restaurant to get a bite to eat. Search the app to learn more about the menu and user reviews, plus check for reservations, indoor and outdoor seating, and whether you can request delivery or takeout. Best of all, you can check to see if there’s a table available, then use the app to make a reservation.
HappyCow (iOS/Android, $3.99)
If you’re vegetarian or vegan, use this app to find restaurants and grocery stores that cater to a plant-based diet in more than 180 countries. The app allows you to study menus and food photos and read reviews posted by other users. Maps include locations for food trucks, farmer’s markets, spas, juice bars, and bed and breakfasts. Find out if restaurants also cook meat, offer free WiFi, and have indoor, outdoor, and accessible seating.
All Trails (iOS/Android, free; Pro version $29.99)
Outdoor enthusiasts can access more than 200,000 trail maps, crowdsourced reviews, and photos from around the world. The app provides routes for hiking, cycling, snow sports, and mountain biking. Plus, you can search for wheelchair-accessible and dog-friendly adventures. The Pro version offers off-route notifications and downloadable offline maps.
Culture Trip (iOS/Android, free)
Reserve unique lodgings and adventures on the spot. Locate guided hiking and cycling experiences, wine tastings, horseback riding excursions, driving tours — and even archery and paintball games. A “use near me” feature gives you the ability to search for activities in the moment wherever you are, and a “virtual experiences” feature offers activities such as online cooking classes.
Playground Buddy (iOS/Android, free)
Find a playground for young travelers no matter where you are in the world. Search a database of more than 200,000 playgrounds in 170 countries, and view information on the playground equipment each location has to offer. Look at photos of the playground, as well as street views, and share locations and details with families who want to meet for a playdate.
BarkHappy (iOS/Android, free)
Find your furry friend a fenced dog park, canine-friendly eatery, or store complete with treats and water bowls for thirsty pups. Users can post a profile of themselves along with their dogs’ personality traits, and discover similar dogs nearby, schedule a playdate, and find dog-friendly events. The app also allows users to post lost-and-found alerts with photos.
Hotel Tonight (iOS/Android, free)
Discover last-minute discounted rates on lodging in more than 17,000 cities. The 50,000 properties include everything from budget hotels and five-star resorts to bed and breakfasts. Users can also reserve rooms in advance, book getaways for a long weekend, and take advantage of a geo-rate feature that offers additional discounts for hotels reserved when you’re in a specific location.
Your gateway to adventure fits in the palm of your hand. Thanks to your smartphone and these 18 travel apps, you can plan a road trip that allows for plenty of spontaneity.