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Are you planning a road trip soon and want some apps to help you on your way? Here are a few I’ve found particularly useful on our travels, and you likely will, too. (Disclaimer: It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: Interactive features of any apps should be used while parked or by a passenger in the vehicle. Don’t app and drive!) I use all of these apps on an iPhone, but many are available for other platforms, too.
This is a paid app, but worth every penny for long road trips on interstates. It gives you a list of amenities available at each exit on every interstate in the country. Need biofuel or diesel? You can set it to pull up just stations that offer those. Sick of fast food and want a sit-down restaurant? You can see that, too. Need somewhere to stay? This will tell you which hotels are at which exits. You can even filter by specific businesses. Kids feeling restless and need a McDonald’s with a playplace? You can set it to show those. Are YOU feeling restless and need a Frappuccino? You can set it to show Starbucks. You can view results on a map or as a list.
(Note: searching by typing in a city hasn’t been working for me lately, and I’m not sure if it’s me or the app. I worked around this by looking up the particular interstate and scrolling, which isn’t quite as convenient, but served the purpose just fine.)
On major trips, we use iExit all the time to figure out where our next stop should be. They must do a good job maintaining the database, because we’ve used it for a couple years and have always found things to be exactly where the app said they’d be.
Find the price of gas near you or wherever you’re going. Great for finding the cheapest fuel. People using gas buddy can input prices, and the app lets you know when individual stations were last updated, so you have a good idea how current the info is.
There are lots of review sites/apps out there, but for hotels especially, I really like Trip Advisor (the app also reviews restaurants and attractions, I just haven’t used it for that much). The reviews tend to be thorough and more intelligent than what you’ll find in some other places, IMO. The app came in especially handy on our recent cross-county trip in which we had no idea where we’d wind up each night. That meant not a lot of advance planning, and meant last-minute research while sitting in gas station parking lots at 7:00 at night.
Thanks in part to Trip Advisor, all of our stays were pleasant. Thanks entirely to Trip Advisor, we found what turned out to be our favorite place of the trip: A renovated Route 66 motel dating back to 1964. When I saw that the cost per night ($44 per room!) was less than half of what the major chains charged, I thought for sure it would be a flea-bag place and almost dismissed it completely. But the Trip Advisor contributors gave it rave reviews, so we gave it a try. It wound up being a great motel, and a nice change from the chains we stayed in the other nights.
Road Trip Weather
Enter your starting point, your ending point, and a stop along the way if you wish. Then choose what time you want to leave. This app will show you the expected weather along your route at the time you’ll be driving through. The route is color-coded to show potential weather hazards along your way. You can also click on individual cities to get more detailed weather info.
Looking for something educational to do at your destination or along your way? Find historical points of interest at History Here. Some locales seem better covered than others, but for a free app, it’s not bad.
Not sure about the maximum speed limit in the state you’re about to enter? Is it Sunday and you want to buy a bottle of wine, but you’re not sure about liquor laws? Need to know if there are statewide leash laws? Find about about basic driving regulations, seatbelt rules, sales tax, and lots of other info with this app.
State Lines is a database compiled by full-time RVers, but it’s great for anyone who travels to new states. (It does have specific information on towing, overnight parking, and other things that might be useful to RVers.)
Update: The developers just released another update that includes even more categories, including child passenger restraint laws! Unfortunately, I noticed that the information they have for California is more than a year outdated. (I haven’t checked other states yet.) I did email them about it, and they responded right away. They made the correction immediately, and have submitted the app for approval. I love responsive app developers!
Food Network On the Road
Do you ever watch shows on Food Network and make mental notes of places you want to try if you ever get to Baton Rouge or St. Paul, then promptly forget? Not to fret: You can look up restaurants featured on Food Network shows geographically on this app! I just recently downloaded this one, so we haven’t actually eaten at any of the places we’ve found, but there are a lot we want to try. Downside: The app’s intro is animated and graphics-intensive, and I’ve found that it sometimes takes a while to load or freezes entirely.
This isn’t necessarily the most useful road trip app, but it’s by far my favorite. (I’ve never claimed to be normal, though.) Everyone knows about Mt. Rushmore and the Lincoln Memorial, but what about Al Capone’s silo hideout, houses shaped like UFOs, or a gas station that now marks the birthplace of Rutherford B. Hayes?
This app lists strange, quirky roadside attractions that you won’t find in every guidebook. Sure, a 45-foot tall cactus sign in Massachusetts might not be quite as awe-inspiring as the Grand Canyon, but, hey, it’s a 45-foot cactus sign in Massachusetts.
Yeah, it’s a little strange, but very fun. If you need a break anyway, why not take it at the World’s Largest Ball of Barbed Wire?
I fully anticipate that people will stop being friends with me now. That’s ok. I’ll go find new friends at the strawberry-shaped water tower in Poteet, Texas.
Funny Road Trip
This is a fun road trip game everyone in the car can play. Just plug your phone into the AUX jack and follow the directions.
I actually have a like-hate relationship with this app. On the positive side, it’s really amusing. Each instruction is a question or activity for you to do, like “Count all the buttons in the car,” or, “If you could travel to a really dangerous place knowing that nothing would happen to you, where would you go?” (My 3-year-old answered “jail.”) At one point my imitation of an angry goat almost sent my husband driving off the road.
On the downside, the app features different characters who “host” the game. The free version (and the first level of the paid version–as far as I’ve gotten so far) features “Señor Tortilla,” a sombrero-wearing man with a Mexican accent. He’s a nice guy who doesn’t convey any blatantly negative traits…just stereotypical ones. It’s very “Taco Bell Chihuahua/Speedy Gonzalez,” you know? I find it off-putting; others won’t. You’ll have to decide for yourself.
Another travel game, this one is totally non-offensive. An update to those old cardboard games with slidey red windows, Auto Bingo features modern photos of things you’re likely to encounter on a long trip. Play collectively on one device, or download the game onto additional devices to play against each other.
Waze is an interactive navigation app. The app detects your speed to let other users know when there might be traffic congestion. You can report crashes, road hazards, bad weather, and police presence to make other drivers aware. There’s a whole social aspect (that I’ve never used) where you can connect with friends and “chat” (hopefully not while driving) with other users.
Like any navigation system, it sometimes sends me on me bizarre routes to my destination, but it’s actually been pretty good, especially for a free app. My favorite part is that you can choose different icons for yourself based on your mood. Mine is permanently set at “sarcastic.” Because.
One thing that concerns me a lot about this app is that many of the features are NOT good to use while you’re driving (as in, using as the driver). You can report hazards, traffic, etc. by waving your hand over the app and speaking, but whether or not it actually works is hit-or-miss. It’s much easier to enter via the screen, which *I* do only when I’m the passenger, but I’m sure there are plenty of other people driving and tapping. Used responsibly, it’s a cool, useful app, though.