People who embarked on a road trip in the past brought with them a big fold-out map and little else, maybe a Michelin Guide for a directory of places to stay and eat. But thanks to smartphones, road trippers today have an infinite number of resources to help plan the perfect road trip (or at least provide some guidance for those who prefer not to plan ahead). Several apps are designed specifically to assist travelers who go by car—many of them free—so you can focus on enjoying the journey without getting bogged down by the details.
One of the most essential apps for any road trip, Roadtrippers is the ultimate travel planning resource for anyone embarking on a driving vacation. It's especially useful for travelers who have a clear starting point and ending point, but aren't quite sure what routes to take, what cities to stop in, and what to see along the way. You just punch in point A and point B, and Roadtrippers will give you all of the best options for getting from one to the other along with recommendations of hotels, restaurants, bars, and can't-miss points of interest. It's completely free to download and use, although a premium version is available with even more features.
Road trips mean you don't always know exactly where you'll be sleeping every night of the trip. You may have a general itinerary of where you're going and when, but spontaneous plans, last-minute changes, or car trouble can throw a wrench at that. When you suddenly need a place to crash, open up HotelTonight. This free app works best for same-day reservations by finding nearby deals for rooms that would otherwise be empty. The options range from luxury resorts to boutique bed and breakfasts, so after a long day behind the wheel, you can make a pitstop exactly where you want to.
If you want to score the best deals on your trip, Groupon is the place to see what's available at a discounted price. Groupon collects deals for all types of services and products that would be useful to road trippers, such as hotel rooms, car rentals, restaurants, excursions, oil changes, and much more. The app is totally free to use and you can organize your results based on category or the city you're traveling to. It's great not just for finding new activities you may not have known existed, but also for finding deals on something that was already a part of your plan.
Tripit is a free and easy-to-use travel planning and itinerary organizing app typically used more by frequent fliers. But road trippers can use the Tripit app or website to plan a trip complete with hotel, dining, and shopping stops. Whenever you book a hotel, dinner reservation, car rental, or some type of transit, just forward the confirmation email to Tripit and it will automatically be stored inside the app, so your entire itinerary is easily accessible in one location. Tripit even lets you share your travel agenda to social media or with other friends on Tripit. Plus, it's an easy way to go back later and remember all of the travel details of your trip.
A navigation app isn't a revolutionary idea for a road trip and there's a good chance you already have one downloaded on your phone. And even though Google Maps is the by far the most popular one, it's worth calling out as a necessity for your journey. You can filter directions by the fastest route, traffic conditions, avoiding tolls, or intermediary stops. You can also download entire areas to be used offline, which is essential for stretches of road that are outside of coverage zones. If you want to plan out when you'll stop for food, gas, coffee, or a supermarket, Google Maps will find places along the route, each one accompanied by all of the reviews of other Google users.
A road trip across the U.S. sometimes involves countless hours of driving at night in the middle of nowhere. Or, it could mean a camping trip under the stars. Either way, you're going to need to make a night-time pit stop, so why not use the break to take in those twinkling stars? The free Star Walk app is an easy-to-use astronomy program that lets you point your phone at the sky and discover which stars, planets, and constellations are above you. Which of those dots is actually the North Star? Can I see my birth sign constellation? Is that glowing red orb Mars? With Star Walk, all of these answers and more are at your fingertips.
What's a road trip without stops at the quirky attractions along the way? Roadside America enhances your road trip by mapping out all of the kitsch, bizarre, and one-of-a-kind points of interest along the route. The app costs $2.99 for a designated region of the U.S. or Canada and additional regions have to be purchased within the app, but it includes full field reports of hundreds of attractions organized by city, state, province, or category so you can actually learn about what you're seeing. Don't miss out on a weird museum, famous gravesite, Muffler Man, or another peculiarity that could be just a short detour away.
If you've ever been on a road trip, you already know the story: you've been driving for hours, you're in an unfamiliar area miles away from a big city, and you suddenly realize the gas indicator is dangerously close to "E." Do you veer off to the first rest stop you see? Or wait it out and hope for something less expensive a few miles ahead? Thanks to Gas Buddy, you can make a decision without any internal dilemma. This free app searches all nearby gas stations for the best prices, so you can easily choose and not risk paying more than necessary—or worse, running out of gas in the middle of nowhere.
Some of the best road trip memories likely involve turning the music up and rocking out to your favorite music with the open road in front of you. Rather than getting stuck with what's playing on the radio, download the Spotify app to find your favorite artists or music genre and create playlists with the tap of your finger. The app is free to download and use if you don't mind the occasional ad, but you can also upgrade to a premium version for uninterrupted tunes.