With the following free apps you can make the most difficult road trip seem easy, eliminating the need for tons of trip preplanning. While we are partial to our Android smart phones, many of these apps are available for Apple products as well. For those with Android phones or tablets, simply go to the Play Store that comes pre-installed on your android device and search for the app name to install it. All of our recommended apps are FREE, just the way we like it.
No U.S. Roadtrip app list would be complete without including Google Maps. It’s simply the superior map app. In case you’ve been living under a rock, this app can display street/satellite/elevation views and can give turn by turn navigation directions. It even allows you to select your method of transportation, such as via public transportation, vehicle, bicycle or walking. If you are traveling in busier areas, you’ll appreciate the live traffic updates. It has saved us lots of time getting to our destinations via its intelligent rerouting capability. Make your life easier and get our recommended car mount for your phone when using navigation.
BONUS TIP: Android Users: As of November 2015 Google introduced an offline feature. It allows you to download offline maps before heading into an area where you may or may not have a connection. Type the area (destination, city, neighborhood) you want to download in the search bar, once it loads swipe up from the bottom of the screen to get more information and press download. Move the box over the area you would like to save and select download again.
For iOS users the procedure is similar to the above. Put ‘ok maps‘ in the map search box. This will then prompt Google Maps to ask if you want to ‘Download this area?” You can then zoom in or out until you have the area you’d like to have available offline and it will download that map area to your phone. You can do this multiple times and save multiple locations. This is great for those with limited data plans and who would prefer to download their maps while over Wi-fi prior to leaving for the day. We also use this feature when we’re traveling internationally and don’t anticipate having our data plan working. You won’t be able to get turn by turn navigation without the data, but you will be able to see your current GPS location on the map, and we find it to be adequate for getting around.
Read Cruising Along Route 66, the iconic All-American Road Trip
Voyager: Route Planner
This is a relatively new app for us. It eliminates the one weakness of Google Maps on mobile. Voyager has you input a starting point and an ending point, plus as many different points of interest in between as you want. After you’re done loading your points of interest, it will optimize the route from start to finish through all of your points of interest and display them on a map and as a list with written directions. Once you’ve arrived at a point on your optimized list, you can simply select the next point and open it with Google Maps which will automatically load and give you directions to that point from your current location. It makes road trips with multiple stops much easier to navigate without the need to think about where you’re going next and having to load each point individually every time. If you have lots of stops planned, the optimization feature saves both time and money.
This is another GPS Navigation app, but is more social in nature. Waze was acquired by Google and much of the information provided by Waze is used in Google Maps. We prefer the way Google Maps presents map data, however Waze has a few additional features that may make it your most used navigation app.
Waze users, often referred to as Wazers, are given a menu of options to share with other Wazers such as when they hit a traffic jam, if there is an object in the road, or if there is an abandoned vehicle on the side of the road. They’re also given an option to make other Wazers aware of speed traps and can report the location of police in the area. Waze even notifies you of traffic cameras along your route. As if that wasn’t enough, Waze allows you to input multiple destinations and gives the estimated time of arrival for each simultaneously.
I did say it was a social app, right? Wazers can add their friends to their Waze network and are then able to see each other on a map and can message each other and coordinate to meet somewhere in the middle. It’s a very advanced app, but it could use some of the polish that makes Google Maps more appealing. Because Waze has so much more going on, it also uses more data than Google Maps when navigating. Keep this in mind when considering which GPS app is best for you.
BONUS TIP: Since we have an unlimited data plan, on longer trips we’ll have Google Maps running in the foreground, and Waze running in the background. We then set Waze up to only give non-directional audible alerts. This makes Waze announce things as we approach them such as objects in the road or cops up ahead, while getting our map and directional information from the Google Maps app.
USA Rest Stop Locator
Just as its name implies, the USA Rest Stop Locator app will show you the location of every rest stop in the U.S. and informs you of what kinds of services are available. You can view them on a map, or tell the app what state and interstate you’re driving on and it will list them all by exit number. It’s definitely a handy app if you want to have an answer when your passengers ask how much longer they have to hold it.
We use GasBuddy religiously. It is an app that has a large community of people who are interested in saving on gas. GasBuddy gives points to its members for loading current fuel prices into its app. These points can be redeemed for tickets to a weekly drawing for a $100 gas gift card. We’re not really interested in the points, but in saving money on fuel.
The app can list all of the gas stations near you by order of distance or price. It can also put all fuel prices on a map overlay so you can see where the cheapest gas may be along your route. On longer road trips, it is also helpful in identifying which states have the cheapest fuel. If you are a frequent road tripper, have a long commute to work, or buy large amounts of fuel at a time (RVs, moving trucks) then this app can really save you money.
Our vehicles are older and having AAA gives us peace of mind as well as discounts on entry fees and hotel rooms. If you travel quite a bit, AAA’s discounts will easily recoup the cost of their annual fee (use our refer-a-friend link to save $20). The AAA app provides discounts by location, their own maps, and an easy way to book hotels. Their app also allows you to request roadside assistance with the touch of your screen, your phone giving them your GPS location automatically. The app also tries to provide you with the location of the cheapest gas in the area, but we feel it pales in comparison to GasBuddy.
TV Food Maps
Have you ever watched food porn such as Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, No Reservations or perhaps Man vs Food? We have and we keep saying how great it would be to eat at them all. Well thanks to this app, accomplishing that will be much easier. TV Food Maps allows you to enter a road trip, search by location, or simply search near your current location and will list all the places that have been featured on one of those programs. It will put them on a map, tell you which program it was featured on, when it was featured, and includes links to menus as well as business hours. If you’re in a new area and want to go somewhere quirky with good food, this app can help.
This is another Google app that runs in the background on your phone. When you enter an area, Field Trip will provide a card that pops up with details about the location. In addition to displaying historical facts, it will also point out the best places to eat and drink and guide you to the latest stores and products. In larger cities this app can be a bit overwhelming, but in most locations the knowledge it will impart on you will be welcomed.
Similar to Field Trip, Foursquare will automatically provide notifications about where to eat, drink and visit in any city. It’s useful, and can even provide recommendations on what to order at specific restaurants. The comments section will also usually provide the wifi password for each establishment, which is handy if you need internet in a pinch and don’t want to bother the wait staff.
If you like taking short side trips to see odd things (the world’s largest rocking chair comes to mind), then the Roadtrippers app is just for you. In addition to roadside attractions, it shows everything you choose to have it filter, from accommodations to restaurants. It’s a great app to reference when you’re looking to get out of the car and stretch your legs, but are not quite sure where to stop.
Road trip is synonymous with music, and Pandora has been successful at pumping out good tunes for years. We like that Pandora is still free, although the ads are becoming more intrusive and the cost of choosing to use one of your limited skips is having to listen to more ads before playing the next song. Obviously you can pay and have the ads removed, but why do that when there are other options? We’ve mainly kept this one on the list for people with Apple products.
Google Play Music
This is currently the best option for free music. Not only can you upload 50,000 of your own songs and stream them or download them to each of your devices for free, but you can also put in the name of a favorite song or album and it will play similar music, just like Pandora. Unlike Pandora, Google Play Music usually just has a single, short ad in the beginning, and then you are provided with unlimited skips after that with very few (if any) commercials. We’ve never gotten a second commercial unless we switched to a different station, getting just an initial commercial again.
This app gives you access to the music you already own, and access to millions of other songs with unlimited skips and does this almost commercial free. Pair Google Play Music up with the Bluetooth FM Transmitter on our recommendations page and you’re going to love your next road trip.
Do you have any free apps that you recommend for road trips? We’re always looking for new or improved apps!
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