The weather’s getting warmer, you’ve stocked up on PTO, and your playlist of summer songs is about at capacity which means one thing: It’s road trip season. In other words, it’s time to load up the car, grab your friends, and hit the open road.
Whether you’re planning to camp in the woods or stay in swanky hotels, there are unique aspects to road tripping that require special planning. Unlike vacations, where you’re flying to a single destination, road trips involve preparation such as determining the best route, mapping out your stopover points, finding nearby attractions, and ensuring you’re close enough to gas and roadside services.
Roadtrippers is perhaps the best all-around road trip app, working as a comprehensive planning assistant that offers everything from creating your route to selecting activities and finding lodging. You can book accommodations instantly via the app, which looks similar to a more full0-featured version of Google Maps. Better yet, it’s completely free for anyone to make use of.
To plan a trip, simply enter your final destination and then click on nearby cities and destinations. From here, the app lets you play around with different routes and activity options until you find your favorite. We recommend using the desktop version for the planning portion, as it’s easier to zoom in and out on a bigger map.
Once the route is locked in, you can then search for various types of accommodations including hotels, campsites, vacation rentals, RV spots, and other places to sleep for the night. Additionally, you can scroll for activities to do including Attractions and Culture, Points of Interest, Entertainment and Nightlife, Scenic Drives, and dozens of other sub-categories. Once you’re on the road, switch to the mobile version to search for food, find nearby gas, locate rest areas, find auto shops, or track down other amenities.
GasBuddy is by far the easiest and most straightforward gas-finding app available. By simply entering your current location, the app shows you up-to-date gas prices within a pre-set local radius. You can sort the resulting stations by price, distance, or price and distance together. There’s also an option to filter stations by whether or not they have certain amenities such as car washes, air pumps, propane fills, restrooms, pay-at-pump features, and 24/7 service hours.
Whether you plan to fill up with regular, mid-grade, premium, diesel, or even ethanol/E85 fuels, GasBuddy clearly lays out which station offers what grade of fuel and at what price. There’s even a map view you can use to zoom out and jump around, viewing gas stations in various parts of the state or country.
Serious savers can join GasBuddy as a member by simply linking their checking account. Once linked, the company then sends a card in the mail which can be used to receive 10 cents off per gallon for the first fill and five cents off per gallon at all future stops. If you’re going to be giving your odometer a workout this summer, GasBuddy is an excellent way to cut down on fuel costs.
Google Trips is a general vacation planner app, however, if you’re going to be hopping from one town to the next, it has plenty of useful features to make the most of each destination.
For instance, searching in the mobile-only app for “things to do” populates a list broken down into tabs such as live music, art galleries, outdoor pursuits, kids activities, and many more. The categories are all location-specific so if you’re in Portland, Oregon, for example, you’ll see options like vintage shopping, indie movies, or made in Portland, whereas if you’re in New York you’ll see tabs like Brooklyn standouts, literary NYC, or Madison Avenue chic.
The app has a similar feature for food and drink choices as well, which includes a summary of what genres of food the city or town is known for and where you can find each type of cuisine. You can save attractions you want to visit in the handy Saved Places tab and there’s a feature called Day Plans that offers suggested itineraries in one, two, and three-day formats.
If you have any reservations, you can forward the emails to your Gmail account and the app automatically syncs them into a reservations tab which allows easy access to confirmation numbers and other info. There’s also a comprehensive Getting Around section that explains what types of public transportation and ride-shares are available, should you choose to park the car for the day, as well as walking and biking paths.
When you get tired of looping through the same playlists on Spotify or Pandora, iHeartRadio offers an awesome way to integrate musical playlists with podcasts, news, and local radio stations. The app is connected to over 1,000 different stations throughout the United States which you can live stream anywhere. If you want to search by region, just enter a zip code otherwise you can surf by genre, selecting from music stations (pop, hip-hop, country, jazz, etc), comedy shows, sports stations, political talk radio, and others.
Under the podcasts tab, you can browse for new shows or save a list of your favorites. There’s an extensive selection of choices including popular series like This American Life, Fresh Air, Serial, Pod Save America, Radiolab, and others. The Playlists tab allows you to create your own playlists or surf for music based on mood, activity, decade, genre, and other categories similar to Spotify. You can also save songs and follow artists in your Library.
The basic app is free but in order to use all its features, you must choose a subscription of either $5 for iHeartRadio Plus or $10 for iHeartRadio All Access.
Blink is a wonderfully convenient app that allows you to access immediate roadside service without requiring a membership. If you run into car troubles, simply enter your location like you would with something like Uber or Lyft, and the app immediately sends someone to help you.
The tabs are broken down into Battery, Flat Tire, Tow, Lockout, and Other, where you can ask for things like fuel delivery if you run out of gas. It’s a 24/7 service with nationwide coverage offered in 99.4 percent of all US zip codes. That means you’re covered just about anywhere you go, at any time, be it day or night.
When you first request service, it doesn’t completely commit you to have to receive what you ordered. The app first shows you your options with a price quoted along with an estimated wait time. From there, you can decide if you want to proceed. If you prefer to talk to a human, there’s a telephone icon in the upper righthand corner of the app that connects you to a representative who can answer questions and book services.