I’m a pretty spontaneous traveler. More often than not, I don’t even know where I’ll be sleeping at any given night until I’m actually reclined back in my car seat or plopped down in a hotel room. That usually works in most situations I find myself in, but for a road trip, it’s proven difficult to maintain that sense of spontaneity. Despite having your steering wheel and the world at your fingertips, it’s often not as easy as simply driving to your heart’s content. I’ve had to spend a bit more time planning on this trip, but thanks to these apps, it’s been a smooth and fantastic ride.
Use For: Saving Money on Gas
Gas is one of those expenses that you can’t really do anything about. I mean, you need gas on a road trip whether you like it or not. For those of us who have yet to go electric, the app GasBuddy is an absolute life-saver. Whenever I start running low on gas, I’ll hop on the app and find the cheapest gas station nearby. If you’re driving from one place to another, you can also input your route and the app will find the cheapest gas along the way. I can’t begin to count how much I’ve saved from using this app, especially traveling through tourist towns and national parks.
For example, when I visited Death Valley National Park, I was able to save $1.70 per gallon on gas by waiting until reaching Nevada to fill up on gas. In Lone Pine, California, gas was $3.79. In Pahrump, Nevada, it was $2.09. That alone saved me $25 on a full tank, which goes a long way when you’re traveling on a budget.
Use For: Finding Free and Paid Campgrounds
I have commitment issues. That goes for everything, but when I’m traveling, it becomes a big problem. I can’t even plan ahead a day or two without second-guessing if I’ll actually make it there or not. The app Campendium has been a lifesaver multiple times. Once the evening rolls around and the need for a place to sleep becomes immediate, I just pull up the app and search for public lands or free dispersed camping. Worst case scenario, the app will tell me where I can park for the night and sleep in my car.
Campendium isn’t just good for on the fly, either. It’s an excellent road trip planning app because one can research all the campsites in an area beforehand. Every pin on the map will tell you location, price, and even some reviews from fellow travelers about what the place is like.
Use For: Trip Planning and Travel Inspiration
Wanderlog is a new travel app that excels in helping you find inspiration for your road trips. While you may use other apps to help give you ideas for trips, Wanderlog is an actionable platform to give structure to your dream vacation. Think Pinterest, but the ideas actually stick with you after you save them. Use Wanderlog to discover things that you want to do, save the locations to Google Maps, and then actually do those things instead of just forgetting about them.
I love the structure that Wanderlog’s platform provides. While it’s great for all levels of planning, I like narrowing my trip down to a few destinations and then using Wanderlog to sculpt out a trip in each one of those destinations. I can craft an itinerary by adding the must-see attractions that I want to do, and then have a separate section for restaurants I want to try or hotels and hostels that I want to stay at. While other planning apps feel like you’re just daydreaming, Wanderlog provides an actually productive planning platform.
Oh, and you can collaborate with your friends. So if you’re planning a group trip, you all can add your ideas and bucket list destinations to the itinerary. Unlike Roadtrippers, you can add as many stops as you want to your itinerary for free. Oh yeah. Best of all, the app is completely free. Download the app, read through user itineraries, and pick and choose what you want to do. It’s a great planning app for personalizing and perfecting your holidays. Whether you’re on a road trip or a different type of adventure, Wanderlog is a great tool.
Use For: Finding Attractions and Activities on the Fly
Long drives can be mind-numbing. Finding mini-attractions along your route can be such a game changer in keeping you refreshed and awake during long drives. While Roadtrippers shows a number of different points of interest along the way, I typically only use it to find lesser-known attractions. I’ll usually find something that I’ve never heard of before. For example, the boring drive from Salt Lake City to Moab becomes a lot more interesting when you stop to see a ghost town, some dinosaur tracks, and a dinosaur museum along the way. You’ll be surprised at what you find along the way. Sometimes, the most unexpected detours turn out to be the best adventures.
Use For: Discovering Outdoor Activities, Reserving Campgrounds, and Obtaining Permits
One of the most useful apps that I’ve encountered is the official government Recreation app. It’s a go-to resource for pretty much everything related to national parks, national monuments, and other federally-managed destinations. From reserving campgrounds to national park slots, having this app is a must. It’s also a great way to discover points of interests along the way, especially for outdoors lovers like myself.
During the Coronavirus pandemic, reservations and permit systems have started being put into place to limit crowds. For entrance into more crowded national parks like Yosemite or Rocky Mountain, Recreation.Gov is the only way to reserve your entry. For other things, like Zion National Park’s shuttle system, Recreation is also where you’ll need to go. And even outside of pandemic times, Recreation is the only way to obtain permits for backcountry camping in national forests and national parks. Keep the app handy as a research and reservation tool.
Use For: Discovering the Best Hikes
Cost: Free for Basic, $29.99 a Year for Pro
If y’all don’t know me, then the one thing you need to know is that I feel most at home sipping a beer after a successful summit. Hiking and traveling to me go hand-in-hand. My road trip destinations mostly involve outdoors activities, especially hiking. This latest road trip was almost entirely spent in outdoorsy destinations, especially with the need to socially distance during the pandemic. AllTrails is a pretty mainstream app, but one that I still feel needs a shoutout. Another cool feature is upgrading to AllTrails Pro, which allows you to download offline maps. That way, you don’t lose the trail even when you lose signal.
I still prefer to go by local word-of-mouth when deciding what to do, but if that’s not an option, I’ll open up AllTrails and search hikes near me. I’ll filter the hikes by length and difficulty, depending on how I’m feeling and then browse through the reviews. I’d take the reviews with a grain of salt, though, as it feels like people on there tend to be a bit dramatic. In other words, “scrambling required” might simply mean the trail isn’t entirely paved. However, checking the reviews is good to know about any trail closures. It is in human nature to complain about parking, so naturally, the reviewers will typically tell you by when the parking lots fill up.
Use For: Finding Campsites, Parking Spots, Showers, Laundromats, and More
Looking for a no-frills app that simply gets the job done? iOverlander does what many of these other apps do without the need to sign up or browse through ads or whatever else apps need to do. It’s a map that shows you the usual, like campgrounds, hotels, hostels, gas stations, and grocery shops. But for those who are really roughing it on the road, it also shows you where you can shower, dump your trash, and more. Like the name suggests, it’s the perfect app for an overland trip. The app is volunteer-run, so it’s very contributor-heavy, which makes it much more authentic, honest, and real.
Use For: Finding Unique Accommodation
Okay, everyone’s heard of Airbnb. But I feel like not everyone takes full advantage of all the wonderful features that Airbnb has. When traveling on the fly, Airbnb is my absolute go-to for finding accommodation when I need an actual roof over my head.
Some of my most unexpectedly unforgettable travel experiences have been thanks to Airbnb. I’ll often scroll the map searching for a place to stay along my route. Oftentimes, I’ll find myself in a smaller town while looking for cheaper accommodation. An example would be Smoot, Wyoming, where I stayed at a cozy cabin on my way to Grand Teton National Park. I ended up extending my stay because of all my host’s local recommendations, most of which I would have never heard of otherwise.
That’s where Airbnb excels. Your vacation is a one-of-a-kind personalized experience, much more than if you were one of hundreds of guests staying at a hotel. If you haven’t used Airbnb yet, make sure to use my sign-up link to get $75 off of your first booking with Airbnb.
Use For: Low-Storage Offline Maps
Maps.Me is my go-to maps app when traveling internationally. Only recently did I realize just how useful it was for road tripping in the United States. Offline maps are absolutely essential when traveling. You never know when you’re going to lose signal. When road tripping through remote areas of the United States, one should just assume that they won’t have Internet access in case they get lost. That’s where Maps.Me comes in handy. You can download offline maps of the relevant regions that you’ll be traveling to. Best of all, it doesn’t take up a ton of storage space compared to other offline maps like Google Maps. It’s a no-frills maps app that gets the job done.