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The Best Tools for Planning a Road Trip

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Paper maps are classic, but with these apps, you can plan your best road trip yet. 

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Paper maps are classic, but with these apps, you can plan your best road trip yet. 

This arsenal of apps takes the work out of planning, allowing you to fully enjoy the freedom of the open road.

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Remember when planning a road trip meant busting out your best paper maps and highlighting various routes with multicolored pens? Today, road trips still bring out the old-school adventurer in all of us, but planning them has certainly become more streamlined. Thanks to these travel apps, there are more ways than ever to maximize planning for your next long drive.

Let’s begin with the free Google Maps app. For all intents and purposes, it’s the most multifunctional road trip app available. Most know that it provides directions and estimates traffic, but you can also use it to find nearby restaurants, grocery stores, pharmacies, ATMs, and even the cheapest gas station. Once you enter a general term in the search bar, the app lets you filter by category. If you’re looking for a place to eat, for example, you can narrow your search using a variety of options, including cozy restaurants, group-friendly dining, new restaurants, and cheap eats. And when you search for nearby gas stations, the app will tell you how much gas costs at each place, allowing you to select the cheapest fuel.

Google Maps gives you so much more than directions.
But while Google Maps is incredibly convenient, it doesn’t do everything. Add these fun, functional, and free online tools to your collection for your best road trip yet.

For planning ahead

Roadtrippers

If you prefer to simply see where the road takes you, Roadtrippers is probably not for you. The website and app asks you to enter your destinations on a map, and then it calculates the best route—and shows you everything you can see and do along the way, including parks, restaurants, and hotels. Essentially, it does all of the planning for you—making it a perfect option for those who need a plan but hate doing the legwork. iTunes | Google Play

For dealing with the unpredictable

Waze

This is the traffic app to beat all traffic apps. While other route-planning apps like Apple Maps and Google Maps can tell you when traffic is about to get bad, the community-sourced Waze provides more information. Users give and receive real-time updates on accidents, speed limits, hidden police cars, road conditions, and more. The app also provides a variety of navigation routes, which can be especially handy when you need to take back roads to avoid a brutal traffic jam. iTunes | Google Play

The Future of the Great American Road Trip Is Electric

HotelTonight

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If, after a long day of driving, you suddenly hit a (figurative) wall and need to stop and rest, this is the service for you. HotelTonight specializes in same-day booking at quality hotels. You can reserve rooms in advance, but because hotel prices often drop as it gets closer to your stay, you’ll likely end up saving money when you book last minute. And if you use the app instead of the website, you’ll save even more with exclusive mobile deals. iTunes | Google Play

SitorSquat

If you’ve ever taken a long road trip, you know that finding a clean bathroom can be a herculean task. This app makes it a little easier. Funded by Charmin (the toilet paper brand), SitorSquat gives you a list of nearby public toilets based on your GPS location and rates them by cleanliness (a green toilet icon means it’s clean; red means it’s less than). The app also includes information about cost (if any), whether there are baby-changing tables, and handicap accessibility. There are currently more than 100,000 bathrooms throughout the United States in the app’s database, as well as a growing number of toilets outside the country. iTunes | Google Play

The Outbound app allows road trippers to find outdoor activities along their route.

For endless entertainment

The Outbound

Being cooped up in a car for hours on end can often be the worst part of a road trip. One solution? Consult this GPS-based, crowd-sourced app, which gives local recommendations for nearby outdoorsy activities. The app will point you to national parks, good hiking trails, secret swimming holes, and more—and the user reviews are fact checked by The Outbound Collective staff, so you can trust the advice (which is especially important if you’re hiking in an area you don’t know well). iTunes | Google Play

DayPass

Similar to Outbound, DayPass helps you find activities when you absolutely cannot be in the car for any longer. However, it’s not exactly a hiking app—instead, DayPass focuses on pools, beach clubs, gyms, and spas at hotels and resorts around the world. Just type in the destination (or let the app pull up a current location based on your GPS), and you can see all of the hotels and gyms that offer day passes to their facilities. Some properties don’t allow booking through the app, so you may have to call instead. iTunes | Google Play

Psych! Outwit Your Friends

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Can you even call a road trip a road trip if you don’t spend hours playing pointless games? From the creators of Ellen Degeneres’s popular Heads Up!, this game app tests your ability to pick real answers to trivia questions—and avoid the fake answers made up by the other players. There are four styles of play—the word game “Word Up!” the classic trivia game “Is That a Fact?,” the truth-telling game “And the Truth Comes Out,” and the movie trivia game “Movie Bluff!”

Much like Cards Against Humanity, part of the fun is trying to guess who wrote which answer based on everyone’s sense of humor. There’s even an option to “play with Ellen,” which means an Ellen bot will also contribute hilarious answers. The game requires some screen time, so it’s not driver friendly—but if you read the questions and answers out loud, whoever is behind the wheel can certainly join in on the laughs. (And it’s another reason to regularly rotate drivers, too.) iTunes | Google Play

The Essential Songs Every Road Trip Playlist Needs

Magic Hour

One perk of a road trip is that you can pull over somewhere beautiful for Magic Hour—also referred to as Golden Hour—the term professional photographers use to describe the hour after sunrise or before sunset when the light is at its prettiest. This app lets you know exactly when Magic Hour begins and ends each day based on your location, helping you time your stop right. If you pay $0.99, you can add locations, allowing you to plan for future Magic Hours, too. (Magic Hour is only available for Apple Devices, but Google Play offers similar apps for Android users.) iTunes 

For preserving the memories

SoundHound

There so many ways to find and stream new music, but turning on the radio during a road trip adds an element of fun. Not only is it nostalgic, but listening to what the local DJ has to say and play also helps you get a feel for the local culture. When you hear a song you like but don’t know, open up SoundHound, hit the orange circle, and the app will tell you its name. Bonus: The app keeps a dated history of the tunes you identify. If you have Spotify or Apple Music, you can even sync your accounts with SoundHound, and all of your discoveries will automatically show up in a playlist called “SoundHound.” By the end of the trip, you’ll have a curated playlist of your song discoveries that you can play long after you’ve returned home. iTunes | Google Play

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