Mel blogs at brokeGIRLrich where she explores topics like how to not totally panic over adulthood, working in the arts and retirement strategies that don’t involve living in a cardboard box under an overpass. If you would like your personal finance story or article to be feature on Vosa let me know here.
I have spent a lot of time in my car. In 2008, I drove across the country twice (because I’d never seen the Pacific Ocean… and then I had, so it was time to head back).
Even though it wasn’t all that long ago, I had an actual TomTom that regularly malfunctioned (once it literally sent me off the road and into the middle of the desert in Nevada), a backup Mapquest print out and a real, physical atlas tucked into the pocket behind the driver’s seat.
I trusted the signs on the highway to let me know hotels and food were coming up. And gas stations. Which mostly worked out well, except for when, you know, it didn’t and I got to a gas station in Utah on fumes, a hope and a prayer. I was never to happy to see a glowing, green dinosaur.
But times have changed and my phone makes life a lot easier now. I spent all of 2013 on the road with a touring show and I mastered making the most of travel apps, so if you have a road trip coming up in your near future, here are some highly recommended apps to downloads for your iPhone.
The 7 Best Road Trip Apps:
1. Google Maps
Download it. Because the Apple Maps app doesn’t have a thing on it. Google Maps renders your TomTom obsolete and doesn’t require regularly plugging it into your computer and updating.
Best thing about it? The price. It’s free.
2. Mileage Log+ (formerly Trip Cubby)
Are you traveling for work? Mileage Log + tracks the mileage for you, making taxes or reimbursement a breeze. If you regularly make a certain trip, it’ll even save the info you’ve put in before. It even knows what the deduction rates are for different types of trips – charity, business and medical.
The only bad thing about it is it’s price $9.99. However, if you’re planning to deduct the mileage from your car on your taxes, it’ll be worth every penny.
3. iExit Lite
Remember how I mentioned my Utah gas near-disaster above? Well iExit stops that from happening. As you drive down the highway, have your roadtripping partner open the app and the nearest gas stations, restaurants and hotels will all pop up. Craving Arby’s? Just type it in and it’ll tell you if the nearest one is just two more exits away or five states over, so you’d better just get some Burger King at this exit.
There is a full iExit for $.99, but I’ve found the free Lite version to be completely sufficient.
4. Gas Buddy
Gas Buddy also saves you from gas near-disasters by finding the closest gas station to you; however, this one is a winner because it can also be used to find the cheapest. I don’t advocate driving miles out of your way for cheaper gas, but if you know the direction you’re heading in, it doesn’t hurt for your companion to look up what prices look like when the tanks half empty and what they’ll look like 60 miles from there – sometimes there’s a huge difference. You can also be entered in a raffle to win free gas by reporting gas prices when you stop.
This money saving app is also free.
Going on a long road trip and looking for places to spend the night? Not opposed to the great outdoors? Then download ReserveAmerica Camping to find campsites near you. Surprising places are actually campsites. I slept in a tiny campground right off the highway in Nebraska for $5 one night. You’ll need a little advance preparation, but if you’re a regularly roadtripper, the $75 investment in a tent, sleeping bag and lantern is totally worth it.
Another free app right here.
If camping isn’t for you, consistently the best last minute deals I could find were with the Priceline app. It wasn’t uncommon to find decent 2 star hotels for $40 a night outside of major cities (good luck with major cities, seriously, make a real plan for those).
This app is also free.
This is hands down my favorite app for finding stuff to do.
You enter in your starting and ending point and a radius you’re willing to deviate from the line (I usually put 10 miles) and then it gives you options to select from. Love baseball? It will pop up every baseball stadium within 10 miles of your route – major and minor league. Then you can check their website and see if there’s a game to catch that night. A $7 game and $2 soda and hot dog make an excellent way to end a long day of driving.
The reason this one has such a special spot in my dorky, roadside weirdness loving heart is that one of the options to select is Offbeat Attractions, which was how I found The World’s Slowest Rollercoast in Pennsylvania and other hidden gems.
The best thing about offbeat attractions and photo ops is that they’re often very inexpensive and even free! This app doesn’t stop with entertainment, it also has plenty of options for food and lodging as well – although it’s not the most budget conscious in those areas and I definitely recommend Priceline over this app for finding hotels. Roadtrippers does feature an offbeat lodgings option too that led me to the Wigwam Motel in San Bernardino, so it’s still worth a look!
Afterword From Brent
When you have spent as much time on the road as Mel has, you quickly learn which apps are the best road trip apps. Most of these are new to me but I’m extremely excited to try them out (especially #7) on an upcoming road trip.
My favorite app for roadtrips actually doesn’t have anything to do with navigation, gas stations or even food. It’s all about the in-car entertainment. So, as a bonus here is the 8th app for road trips:
If you haven’t heard of Audible, it is an amazing website where you can download audiobooks. Then those audio books can be delivered to your smartphone, tablet, computer, kindle, etc. so you can listen to them from anywhere. I have been an Audible Gold member since 2007 and absolutely love listening to audio books during road trips (plus when I’m working out, walking, doing chores around the house and even when I’m just relaxing).
One of my favorite features about Audible is that it makes power reading a breeze.
If you are using any of these apps on your phone for navigation, you must know ahead of time that they will drain your battery rather quickly and having a dead battery on a road trip can be a safety concern.
A simple car charger can avoid a dead battery while allowing you to use these apps to your hearts content.
If you are traveling abroad, make sure you check with your cell phone carrier what the roaming costs are so you don’t get hit with massive roaming bill when you get home.
What about you? What do you think are the best road trip apps? Please leave your suggestions in the comments below. Thanks!