Summer in America means cookouts, beaches, fireworks, vacation time … and road trips. Millions of road warriors hit the highways every summer, and if you're among them then you'll want to be prepared for anything. Sure, you'll pack all the right clothes, books, and supplies for your destination. But what about preparing for the drive itself?
Whether you're heading across state or across the whole country, you should do two things with your smartphone or tablet. First, make sure you have chargers that work; and second, download these 10 apps for road trips. They'll keep you covered for just about any situation that comes up while on the road.
Does Google Maps feel like the obvious choice? Sure. Are you going to find a better and more accurate map application for your device? Not likely. If you don't already have this app downloaded (and seriously, why don't you?), you should get it before your trip—not just for on the road, either, but for walking around on location, marking your own trails, and generally grabbing basic information about anyplace you encounter.
Odds are you're going to be looking up stuff on Google, anyway. Why not have the app Google will inevitably try to redirect you to when you find an old-school drive-in movie theater you just have to visit?
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If you've downloaded Google Maps, why do you need Waze? Simple: Waze not only provides GPS services, turn-by-turn directions, and other general information about what's around you; it also uses a tremendous resource: other drivers. Waze uses updates added by you and drivers like you (accident alerts, bad-weather alerts, police on the road, etc.) and anonymous data updates (traveling speed, etc.) to generate live shared updates for everyone on the system. Someone else's misfortune of being stuck in traffic, for example, could help Waze reroute you around the slow down.
Waze is great for daily trips as well, as it will learn and save your favorite destinations, helping you find better, quicker routes. Add a bunch of cute icons for yourself and the ability to gather points to improve your Waze ranking, and you'll be on the road as a NinjaWazer soon.
Another crowdsourcing app to help you on the road is GasBuddy. This social-sharing app lets you find nearby gas stations and compare prices at other stations to make sure you get the best value when you fill up. If your car is powered by diesel or electric, GasBuddy has you covered there, too.
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Are you the jump-in-the-car-and-let's-see-what-happens type? Hotel Tonight is the app for you. Use it to find out which hotels near you have available rooms for the night. It focuses on major cities and their immediate metro areas, so it's the perfect app for impromptu urban getaways.
Oh, Ranger! ParkFinder
With thousands of parks across the U.S., there's always something to do on your trip: hike, bike, swim, whatever you desire. Trouble is, outside of the national parks that everyone knows about, most people aren't familiar with the many state parks and national monuments. Oh, Ranger fixes that oversight. It covers every national, state, local, and federal park in the United States. No matter what you've packed into your car, you'll find the right spot nearest you while out exploring the countryside.
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Want a real off-the-beaten-path adventure on your next trip? Then download Roadtrippers. You tell the app where you are and where you're headed, and it will create an itinerary that's chock full of remote and unusual stops (think huge balls of twine and giant plastic dinosaurs) along your route. Supported by user data, Roadtrippers also includes a gas estimator to help you decide which stops are vital and which are not; a printable version of your map to help save power; a directory of popular destinations; and loads of resources for camping, hiking, and other adventure essentials.
With all due respect to other music streaming apps, Spotify currently offers the best all-around selection, service, and coverage. You have immediate access to all of your playlists across mobile and desktop platforms. And, you can edit lists, purchase music, and share playlists with your friends as long as you've got a signal. All great road trips need good music, and with Spotify you'll be covered.
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The AAA Mobile app offers a lot of services already covered by others on this list, but you need it on your device for one function above all others: roadside assistance. AAA's roadside assistance network has been around for decades, and getting you help when you're stranded on the side of the road is what they do best. Not sure where you are, exactly? Can't find a street sign or other landmark to help the tow truck locate you? The AAA app sends your location data directly to the roadside service dispatch. Problem solved.
Most smartphones come with a feature that lets you take wide panorama-style pictures. And, mostly, that feature isn't particularly easy to use. Pano, though? It is easy to use. You'll get to take shots of those amazing vistas on your road trip without any trouble at all.
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Yes, Netflix. The apps on this list are here to help you make the most of your road trip, and sometimes that means finding a way to kill time—if weather ruins your plans, if there's nothing good to watch in the hotel while you're unwinding from a day on the road, or if the kids (and parents) just need some time to zone out. Netflix will let you take a little piece of home with you. So go ahead and catch up on that backlog of stuff you've been dying to watch. It's your trip. No one's judging.
More from SmarterTravel:
- 10 Inspiring Summer Drives to Add to Your Bucket List
- 7 Scenic Roads Too Terrifying to Drive
- 10 Terrifying Bridges You Need to See to Believe
Jason Flynn is a freelance writer, editor, and geek of all trades. Follow him on Twitter @flynntendo.
(Photo: Picture of the Road via Shutterstock)