A smartphone screen might seem a terrible distraction on a road trip. With the right apps, though, your phone can make any road trip smoother and more memorable.
Great road trips involve seeing places you’ve never seen, but how do you know where to go? The app Along the Way, $4 on iOS, answers this question. Simply tap in your start and end points, and it will calculate a sensible route. You can select attractions for stops along the route, from a long list that includes nightlife, food, coffee, recreation and so on.
You can even seek popular venues or those trending on the check-in service Foursquare. The app also offers reviews, location data and other information.
Along the Way is simple, and its interface unfussy, which makes it easy to use. It could be helpful before you set off, as a kind of advanced planning tool, or you can let it advise you on the way. I wish it would let you adjust the route it chooses, but this is a quibble.
There is an Android app with a similar name, but it does not come from the same company and it is much more basic in design, although still potentially useful.
Roadtrippers, free on iOS and Android, is a fabulous alternative, and particularly handy if you like planning your trips in detail beforehand.
To begin with, this app works a bit like Along the Way: You enter your start and end points, then the app calculates a route for you and shows you interesting or useful places and attractions along the way, sorted by category. But Roadtrippers seems to have more detailed information, like contact data, website addresses, reviews and photos. Best of all, you can tap the “Add to trip” button to insert a favorite spot into your itinerary, so you can easily look it up later when you are traveling.
The app is slick and easy to use, and its interface is map-based, so it is great for navigating in real time. A passenger can browse and help with directions while you are concentrating on the road. It covers just the United States and Israel.
For a more lighthearted road trip, with more quirky sights highlighted, check out Roadside America, $3 on iOS. In many ways it works like Along the Way and Roadtrippers, and can be used for planning and on the road. But it has a more colorful and playful interface and contains information on attractions like eccentric architecture and unusual places to eat.
It also has extras like a sunset alert, which could help you stop at a beautiful spot in time to capture great photos at the end of the day.
The downside is that its price does not cover all of the United States and Canada; for access to more places, you have to pay about $2 per region inside the app, or $6 for all the data. If you are not a United States citizen, but are planning to visit and take a road trip, you may find that the app is not available in your regional App Store.
GasBuddy, a free iOS, Android, Windows Phone and BlackBerry app, is great help for finding the cheapest gas prices. The app finds nearby gas stations; you can search by place if you know where you are going ahead of time.
The information in the app is crowdsourced, so if you find a great deal on gas you can share it with other users. GasBuddy is not hugely sophisticated, but it could save you money.
Taking a photo of some of the wide open spaces you may discover on a road trip may be tricky with your phone’s built-in systems. So try the Panorama: 360 app, free on Android, or the 360 Panorama app, $1 on iOS, for a really special way to capture expansive scenery in a superwide image.
Finally, if you like to freewheel your road trips without much planning and need to find a place to stay for the night at the last minute, my favorite option is Hotel Tonight, free on iOS and Android. It can help find some surprisingly good hotels with decent last-minute prices.
Although these apps may prove helpful on your journey, remember to turn off your phone sometimes and try a little self-discovery as the miles roll by.