Ah, the great American road trip! Depending on how well your kids handle being strapped in for hours at a time, that phrase either filled you with delight or soul-crushing dread. My kids were pretty road hardy, but my friend Lilly’s daughter saw her car seat as a form of child abuse and would morph into a spider monkey if she even heard the phrase “road trip.” Getting her in the car required one of those clowns they use at rodeos to distract the rampaging bull and keep it from killing everyone in its path. At least that’s how I picture it.
Wherever your kiddos fall on the road trip spectrum, these apps can ensure things go as smoothly as possible and get you to your destination happy – and not just because you survived the tiny terror in the backseat!
We depend on our phones for navigation and entertainment while we drive but they’re not always within reach and it’s not always safe to pull over in order to find one. A car mount like Logitech’s ZeroTouch for Android puts your phone front and center and comes with an accompanying voice command app that syncs with your phone allowing hands-free calling, voice to text, voice navigation, location sharing, and voice activated music.
If your holiday includes planes, trains and automobiles, TripIt (Free – iOS, Android), is a sanity saver. Forward your reservations to email@example.com and you’ll have access to all that information in one convenient location. You’ll get a master itinerary with maps, directions, and weather updates, all accessible anytime on or offline.
Waze (Free – iOS, Android), a community sourced traffic and navigation app, provides real time updates on your route so you’ll know about upcoming traffic jams, accidents, debris on the road or any of the other potential delays that will keep you from being where you need to be when you need to be there.
Automatic plugs in to your car’s computer and will report back to you on everything from your driving to why the check engine light just came on. It also has a parking map and walking directions so you’ll never lose your car again. Perhaps most important, if Automatic detects you’ve been in a serious crash, an agent will call to assist you, contact emergency services and loved ones and will stay on the line until help arrives.
The Sit or Squat app may be the greatest gift to road-tripping parents since the portable DVD player. Search and view for restrooms near you or at your destination, filter results by selecting Open Now, Sit-or-Squat Rating, Family Bathroom, Baby Changing Table, Handicap Accessible, or Pay-Per-Use toilets. (Free – iOS, Android)
Some newer model cars come equipped with 4G LTE but for those of us without, a mobile router is a great resource. Most carriers will let you add one to your existing plans so you have access to the data you’re already paying for, or choose Go from Karma with pre-paid data that you purchase by the gigabyte and that never expires.
Roadtrippers (iOS/Android) lets you find all the quirky and interesting sights along the way. Use the app to find a quick distraction when everyone is tired of the car or let Roadtrippers take you on the scenic route by choosing one of their Classic USA Road Trips. You can book hotels and share your itinerary with others all from within the app.
Despite the fact I grew up there and should have known better, a few years ago I came very close to being stranded and running out of gas in the Cape Breton highlands late at night. Gas Buddy (Free – iOS, Android, Windows, Blackberry) is every road-tripper’s friend, as it not only helps you find the nearest gas station, it tells you prices so you can get the most for your money without going too far out of the way.
Finally, if the trip is taking longer than you expected or if you’ve just decided you’ve had enough for one day, Hotel Tonight (Free – iOS, Android), is the answer, offering last-minute deals and discounted rates lower than what’s available on other apps. Search for hotels and see all the details you need – what’s close, which ones are pet friendly, have a fitness center, etc. Refer a friend and both of you receive a $25 discount when they book.
Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.