It sounds liberating to throw your stuff in a duffel bag and hit the open road. See what comes your way. Plan nothing. Research nada. Book zilch ahead of time. The only problem? You may wind up searching for a campsite in the dark, spending top dollar on everything, and getting lost looking for a trail. Now, thanks to a heap of smart travel apps and websites, you can spend less time planning and researching and more time actually getting the most out of your trip.
Camp Finder ($4)
Camp Finder lets you search some 19,000 private and public campgrounds around the United States. You can see user-uploaded photos of individual campsites, read reviews, compare rates, and scour nearby activities. The app allows you to locate campsites by name, find the best-rated ones near you, or search for sites with amenities like hot showers, cabins, or Wi-Fi.
Mountain Hub (Free)
Whether you’re climbing, hiking, mountain biking, or backcountry skiing, Mountain Hub has the up-to-date details you need. A dedicated user community shares routes, conditions, and other updates, like recent avalanche activity or closures due to flooding. Track your own adventures in terms of mileage, routes, and elevation, and get inspiration from other people’s outings. Best of all, you can download 3D maps for when you’re out of cell range.
There’s a reason Google bought this Israeli-made, real-time, crowdsourced navigation app in 2013: Waze is really good at getting you where you need to go quickly. The app directs you to your destination in a range of easy-to-listen-to voices and automatically reroutes you based on traffic, accidents, and road closures. You can sync the app to your phone’s calendar so it will alert you when it’s time to leave to reach your destination on time. Bonus: It’ll also help you find the cheapest gas on the road.
Avalanche Forecasts (Free)
Pro skier Elyse Sausgstad recommends Avalanche Forecasts, which connects to every avalanche center on the West Coast of North America. “If you know you’re going to take a trip to Jackson Hole, and you’re daydreaming about those endless out-of-bounds laps, it’s a great idea to start checking the forecast weekly, ” Sausgstad says. You’ll get a sense of the snowpack before heading out and can change your trip accordingly.
With Turo, you rent a car directly from the owner, at rates around 30 percent less than conventional rental cars. Fly into Salt Lake City and rent a Subaru with a ski rack and winter tires for $37 a day, or book a Jeep Wrangler with a surfboard rack in San Diego for $87 a day. There’s airport curbside pickup, and you can search for exact car models, cars under a certain price, or features like bike racks or all-wheel drive.
There might be a lot of reasons you’d need a high-end hotel room for just a couple hours while traveling: to score a gym workout and a shower during a camping road trip, take a nap after an overnight flight, or use the Wi-Fi for a quiet private office in the middle of the day. With Dayuse, you can book a room at more than 3,000 hotels around the world from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., at prices up to 75 percent off the regular rate.
In a new place and need a climbing or skiing partner? Gociety sets out to be like Tinder but for finding adventure partners. You can connect with others in your community, check out or post trip reports, or join an upcoming adventure with new friends, like backpacking in Oregon or climbing 14ers in Colorado.
Gaia GPS ($30)
“On any backcountry adventure, I always have my iPhone with downloaded USGS topographic maps on the Gaia GPS app,” says ultrarunner Jeff Browning. “Be sure to get the full app that includes downloadable topo maps that you can download before you go.” To extend your phone’s battery life, switch to airplane mode and exit the app after you’ve finished downloading. (Since Gaia GPS Classic is free and still available but no longer supported, we recommend the premium membership.
Tell Hopper where in the world you want to go, and it’ll tell you the cheapest airfare available, predict whether the fare is likely to rise or fall, and notify you when your desired flight drops in price. You can buy flights through the app—although you’re probably still better off booking directly from the airline—and get deals on last-minute flights. Hopper is starting to offer hotel rate predictions in select cities as well.