I’m a pack rat when it comes to apps. I was at 140 at last count, 29 of which are travel-related, and nine are specifically for car travel. And despite what you might think, those numbers are less about losing track of downloads and more about having finally found a tried-and-tested tool kit. Unlike other navigational tools for road trips, driving apps cost less and take up no space, which makes it easy to find what works for you, from an accurate traffic report tool to the one that helps you find a last-minute campsite on a Forest Service road.
When my truck’s engine light came on during a road trip a few years ago, Automatic helped me quickly determine the cause (the gas cap wasn’t tightened) and saved me a trip to the dealership over something easily fixable. The app’s main benefit is providing peace of mind. It combines several emergency-scenario helplines in one place, like roadside assistance and a 24/7 accident monitoring service that sends a crash alert to your contacts if an accident is detected. I initially downloaded Automatic for the engine light diagnostics but have since used it to track mileage for business expenses and find my car in a parking lot. While the app is free, you’ll need to purchase an adapter (from $99) that plugs into your vehicle’s OBD port. Then you can opt for the standard service plan (free for three years) or a premium subscription ($5 per month).
If you’re road-tripping, chances are you’re probably camping somewhere along the route. Other campground apps are out there, but the Dyrt stands out for its intuitive interface and well-designed, user-friendly layout. You can pull up your current or upcoming location on a map to see campground icons by distance, then filter results by date and the amenities you’re looking for, like RV sites, dispersed camping, cabins, or yurts. It goes beyond similar apps by letting you search for details like firewood availability, ADA access, drinking water, showers, and even Wi-Fi. Clicking a campground icon on the map brings up reviews from fellow campers and contact information to reserve a spot, which you can do directly through the app. It also brings together both dispersed and paid sites, like RV parks, in a way that’s more streamlined than other campground locator apps I’ve used.
Gas is expensive, plain and simple. If you’re looking to save money on a road trip, GasBuddy is one of the best ways to do it. It’s basically a giant crowdsourced heatmap that uses your location to find the lowest-priced gas in the area, which can add up to big savings. You can also use the corresponding website’s gas trip calculator to plan your fuel stops ahead of time and save money. When I did this for a recent trip from Santa Fe to Denver, it estimated a savings of $19.82.
Sure, PeakFinder AR ($4.99) won’t save you money or help you book a place to stay, but it’s one of the driving apps I use the most. Ever wonder about the name of the mountain you’ve been staring at through the car window? Just open the app, point it at the peak, and problem solved. It uses your phone’s GPS, compass, and motion sensors to overlay a drawing of the peaks with their names and elevations and helps you quickly figure out what you’re seeing.
Waze is a classic, and for good reason. It uses crowdsourced information to help you find the fastest route to your destination and avoid traffic jams, construction areas, or anything else that’ll slow you down. Your route automatically updates, and if your vehicle has Apple CarPlay, it integrates seamlessly for easy viewing.
Finding a good place to eat or an interesting roadside attraction is easier with Roadtrippers. As the name implies, this fun app is geared specifically toward folks who are road-tripping—think of it as a more social version of Google Maps. You can plan your route ahead of time and share it with your friends, save interesting spots you find along the way, and even use some of the app’s premade trip guides if you need a little help with ideas.