Summertime is here, which means one thing (at least to a former teacher): summer vacation! While we tend to plan all the things we want to do or see at our vacation destination, what about the journey to get to that destination? I grew up in a military family, so our vacations usually consisted of long road trips across the country to visit family. I remember watching my parents pore over maps and guidebooks to find places to stop along the way to stretch our legs or experience new things.
Technology has skyrocketed since my childhood, and one phrase comes to mind now: “There’s an app for that!” Or in this case, dozens of them. But which ones do you choose? With the help of suggestions from members in two of our Facebook support pages, HiB Military and HiB Travel, I downloaded and tested various apps on a recent family road trip. Below is a list of my top 6 FREE travel apps and how they can enhance your next road trip experience.
Aptly named, this app has a lot to offer anyone taking an extended trip on the road. Looking to take a break from driving or have restless toddlers asking, “How much longer?” This app is perfect for that! When you open the app and click on the “Search and Explore” box at the top, there are various options like hotels, things to do, food and drink, outdoors, etc., to select. You can map out a route and find attractions along the way or even browse pre-made trip guides from other users to discover some pretty cool trips near you. This app is best known for helping you find those quirky, off-the-beaten-path attractions that create some awesome memories. You can even choose options to narrow your search further. For example, Christine from the Hike it Baby Omaha Branch discovered Foamhenge (a full-scale Styrofoam replica of Stonehenge) while on a road trip with her family in Virginia thanks to this app.
Photo by Christine Stewart
Will you be traveling on an exit-based highway during your trip? This app uses your phone’s GPS to find your location on a highway and displays a list of amenities at each upcoming exit, including gas stations, hotels, restaurants, hospitals and many more. As a bonus, it also displays gas prices for upcoming gas stations along with Yelp review ratings for nearby restaurants. Clicking on the Yelp review icon next to a restaurant will open the Yelp app to give you more information about the restaurant.
You may already be familiar with this app, but it has come in handy numerous times for us while road tripping. We have a list of restaurant chains that we love, but can’t find in upstate New York, so those are the first we search for when traveling. Also, we try to visit the highly rated mom-and-pop shops when we are on the road to support local, small businesses. We have discovered some pretty tasty, oddball food this way, not to mention amazing coffee! It certainly adds to the family road trip memories! To use the app, either enter a restaurant name or type of food you are looking for, and it will give you a list along with their distance, location on a map, and ratings from other customers. Clicking on a restaurant will bring up further information about hours of operation, menu choices, if it’s kid-friendly and much more. You can also search for drugstores, shopping, etc., using this app.
4. All Trails
This may sound like an odd app to include in a travel list, but we tend to take “hike breaks” to stretch our legs after hours of sitting, and this app is perfect for finding information on nearby trails! We used it when trying to decide which route to take when we stopped by Green Lakes State Park (which we found using the Roadtrippers app) halfway to our destination on a recent road trip. It will give you a map of the trail, a difficulty rating, and approximate distance and elevation gain for a trail. You can also read reviews from other hikers. A bonus is while you are hiking, you can click on the map for that trail within the app and it will show you your location on the trail by using your phone’s GPS. That means no more confusion on if you are following the right trail or wondering how much farther the next trail junction is.
Photo by Rebecca Hosley
5. Trip Advisor
While this app is a great resource when planning what you want to see at your destination, it also works well to show you the top attractions, hotels, places to eat, etc., along the way. On our most recent trip, we arrived at our destination well before we could check in at our Airbnb house, so we loaded up this app and saw that one of the top-rated attractions, Presque Isle State Park, was nearby. We made a quick visit to the park and liked it so much that we ended up rearranging our plans to revisit it during our stay!
Photo by Rebecca Hosley
6. Track My Tour
This app is different from the others listed because rather than finding things to do, places to eat, or hotels for the night, it lets you track your journey and share it with friends and family. Think of it as a mini travel journal that helps you keep track of things you did, experiences you had, and memories you made. Throughout your journey, you can make waypoints along the way that include a location, a description, and even a photo of what you did. These points create a map and a link that you can share with family and friends so they can follow along on your journey. Here is an example of my recent short family road trip to Erie, Pa. For a more epic and extensive example, check out this Costa Rican trip by Jordan of the Hike it Baby Ann Arbor Branch. You can save up to two trips for free, or pay $11.99 for the premium version for unlimited maps.
What apps do you use or tips do you have for making the journey to your destination memorable and fun for the whole family? Let us know in the comments below.