Old-school as it may be, we still say that a paper map is an essential on any road trip packing list, and that putting down your phone might just be the smartest thing you can do with it on a vacation. But we’re not exactly Luddites here either: A smart digital toolkit can lower stress, ease planning, and even enhance a road trip, and these days you’ll benefit greatly from stocking up on a small collection of apps before you hit the highway. The following apps were all tested by Wendy and her family on recent road trips. Add your own favorite road trip apps in the comments below—and see Wendy’s full list of recommended apps over at TripAdvisor.
This one is a no-brainer and many of you probably already have it on your phones: Waze. The real-time traffic app will clue you into the least congested routes, collisions or road blocks, even police speed traps.
Driving through unfamiliar territory can get very stressful very quickly if someone has to use the bathroom, the gas tank is hovering on empty, or worse, one of the kids is sick. Wendy uses Around Me to discover nearby hospitals, pharmacies, ATMs, even grocery stores.
She recommends GasBuddy for info on fill-up stations and their gas prices.
Sit or Squat
For the other kind of emergency, download Sit or Squat (by Charmin) and you’ll always know where to find a clean public restroom.
Roadside America and Along the Way
The best road trips have nothing to do with your final destination. The journey is the point, and the stops you make, make the journey. In addition to Wendy’s advice on the three things you should always stop for on a road trip, she recommends the Roadside America and Along the Way apps to ensure that you don’t miss quirky fun attractions, interesting parks and landmarks, or the world’s biggest anything.
The Yellow Pages
Yup, this old standby has been updated for the mobile age. The YP app will help you find automotive repair shops, health and wellness facilities, and more—all with contact info, address, and websites—but what Wendy’s family uses it for is to punch in the type of food they’re in the mood for—say, Southern fried catfish, or peach pie—and find out the closest restaurant that’s serving it.
TVFoodMaps and LocalEats
Ever seen some delicious dish on a travel TV show and wish you could try it yourself? With TVFoodMaps, you can search for restaurants featured on food shows. You can either search by show title (Adam Richman’s Man vs. Food or Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, for example) or even search by route: Type in your starting point and your destination and it’ll serve up a list of interesting eateries various hosts have visited. LocalEats has a similar mission: to help travelers discover insider favorites. Search by city, browse a calendar of state-by-state food events, or scour appetite-inducing lists like Best Breakfast Places in America.
Urgent.ly is an on-demand roadside assistance service. No AAA? No problem. Download the app, and if you ever get a flat, need a jump, or—d’oh!—locked your keys in the car, contact the service and they’ll send help. They’re on call 24-7, every day of the year, and you only pay for the services you use.
For more road trip intel, see Wendy’s series at TripAdvisor: How to Plan the Ultimate Road Trip Itinerary, Packing List: Essential Gear for a Road Trip, How to Make Family Road Trips Fun and Stress-Free; and 15 Simple Hacks to Make Any Road Trip Better.
Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.