The drive over the river and through the woods last week wasn’t quite as pleasant as you remember it being, huh? Then you need the best road trip apps available whether taking the kids to a family holiday gathering or on a grand vacation across the country.
Best family road trip apps for before you leave
Packr or PackPoint
Not sure what to bring? The free Packr and PackPoint apps help you figure it out. It considers your destination, the forecasted weather, the length of stay and planned activities to provide a checklist of essentials. (You can also buy “premium” versions of each with added features and app integrations for $2.99.)
I prefer Packr because it adds checklists of things to do before you leave. This includes preparing your home (take out the trash, turn down the thermostat, etc.) and car (don’t forget your sunglasses or driver’s license). However, Packr only runs on IOS so if you have an Android phone, get PackPoint.
If you don’t want to miss anything cool on the way, Roadtrippers helps find interesting activities, museums or offbeat sights along your route as well as food, gas and hotels. This includes popular (and not-so-popular) landmarks, parks, nature walks, historic sites and the odd mega-sized ball of twine. The free app will do for most, but there is an ad-free version for $30 a year that includes offline maps, live traffic info and more.
The OG of travel recommendation sites, TripAdvisor, provides a lot of reviews of local restaurants, accommodations and attractions so you can determine whether that ball of twine is really big enough to see.
Essential travel apps for driver/navigator
Seriously, who doesn’t depend on Waze? The crowd-sourced traffic information provides the best real-time updates on it all: traffic jams, road construction, highway hazard and — best for the lead-footed — speed trap and red light camera alerts.
In my own personal comparison tests over the years, Waze regularly provides the fastest path and the best re-routing when backups or accidents occur. Yes, it will occasionally offer odd alternate routes (exiting and re-entering a highway or interchange to save a minute or two, for example) when you don’t expect them. But, as I tell my wife, it’s better to yell at the app than the driver or the passenger seat navigator.
Best road trip app alternative — Traffic/map: Google Maps runs on Waze technology (Big G owns W) but doesn’t offer the robust features. The rerouting feature sometimes just doesn’t kick in. However, it works fairly well especially if you are in a less populated area where there may not be many Waze users.
Need to find gas soon at a reasonable price? A place for a quick bite? A bed to crash in for the night?
The iExit app does it all, providing you’re driving a U.S. interstate highway (and, sometimes, a major state roadway). This one-stop app gets you what you want when you need an unplanned break not far off your primary route.
Helpful alternatives — Food and gas: iExit is integrated with Yelp and GasBuddy to provide the accurate and important info you need on food and gas, respectively, but having these apps handy is good if you venture off the interstate system.
Must-have road trip apps for the kids in the backseat
Kids today are probably more in tune with what’s available for them, tech-wise, when it comes to smartphone and tablet game apps than you or me, so let them at it. And aside from letting them go wild on the kiddie stuff available through your Netflix or Amazon Prime accounts, how about …
Podcasts — Dealer’s choice
Most podcasts are available on multiple platforms these days, so fire up your fav. Then, download some eps of the shows on our list of great kids’ podcasts. Adults will find many of these as smart and entertaining as the kids so you might want to hook them into your car’s audio system.
If music is what they want, check out the “Kids & Family” genre on Spotify. You’ll find family-friendly songs from popular adult artists as well as kid-oriented musicians. A special “In The Car” tab features playlists perfect for singing or bopping your head along. You can also find more kid podcasts, nursery rhymes, stories and more to keep the little one entertained. Best of all: you can listen to free if you don’t mind the repetitive ads, but a subscription is worth the money.