Five Apps You Need On Your Next Road Trip
As a frequent driver, I love what my mobile phone can do. It’s a mini computer and camera that lets me make phone calls, and thanks to the various apps that are available, I could leave my house right now, and drive all the way across the country without a laptop or pre-planning, and navigate the entire trip.
But I couldn’t make it without my phone.
That’s because I use certain apps just to find my way around anymore. Whether it’s ordering coffee, booking a hotel, or finding somewhere to eat, there’s an app that’s sure to help any traveler on any trip. But there are a few that are perfect for road trips. Here are my top five.
Siri/Android Virtual Assistant
First, let’s get this out of the way: I don’t text and drive (and you shouldn’t either). Instead, I use Siri to send and read my texts.
If you have your mobile phone plugged into a power source, you can call out “Hey Siri” and she’ll answer. I plug the phone into the AUX jack on my stereo, so I can hear everything going on. When I say “Hey Siri, read my texts,” she’ll read any new texts, then ask if I want to respond. I dictate a short response to her, including all punctuation (because I’m a geek that way) and she sends it for me. There will be occasional errors, based on my pronunciations, like “will” instead of “we’ll,” but the people I text understand when I’m dictating, and will figure it out.
Yes, this hardly counts as an app because it comes with your iPhone, but I recommend you familiarize yourself with it before you leave. Find out what Siri can and cannot do, and build processes around that. Learn how to send texts by voice command, learn how to use Siri to navigate via Apple Maps, and learn how to leave yourself reminders and set alarms.
Android users, you have a few different options available to you. If you have a Google Pixel phone, you have the Google Assistant baked right in, just like Siri. (Google has been running Assistant commercials on TV lately; it’s the thing that works like Alexa.) If you have a different Android phone, then you have several voice assistant options available. Based on what I’ve been seeing, Dragon Mobile Assistant may be your best bet. It lets you send messages and make calls, set alarms, open apps, and even do web searches.
A few years ago, I bought a Garmin GPS for $200 and quit using it two weeks later when I downloaded Waze. Waze is the Google-owned, crowd-sourced route finder that uses up-to-the-second traffic alerts to guide you to the most efficient route to your destination. I’ve never found a better GPS system or app to get me to where I’m going.
Last year, I was driving through Atlanta when Waze popped up an alert and diverted me to a side road off I-75. When I reached the exit, a traffic jam was just starting to back up; I got off just in time. Waze took me on some county roads and got me back onto the highway about 10 miles north of the original exit, right back into the traffic jam.
However — and this is important — I only sat in one mile of that jam, skipping the previous 10 miles. I saved nearly two hours of crawling and stopping with that little detour, thanks to Waze’s immediate rerouting capabilities. That has also happened more than once driving around Orlando. (I can also tell you my wife’s Garmin has never done that, which is why I’ll never go back.)
I love independent coffee shops, but I don’t know any apps that list all the indie shops around the country. But Starbucks is everywhere, and when I’m on the road for more than a few hours, I need a caffeine fix to keep going.
The Starbucks app lets me reload my card with a stored credit card (handy, when I forget my wallet), lets me order ahead (great for when there’s a long line), and even helps me find nearby Starbucks stores when I’m in a new area. If you need coffee to function, this is a must-have app for every road traveler. Make sure you connect a credit card to the app so you can easily reload on the go.
If you’ve ever been driving down an unfamiliar stretch of highway, and you’re dying for a bathroom and a burger, you can’t use Waze to guide you in — the screen is hard to maneuver, and you should never try it while you’re driving. Siri might be able to tell you, but she looks in a radius of your location, and not on your direct route, which means she’ll tell you about the McDonald’s 10 miles behind you.
Enter iExit, the app that tells you what’s coming up on the interstate exits. You can see what’s available at the next exit, the next several exits, or even plot out stops along your route. Just give iExit access to your location, and it will tell you what’s available while you’re driving.
As a regular podcast listener, I detest Apple’s podcast app. It’s clunky, awkward, and hard to read, even when I’m sitting in my house. Luckily, there are several options that are much better. My favorite is Overcast, a third-party app that lets you subscribe to and download your favorite podcasts automatically. They all queue up in the order you select, and you can listen to one right after the other. You can also edit the play order of the episodes to fit your mood.
Using the setup I described above, I can tell Siri to open Overcast, I’ll tap the podcast at the top of the list, and I’m ready to go. It requires some setup while you’re still at home, and I recommend downloading your podcasts while you’re on wifi rather than using cellular data. You can even create playlists of podcasts, if you want a family-friendly experience, such as a series of radio theater podcasts or music and entertainment podcasts.
Of course, it’s very important that you don’t use your phone while you’re driving, unless you’ve got the voice activated hands-free option enabled. So familiarize yourself with your apps, and show your driving partners how to use them as well, so they can manage everything from the passenger seat.
What are your favorite road trip apps? Do you have any you prefer to the ones mentioned here, or any others we should add to the list? Leave your suggestions in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.