I just returned from a 10-day road trip from Ohio to Idaho with my family. What was unique about this trip is that it was thrown together with almost no planning. There was a death in the family and the timeframe was tight in order to make the funeral. We barely had time to pack! You might say that two parents and five young kids in a minivan without a plan is crazy, and there were definitely moments of craziness. I’m happy to say we pulled through despite doing everything on the fly, all with the help of our smartphones.
Based on my experience, I have some recommendations on mobile apps for your next road trip:
- Hotels. Any nationwide chain should have an app, such as Holiday Inn or Hilton. We require pretty special accommodations, which limited our options. Sometimes we wanted a pool for the kids, and other times we just wanted something close because everyone was asleep. Most of our reservations were made within an hour of arrival.
- Entertainment. Redbox is great because it allows you to return movies anywhere. We would rent a movie for the kids in one state and then return it later that day in another state. In addition to searching for the nearest location, it’s convenient to decide on a movie and reserve it while on the road.
- Maps. We had endless questions and Google Maps answered them. What restaurants are near the upcoming cities? What restaurants will be at the exits? If we stop in an hour, what city would that be? We even had to search for “where’s the nearest hospital” along the way.
- Mobile Banking. We needed cash at a few points on the trip, and our bank’s app has an ATM locater. We used 7-Eleven for gas and a fee-free ATM, saving us an extra stop.
- Weather. We had quite a range of temperatures, and I wanted to know what the weather was when we pulled into a stop. In Wyoming, our phone alerted us to a Blizzard Warning, so we made a quick decision to pack up and leave the hotel early to beat the storm. Both the Weather Channel and Weather Bug apps are popular choices.
- Gas. Gas Buddy can truly be your buddy when traveling! When you’re in the middle of nowhere, it’s nice to know where there gas is. When you have choices, it’s nice to know where the cheapest gas is!
- Google. While it’s not an app, your web browser can be quite handy during road trips for all the other answers you need. How did Nebraska get its name? What’s with those random wood structures by the road in Wyoming? What is the history of Council Bluffs? These are some of the curious questions we had on the road, and it was great to be learning while we traveled.
This isn’t our first big road trip and it definitely won’t be the last, but I learned quite a bit about traveling smarter by using our smartphones. And yet, I feel that I’ve only scratched the surface of what’s possible. I’d love to hear your experiences with and advice for long trips, and your favorite apps for traveling.