Healthy Travel Tips »

Healthy Travel Tips » Stay safe on vacation

10 Ways to Upgrade Your Summer Road Trip

Take your trip up a notch with these essential tips and tools.

U.S. News & World Report

10 Ways to Upgrade Your Summer Road Trip

Couple taking a summer road trip.
Credit

(iStockPhoto)

Don't hit the road without these must-download apps and tips.

Every summer, picturesque national parks, coastal retreats and mountain towns burst with energy, luring road trippers with awe-inspiring scenery, heart-thumping roller coasters, outdoor concerts and other amusements. Chances are, you're gearing up to hit the road this summer. An April AAA study showed that 35 percent of Americans have plans to take a family getaway that's 50 miles or more from home in the next year, and of those surveyed, 69 percent reported a road trip in the works. Plus, with average national gas prices falling to an 11-year low, there's no better time to squeeze in an affordable summer drive. Whether you want to hop in the car for a spur-of-the-moment adventure with friends or plan a frugal family road trip, jump-start your drive with these must-have tools and practical pointers from industry experts.
Hispanic woman driving and using cellphone.
Credit

(Getty Images)

Use Findery.

If you're the type of traveler who loves pinpointing lesser-known gems, check out Findery (compatible with Android and Apple iOS 8.1 or later) to tap into the local culture and uncover secret spots visited by like-minded travelers, suggests family travel expert Amy Tara Koch. "It's really cool, because it helps you really dig into a place," she says, noting that it's easy to find inspiration, roadside attractions and review notes from other travelers. Best of all, it's free. A close runner-up to Findery is Along the Way ($2.99), which helps you discover off-the-beaten-path coffee shops and bars, Koch says.
Next:

Don't hit the road without these must-download apps and tips.

Every summer, picturesque national parks, coastal retreats and mountain towns burst with energy, luring road trippers with awe-inspiring scenery, heart-thumping roller coasters, outdoor concerts and other amusements. Chances are, you're gearing up to hit the road this summer. An April AAA study showed that 35 percent of Americans have plans to take a family getaway that's 50 miles or more from home in the next year, and of those surveyed, 69 percent reported a road trip in the works. Plus, with average national gas prices falling to an 11-year low, there's no better time to squeeze in an affordable summer drive. Whether you want to hop in the car for a spur-of-the-moment adventure with friends or plan a frugal family road trip, jump-start your drive with these must-have tools and practical pointers from industry experts.

Use Findery.

If you're the type of traveler who loves pinpointing lesser-known gems, check out Findery (compatible with Android and Apple iOS 8.1 or later) to tap into the local culture and uncover secret spots visited by like-minded travelers, suggests family travel expert Amy Tara Koch. "It's really cool, because it helps you really dig into a place," she says, noting that it's easy to find inspiration, roadside attractions and review notes from other travelers. Best of all, it's free. A close runner-up to Findery is Along the Way ($2.99), which helps you discover off-the-beaten-path coffee shops and bars, Koch says.

Get the best fuel price with GasBuddy.

Aside from charting your route and rest stops, it's a smart idea to rely on savvy (and free) peer-to-peer app GasBuddy (compatible with Android and iOS 8 or later) to pinpoint the nearest wallet-friendly gas stations on your itinerary. Plus, beyond guiding you to the best places to fill up your tank, you can also estimate how much you'll spend on gas by using GasBuddy's trip calculator to predict fuel expenses prior to your trip. Simply type in your departure city, final location and vehicle details, and you can determine approximate fuel costs and budget accordingly.

Map out your journey with TripIt.

In terms of travel organization, it's hard to beat TripIt, Koch says. The app (compatible with Android and iOS 8 or later) allows you to easily access all of your accommodation and attraction information in one place. Plus, it's synced with Google Maps to bring you the most direct route between your start and end points. If you download TripIt Pro ($4.09 per month), you can also share your itinerary details with family members and friends and take advantage of real-time alerts for flight delays and disruptions, among other perks.

Rely on trusted navigation tools.

A dizzying array of free navigation apps allow you to stay attuned to up-to-the-minute traffic alerts, alternative routes and other helpful intel. Waze (compatible with Android and iOS 7 or later) allows you to avoid road closures and other disruptions based on information provided from fellow drivers. Koch also recommends Citymaps (compatible with Android and iOS 8 or later) for detailed offline maps and practical information and Google Maps (compatible with Android and iOS 7 or later) for real-time traffic advisories.

Find the nearest pit stops with SitOrSquat.

To take the stress out of finding pit stops during your journey, Koch recommends installing the app SitOrSquat (compatible with Android and iOS 7 or later) by Charmin, which directs road trippers to decent public restrooms based on their current location. You can customize your search based on your needs (i.e., baby changing table or handicap accessible), and you can review and rate each rest area with a positive "Sit" or negative "Squat" mark. The best perk: The app is free, and more than 100,000 bathrooms are documented in the locator's comprehensive database.

Stop at places with a storied past with History Here.

If you and your travel companions are culture buffs, download History Here, a free educational app from the History Channel that notifies you when you're close to a historically significant location. With a few swipes on your smartphone, you can discover iconic battlegrounds and monuments, museums and famous residences. Points of interest can include everything from the Muir Woods National Monument to the Empire State Building. The free app is compatible with iPhone, iPad and the Apple Watch (iOS 7 or later) as well as Android devices (you'll need to open the app on Android to discover places nearby).

Stock up on entertainment apps.

Beyond tried-and-true road-trip diversions (think: the license plate game), there are plenty of activities to keep youngsters occupied. Alex Howard, Lonely Planet's Western U.S. and Canada destination editor, suggests downloading OverDrive for free content via your public library, and games like Heads Up! or QuizUp to help pass the time with the car companions. OverDrive (compatible with Android devices and iOS 7.1 or later) allows you to listen to audiobooks or watch TV series and movies on its easy-to-use mobile app. Meanwhile, games like Heads Up! (99 cents) prompt participants to guess the celebrity name that pops up with clues from teammates, and the free app QuizUp challenges seatmates with trivia in a variety of categories.

Consider combining your car trip with a scenic train ride.

If you're toying with the idea of pairing a road trip with travel by rail, check out Amtrak for seasonal sales and pet-friendly routes, says Jaime Freedman, group publisher of Travelzoo. "This is a great way to either experience regional trips or head cross-country without putting miles on your car, dealing with increasing gas prices, navigating traffic or parking or worrying about kids on top of each other in the backseat … while still getting amazing views," she adds. Koch echoes similar sentiments, pointing out that kids love taking the train, and there are plenty of picturesque routes across the country.

Rent an RV.

For an outside-the-box road trip, consider trading a traditional car rental for an RV, Freedman says. You can bundle your lodging and car trip expenses into one price, making an RV an ideal option if you're looking to trim costs. To find a reputable RV company, check out the RV Rental Association for vetted dealers or turn to reliable companies, such as Road Bear RV or Cruise America. And if you're a fan of the sharing economy, consider Outdoorsy, a peer-to-peer rental site that allows you to search and select an ideal RV based on a variety of factors, such as your travel dates, RV type, price, group size and even pet-friendliness.

Relive your experiences with LiveTrekker.

To document your trip, Koch recommends the free app LiveTrekker by Trekea Mobile Inc. "It's almost like a digital photo album," she says. Users can journal about their experiences, upload photos and share their tips and insights on the app as well as on social media platforms. Plus, you can discover detailed descriptions from other like-minded LiveTrekker community members to identify unique experiences in points of interest on your itinerary. The app is compatible with Android and iOS 7 or higher.
1 of 11

If you make a purchase from our site, we may earn a commission. This does not affect the quality or independence of our editorial content.