The Roaming '20s

15 Essential Apps for Your Big Summer Road Trip

Find your next clean bathroom, slice of pizza, photo-op with a giant dinosaur, and more.

RV road trip
There's an app for this. | Unsplash/Togo RV
There's an app for this. | Unsplash/Togo RV

In the summer of 2020, something funny happened: We turned into our parents. What innocently began as “just going for a drive” and rediscovering Steely Dan turned into parking at drive-in movies and carhop restaurants until suddenly, we went full Clark Griswold: traversing America in RVs, seeking out cheesy roadside attractions, and crossing National Parks off our bucket lists.

But we have one distinct advantage over our parents when they roamed the roads: our highly-equipped, very small smartphones. 2021 is shaping up to be yet another summer of Great American Road Trips, and while you may think you’re prepared with the usual roster of travel apps, are you equipped to find the nearest toilet off the interstate? How about the closest free WiFi? A last minute campsite? A decent slice of pizza?

We’ve pulled together 15 essential road trip apps to help you expertly navigate your next summer adventure. Happy trails.

Grace Han for Thrillist

Roadside America App 

$2.99
Imagine driving through Kansas and NOT stopping to look upon The World’s Largest Collection of the World’s Smallest Versions of the World’s Largest Things. An absolute must for fans of animatronic roadside dinosaurs and kitschy rest stops, the mobile version of everyone’s favorite website is fun to peruse even if you’re not actually going anywhere.

Roadtrippers

Free
This trip planning app lets you plug in your start and ending locations and discover cool stops along the way. Get inspiration from pre-planned guides, or curate your own itinerary by searching for parks, museums, old-school diners, historic sites, scenic overlooks, and more. You can also check live traffic conditions and take maps offline when you’re sans WiFi.

WiFi Map

Free
Often, the goal of the road trip is to disconnect. But just as often, the goal is to dash off a slew of work emails and download some AllTrails maps before you disappear into the wilderness for three days. WiFi Map connects you to a crowdsourced list of free hotspots around the world, including passwords if they’re needed, so you’re able to keep your affairs in order and track down wherever it is you parked your car.

Seek 

Free
Need to know what that plant or animal is? As long as it stands still long enough to scan or take a pic, Seek can help you identify it. Before you head out, practice tiptoeing softly. Birds are not known to pose for paparazzi. 

Advertisement

GETTY

We let go of a lot of norms in 2020: like shaking hands, wearing pants, and (most importantly) working in an office. You’re no longer tied to a commute — so why should you be tied to one place? Enter: Landing, the startup that’s reinventing apartment living. Thanks to its network of fully furnished (and unfurnished) apartments across the country, you can have the freedom to live (and work) practically anywhere. With perks like a 24/7 online member support, fast and easy lease transfers, and waived security deposits, you’ll have more flexibility than ever before, too. 

Star Walk 2 

$2.99
The ultimate campfire app, Star Walk 2 displays a real-time map of the sky above you. Just point your phone up and play with 3-D models of constellations, learn about celestial bodies and sky events, and even get the latest astronomical news. You’re basically an astronomer now.

Grace Han for Thrillist

iExit

Free
You’ll need to stop for food and sleep eventually, but getting off at any random exit is how people end up in Westview, New Jersey. iExit shows you which interstate exits have the gas, the Starbucks, and the lodging—and which do not. Because if there’s a Whataburger somewhere out there, you owe it to yourself to find it.

Pizza Compass 

Free
Sometimes you want pizza. And like the opposite of a Dominos tracker this app finds you pizza, with a patented “pizza-to-mouth” indicator that lets you know just how far your mouth is from a hot slice. Simple. Beautiful.

HappyCow

$3.99
Ditch that bag of emergency granola: HappyCow makes sure those with vegetarian, plant-based, and gluten-free dietary needs can always find something decent—perhaps even extraordinary!—to eat during their travels. Create a personal profile, message other users you find intriguing, and you’ll never have to eat alone again.

Grace Han for Thrillist

GasBuddy 

Free
GasBuddy not only finds you the closest gas, but the cheapest gas using crowdsourced data from over 150,000 gas stations across America. This way, you have more money for snacks, which we all know is the best part of any journey.

USA Rest Stops

Free
This handy app will guide you to the nearest rest area, welcome center, or service plaza from whichever Interstate, US highway, or state highway you happen to be tiring of.

Flush 

Free
When you’ve had one too many Big Gulps, Flush finds the closest public restroom from a database of over 200,000. It also details the level of accessibility—like whether a key is required (the worst) or if you have to pay a fee. This is objectively the most essential app on this list.

Grace Han for Thrillist

The NPS App 

Free
The official app of the National Park Service offers over 400 parks to explore. Find tours, interactive maps, amenities, trails, and things to do and download it all in the (likely) event there’s no internet access.

AllTrails 

Free
Live that #hikelife with AllTrails, with over 200,000 trail maps for hikers, bikers, and runners. Filter for options like dog and kid-friendly, stroller and wheelchair-accessible, and spectacular views. Read reviews, see photos from other users, and download offline maps so you can keep track of the trail—and whether or not you’re still on it—even when cell service gets dicey.

Reserve America

Free
Think of Reserve America as a hotel booking site but for federal and state lands, and private campgrounds across the US. Put in your desired dates and filter over 100,000 locations. When you find one you like, book straight from the app. And if you need a hunting or fishing license on-the-fly, you can do that too. Look how outdoorsy you are.

Hipcamp

Free
Hipcamp works with landowners so you can book overnight stays on private land. Search for RV parks, tent camping, glamping, treehouses, or cabins and get truly unique results, like this homesteader setup near Joshua Tree, where you share your backyard with horses (!).

Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat!

Our Newsletter
By Signing Up, I Agree to the Terms and Privacy Policy.