Back in the pre-wireless Internet days, road trippers had to settle for amusing themselves with games of “I Spy” and “Punch Buggy.” But now, thanks to the power of smartphones, passengers have countless ways to amuse themselves while navigating the turnpikes and backroads of America. And, though drivers can’t (safely) play games while behind the wheel, they can also benefit from some great navigation and travel apps.
Here’s a look at what to download to your cellphone before you hit the road.
If you’ve booked numerous hotels and tours for a multi-day road trip, it can be tough to keep track of all the addresses and confirmation numbers you need. This free app does it for you: Simply forward your email confirmations to TripIt, and the app will store your itinerary in chronological order, for easy viewing whether you have Internet access or not.
Google’s been perfecting its navigation skills for years, and it shows in this free app. In addition to voice-guided turn-by-turn directions, you can plug in the name of a restaurant to instantly get directions, even if you don’t know the address. The app gives accurate time estimates and multiple routes for each destination. And the app can even help once you exit your car: It provides walking and public transit transportation options as well.
If you’re in an unfamiliar location, you probably don’t know where the nearest gas station, pizza shop, or motel is. That’s what AroundMe is for: The simple free app instantly detects your location and then lists businesses according to their distance from you, based on predetermined categories or search terms (i.e., “ice cream”). If you find one you’re interested in visiting, the app can pull up directions for you or provide you with a contact phone number.
What’s a road trip without good music? With Spotify, you can create custom playlists from millions of your favorite songs, or download your friends’ playlists. If you have plenty of data available on your smartphone, you can stream music over your phone connection the whole way for free — however, it can be well worth upgrading to the $9.99-a-month premium plan for the chance to download the music to your phone for better sound quality and no advertising interruptions.
Weird roadside attractions like the world’s largest thermometer or gnome are part of the road trip experience. Make sure you don’t miss out by downloading this app, which can help you find out which historic landmarks and strange attractions are nearby, and give you directions to find them. The app is $2.99 for one region, or, if you’re going cross-country, spring for the all-access $5.99 version.
When you’re spending hours as a passenger in a car, staring out the window gets old after a while. If you need to give your brain some exercise, try Drop7, an addictive logic puzzle game that’s a bit like Tetris with more math and no time constraints. The game is easy to learn, and available for free from Zynga.
If you haven’t discovered this addicting physics game yet, a long road trip is the perfect time to get hooked on the original Angry Birds, which features level after level of birds, slingshots, catapults, and bad guys. If you’ve long since finished the original game, try one of its many spinoffs, including Angry Birds Space or Angry Birds Star Wars, or try out the new app featuring the birds’ nemeses, “Bad Piggies.”