traveltips

6 Essential Road Trip Planning Apps of 2021

Download these apps to help plan your ultimate summer road trip.

1. GasBuddy

I want to save money wherever I can when I travel, and I love any tool that helps with this goal. Gas prices can add up quickly during a road trip. GasBuddy allows people to search for the lowest fuel prices in the area. It also helps calculate the estimated fuel charges for your road trip before you even get in the car.

Additionally, there is a free option to save up to $0.25/gallon. You need to connect your checking account, and they will mail you a card to swipe at the pump for a discount. For $9.99/month, you can save up to $0.40/gallon and get roadside assistance. Available for Android and iOS.

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2. HipCamp

I wish I knew about HipCamp years ago. The user interface resembles Airbnbs, but it is only for booking¬†campsites, cabins, RV parks, public parks, and more. Landowners can advertise their private land as camp sites, much like homeowners can rent out their homes. HipCamp appears to be geared towards “glamping,” and many rentals are more expensive than your typical campsite, but there are cheaper options.

Since HipCamp mainly focuses on private landowners, it is a great alternative during the pandemic when many state campsites are closed. Get $10 in HipCamp credit by signing up with this link. Available for Android and iOS.

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3. My Maps (by Google Maps)

Remember having to write down directions on PAPER to drive anywhere? Sadly, I bet many of you don’t. Trust me. It was a tough time.

You can use Google Maps for more than trying to beat the estimated time of arrival when driving. My Maps gives you the ability to create a custom map with your own landmarks, routes, and even the ability to add shapes and drawings. The best part is you can share the map with other people and give them the ability to add to the map if you want.

For example, I used My Maps to plan my Route 66 road trip. I added layers for accommodations and attractions. I shared it with my boyfriend, who was able to add attractions he was interested in, too. We used this map to navigate our whole trip. For an in-depth tutorial on how to make a custom map, check out this article. (Apple does not make a specific My Maps app, but the feature is available on the Google Maps app.)

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4. Road Side America

Do you want to see the largest rocking chair or the tallest totem pole? Roadside America is a database of “Offbeat Tourist Attractions.” Anyone can add an attraction or update an existing one. The website is free to use. An app is available for iOS starting at $2.99, allowing you to download the maps to your phone. Personally, I check the website when I plan my road trip and then add the stops to my custom google map.

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5. Flush

This is probably the most important road trip app on this list. Flush will locate any restroom in your area. It also gives you information on which ones provide accessibility access, charge a fee for usage, or require a key. Did you find a bathroom not on the list? Add it to Flush’s database. Available for Android and iOS.

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6. TripIt

TripIt is my favorite road trip planning app. I hate searching through my email to find my car rental reservation number? Or the contact information for my Airbnb? TripIt helps me stay organized for any vacation. I can manually input reservations, but the best feature is TripIt will scan your emails and automatically import any travel-related information to its website. The entire trip itinerary is available in one place with minimal effort. TripIt also makes it easy to share/edit travel plans with your whole group. Available for Android and iOS.

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What should you bring on your road trip? 15 Road Trip Packing List Essentials

Road Trip Packing List

15 Road Trip Packing List Essentials

This is the summer of road trips. International travel isn’t an option right now. People can explore the US safely. But, a road trip does require a little planning. These fifteen items are a must-have on your road trip packing list.

1. Hand-Held Paper Map

The first reason this is on the packing list is cell phone service can be spotty, especially in National Parks. An old fashion map can save the day.

The second reason for me is that I am a visual learner. You can explain to me all day where we are going, but you could be talking in a foreign language until I see it. Plus, a perfect keepsake is stitching the route into the map when you get back.

I recommend a waterproof map, so you don’t worry about spilling your coffee.

2. Car Organizer

A road trip means living out of the car for days. Between electronics, snacks, and guidebooks, things can get messy quickly. Stay organized and add this to your road trip packing list.

3. Compact Tent and Sleeping Bag

Hotel bills can add up quickly. There are beautiful places to camp in the US. You don’t have to pack tons of camping gear. Keep a small tent and sleeping bag in the car. You never know when you will find the perfect beach camping spot.

4. Cooler

Eating out also adds up quickly. Get a soft-sided cooler (easier to squeeze into an already full car). Keep snacks, lunch meat, beer, and wine (passengers only) handy. A picnic lunch is a perfect way to cut down on expenses. Don’t forget the wine opener.

I found a very cheap cooler at Walmart that shockingly does not leak. This cooler on amazon has great reviews if you don’t want to battle the Walmart crowd.

5. Wine Tote

Do you need it? No. Do you want it? Yes. I got my wine tote as a gift when I joined a wine club. This one on Amazon is similar.

If you decide to join the wine club, make sure you check to see if there are any bonus offers with your travel credit card. If you don’t have a travel reward credit card, I recommend the Chase Saphire Reserve or the American Express Platinum Card.

6. Blanket

When I first got my license, my cousin bought me a car blanket. A blanket that I was to leave in the car. It came in handy on more than one occasion.

I hate the AC blowing on me. I also hate fighting over the controls. Stop arguments over the temperature of the car and use the blanket to stay warm. It can also double as a picnic blanket.

7. PopSocket Phone Mount

Yes, I know. Don’t use your phone while driving. But I am also realistic. We are going to use our phone for music and directions. A PopSocket phone mount is a great way to keep your Google maps at eye level. And, in case you don’t want want to keep the mount on the dash or are driving a rental car, use a piece of floss to remove it safely. I don’t recommend the mount that goes in the vent. It isn’t strong enough to support a phone.

8. Spare Change

I never have spare change with me. Let’s face it. We are a cashless society. A road trip is an exception. Even though most tolls are cashless, you never know. Cash can come in handy for tolls, national park entrance fees, parking meters, and an occasional win-a stuffed animal game.

Unicorn Claw Machine, Berjaya Times Square
Cliff attempts and fails to win me a unicorn in Kuala Lumpur.

9. Trashbag

Wrappers, drink containers, gum wrappers, etc. Trash builds up fast during a road trip. I usually use a grocery bag from the gas station, but check out this contraption if you want to go fancy.

10. Multi-Port Car Charger

We all have electronics, a cellphone, Ipad, a smartwatch, etc. Times that by two or more people and let the arguments begin. Get a multi-port car charger. One that has a cord will stop backseat passengers from bothering you every 5 minutes.

Just remember to remove it when the car is off. There is nothing like a dead battery in the middle of nowhere.

11. Gas-X

We all have that friend, or maybe you are that friend. Road trip food is rarely healthy. Be safe. Put Gas-X or nose plugs on your road trip packing list.

12. The Perfect Offline Playlist

Don’t forget to download your road trip playlist. We have all felt the dreaded moment when the radio goes to static. Spotify, iTunes, and Sound Cloud all have an option to download music. Check out Wandering Bird for great playlist ideas.

13. Reading Light

The item you didn’t know you needed until you saw it. I don’t have this, but I am adding it to my road trip packing list. I always feel guilty, turning on the overhead light in the dark just to read a guidebook or a map.

14. Toilet Paper

I have no shame. I grew up on a farm and have no problem squatting on the side of the road. Yes, you can use the shake method, but that never completely works (I don’t know how dogs do it). Therefore, a roll of toilet paper is a road trip essential. Plus, it can be used to clean up the soda you just spilled.

15. Wet Wipes

I hope you brought the toilet paper, but wet wipes are an even better way to clean up spills and sticky hands.

This page contains affiliate links, and I may receive compensation if you click on a link. You can read my full advertising disclosure here.


Are you looking for road trip ideas? Then, check out my Guide to Route 66.

Travel Accessories

Top 10 Travel Accessories That You Can’t Live Without

I love travel accessories. I would preferably buy a new airplane pillow over a new pair of shoes. Throughout my travels, I have found items I hated and some that I can not live without. I own every item recommended on this list. And I promise these items will change how you travel.

#10 Folding Bag

A folding bag is a must-have travel accessory. We have all heard the motto: Leave room in your suitcase for souvenirs. Well, I have never been able to do it. No matter how big or small my bag is, I will fill every corner. A folding bag takes up little space to pack and can be used for all those shot glasses, magnets, and “I was here” t-shirts that you know you are going to buy. I bought the RuMe cFold Downing bag, and it has lasted many trips.

I also love to use it as a beach bag instead of getting sand in my pocketbook or carryon. You can fold it up at the end of your vacation and do not have to worry about sand getting everywhere.

#9 Anti Theft Pocketbook and Purse

I go on a lot of solo trips and very rarely feel unsafe when I travel. The one thing I do look out for is pickpocketers. Areas with a large number of tourists looking up at the surrounding and not paying attention attract thieves.

One time in Barcelona, a girl at my hostel had her phone taken right out of her hands while she was texting. I even had a friend get her phone stolen from her pocket on the beaches of Thailand.

I carry a travel anti-theft bag with me when I know I am going to be in a tourist area. I like to use the Travelon Women’s Anti-Theft Tailored Convertible Crossbody Clutch Cross Body Bag for going out at night. It can be used as a wristlet or a crossbody bag. The larger, Travelon Anti-Theft Active Tour Bag is perfect for the daytime. It will fit your camera and all the other touristy things people carry. Both bags have lockable pockets, slash-proof straps, a slash-proof body, and RFID blocking pockets.

It might sound like overkill, and in most cases it is, but I highly suggest this travel accessory for big tourist traps like La Rambla street in Barcelona or the Colosseum in Rome.

#8 Packing Cubes

I love organization, and I love to squeeze as much as I can into my suitcase. Packing cubes are a must-have. I have small ones for makeup and large ones for my winter snowboarding gear. I don’t have to dig through my suitcase looking for that one sock I can’t find. I just pull out the packing cube with my socks and underwear in it.

There are two types of packing cubes I use: regular cubes and compression bags. Compression bags have an extra zipper that allows you to squish your clothes down to half the size.

My only complaint with the compression bags is that I have trouble zipping them up. It is entirely my fault as I try to put too many items in the bag, but I still do it. It might have played a role when I missed my Air Asia flight.

Both sets of cubes I recommend have not ripped despite all the overpacking I do.

#7 PodSox

Thankfully a friend introduced me to PodSox. They are compression sox that are fun to wear. There are tons of fun prints. My favorite is unicorns.

I was flying home from Peru after hiking to Macchu Pichu. I slept most of the nine-hour flight. When I woke up, I looked down and saw elephant feet. I was only 30 years old. The only people I knew that wore compression stockings were people having surgery and old crotchety nurses.

More importantly than being travel accessories, they are great for your health. Long flights increase your chance of getting a blood clot. Compression socks help prevent blood clots and those ugly varicose veins. I never fly without them.

Pod Sox Travel Accessories
Pod Sox Travel Accessories

#6 WANDF Expandable Toiletry Bag

Everyone has a toiletry bag in one form or another for traveling. I’ve used every size and shape imaginable, including a gallon zip-lock bag, more than once.

I bought this bag in 2017, and I have been on over 30 trips with it. It ripped for the first time last month; however, I consider that excellent for a reasonably priced toiletry bag. I can stuff full-size bottles and 20 tubes of lip gloss (I’ll lose 19 of them throughout my trip) into the bag. It isn’t fancy, but more importantly, it works and will last.

Now that it ripped, I did look at other bags. Two things I wish it had were an area for the wet stuff. It would come in handy when you get right out of the shower and have to leave for the airport, but your loofah is wet. Also, It would be nice if it could sit on a counter. I will update you if I find one.

#5 Travel Blanket

I need a travel blanket for the airplane because I get freezing, plus I love to feel all cozy. I have had many over the years. My main complaint is how bulky they are. Sometimes you need a whole other bag for your blanket. And if they are not bulky, they are barely big enough to cover your legs. I was looking for something very compact and big enough to tuck under my chin and my toes. I found it.

Not only is the cocoon Coolmax Travel Blanket compact, but I can also get it back into the bag without a problem. How often can you get your sleeping back into the bag it came into?

Never.

I must stress that this is a very thin blanket. I usually fold it in half. It is still big enough to cover your body. I debated buying a thicker one, but I really like how big and compact it is.

#4 Lumbar support pillow

I have a pretty good back (knock on wood), but there is something about airplane seats that make my lower back hurt. It doesn’t matter if it’s Spirit or British Airways. I always ended up using my neck pillow as a back pillow.

I found this blowup lumbar support pillow, and it works perfectly. It is compact and easy to inflate and deflate. It doesn’t look like much; however, I guarantee it will make your flight more enjoyable. Plus, it can be used as a pillow if needed.

#3 Hydro Flask

My name is Susan, and I am addicted to ice. I can not drink fluids that are not on the ice. Well, Except beer. I do drink my wine with ice, though.

I love my Hydro Flask. I sleep with my Hydro Flask. My boyfriend is jealous of my Hydro Flask.

My Hydro Flask will sit on the front seat of my car all day in the Las Vegas sun and still have ice in it. It’s magic. Ice is hard to find outside of the US. People look at you like you are crazy if you ask for it. Therefore, if I do find some, I want it to last.

Hydro Flask makes a large selection of sizes, and I own most of them. I like the Hydro Flask standard mouth water bottle for travel because it fits in most water bottle holders. They even have a pint glass that will keep your beer at the perfect temperature.

#2 The Best Travel Pillow Ever

I am that person that likes to sleep with their head on the tray table. I am sure it is not the cleanest, but when I am tired, I don’t care.

I have tried every type of travel pillow, and this is the only one that works for me. I was hesitant at first because it is pretty silly looking. Now I don’t care because I can sleep for long periods. My back doesn’t hurt. If you are a side or stomach sleeper, you need to get this. You might look silly, but who cares when you are snoring away on a 7-hour flight.

My only complaint is the area where you put your face is a little rough. I bring a pillowcase with me to wrap around it.

#1 TSA Approved Clear Travel Toiletry Bag

The number one travel accessory I can not live without. I am horrible with my liquids. I need different hair products, lip glosses, bug spray, sunblock, and I never leave home without Poop-Pourri. If you have never used Poop-Pourri, you need to try it. It works. Your poop will not smell.

TSA requires all liquids to be in a clear 1-quart size bag. That is insane. Especially when I am only taking a carry on, a 1-quart zip-lock bag will barely fit a shampoo, a conditioner, and some makeup. This bag can fit at least 50% more. It is also well made, and I have been able to overstuff it without the zipper breaking.

I didn’t believe TSA would actually count it as a 1-quart bag, but I have not had any questions. I was traveling in Europe, and security made everyone empty their liquids into 1-quart zip lock bags that they supplied. My poor boyfriend had to throw out several items. Finally, when it was my turn, they looked at my bag and let me go through. I couldn’t believe it.

Nor could my boyfriend, who now always uses this bag when traveling. Of course, I don’t want to make empty promises. I can’t guarantee this will work every time; however, I can just say I have been using this travel accessory since 2017 and have never had an issue.