5 essential road trip apps that have nothing to do with eating, sleeping, or navigating

Some apps help you plan your trip. These will help you enjoy it.

For the second summer in a row, the United States is experiencing a road trip revolution. By some estimates, as many as 9 in 10 Americans have hit the road for travel at least once since March 2020.

Thanks to the internet, mobile devices and other easy-to-find resources, building the agenda for a road trip is simple. You sure know where to go for navigation, last-minute hotel bookings, local food finds, hikes, and campsites. But there’s a lot of time unaccounted for in even the most jam-packed family vacation. 

Whether you’re traveling alone or cruising the interstate in a caravan, heading out for the day or going fully nomadic, there’s an app out there that can add something unexpected to your auto adventure. You just have to know where to look. 

HearHere

The world is your museum and this app is your audio guide. HearHere features thousands of short stories tied to specific locations across the United States, whether you’re stopping to explore or just driving past. Each recording is just a few minutes long, making them perfect bite-sized pieces of learning to soak up as you’re weaving through towns and cities.

[Related: Plan a road trip using only your smartphone]

The app even allows you to select specific categories you’re interested in hearing more about, including Music, Natural Wonders, History, and more. Offline listening is available, and with location services turned on, HearHere can send you alerts when you’re within range of something interesting to hear about. The radius is pretty large, so even if you’re dipping into a city just to crash for the night, you should be able to access most of the area’s unique stories.

HearHere is available for free for iOS. You’ll need a $35.99 a year premium subscription to unlock unlimited listening after your first five stories. 

Roadside America

This Holy Grail of road-trip apps has all the features you could want from a directory of the country’s quirkiest and most eclectic attractions. Unlike other apps that point you toward major tourist attractions, Roadside America knows that when you’re driving 400 miles in one day, you also want to stop and see some niche collector’s basement-turned-museum, a small-town prison with a haunted history, or the world’s largest pocketknife/gavel/frying pan/ping pong paddle. (Of the themes the app uses to tag attractions, the one with the most entries is, simply, “Big.”) Detailed descriptions and reviews make reading about suggested stops an entertaining pastime even from home.

Before a trip, enter your driving route, and Roadside America churns out a list (and a map view) of every noteworthy stop you’ll be passing. Filters allow you to winnow down results even further based on ratings determined by the app’s editors and the maximum number of miles you’re willing to detour for any one stop. 

[Related: How to get the best possible gas mileage]

Just be sure to check the hours on an attraction’s website before arriving. Some still have altered schedules due to COVID-19, and the changes may not be reflected in-app.

Roadside America is available for $2.99 for iOS and iPadOS, which includes your choice of 1 of 7 US regions. Additional regions can be purchased for $1.99 each or as a bundle for $6.99.

Drive.fm

Plenty of trivia apps let you play with your friends, but this one goes out to the solo roadtrippers. 

Drive.fm’s catalog of trivia games are all completely hands-free and voice-activated, and playing them feels like calling into a radio show or playing trivia at your local bar. When you start a game, you get paired with a registered friend or random opponent (though not in real time) to keep that sense of competition going while racking up points. 

The app won’t penalize you if you go through a tunnel right when your answer timer is ticking out, repeating the question instead when it doesn’t pick up your voice. The games run perfectly in the background of other apps like any other audio service, so if you rely on your phone for navigation, Drive.fm won’t get it in the way. 

[Related: Prevent your phone from distracting you while driving]

Unfortunately, though the Drive.fm app is still being updated with general improvements and the main trivia game has over 480 episodes, the makers haven’t released new installments in over a year, and it’s unclear if they plan to. Still, the app’s unique voice-responsive design makes for way more fun than screaming the answers to a podcast’s trivia questions into the ether, and you’d probably have to drive farther than any one person should to make it to the bottom of that back catalog.

Drive.fm is available for free download for iOS and Android. Unlimited subscriptions begin at $0.99 for your first month, then $49.99 a year.

PoopMap

Look, this app has a target audience, and you either are or aren’t a part of it. For those who like to commemorate their trips in unusual ways, this app allows you to drop a marker on a map every time you drop something else in a new location. Returning to your map can be a fun way to remember places you’ve been—and to make sure everything’s remained in working order after days of nothing but side-of-the-highway fast food.

An optional notes box and rating scale for each entry makes the app more of an ersatz travel journal than anything else. Enabling public viewing on your profile allows you to view notes and reviews created by other recent poopers across the country, including the occasional review of a bathroom in your area. And, of course, you can also connect with friends and create “leagues” with your travel companions, to see who has left their mark in more places along the route.

PoopMap is available for free for iOS and Android.

AmpMe

When your speakers are out of juice and your car radio is on the fritz, AmpMe is the answer. The app turns phones and computers into an interconnected sound system via Bluetooth, allowing you to play perfectly synced music from any number of compatible devices.  

[Related: The best apps for listening to music on your phone]

Create a “party” in-app to stream music from SoundCloud, Spotify, Deezer, YouTube, or your device’s music library. Then, connect with friends either by inviting them to join off a pre-approved friends list, or, for a faster process, open the party to local Bluetooth devices. Unfortunately, you’ll only be able to play music. If you want to listen to the latest true crime podcast with your friends while you drive, you’ll find this audio format is blocked from some platforms—including Spotify. 

AmpMe even has a gallery of global parties at the bottom of the app’s home screen, allowing you to listen in with people all over the world (perhaps on their very own road trips) at any time. 

AmpMe is available for a free 3-day trial for iOS, Android, Windows, and Mac. Afterward, you’ll have to pay a weekly fee of $9.99. 

Haley Weiss

Haley Weissis a freelance science and health journalist with writing in The Atlantic—where she formerly worked as an assistant editor,—Scientific American, Philadelphia Magazine, and more. She is always on the lookout for stories about all things goofy and macabre. Learn more about her at haleysweiss.com. Contact the author here.