By the time you read this, I will be embarked on a 300,000-mile drive across the US of A with my lovely wife, two adorable/surly teenagers, and a cranky old dog.
OK, maybe it’s only 3,000 real miles. It’s the trip we’ve been talking about for years. We’ll see the parts of the country we’ve only flown over before, and it’s probably our last big family vacation for quite a while. But I have to admit that at this moment I am starting to question my own sanity.
Fortunately, my kids are old enough to entertain themselves by watching videos on their phones and/or texting about how much they hate their parents for forcing them to stop at every freakin’ historical landmark. But I remember when they weren’t so self-sufficient. Even now, without careful planning, this trip could easily feel 100 times longer.
If you’re planning a summer road trip with the family, there’s some gear that’s truly essential: smartphones or tablets, a mobile WiFi hotspot (or a really cheap data plan), plenty of ibuprofen, and lots of Wetnaps (useful no matter how old your kids are). But you’d also be wise to bring along some apps to help you plan your route, find things to do, and keep the kids from driving you bonkers from the cheap seats.
Here are 10 excellent apps that keep you calm, cool, and relatively sane while traveling ridiculous distances in an internal combustion vehicle.
We live in an exceedingly strange country. If you doubt that, check out Roadside America. The coffee-table-book-turned-mobile-app clues you in to the oddball attractions that never make it into most tourism guides — like the Fish with Women’s Breasts (Des Moines, Washington) or the 13-ton boulder carved into a likeness of John Wayne (Lubbock, Texas). You can search by theme or have the app alert you to the oddities in your current location. A great excuse for getting out of the car and stretching your legs, as well as your credulity.
This app lets your grade-schooler manage his own virtual road trip across the USA while you navigate the interstate. Along the way, he can pick up hitchhiking virtual animals, take quizzes to earn gas money, and maybe learn a little math, history, and geography. It might even stop him from asking, “Are we there yet?”
3. Roadtrip Mixtape (Web)
Stop fighting over who gets to control the radio. Just enter your start and end points, and this Web app will build a mixtape of local artists from each region you’re passing through and play them at appropriate moments. The site, run by Spotify’s Echo Nest Lab, creates a series of rolling 15-minute playlists featuring the five most popular artists from any particular area. Gangsta ska in New Mexico? It still beats endless verses of “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.”
Reading in cars is tough, especially when your kids are small and don’t have advanced language skills. These award-winning interactive books make it easy, by reading to them aloud and highlighting each word as your child follows along. The mobile app includes 150 stories, including works by Charles Dickens, Mother Goose, and Marc Brown (“Arthur”), many of them read by celebrity narrators like Kelly Ripa and Clay Aiken. Hey, anything that keeps the kids from getting carsick is a plus.
This mobile app takes the oddball attractions of Roadside America and couples it with information about navigation, accommodations, restaurants, and more along your route. Plug in your starting city and final destination; the app will calculate the mileage, time required, and how much you’ll spend on gas. Or, if the kids are screaming for pizza, it can find the closest pie shop so you can get some food down their necks before they drive you nuts.
See also: 7 Apps You Need on Your Next Road Trip, from Yahoo Travel
Interactive stories are fine for the smaller kids, but not so much for tweens. That’s where movies come in. This free, ad-supported streaming service offers up obscure but family-friendly fare like Puppy in My Pocket and Invisible Dad. (As if.)
If you’re planning to see the USA in your Chevrolet, you’ll eventually be forced to grapple with the ultimate existential question: Where is the closest bathroom? That’s when you’ll be glad you downloaded this app. Available for iOS or Android, iExit gives you the 411 on what services you’ll find on every exit on every U.S. interstate — all 47,714 miles of them. You can also search for gas stations, coffee shops, restaurants, and more; the app will display any that are near an exit and within 1.5 miles of your current location.
8. RoadTrip Bingo (iOS)
Got two little ones squabbling in the back seat? Have them play against each other instead. This iOS app combines I spy with bingo by randomly displaying a picture of some object — a horse, an airplane, a pylon, and so on — and having kids tap the appropriate pictures on their bingo cards. The first player to spot five objects in a row gets to shout “Bingo!” thoroughly annoying her parents. But at least they’re not fighting. Standard resolution version costs a buck; the HD version $2.
9. Fusic (iOS)
Now your selfie- and music-obsessed teen can entertain herself by combining both passions in one app. Choose a music video by a major artist like Miley Cyrus or 50 Cent, decide if you want to sing along or lip-sync, and then start mugging for your iPad or iPhone camera. The app creates a smooth blend between your performance and the more famous one and then lets you share the “fused” video with other Fusic peeps. Who knows? You or your kids might one day be as Internet-famous as Jesse and Savannah Lozano (nicely profiled here by Yahoo Tech’s Deb Amlen).
You’re desperate to get to the Grand Canyon before nightfall, so you maybe lean a little too heavy on the gas pedal. Trapster can keep you from making an unplanned detour to the pokey by displaying a map of speed traps, red-light cams, road hazards, tricky intersections, and more as reported by other Trapster users. It won’t, however, post your bail if you get nabbed. So please drive safely.
Questions, complaints, kudos? Email Dan Tynan at ModFamily1@yahoo.com.