17 Summer Road Trip Hacks and Free Planning Apps

by Ryan Nicholson | Last Updated:  April 27, 2021

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It’s road trip season and everyone is looking forward to a fun summer getaway.

Whether it’s a drive within Colorado or a long trip across state lines, these road trip hacks will save you time and money!

In this guide, we are sharing the best road trip hacks and planning apps so you can plan an amazing trip that’s hassle-free. 

These are the best road trip hacks and apps that we personally use while trying to escape the summer heat.

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1. Use the Roadtrippers App

driving into woodland park colorado

As you are planning your trip, check out the Roadtrippers app.

This free app will help you find interesting detours and sights along your route.

Enjoy a spontaneous detour with unusual roadside stops, scenic bypasses, and historical markers.

Plus, keep an eye out for some local oddities! These make every road trip a little more memorable.

2. Download an offline map

If you’re a smartphone user and rely on your phone for navigation, download an offline map.

Google Maps has routes available for offline use. Or simply take a screenshot of where you want to go, just in case.

To download maps for offline use, click on the three lines for the menu in your Google Maps app.

Scroll down to the menu item for Offline Maps, and choose a region to download.

This can be very helpful if you’re out in the backwoods with no reception and get lost along your way!

3. Check the weather

winter driving tips colorado

Always check the weather before leaving! This is especially important in a state like Colorado where the weather changes quickly.

It’s important to check the weather at your destination and also along your route.

There’s nothing worse than a fun vacation derailed by surprise blizzards (yep, it happened to us!) high winds, torrential rain, or even wildfires.

By checking the weather conditions along your route, you can better plan and change your path if necessary.

Travelers to Colorado will know that our weather is very temperamental. It can go from lovely and sunny to hailing, and even snowing in just a few hours.

Bring clothes and shoes to accommodate any kind of weather so you’re not stuck out in the cold (or blistering heat!) unprepared.

4. Locate clean public restrooms

Everyone appreciates a clean bathroom while traveling, right?

We recommend using the Sit Or Squat app by Charmin to help you find the cleanest public restrooms anywhere.

Plus, you can share your own feedback to help other travelers as well.

For ladies and people with kids, having a clean bathroom can feel like a real luxury while on the road.

Use this app to find a little luxury on your drive!

5. Compare gas prices

Fall foliage in colorado

Never leave home on an empty tank! Before you leave, fill up with gas so you don’t have to stop shortly after taking off.

We like using the GasBuddy app which locates the best prices on gasoline in your area. Sometimes the closest gas station is not always the cheapest.

To use the app, just type in the names of towns along your route and make sure you’re getting the best deal at every fill up.

And be sure to run any errands before you leave for your road trip.

Ideally, do these a few days in advance of your trip so you don’t have any surprises along the way.

6. Have peace of mind with AAA

The greatest peace of mind you can have on the road is the knowledge that, if something bad happens, help is on the way.

And no list of road trip hacks would be complete without mentioning AAA.

AAA is available at every price point, from around $50-80 per year to $250 for the premium RV levels.

With membership, you’re entitled to roadside and emergency assistance including towing, fuel delivery, locksmith service, and so much more.

Plus, as a AAA member, you get tons of great benefits, like discounts on local attractions, hotels, shopping, and entertainment!

If you travel often throughout the year, you’re sure to break even on the cost of the membership just in discounts on hotel stays (like we do!).

7. Get the right car fluids

rvshare renting an rv experience

The best way to keep your road trip rolling is to make sure your car is in good working order!

There’s no bigger bummer than taking off for your trip and that check engine light comes on 100 miles from home. 🙁

Before leaving, swing through Jiffy Lube or other quick mechanic shop to get your fluids topped off.

Check or change the oil, top up your windshield wiper fluid and power steering fluid.

You may also want to get your brakes inspected and check the tires for excessive wear or a slow leak.

And if you are traveling to states like Colorado in cold-weather months, be sure to change your windshield wiper fluid to an alcohol-based fluid.

8. Use the iExit app

One of our favorite road trip planning apps is the iExit app, which is available on Apple and Android devices.

The iExit app tells you what’s coming up at each exit on the interstate.

You’ll never miss another bathroom break, hotel, restaurant, or gas station stop again!

9. Bring some cash

If you’re like us, you may be shocked to learn that many parts of the country are still not accepting credit cards at tolls and gas stations.

And seriously, who carries a checkbook anymore?

As you’re prepping for your trip, swing by the ATM and get some cash!

Just in case somewhere along your route has not adopted plastic payments. Yes, this has happened to us before.

10. Park overnight (safely) for free

getting to colorado springs

As we continue down our list of road trip hacks, here is a big one.

When traveling with an RV or camper, it can be hard to find a safe, free place to park overnight.

Or if you want to take a break and get a few hours of sleep, where can you park safely?

Since getting our Teardrop trailer, we have started using Allstays.com to find free places to park overnight.

These are places you can park without being bothered or bothering others.

Allstays will help you find a rest stop or a Walmart parking lot nearby, and can even help you find a more scenic place to park for free as well!

11. Find nearby campgrounds

We like using Campendium to help us find campgrounds with spaces available for our Teardrop trailer.

This website will help you find available spaces that are nearby and to you specifications.

You can sort by price and amenities, and even find dump sites where you can drain your gray and black water.

Another great resource to check out is this list of free RV camping sites!

12. Stay at Holiday Inn Express

holiday inn express hotel

If you don’t have a camper and want to stay at a hotel, we highly recommend the IHG app from Holiday Inn Express.

This app is totally free to join and as a member, you’ll earn points toward free stays and other perks through the rewards program.

This is perfect if you are a frequent traveler and typically stay in hotels.

Even if you’re swinging into town late or have to change plans quickly, you can make your reservations in the app.

Then, rack up points to get free nights for later trips. We use this app frequently and have used dozens of free nights.

The main reasons we recommend Holiday Inn Express hotels is because they are:

13. Eat yummy food on the road

Traveling foodies will love the TVFoodMaps app to locate restaurants and food that has been featured on TV.

This handy app will help you to find restaurants that you’ve seen on your favorite TV shows along your road trip route.

Why stop at yet another McDonald’s when you could dine at restaurants featured on Top Chef, Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, and Best Thing I Ever Ate?

Just enter your destination and the app will suggest restaurants that have been featured on television cooking shows.

14. Try local markets and produce

the Colorado Food Scene

As you’re driving, keep your eyes open for farmer’s markets and produce stands.

This can be an amazing opportunity to grab super fresh, super delicious foods that you don’t often get in your own hometown!

Try the local delicacies when they are in season and get a taste of the regional flavors.

Check out some of our top recommendations of unique foods of Colorado.

15. Pack an overnight bag

For multiple day journeys, it can be a real drag to haul around a giant suitcase with all your belongings in and out of hotels every day.

Instead, pack the most important essentials (and any valuables that you don’t want to leave in the car) in a smaller overnight bag.

This will allow you to quickly grab and go when you arrive at your destination for the night.

16. Download some audiobooks

During long road trips we like to download audiobooks on Audible to listen to while we drive.

Some of our personal favorites include the Harry Potter series and the Game of Thrones series (if that tells you anything about us!).

As much as we love audiobooks, they can sometimes get expensive to download.

Our top road trip hack is to use Audible and sign up for a subscription (usually about $15).

Find an audiobook you like and use your credit to download a book, then unsubscribe if you no longer need it.

With bigger-name best-sellers going for $40 or $50 per audiobook, you can end up saving a lot.

And once you download the book, it will stay in your Audible library forever (even if you cancel later).

17. Listen to podcasts

Podcasts are another road trip hack to help pass the long hours of driving. Obviously we recommend listening to our Hashtag Colorado Life podcast.

We have over 50 episodes about exploring Colorado and awesome things to do in the state.

Use it to plan your road trip activities and destinations.

Another recommendation is the Up and Vanished podcast. If you like mysteries, it’s a great one to stay entertained while road tripping.

We hope these road trip hacks will help you plan your next trip and have a fun summer getaway.

Ryan Nicholson is a homegrown born and raised Colorado native. Being a rare unicorn to have grown up in CO, he has a unique perspective on the changes here and knows all the hidden spots to get outside in this state. Ryan's a classically French trained chef so he LOVES to try new foods and places to eat. When he's not experimenting in the kitchen or working as a personal chef along the Front Range, he loves to get outdoors and away from it all hiking, camping and backpacking.