I’m grateful for this list of the best apps for road trips with kids, because it turns out, I’m not allowed to put my kids in a hilarious sidecar by themselves during long drives. So I’ve been prepping my phone and the kids’ iPad for the long interstate hours ahead, in hope that there will be less screaming-out-of-boredom, and fewer gross public bathroom stops.
(Yes, these apps can help with that too!)
So download these, our picks for the best apps for road trips for the kids, whether you’re in need of entertainment, food, gas, restroom breaks — and did I mention entertainment? Because this mama has played all the I Spy she can for one lifetime.
– This post has been updated for 2021 –
Top image © Caroline Crawford for Cool Mom Tech
The best apps for road trips with kids
Google Maps app to get you where you’re going
Of course I couldn’t leave this OG driving app off my list of the best apps for road trips with the kids. Thanks to plentiful updates over the years, I still rarely use anything else besides the Google Maps app to navigate. I love the intuitive design, the warnings when a turn is approaching, and the feature that allows you to search for gas stations and restaurants to add easily to your drive — without exiting the navigation screen.
Waze app for up-to-the-second roadside alerts
Apple Maps app… especially for Apple Watch
Shall we go for three map apps? Apple Maps has made some outstanding updates in recent years, and a lot of people prefer it for an interface that’s large, and easy to read without taking your eyes off the road. Speaking of which, the connectivity with your Apple Watch is a fabulous benefit — getting that haptic vibration when it’s time to get off the exit or make a sharp left, is incredibly helpful. Especially if you’e got a noisy crowd in the back seat.
Note that you can even use the “Listen for Directions” mode to combine tones and haptic feedback. And it’s kind of nice just to occasionally say “Hey Siri, how long will it take me to get home?”
The GasBuddy app for saving you bucks when you fill up
Especially these days, we love the GasBuddy app which lets you track the least expensive gas station en route — and yes, it really works! I like that it can also help me figure out exactly at what point I’ll need a refill, so I can try to plan around my kids’ nap and snack schedules. Can’t make a list of the best road trip apps — for families or not — without this money-saving option.
Roadtrippers app for leg-stretching breaks
The Roadtrippers app can not only help you navigate to your destination, it can help you find colorful roadside attractions along the way. Like, I hadn’t ever realized how close we were coming to Graceland on our yearly pilgrimage to see my grandmother in Mississippi before I started using the app — which, hey, why not?
It also shows you all the nature walks and hikes along a route, so that you can let kids get their wiggles out on a longer journey.
iExit app for a little bit of everything pitstop-related
If you want to save storage space on your phone, grab a great multitasker app like iExit. This app is a real-time, go-to list of the nearest restaurants, rest stops, hotels and more on every upcoming exit on your route. While not as specific as Gas Buddy, Flush, and Roadtripper, it’s got enough info help you find the basics without having to download three new apps.
Netflix app for backseat entertainment
Maybe this seems like a “duh,” inclusion as one of the best roadtrip apps, but I appreciate how Netflix makes it so easy to download favorite episodes through the Netflix app before you start driving, so you don’t have to panic if you lose WiFi. I also like that Netflix has become less strict over the years about which shows and movies can be downloaded for offline viewing, so that we can all pick our favorites.
Besides, it doesn’t just have to be a movie “for the kids” — there’s probably something there you wouldn’t mind listening to from the front seat.
Audible app for family story time
If you’d rather listen to something with the kids, instead of handing over the video apps, you can’t go wrong with any of these 5 audiobook apps that we’ve recommended in the past. Audible of course is the biggest and most used, but also check out Libro.fm which supports indie bookstores with your audiobook purchase; and Hoopla, which lets you borrow the books from your library. Free.
Pinna app for kid-friendly podcasts
We’ve been fans of this just-for-kids podcasts app for years, and their content keeps getting better and better, if you ask me. The app mainly features podcasts, but they’ve expanded to audiobooks recently, and you can search either by age and interest. It’s subscription-based, which is a drawback since there are so many free kids’ podcasts in the world, but for me, it’s worth it to have a bunch of well-vetted, family-friendly podcasts all in one place.
Amazon Alexa for road trip games with the kids
Car fax app…just in case
While I sincerely hope you don’t break down on your next road trip (or ever), I know it happens. And I’ve been there! Which is why I recommend having a car maintenance and repair app like Carfax on your phone. It keeps track of when you had your last oil change, when you need to update your registration, and where you can find local repair shops if you’re a long way from home when the alternator (that’s a thing, right?) dies.
Check out more road trip planning tips and apps in the Cool Mom Tech archives. Happy Thanksgiving, and safe travels!