Originally posted 5.8.16
Living on the road and constantly traveling to unfamiliar places towing an 8,000 lb RV can be stressful. There are a lot of unknowns and we can end up spending a lot of time and cell data trying to figure out all kinds of things. We know it’s probably like that for all travelers – whether you’re full-timers or not. So we’ve compiled a list of apps that have made our nomadic lives easier (especially one with a limited cell data plan). This post breaks the apps down into categories: travel planning; boondocking; while enroute; recreation; photography; data, and resources. Two apps that I didn’t include because I felt they were obvious are Facebook, and Instagram.
A few notes about this list: All apps listed here are for iOS but nearly all of them are available for Android. They are also all free except for a few which are marked. The apps we use the most often are marked with an *. Sometimes we have more than one app to do one job and that’s because even the best apps have some shortcomings.
+ TRAVEL PLANNING
Motion X-GPS is great for figuring out elevation and GPS coordinates, marking waypoints, compass readings, and recording GPS tracks. There is a (paid) driving navigation module, but the free version is better for trails than roads, so we mainly use this when we are scouting for boondocking sites and occasionally in place of a handheld GPS when we’re hiking. Map tiles can be downloaded ahead of time for offline use, so the app can still be used when there is no cell signal. This app is $1.99.
Jerud and I have argued about which map app is better: Google or Apple. I’ve always preferred Google Maps and he preferred Apple Maps, until recently. Google won because its turn-by-turn navigating is better, for example: which lane to take when exiting the interstate, or at an upcoming stoplight. This is extremely useful information when towing an RV. It also lets you more easily see what the next driving steps are. We still like to have multiple mapping apps, because sometimes one will choose a route that seems indirect, and we check it against the others. Google maps once tried to send us on an hours-long detour due to an “accident” which didn't even exist.
MapMyRide was created for cycling, but we use it to find out the steepness (% grade) of certain roads. This is good for planning routes through mountainous regions when traveling with the Toaster. It’s the best free solution we’ve found for figuring out road grade %. Plotting new routes and checking % grade is actually not possible via their mobile app – it has to be done from the website.
This app may not be a game-changer, but it shows locations of cell towers and (estimated) coverage on a map. This can be helpful when trying to choose a boondocking site if you don’t have any intel on whether signal is good there or not, or it can tell you which direction to go, if you’re seeking better signal than what you have. Doesn’t work offline, though.
InRoute is most useful to us when we are running a bunch of errands on a town day in an unfamiliar place. We can enter the places we want to drive to and let InRoute decide the best order to visit them. Or we can decide the order and InRoute will find the best route. This is an iOS app only.
After a lot of driving in Canada without cell signal, Maps.Me has supplanted our previous pick, Navmii, as our favorite offline mapping app. Like Navmii, it lets you download large map areas for offline use. Unlike Navmii, all the maps are completely free to download. They come from the OpenStreetMap database, which is stunningly detailed, even shaming Google Maps at times, and especially when it comes to including hiking and biking trails. The interface is clean and efficient to use; Navmii was slow and cartoony.
We use Campendium’s website all the time and felt that it was important to include it in this list even though they don’t have an app. Campendium is a great resource for us for finding boondocking spots. Not only are boondocking sites are listed but also RV parks, campgrounds, and parking lots. The majority of the sites have reviews from RVers providing useful details.
Technomadia, who have been RV full-timers for 10 years developed this app. US Public Lands overlays the different types of land management areas (national forest, BLM, wilderness, etc.) on an active map so RVers can identify legit boondocking spots. This app is $2.99.
If you’ve got solar panels on your rig, you’ll use this app every time you relocate. It will help you know where the sun will be, and anticipate shadows that may hurt your solar power generation. We first tried it as a convenience item but now rely on it heavily. It’s also got useful features for photography, so we both get plenty of use out of it.
+ WHILE ENROUTE
Very useful to find the cheapest gas and diesel. Since it’s all user-submission based, the prices are typically up to date. We like to help out and enter gas prices when we see that they need updating. We have used GasBuddy as far north as Yukon territory, Canada. Although gas stations – and price updates – are much fewer and further between way up there, a little planning can save a LOT of money.
Once in a blue moon we need to stay overnight at a truck stop. When we do, the Love's Connect and MyPilot gas station apps are very useful to let us know where the closest truck stops are.
We like to give our dogs frequent potty breaks while driving, so it helps to know where the next rest area will be. This app is basic with no frills, but it seems to have better descriptions of the individual rest areas (pet areas, vendors, etc.).
USA Rest Stops is a more polished app than RestArea and easier to use with more ways of looking up rest areas. This is an iOS app only.
RoadAhead locates specific services along the highway you’re driving on whether it’s an ATM, grocery store, park, or restaurant. It’s limited to exits off interstates and major highways only. This is an iOS app only and it's $1.99.
This is a neat app because it will tell you what services are along any route you’re taking from point A to point B (it’ll also do multiple destinations). Unlike RoadAhead, Roadtrippers includes services along smaller roads.
This is my go-to workout app. Nike Training offers a variety of workouts: yoga, cardio, plyometric, weights, lean, tone, strength, focus area, etc. Each work out includes a slideshow of the moves and a video. My favorite thing is that I can load the slideshows when I have Wi-Fi to use later and save cell data.
This app doesn’t really fit in this category, but it doesn’t fit in any of the existing categories, so just bear with me. I love and use WeChat a lot because my parents live overseas and this is the best way to stay in touch with them. They live in a place where long distance charges add up quickly and iPhone’s FaceTime doesn’t work. This app takes the places of several different apps and doesn’t use a lot of data (unless you’re video chatting). WeChat allows users to text, video chat, voice call, leave voicemails, send photos and videos, and share links.
Living on the road means I can’t easily borrow books from the library, but thank goodness for free e-books through my hometown library. I use the Kindle app to read the digital books I download onto my phone.
MTB Project has a nice repository of bike trails, with moderated submissions so it’s pretty clean and reliable. Trail ratings are adjusted by “consensus”, which we think makes them tend to be rated harder than they really are.
Like MTB Project, TrailForks lists mountain bike trails. Sometimes it has less “mainstream” trails listed, but is also prone to multiple listings for the same trail, since submissions aren’t moderated. Trail difficulty ratings seem to be more in-line with reality, though can be confusing when there are multiple entries for one trail. TrailForks seems to be used more for trails in Canada.
Avenza lets you download topo and quadrangle maps for most areas for free. This is good for hiking and biking, and sometimes finding nameless dirt roads to explore. It will show your GPS location on the maps as you’re viewing them.
We don’t use this app often, but when we want to know what a star or constellation is, this is the app we go to. This app is $2.99.
This is the only photo editing app I use on my phone. If I want to quickly post a photo I took with my phone on social media then this is what I use to fix it up with. It’s easy to use with a lot of editing options in addition to filters.
This app turns my phone into a remote control for my DSLR to take photos. It also lets me view photos from my DSLR on my phone and download them onto my phone. It’s all WiFi based so it’ll only work if you have a Nikon DSLR with Wi-Fi.
While this app gives us access to everything that is on Verizon’s regular website, we mainly use it to keep track of our data and easily adjust the size of our data plan. We’ve added this app to iPhone’s widget window so we can quickly pull down the window and monitor our data consumption.
These are two separate apps that are linked by the developer and work together. They integrate quick network speed test, ability to add new hotspots, and ability to search for hotspots. The hotspot search displays speed test results for each spot, which is very nice. The database is pretty large, but far from perfect. Offline access to a pre-downloaded area is available with payment.
The database in Wi-Fi Finder seems to complement SpeedSpot’s gaps pretty well. Interface is good and it can show hotspot speeds (if someone has tested it).
While this app is kind of old and it doesn’t have the best interface, the underlying data has been complete and accurate so far. It includes RV dumps that are free, fee-based, or are only usable if you’re staying at the campground.
It sounds stupid and obvious, but when you’re always in unfamiliar places, it’s hard to know where to go for services…or just a good burrito. We all know some restaurants are overpriced, some mechanics are dishonest, and some tourist attractions are hyped-up. Yelp gives you a fighting chance at dodging disappointment.
This app is most useful for finding disposal sites for less common things like batteries, automotive fluids, etc. It’s not so helpful for finding drop-offs for frequent household items like paper, glass, and plastic.
This mix has been working well for us, but there's always new ones coming out to try. If you've found any apps that are especially useful, please tell us about it in the comments!