Must-Have Tools for Your Next Road Trip

Must-Have Tools for Your Next Road Trip

I’m gearing up for some trips in 2019, so it’s time to plan again. I hope some of the things I do will help you in preparing and enjoying your upcoming trip. These are good reminders for me, too.

I was duplicating effort by putting an address into our GPS, into TripIt, into my phone,… Take a little time to think of the best central location for your contacts, tasks and itinerary. Try to avoid maintaining duplicate information. Unfortunately, one app may not work for everything.


Set up Your Notebook

I always create a physical notebook or binder for a trip. A notebook is a good backup when you have to work offline or (dread the thought) lose your phone.

Add your information into the notebook or your apps as you work on your plans:

  • A physical notebook with a pocket
    • Contact information (name, phone, address,…)
    • A calendar/itinerary
    • Maps and directions
    • In the pocket:
      • Tickets, receipts, gas cards, Groupons, membership cards, …

Of course, you might do this on your phone or tablet. A paper backup is a good safeguard, though. We did have several times when we were lacking wi-fi or cell phone connections.

Number One Tool… email (or text)

I appreciate email for setting appointments along our route. I spend very little time phoning unless it’s the only, or the best, way to contact someone. The following is what I did with email; it would also work with texting. When I start early enough, I have several emails that I’m waiting on while I plan other parts of our trip.  By working in priority order, we were able to see everyone.

For appointments, I picked out the first handful of people I needed to contact. I asked about their schedule and figured out the best time and day to visit them. After I knew their availability, I worked on the next set of names. Our framework was: time with our family over Memorial Day weekend and then speaking at a church on the weekend before or after.

I had to re-route our itinerary several times before it worked out for our final plan. We started with one loop trip in mind during two particular weeks. We ended up with the reverse route and two different weeks.

I was able to continue to work on the trip while waiting for some of the details to resolve through emails. I was always making progress on the trip. To review:

  • Pick your framework.
  • Fit your top appointments into the framework.
    • While waiting, start looking at lodging and meals.
  • Work on the next set of names when the first set of names are in the schedule.
    • While waiting, start looking at fun stops or side trips.

Route Planning and Itineraries

I recently posted about route-planning and itinerary apps. I haven’t settled on a route planner app. Please comment if you have one you like.

I use TripIt for everything except figuring out a route ahead of time. I used Google Maps to find healthy options for meals-on-the-road. I added these to TripIt. You could add any or all appointments, restaurants, tourist stops, etc. to TripIt. I also sync TripIt with Google calendar.


Consider saving a screenshot from Google Maps to your mobile device for any times you may be offline. If you want a printed map, here’s Google’s instructions for downloading and using offline maps for both Android and Apple devices.

I usually check the Street View of Google Maps to be familiar with our destination the night before. The next day, TripIt connects with Google Maps to give us directions for the last leg of our trip.

Read more about Maps, including finding GPS coordinates for remote locations, in Route Planning and Itinerary Apps.

Reservations and Expenses

TripIt is my go-to app for reservations. It’s easy to send your confirmation emails to TripIt, so they’re all in one place.

Our local Publix often has a discount deal on gas cards once a month or so. We usually have several of these to take on a trip. Before purchasing, we’ll check online to see which stations are in which part of the country. For instance, RaceTrac is only in the Southeast.

Try GasBuddy or other apps for finding the best gas prices.

I use Expense Manager (Android) on my Kindle Fire tablet which also allows me to have multiple accounts. I separate personal and MPD expenses. (Expense Manager for iPhones.)

Concur has a secure app for your phone for tracking expenses. It allows you to take photos of receipts to store them as you accumulate them. Concur also owns the TripIt app now.

It’s my personal preference to not do any financial transactions through my phone.

The Road Trip

Things to Do and See

I also used email to inquire about some places. We researched the Huntsville Space and Rocket Center, but their tour time didn’t work for us. I checked out the lodge at Lake Barkley in Kentucky. The rates were lower during weekdays and was a perfect overnight stop.

I’m the family “travel agent.” I’ve created a shared map for you in my post, Ideas for Your Long Road Trip. The map, “In-between” Places for Long Road Trips, doesn’t have popular destinations, but does have places:

  • right off the road to break up a long day or
  • a little out-of-the-way to add to your itinerary.

I’m sure you know about TripAdvisor and Yelp for finding places to visit along your route.

I gather digital books, music, and various talks for our 3,500+ road trip from Florida to Minnesota and back again. Hoopla works for me. (Also see NOTES for some ideas for older cars without CD players or auxiliary input.)

I hope what I learned about better ways to plan a trip is helpful for your next trip.


  • A video demo of the Expense Manager app.
  • The family photo is from a fifteen-day trip in May 2017. The “road trip” photo is by Colin on Unsplash.

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