The 7 Best Road Trip Apps to Download for Vanlife

By: Scott Adamson
/ September 4, 2020
If you’re looking at Vanlife as an opportunity to unplug and immerse yourself in your natural surroundings, you’re not alone.

However, you may be surprised how reliant you become on technology, whether it be to help plan your next route or where you’ll dump your black water tank.

And while some may hate to admit it, there’s no shame in relying on the amazing technology we have today to help us out! Vanlife can come with its fair share of challenges, but staying informed of helpful services nearby doesn’t have to be one of them.

And with that said…

Here are 7 essential Vanlife apps that will make your life on the road much easier.

1. iOverlander

Cost: Free
Download for iOS
Download for Android

 

Finding safe overnight parking is an ongoing task on a roadtrippers agenda. For that reason, iOverlander is one of the most-used apps among the Vanlife community.

This free app can help you find great camping spots that are contributed by fellow travelers. Using their built-in filters, you can narrow down your search to find anything from:

  • Established campgrounds
  • Wild camping
  • Informal campsites (parking lots, etc)
  • Dump stations
  • Mechanics

And the list goes on.

As mentioned, all of the information in the app is contributed and updated by its users. Users are also able to add reviews to existing posts, giving you even more information (and oftentimes photos) to help you make your selection.

I find iOverlander to be especially handy when I’m looking to stealth camp in the city. Hearing about a great overnight parking experience from another Vanlifer can bring a lot of peace-of-mind in, what can sometimes be, a stressful experience.

iOverlander’s mission is to support overland exploration while respecting local environments. Admittedly, I sometimes feel a little torn using this app because I’ve witnessed some pretty incredible overnight parking spots be treated as a dumping station. So if I feel like I’ve found a true hidden gem, I’m sometimes hesitant to add it to the app out of fear that it will be ruined.

 

2. Allstays Camp and RV App

Cost: One-time fee of ~$10 USD
Download for iOS

 

Similar to iOverlander, Allstays is an app filled with loads of information to help you find a great place to sleep overnight. 

When you launch the Allstays Camp and RV app, it will determine your location and display the services in your area. This app is great for finding information like:

  • Free dump facilities
  • Campgrounds
  • Rest Areas
  • Truck Stops
  • Stores
  • And more

You can even filter by price range  ($0+).

Much of this app will continue working even if you don’t have cell service. Data is stored on your phone while the app uses GPS, so constantly calling out for information is not necessary.

What I like about this app is being able to filter the information down to incredibly narrow searches (e.g. Walmarts with overnight parking reports, public lands, etc).

If you’re looking for free camping, use the advanced filters for:

  • Avg Rate – Free
  • Forest
  • Overnight Parking
  • Walmart Ask to Park, or
  • Public Lands

The app is currently only available for iOS. Alternatively, Allstays Pro can be accessed through your browser and includes more information than there is available in the app.

Tip for finding free parking

While iOverlander and AllStays are my apps of choice for finding free camping and overnight parking, there are several other apps and websites that can also help such as Campendium, freecampsites.net, and RVParky. Depending on your location, one might have more crowdsourced information than the other so it’s always a good idea to have a few of those apps installed to get the best range of information. 

3. Alltrails

Cost: Free
Download for iOS
Download for Google

 

 

A very popular hobby in the Vanlife community is to hike. A great way to find the best trails is to use the AllTrails app. This free app allows you to filter by:

  • Activity (hiking, biking, running, etc)
  • Attractions (waterfall, views, lake, etc)
  • Suitability (dog friendly, stroller friendly, etc)
  • Trail traffic

And the list goes on.

 

4. Trailforks

Trailforks

 

If mountain biking is a hobby of yours, consider the Trailforks app your new best friend. I like to think of Trailforks as the mountain bike version of Alltrails. It’s the largest database of mountain bike trails in the world, jam-packed with routes you will never find anywhere else.

This app is so detailed, which is great because it’s easy to feel lost and unsure of where you’re at on any given trail.

Users can contribute data to the app, and then local trail associations have the control to approve & curate the data.

Features

  • See your GPS location on the map, for trail navigation
  • Record your GPS location during ride, creating a track
  • View local routes that users have created
  • Automatic trail routing from your location to the trailhead of your choosing
  • Submit trail reports & conditions from the app, including photos of trail issues
  • Etc.

 

5. Sunrise Sunset Times

Sunrise Sunset Times App

Cost: Free
Download for iOS

 

When I have a specific destination in mind, sometimes I like to know whether I’ll be arriving before the sun sets or not. I just open up my Sunrise app and check when the last light is. This app will tell you what time the last light, first light, and sunrise takes place in any specific location.

Tip:  This app is also helpful for photographers who are looking for a specific type of light for a photo shoot.

 

 

This one seems pretty obvious, as Google Maps is easily the most famous navigation apps of all time. While it’s actually pretty rare that I have a destination in mind, I do tend to use Google Maps for any planned highway driving.

Here are some quick Google Map Hacks

  1. Use street view to check parking restriction signs if you plan on stealth camping in a specific location.
  2. Use the ‘save’ feature to build up a road map bucket list.
  3. Download your map while on wifi if you’re worried about cell service.

Offline Maps

While the offline map feature is useful, I’ve actually had a bit of frustration while using it for certain routes. Depending on the distance and how much space the download takes up, you might need to take several downloads throughout the route and piece them together as you go. You can’t always download the entire map in 1 single view, so just keep that in mind if you plan on using this feature for long distances.

Features

  • Real-time GPS navigation
  • Real-time ETAs and traffic conditions
  • Find businesses and stops along the way
  • Automatic rerouting
  • Map, Satellite, Terrain and Street Views

 

 

The Gaia GPS App is a mapping and navigation software that turns your smartphone into an amazing and trustworthy handheld GPS unit. This GPS app is one of the most trusted and highly-rated maps for America’s top outdoor destinations.

Gaia has a free trial and two price levels. The free version allows you to discover hikes, plan trips, and navigate with cell service. The main benefit of upgrading to the paid memberships is the ability to download worldwide maps for offline use as well as access much larger map catalogs.

Features

  • Quicky find campgrounds and trails.
  • Fast download and small map file sizes.
  • Cell phone coverage maps so you know if you’ll have service where you’re going.
  • Intuitive and fast user interface.
  • Powerful search function.
Scott Adamson
Wanderful Idea Guy
Coffee drinker, adventure seeker, below average photographer.
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