My Favorite Free Travel Apps

I have been living on the road for just over a year now, and one of the more common questions I receive is What are the best apps for travel and overlanding? As you can imagine, this is a tough question to answer. There are so many useful applications out there these days that I simply haven’t had time to test them all, so while I can’t tell you what the best apps are, I can tell you which ones I use most often and what I like about them. Oh, and did I mention they’re free?

Editor’s note: Although these apps can be useful for planning some four-wheel-drive routes, the majority are focused on traveling the country to the region you wish to explore more thoroughly. For more detailed off-road specific apps and websites, we will release another article later.

iOverlander – App and Website

Whether you’re looking to drive to South America or just take a trip up the West Coast, iOverlander is going to become your new best friend. This application is a community-powered database of free and paid campsites, hotels, hostels, fuel stations, mechanics, water sources, and so much more. If you might need it as an overlander, you can probably find it listed in the app.

Each entry is contributed by a traveler and includes information like a description, review, whether or not there’s water, bathrooms, cell service, how many vehicles can be accommodated and of what size. As additional people visit, they can leave updates on the location, keeping the database current.

Although the recommendations of shops, restaurants, medical services, and mechanics would be vital in somewhere like Colombia, I find that in the USA it is the free campsites I use most often. I cannot count the number of times I have been driving through the night and just need a good space to pull over and hit the hay, and that is where this app excels.

It is catered toward people touring broad regions of the country or the world, and thus usually includes camps just a few miles off the main road, outside national parks, along scenic drives, or nearby other outdoors hotspots. You know those van lifers all tucked into the woods 10 minutes outside of a mountain town avoiding the $55 a night camp fee? They’re probably using this app.

Of course, iOverlander does include some rather remote campsites down beautiful four-wheel-drive trails, but if that is your main goal, there are better resources out there.

The only downside to iOverlander is that information is not always reliable. As many of the free campsites are unofficial, they can be closed, the information can be out of date, or they can become inaccessible. Be sure to read when the last review was made, and consider having alternate options should the site be closed.

So if you need to catch some Zzs along Highway 1 before a morning surf, find a free camping location outside a town or national park when their campgrounds are fully booked, or locate a good mechanic in Ecuador, iOverlander can help you out.

Campendium – App and Website

While iOverlander is largely tailored to four-wheel drives, vans, and occasionally Unimogs and large expedition trucks, Campendium is catered more toward domestic travel in RVs and trailers. That means it features a more extensive selection of campgrounds, reviews, and photos, but down roads and trails that are often, but not always, easier to access. Don’t let that fool you into thinking they are any less scenic though. Campendium is widely used by full-time RVers, people who choose locations to spend several days or even weeks at. That means these sites are often more secluded and better equipped for extended stays than the camps you’ll find on iOverlander. They’re also more likely to be approved sites with reliable, up-to-date information than those you’ll find on iOverlander, which is precisely why I open Campendium first.

The app features user-submitted photos and reviews, as well as critical information like what size vehicles can be accommodated or whether or not there is cell service—even down to what carriers and how many bars. It doesn’t have all the options for mechanics, restaurants, hostels, etcetera, but I’m okay with that as those features are less critical for US travel. What it does have instead is a much bigger database of campsites and a larger and more active community of users. That equates to better, more up-to-date information on a much larger range of campsites. The app also packs a simple and straightforward search function with plenty of filters to help narrow down your choices, so you can find exactly what you’re looking for in a relatively short amount of time.

So if you’re looking for a safe and scenic place to set up camp on a drive across the country and don’t want to take a chance on it being closed, Campendium is going to be your best bet.

Roadtrippers – App and Website – Paid and Premium Options Available –

If you haven’t already heard of Roadtrippers, you really need to check it out. For starters, the website features a slew of awesome articles, helpful tips, and cool guides for suggested trips to inspire your next adventure. After reading through all of that and deciding where you want to go, you can utilize their trip planning tool to map the best route to your destination. The app allows users to see what interesting sights, activities, hotels, campgrounds, and restaurants are located along their path, and even adjust the mile range from their route that the application searches. For example, you might set it to search up to 35 miles off of your route, which reveals a beautiful waterfall just 18 miles north. You can view photos, reviews, and other information you’d want to see before visiting the falls, and if it suits your fancy, you can add it to your route.

This app has certainly expanded the number of things I’ve experienced along my drives through various parts of the country, and is a great way to broaden your horizons while making your journey more interesting.

 Gas Buddy – App and Website – Paid and Premiums Options Available

Don’t you hate it when you fill up at a fuel station, just to drive down the street and see it was 30 cents cheaper there? Well, with Gas Buddy that’s no longer an issue. This app lets you search a map by fuel grade to see who has the cheapest fuel in town, in the state, or the country. You can search in a specific location you plan to visit, plan your entire trip with estimated fuel costs based on your route, or simply search for the nearest fuel station if your tank is running low. You can even join their premium program to get discounts on fuel and other benefits, though I’ve never tried those.

Activity and Hobby Apps

Okay, I’ve sort of cheated by listing several apps under one title, but I wanted to mention that there are loads of free applications perfect for supporting your interests and hobbies outside of four-wheel drives. For example, you can download the Orvis app which provides all sorts of helpful information on fly-fishing. It will tell you about casting techniques, flies, knots, and most importantly, give you up-to-date fishing reports for the area you’re looking to visit. All Trails is another favorite and gives you access to an absolutely massive database of trails for nearly every activity you can imagine. You can search by length, difficulty, popularity, location, as well as paddling, hiking, biking, skiing, off-road driving and so much more. If you’re into rock climbing, Mountain Project provides information on climbing routes all over the world, with detailed information on the climbs and how to find them, but these are only samples that fit my interests, and only a few of the many available options out there.

Although there are plenty of other applications I use on the road for audiobooks, off-road navigation, and remote communications, these are still some of my favorites, and without a doubt the most useful in my arsenal. Plus, who doesn’t love a free app? Let us know what your favorite apps are in the comments section, or if you’ve used any of these!

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Born and raised in Dallas, Texas, Chris didn’t receive a real taste of the outdoors until moving to Prescott, Arizona, in 2009. While working on his business degree, he learned to fly and spent his weekends exploring the Arizona desert and high country. It was there that he fell in love with backcountry travel and four-wheel drive vehicles, eventually leading him to Overland Journal and Expedition Portal. After several years of honing his skills in writing, photography, and off-road driving, Chris now works for the company full time as Expedition Portal's Senior Editor while living full-time on the road.