Travel & Adventure My 5 Favorite Apps For Motorcycle TravelDon’t hit the road without loading these five handy apps onto your smartphone.
- Words Owen Clarke
We hate to admit it, but traveling in the modern world without a smartphone isn’t easy. I know I’m not the only one who wishes he could chunk that little soul-sucking black box into the nearest ravine and never look back, but man, I’ve tried. After I was robbed in Peru in 2016, I delayed buying a new iPhone for nearly four years, using a flip phone instead.
Saying that it was a pain in the ass would be an understatement.
When you travel without a smartphone, you suddenly need half-a-dozen other gizmos just to offer the same functionality that you used to have all packed into one device. You have to buy a navigational device or print out paper maps. You have to buy a camera if you want to take a photo of anything with halfway decent quality. You have to buy an iPod or MP3 player if you ever want to listen to music. (Hell, I don’t even know if they make those anymore.)
Calculator? Weather? Email? Dictionary? Clock? Calendar? Foreign language translations? The list goes on, and that’s not even counting your web browser. I mean, sometimes without a smartphone to scan those stupid little QR codes, you can’t even read a restaurant menu anymore.
Sure, I wish I could give my smartphone the middle finger. And there are times and places when ditching the phone and going off-grid doesn’t come back to bite you. But take it from me (and I travel for a living)… willingly traveling by motorcycle without a smartphone is an exercise in inconvenience.
Besides all the usual smartphone utilities mentioned above, there are some seriously useful third-party apps out there, many of which have saved my ass more times than I can count. Here are my five favorites.
Especially with gas prices what they are today, nobody should travel without GasBuddy. This free app shows all the gas stations near you and the prices they offer, with updated price confirmations posted by other GasBuddy users, making it a cinch to find cheap gas on the fly. You can sort listings by whether they offer discounts for cash payments, fuel type and grade, and see the amenities each station offers, so you can find out if they have a bathroom, for example, or if they sell alcohol.
There are additional features on GasBuddy, too. One aims to help you maximize fuel efficiency, another notifies you of vehicle recalls, and another offers savings and rewards points. The app also provides a free card that saves you up to $0.25/gallon each time you pump. But I’ve never messed with any of this and can’t speak to it. I just beeline to the cheapest gas station in my vicinity and get back to riding.GasBuddy
Maybe you’re lashing gear down to your rear rack. Maybe tying a tent guyline, fixing a busted rucksack strap, hanging a hammock, fashioning a makeshift belt, rigging a towline, tying up an armed robber… The list goes on. Knots 3D is invaluable in any situation where you need to fasten a hitch, bend, loop, lash, or knot of any kind.
This compendium has over 160 knots arranged by category (i.e. boating, fire & rescue, climbing, camping, and so on). Each knot has a step-by-step animation showing how to tie the knot, and you can speed up, slow down, or pause this animated video. You’ll also find info on the best usage for that knot, as well as strength, reliability, and structure. Best of all, this information is 100% available offline. Simply download the app and you’re good to go.Knots 3D
There are dozens, if not hundreds, of mapping applications out there. I actually have nearly a dozen downloaded on my phone right now. That’s because each is slightly different. Some are better for traveling on established trails, some for bushwhacking or backpacking in remote backcountry, some for finding climbing routes, some for traveling internationally, some for urban settings, and so on.
However, Maps.Me is my favorite all-around mapping application, particularly when it comes to offline capabilities. For that reason, it’s superb for international travel and/or motorcycle trips into places where you may not have phone service, such as a national park. You can download vast regions of a country or state to your phone in minutes, and then navigate completely offline. All of central and southern Algeria, for example, is only a 35 MB download.
Maps.Me offers a good blend of urban navigation and backcountry navigation. You’ll find most bars, restaurants, shops, tourist attractions, and other “civilized” locations on the interface, but it also has a surprising amount of backcountry trails and routes, even in some seriously remote wilderness and far-flung locales.Maps.Me
Ever looked up at the night sky and wondered what constellation you were looking at? Ever looked at that constellation and wondered, “How in the hell is that supposed to be a crab?” SkyView is for these moments.
The app takes over your phone’s camera, and when you point it at the sky it tells you the name of the celestial body you’re looking at, whether a star, planet, moon, or satellite, along with a few facts. SkyView also overlays constellations with a vivid image, so you can actually see (sort of) how Aries represents a ram, Canis Major a dog, Cancer a crab, and so on.
This app is a treat no matter what night sky you’re looking up at. I’ve used it everywhere from Morocco to New Zealand to Chile, and it may not have saved my ass like GasBuddy or Knots 3D, but I can’t even count the bad first dates I’ve salvaged solely because of this app. (Without SkyView, the only constellation I can ever seem to remember is Orion. Not nearly enough to impress the ladies.)SkyView
Okay, so it’s not an app, it’s a website, but I’d feel a pang in my heart if I left out FreeCampsites.net. This nifty little site has long been my go-to for finding free camping around the United States. It’s a fairly straightforward database, where you can input a given destination (or simply scroll around the map) and find different campsites. As the name suggests, the vast majority of the camping listed on here is free, but some paid and/or permitted sites are available. These are indicated by red and blue tent icons on the map, instead of the standard green icons that indicate free sites.
Each campsite’s page contains info about the site, like the cell coverage you can expect based on your provider, upcoming weather, GPS coordinates, directions, and amenities. Campers can also leave reviews and post photos, so you have an idea of what you’re getting into. The website is available worldwide, though I’ve found it to be fairly hit or miss outside the U.S. and Canada.Free Campsites
Don’t sleep on the humble compass! I’m an avid mountaineer and outdoor gear tester, so I’ve used dozens of compasses, altimeters, GPS devices, and all sorts of other navigational tech during my career. But surprisingly, I’ve pulled out my iPhone compass app more than any other navigational tool. For 90% of front-country or casual backcountry missions, it gets the job done with aplomb.
That’s because your phone’s compass app won’t just tell you your heading (and ensure the phone is horizontally level). It also shows latitude and longitude, elevation, and the city and province you’re in. (Note: Most modern smartphones have a compass app of some kind, but I can only speak for the iPhone compass here.)
So there you have it. These five apps are my go-to smartphone apps for motorcycle travel, and they’ve often made me reconsider my whole, “I want to strap a firecracker to my iPhone and chuck it off a cliff” mentality.
Give ‘em a shot. They might save your butt next time you’re in a pinch on the road. Just remember to keep your phone charged…
Owen Clarke is a freelance American adventure travel journalist. His writing covers the gamut of outdoor and action sports, but he specializes in mountaineering and motorcycling. In addition to contributing to Iron & Air, his regular obligations include serving as an editor-at-large for Climbing and the executive editor of Skydiving Source and Indoor Skydiving Source.