Today, the Fourth of July, AAA predicts that there will be “a decade high number of Independence Day travelers” on the roads. If that number includes you, you’ve probably got your snacks and iced beverages, playlists downloaded and gas tank filled. But what about apps? Assuming you’ve also packed your iPhone or iOS device, we have a helpful list of 25 apps — from packing lists to apps for finding the cheapest gas and the closest Wi-Fi hotspot to knowing what the weather will be on your route, that can make your road trip a little easier.
Sure, 25 apps seems like a lot to load up on your iPhone or iPad when getting ready for a road trip. Many of these are free, but some do cost money. I used each of these apps on a recent road trip to Myrtle Beach, SC and found value in all of them. But by no means are all of the tools necessary to make a trip successful.
Maps for getting there The iPhone’s default maps app won’t get turn-by-turn navigation until iOS 6 is released this fall. Until then you’ll need a third-party app. With turn-by-turn navigation apps, choose one that loads all of the maps on the device like TomTom ($44.99, universal) does — instead of relying on a working data connection. With each navigation solution constantly recalculating your route with each missed turn, I also like to use MotionX GPS ($0.99 iPhone, $2.99 iPad) to load a KML version of my Google Maps Directions so I can see how far off my originally planned route I may be. This downloads the actual route in a file format that can be read by other GPS tools. Considering our recent spate of crazy storms here in the U.S., it’s good to know if there will be any bad weather along your route, and Road Trip Weather ($0.99, universal) can use that same exported route file from Google to show you weather patterns along the entire trip.
Organizers for getting ready Sometimes it seems like all of the planning before a trip takes longer than the the actual trip. PackingPro ($2.99, universal) is an app that helps you remember to pack everything on your next trip. I say next trip because its real value comes from continued use. You can add things that you forgot to a trip’s profile, and remove things you never use. For this trip, the built-in Reminders (free, universal) app can be set for last-minute reminders that alert you when you’re about to pull out of the driveway — so you remember to grab that camera you were charging until the last minute. And as you plan a multi-part, complex itinerary, consider a comprehensive to-do app like Appigo’s ToDo ($4.99 iPhone, $4.99 iPad). It’s great for keeping track of hotel reservations, remembering to make dinner reservations at Disney, setting up animal kennels, and other items.
Find a place to rest when you get there Even the best-laid plans can be altered in case of really bad traffic. In that case, you may not even make it as far as you previously planned in one day. Many travel sites have their own apps for searching and booking a hotel reservation online. Hotels.com (free, iPhone) and Expedia.com (free, universal) are two such examples. But I have found TripAdvisor (free, universal) to be much easier to use.
Find food when you’re hungry - One of the more difficult things about road trips is deciding where to eat in an unfamiliar place. Especially if you’re just pulling off the highway. Both Yelp (free, universal) and Urbanspoon (free iPhone, free iPad), have been good sources when it comes to selecting a place to eat in a wide variety of locations. If the consensus from reviewers on both of these apps are in agreement, the place is a good bet. Not every meal on your trip is a dining-out experience, however. For eating in, use GroceryIQ (free, universal) to keep track of your family’s favorite foods while away.
Find gas stations (and anything else you can think of) Unexpected things can happen on road trips that can leave you scrambling to find a store that sells whatever it is you forgot to pack. And YP (free iPhone, free iPad) from yellowpage.com has location-aware search, which does a pretty good job of finding what you are looking for. However, the best-use for location-aware apps is searching from a fixed location. While on a trip, you may want to know what’s ahead so you can plan a stop for lunch or gas. iExit ($0.99, universal) is perfect for that purpose. Provided you are on a major highway, iExit will list businesses at the upcoming exits on the highway. If you just want to find the cheapest gas, then GasBuddy (free, iPhone) is all you need. The prices are current and will list gas stations by proximity or price.
Keep track of the weather while you are away Is your road trip taking you to the beach? One thing you may not consider during planning is when the tide comes in. With TideGraph ($1.99 iPhone, $1.99 iPad) you can see what time will mark high tide and the same for low tide each day of your trip. For those of us that don’t surf, this may still be important if you want to plan the best time to build that awesome sand castle, and know which time of day has the most exposed sand on the beach. It is also always good to have a dedicated weather radar app like NOAA Hi-Def Radar ($1.99, universal). It’s fast and will let you know if a storm is heading your way. For more general purpose weather forecasts, The Weather Channel (free iPhone, free iPad) continues to dominate the genre.
Chronicle your adventures The new iCloud journaling feature of Apple’s own iPhoto ($4.99, universal) is phenomenal for generating beautifully documented photo sites. But there are times when you just want to keep track of where you have been, and when you have been there. TripJournal ($2.99, iPhone) will log your GPS coordinates and the time you were at each location. You can even export each logged trip for viewing in Google Earth or the free iPad companion app, TripViewer. More so on vacations than at any other time you will want to take in more of your surroundings than a single screen will allow. There are certainly plenty of panorama apps out there, but I keep going back to AutoStitch ($1.99, iPhone) when I want to create a large-scale panoramic view.
Stay connected along the way When traveling, there are few things more frustrating than losing connectivity. With Coverage? ($2.99, universal) you can see where each carrier’s coverage begins and ends. It even differentiates between the different types of coverage and works offline as well. Other times locating a Wi-Fi hot spot is in order. With JiWire WiFi Finder (free, universal) you can locate hotspots even when you are not connected. When you find one and get connected, you will find that not every hotspot is created equal, so a quick check of the connection speed may save you a lot of frustration. SpeedTest.net (free, iPhone) has proven to be one of the more reliable network speed test apps that I have used.
The last app on this list is one that you will hopefully never have to use. Many car manufactures and auto insurance companies have their own custom roadside assistance programs and apps in the App Store to access their services. The AAA Roadside Assistance (free, iPhone) is the one you’ll need if you’re a AAA member.