Monday, December 30, 2013

Road Trip Retirement-the Best "Apps" for Travel on the Road

At the beginning of the summer, I shared with everyone why I kept a "smart phone" and some of the advantages it gave me.  I am not a person who requires her phone to be with her every moment. In fact, Saturday I turned it off for a movie and forgot to turn it on until sometime yesterday.

When it comes to things like travel though, I find my phone and it's apps necessary and helpful. I use my phone rather than a pad, tablet or laptop because of portability, size and convenience. I can sit it in the front seat during a road trip and let it talk to me. I can carry it in a pocket when doing city touring and leave my bag in the room or at home.

Right now I'm stepping up some road trip planning and as such thought I would share what apps I have found to be the best for road trip and RV travel. Some of these apps may be helpful for fliers, but many of them are specifically designed for the road warrior in all of us.  Most of these apps are free, and most are good for both ios and Android systems. Some work for pads and tablets but many do not (another reason for my phone preference). Some I have just discovered, and some I can recommend without pause. So without ado:

While I'm an open road car driver, many of the apps I use while on the road can also be used by RV travelers and others.  I have not yet ponied up the money for Co Pilot Live, but this app has things that Google maps does not, including speed limit warnings, traffic conditions and monthly updates.  Gas Buddy shows the lowest gas price based on your location.  While I might not drive way out of my way based on gas cost, skipping the immediate station for one down the road a bit makes financial sense. Wi-fi Finder help you find both free and paid hot spots along the road (it showed me that Texas rest stops almost all have wi-fi, for example). Unfortunately, the Roadside America app is available only for iPhone and iPad users. It lists lots of oddities like the world's smallest phone booth. Until something similar is available for Androids, I rely on the books The Next Exit, and Road Trip USA. There are options for a variety of iinterstate exit guides that tell you in advance which exits have which amenities. I however, generally travel non interstate roads. For city touring, the offline City Maps are not to be missed. Download these and have access even without an Internet connection - even in a wifi dead zone.

Field Trip is different in that in runs in the background on your phone. It seems it accesses other sites such as Zagat. Open it on your car seat and it will tell you both obscure information and it will automatically "talk" for lack of a better word as you drive. I found Road Ninja because it was one of the top ten apps for traveling like a local according to Forbes magazine, while I have yet to check it out personally. Roadtrippers is an app that supplements the website roadtrippers.com, one of my favorite websites for travel planning.

When it comes to where to stay, Hotel Tonight is great for those of us who choose not to pre-plan much of our road trips. It shows last minute unsold options, at up to seventy percent off. In addition, I rely on Hostelworld. Hostels are no longer for backpacking college students alone. Most have private rooms and baths. More importantly Hostelworld has other low cost hotel options including Bed and Breakfasts. There are many good photos as well as reviews.  In addition to Hostelworld I tend to rely on Stay.com or my local trip advisor city guide .  I will add here that while I take advantage of options such as Kayak or Expedia, when it comes to local advice and reviews, I prefer these options for anything other than plane reservations

I recently added an Amtrak app to my phone. This app lists schedules and allows one to check trip status and train status. I did the research for this trip on my laptop, but my phone allows me to do last minute changes or upgrades if needed (in case I decide I need a sleeper after all). I can see station amenities and in the case of San Francisco, make arrangements for transportation into the city from my phone.

For dining and recreation and sightseeing choices, I rely on the Trip Advisor city guides mention above. I also use Triposo city guides. For those of you who like the pocket guide travel series, there are apps that go with the books, however in my experience they are not as accurate as the two mentioned above. I rely on Open Table for restaurant reservations and reviews. I also of course have the ever present Yelp, but being a food snob, I find the reviews on Open Table more accurate for my needs. Local Eats helps me find independently owned and top 100 restaurants. I just downloaded the Wikihood app, so I have no opinion on this one as yet, but the idea is that you open it when you are somewhere you know little about and it gives you information. More to come on this one!

Of course, it's always fun to document our trips and share them with others. Postagram, while not free, allows you to send a postcard for a reasonable amount directly from your phone to anywhere in the US. The app could use a bit of improvement, but its advantages are worth the learning curve in my opinion. It gives new meaning to the old "wish you were here" postcards. Camera Plus/Camera Studio is a great upgrade for that stock camera on your phone. This app can add flash after the photo is taken, as well as tell you when and where. There are a variety of journal options out there as well, with Trip Journal being just one.

Sometimes we all need a little freedom from boredom on the road. When I saw the recommendation for Stitcher I immediately thought of Bob over at Satisfying retirement. While I haven't used this one yet, supposedly it has a database of fifteen thousand radio shows, podcasts and life stations. Everything is on demand, and this app was rated one of Time magazine's Top fifty apps for 2013. The heck with travel, try it now.  If this doesn't do it there is always Pandora, as well as a variety of games for evening play and use by the passenger(s). Hello there, Words with Friends!

Finally, cheapskate that I am, any talk of travel and travel apps has to include getting the best prices, deals and steals.  Unfortunately the website Goldstar has an app, but it is only for IPhone at this time, so I rely on my email subscription, as well as websites like the Do Denver for Less option that I use now.  Groupon and Living Social are on my daily radar, and I add my cities of interest prior to travel.

A couple other thoughts to finish with. For the lead footed amongst us there are trackers and speed avoiding apps. I have not included those. Nor have I included camping type sites for RVers such as Passport America or Camgrounds plus. I encourage RV and camping folks to check out and share these options.

Take app reviews with a grain of salt. As with most kinds of reviews, the complainers tend to write more than those of us who are happy campers-so to speak. If an app is purchased or downloaded from the iTunes store or Google play, the chances of it hurting your phone are almost nil. A free app is worth the experimentation involved, and can always be uninstalled. Just sayin.

Happy travel planning, all. Coming soon, my other favorite apps, including those for money saving, shopping, and so called productivity-even hobbies. 

6 comments:

  1. That's quite a list Barb. Being an IT guy my iPhone and iPad are also filled with travel apps. Now I need to add a few more thanks to your list. I still remember the days with all we had was a fold out map that was impossible to re-fold. Got lost a lot back then. :)

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  2. Those were the days of what my late husband would call creative navigating.....or, one way or another we'll get there.

    You do know why they always send a woman into space any more yes?? Because the men would never ask for help or direction.

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  3. Great list Barb. I am going to save the entire post in my favorites and check out a few of your suggestions. We use an Iphone almost exclusively when on the road, but are always looking for wi-fi hot spots for the lap top. Thanks and have a wonderful New Year.

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  4. Thanks for the tips. And as a new smart-phone owner, about to hit the road myself, I can sure use them!

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  5. What a tremendous treasure trove of information, Barb. I have some of these but you've given me a lot to check out. And, I will certainly take a look at Stitcher!

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  6. Let me know what you think. I dont even do Pandora right nwo!

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