Moving and driving across country is intimidating and stressful, but thankfully hundreds of free smartphone travel applications exist to help with such an endeavor! But what applications are the best to download and how many do you really need? Recently, I moved to Salt Lake City to pursue an internship, and downloaded several applications for the trip. Surprisingly (or thankfully) I found I only consistently used three applications throughout the trip. Here are my reviews!
Must Have Applications:
Weather Channel Application: When driving long distances, it helps to know what weather to expect, especially where the storms are as you drive. By consistently checking the weather on this application, I knew a storm covered several states I had to drive through, but that it would be sunny skies for the rest of the trip as soon as we passed the storm! While the Weather Channel application is popular, really any application that accurately shows the storm patterns and predicts the weather will do. Available for iOS, Android, Windows and BB.
Instagram: I downloaded this application and opened an account because of this trip, and found myself consistently using it to snap candid pictures. I found it really convenient that I could instantly write captions and share the pictures of my progress on Facebook and twitter with my friends and family from one application. Driving across country, I could not control the lighting on a smartphone camera and Instagram’s filters allowed for an amateur like myself to compensate for bad lighting or tones, and share some really nice pictures. All in all, I found it a fun way to publicly document, edit and share my trip as it progressed. Available for iOS and Android.
Google Maps: What I love about Google Maps is that I could type in anything, from a specific address to a store name, and it automatically brought up the locations on my phone’s map, which I could then route and get directions to from my current location. This was extremely convenient, especially when I had to buy emergency supplies and was able to find the closet Walmart/Target. It was also reassuring to check my TomTom’s directions, especially as the maps on my GPS are over 15 months old. The downside to Google Maps is that if I was searching for something specific (like a certain restaurant chain), it did consistently bring up the closest location or sometimes locate a restaurant I had already passed. Still, it comes pre-installed on several smartphones and having a searchable map application, Google Maps or otherwise, is essential. Available for iOS, iPhone, Windows and BB.
GPS Application: If you lack a GPS (global positioning system) device, I highly suggest paying for a GPS app on which can both announce and display directions. It can be dangerous driving across the busier parts of the interstate and having to take your focus off the highway to double-check a physical map, and getting lost on a long trip is not fun. Take advantage of technology and pay the extra few bucks to prevent this hassle.
Others Applications to Consider:
There are several additional applications which I downloaded, but I did not often use for my trip. Many applications are more suitable for real vacations and not a U-Haul road trip across America on a deadline. Still, you might want to check out these applications if you have time for sightseeing.
Urbanspoon: Urbanspoon is a great way to find and see both reviews and prices of local restaurants. If you are as indecisive as I am in selecting a place to eat, the shake feature that randomly suggests a restaurant can be a lifesaver. Unfortunately, I did not find this application useful as I drove all day since by the time I checked into my hotels late at night, almost everything was closed. Furthermore, this application is limited going across the rural Midwest because most restaurants are located far off the interstate highway. Available for iOS, Android and BB.
GasBuddy: I never used this application. First, most GPS can display the location of gas stations. Second, the amount of money I would have paid in tolls, both going off and back on the interstate, cut into any potential savings. Finally, going across the rural Midwest, I did not have the desire to drive 15 to 20 miles off the highway to get the cheapest gas. And honestly, prices do not significantly differ between gas stations in the same area. I suppose if you are staying and touring a city, this application would be more appropriate. Available for iOS, Android and BB.
Photosynth: This is a really cool application which allows you to take 360 degree panoramas, similar to street view on Google maps, that can be shared on social media. It requires some practice to take good panoramic pictures, but the end results are pretty cool. Still, there really was not much exciting to share on the highway rest stops! However, this application is a nice one to have on your phone for that moment when you do find yourself in a really neat place. Available for iOS.
Trapster: This application is an interactive map that shows speed traps, speed limits, warns about reduced speed areas, etc. Given that I could not drive faster than 60 miles per hour with a U-Haul attached to the car, the application was unnecessary. Still, if you are a speed demon without a U-Haul anchor to slow you down, you might want to consider this application. Available for iOS, Android, Windows and BB.
All inclusive Trip applications like Kayak or TripAdvisor are nice if you are staying in a city for an extended period of time. But going on a road trip across country, I only stayed a few hours at night in a hotel and left early the next morning. Furthermore, even if a hotel showed up cheaper, I preferred to pay the extra to be close to the highway to make a quick getaway in the morning and tended to select hotels with cars in the parking lot so I knew I wasn’t alone in the hotel. Still, if you have time to tour a city during your road trip or are on a tight budget to find the cheapest rates, I would suggest these applications. Kayak is available for iOS and Android. Trip Advisor is available for iOS, Android and Windows phones.
Don’t Forget the Hardware!
Many travel application blogs forget to mention purchasing a car compatible phone charger. Using your phone constantly and being on the road for 11 to 13 hours is tough on a battery. I highly suggest investing in a car phone charger before the trip so you are not in the middle of nowhere, or worse, stranded, with a dead device. I was able to purchase a cheap power converter from Walmart for around $25. Also, do not overload the charger if you buy one with multiple outlets. I ended up blowing my car fuses within the first few hours of the trip and had to pull over to buy additional fuses to fix the problem.
The truth is, while hundreds of applications exist, I found I consistently used only three applications during my move across country. I ended up not having to use most of the applications since I was moving, and not a tourist or a taking a ‘fun’ road trip across the country. Still, almost all the applications I mentioned are free and having multiple traveling applications can make the trip really fun or prevent hassle or problems down the road.
What apps have you found that are helpful or fun to have on a road trip? Please share in the comments!