If you’re headed out on a road trip this weekend or this summer, don’t leave your house without the tech tools that will make the trip as enjoyable and efficient as possible. True, none of these tech tools were available twenty years ago and people did just fine, but life was more difficult then. Not covered wagon difficult, but still.
These days you can spot traffic jams, low gas prices and great places to stay and eat, all from the comfort of your car. Tech advances can make your journey much more pleasant (though imagine what our kids will tell their kids about how rough travel was when they were young…).
Warning: let your co-pilot operate the tech. I mean it. Don’t get distracted by the tech when you’re driving, instead put your co-pilot to work. Don’t even think about texting, checking email, programming your GPS or using other tech while driving. Okay, you can change the radio station since the radio is the driver’s domain. At least that’s what I try to tell my kids.
1. GPS device or smartphone app – even if you know exactly where you are going, have been there a thousand times before and could drive the route blindfolded (though driving blindfolded is certainly not suggested), take along some sort of navigation aid. Why? Because you never know what the day holds. Construction, road closures, collisions and other detours could take you to parts unknown. Or perhaps you could choose to get lost. Maybe the best way to get to where you are going isn’t A => B. Maybe you could throw in some C, D, E, F or Z stops along the way.
Whether you are tempted or forced to take an alternate route, a GPS (Sat Nav in the UK) will guide you and give you confidence that you won’t get lost.
If you don’t have or want a separate GPS device, try using a smartphone app instead. Android phones come preloaded with Google Maps Navigation, an app that uses Google Maps as a GPS, giving you turn-by-turn directions. For some people, this native app is their key reason for choosing an Android phone.
For iPhone owners, check out the Motion X app for $2.99 in the iTunes App Store. While other iPhone GPS apps can cost $50 and up, Motion X gives you GPS functionality at a fraction of the cost of the more expensive apps.
Don’t forget that even iPhone users can get traffic information from the Google Maps app. See, Killer Apps for instructions on how to activate Show Traffic on the iPhone’s Google Maps app.
2. GasBuddy – to avoid driving around endlessly looking for the lowest gas prices, download GasBuddy, a free app, from the iTunes App Store or Android Market. Check out my review of GasBuddy in 6 Reasons to Love Gasbuddy, Your Friend for Lower Gas Prices!.
3. AppBox Pro – consider this app to be your Swiss Army knife for your smartphone. AppBox Pro, a $0.99 app, available in the iTunes App Store, does the work of dozens of other apps. If you need a tip calculator, currency converter, calendar, level, ruler, translator, price checker, flashlight or other tool, AppBox Pro is your go to app.
4. iExit – for those of you who aren’t clairvoyant, iExit is an incredibly useful app that will help you find hotels, restaurants and rest stops are located along your route. I reviewed the app last month, before Memorial Day weekend (see, Road Trip? iExit Is Your Must-Have App!), but if you haven’t downloaded the app yet, make sure to download it now.
5. TripAdvisor – when I lived in Europe, I relied upon the TripAdvisor to find hotels to accommodate our family of five. TripAdvisor provides very accurate reviews and helped me find hotels that would allow our family to stay together in European hotels in a single large room or suite. The TripAdvisor app, available for free in the Android Market and the iTunes App Store, brings TripAdvisor goodness to your smartphone.
TripAdvisor gives you information about hotels, restaurants and things to do nearby or you can search for a destination, with the ability to search for listings that are the closest to you or those with the highest ratings. Definitely download this free app before you leave on your next trip!
6. Roadside America – if you enjoy unusual attractions, or exploring off of the beaten path, Roadside America is a must have app for you. Check out the full review of Roadside America here: Roadside America: For the Quirky Traveler in You! Roadside America is an app that can take a boring journey and make it a memorable experience for the entire family!
7. SlingPlayer – no, I’m not suggesting you watch movies while you drive. But if you arrive at a hotel or a rental home with a less than ideal selection of channels to watch, launch your SlingPlayer app and enjoy all of the tv programs you would be watching at home.
You may roll your eyes, thinking, “Why would I want to watch tv from my home while I’m on vacation?” Well, if you arrive at a hotel late at night and need your kids to settle down, a dose of their favorite tv show from home might just do the trick. Or maybe you want to watch your home team baseball game when you’re in another city. No need to miss a game when you’re away from home!
Check out TV Fan? This Sling Is for You! to find out more about the wondrous device known as Slingbox. With a Slingbox and the SlingPlayer app, you can watch what is on your home tv from anywhere you have a high speed Internet connection.
Note: Be careful of hotel Wi-Fi charges or 3G data plans when using the SlingPlayer app.
8 ChargePod – if you’re using tech in the car, you need to keep it charged. None of these tech devices or apps will be of any use if the battery dies. You should always travel with car chargers in the car, but if you forget to pack them or they get lost somehow, check out your closest Best Buy or Radio Shack. Also, check out my favorite charging device, the Chargepod, that will allow you to charge up to six devices from a single car or wall outlet. My full review of Chargepod can be found at Ready, Set, Charge!
9. Digital Camera or cell phone with camera – a digital camera with an SD card will allow you to take pictures and then transfer them to other devices so you can share them with others, create online albums, and print them out from your home printer. But a smart phone camera can allow you to share your pictures instantly through Facebook, email, texts, or online photo sharing sites (Shnap anyone?). Take both if you have an important trip planned to maximize your photo taking and sharing potential!
10. AAA Roadside Assistance – I hope you have no need of roadside assistance, but if you do and if you’re a AAA member, make sure to load this app before you leave home. This app is available in the iTunes App Store and the Android Market.
If you’re not a AAA member but have some other roadside assistance plan, see if there is an app that will help you report your need for help.
If you are a AAA member, also check out AAA TripTik and AAA Discounts, other free apps that help you take full advantage of your AAA membership.
Do you use tech for your road trips? What tech helps you when you’re on the road? Let us know in the Comments section below!
* Image by Evelyn Proimos
** Image by Atwater Village Newbie