Top 10 Road Trip Mobile Apps
The Ultimate Guide to Mobile Guidance
Before smartphone apps, you needed paper maps and travel guides to find services and attractions on a road trip. Now you can have a world of info at your fingertips – everything from navigation services to where to find the cheapest way to fill your car -- and your stomach -- to locating cool, unusual attractions and clean rest stops.
Here’s a list of the top 10 apps that will make your next road trip hassle free, less costly and more fun. And several combine multiple services so that you won’t waste time toggling between multiple apps on your smartphone.
1. MapQuest for Mobile
This free iPhone and BlackBerry navigation app from the trusted Internet mapping provider of the same name provides voice-guided turn-by-turn directions. And it lets you find what you're looking for along the way via a useful and customizable Point of Interest (POI)"scroll" bar along the bottom that quickly finds local businesses and services. Traffic info can be added to a route at the touch of an onscreen icon with the iPhone app, while the BlackBerry version adds 2D/aerial maps.
Another free nav app, Waze, is the only self-described "social navigation" app that relies entirely on the community of users to build and confirm mapping based on government map databases. It also uses a crowd-sourcing approach to report everything from traffic jams and accidents to the location of speed cameras and police activity. But the biggest difference between Waze and other free nav apps is that the developers and users approach getting from point A to point B with a sense of humor rather than a bland, just-the-facts approach.
3. AAA TripTik Mobile
Named after AAA's popular paper route guides that have been a critical step for planning a road trip for years, the TripTik Mobile app saves trees and money, as well as driving time. And you don't have to belong to the Auto Club to use the app, although being a member gets you access to extra features. It’s not the most full-featured nav app but it will get you where you’re going and also give you info about services along the route. The main map screen has a scrolling list of icons along the bottom for AAA-approved hotels, restaurants, attractions and auto-repair facilities. Tap any of these and the location is overlaid on the map. You can then touch a pin-pointed icon to get information such as the address, phone number and AAA reviews and diamond ratings.
4. Repair Pal: Auto Repair Expert
One of the biggest bummers of any road trip is having your vehicle break down far from home. Repair Pal: Auto Repair Expert will help you find reliable, competitively priced auto service anywhere in the U.S. It provides you accurate estimates for repairs, finds respected local mechanics and gives you one-tap access to roadside assistance. If you already have roadside assistance, RepairPal can call that service directly or you can purchase roadside assistance a la carte through the app.
5. Roadside America
One of the great things about road trips is discovering quirky local attractions off the beaten path. The Roadside America’s app for iPhone points out peculiar POIs available in six U.S. regions. The app offers in-depth info and directions to over 6,700 weird and wacky must-sees. You can browse by categories like Atomic, Music and Tech, or the “Near Me” tab will display attractions within 25 miles or the first 25 at any distance. The Tourist Interruptus feature comes in handy by allowing to you plan your escape in advance from that quilting museum your wife wanted to see by scheduling a “times up” call to your iPhone.
6. Dragon Go!
Many apps provide great info, but you usually have to pull over to safely use them. Not so with this app, which provides information on local services via voice command. While several apps have this feature, Dragon Go’s stands out with its red scrolling banner at the top that lists familiar Web brands and search engines. Tell the app to find local burger joints, for example, and the banner provides a myriad of search options to compare results: Google, Bing, Twitter, YouTube and Wikipedia. Dragon Go! can also find and call a specific business, tell you what events are happening in the area and get directions and weather info.
7. Rest Area
Sure maps and road signs can tell you where the next rest area is on the road. But this free app points out all public pit stops nearby and can map out rest areas on your route beforehand in case one of your companions has a bladder the size of a pea. And with this app you can pass your phone to squirming passengers and let them keep tabs in real-time on how close you are to the nearest relief spot.
8. Road Ahead
This free app is like having a knowledgeable local along the way, and claims you'll never have to settle for generic fast food right off the exit ramp when you know a cool local restaurant is two exits away. You can also use the app to compare local fuel prices before pulling off the highway, or to make sure that the lower-priced gas is within range of what's left in your tank. The app even senses the direction you’re driving so searches show what's coming up, not what’s behind you. You can tap on an entry to get info such as the address and phone number, and restaurant entries feature Yelp reviews.
9. The Ultimate Drive
The shortest distance between two points may be the straightest and easiest path, but it’s also usually the most boring. If you prefer to find more interesting and challenging roads, there’s BMW's The Ultimate Drive app. This app provides crowd-sourcing for driving enthusiasts looking for the best back roads, complete with ratings, comments, routing and other info. The Road Stretches tab on the home screen initially shows a Google Maps screen when opened, but then displays the best driving routes in your area based on recommendations from other users.
It always helps to have a second set of eyes to watch out for potential accidents. But if you’re alone, download iOnRoad and mount your smartphone on your windshield or dashboard. The app scopes out the road ahead, even with other apps running, keeping vigil behind the scenes using your smartphone's GPS, accelerometer, camera and augmented reality capabilities to assess road conditions. It shows the gap in seconds between your car and the vehicle in front and indicates the reaction time it would take for you to stop. The app also creates a color overlay on the pavement between you and the vehicle ahead: green for a safe following distance, yellow for caution and red for following too closely.