Jul 25 2011

iPhone Apps for Roadtrips

We recently returned from a ten-day, five-state, 2500-mile family vacation that had us seeing sights big and small. After using some other smartphones for the past two years, I recently became an iPhone user, and found that it was well-suited to life on the road, (as long as my husband was driving).

I have many apps on my iPhone, but these are the ones I actually used on the trip. Some I expected to use on the road, and others came in handy at unexpected times. Some made our lives easier, and others were just for fun. Some helped us to communicate with friends and family, while others pointed us in different directions. The iPhone was a useful tool on our vacation, and these are the apps that made it so.

Standard iPhone Apps:

  • Phone:  This may sound funny, but my primary reason for carrying a smartphone isn’t for using the phone.  There are months when I’ve used less than 20 minutes of talk time.  On this vacation, however, we used the phone for useful things like finding new tires for our vehicle and making reservations for the Pikes Peak Cog Railway.
  • Calendar: I had planned our entire itinerary using an Outlook calendar.  Outlook syncs beautifully with the iPhone calendar so that I could look up details I’d put into the itinerary, or simply see what day it was, as it’s easy to lose track of time when on a vacation schedule.
  • Clock:  I always wear a watch, so I hadn’t expected to use my iPhone’s clock as often as I did.  It came in particularly handy when crossing time zones, as I seem to have an inability to convert time zones properly.
  • Camera:  Never much of a camera phone person, I was surprised at how often I pulled out the iPhone to use its camera for easy embedding in Twitter and Facebook entries along the way.  My other cameras definitely have better quality than the iPhone camera, but it’s hard to beat the ease of snapping a shot and posting it in mere seconds.
  • Maps:  One of several map apps I used along the way, I found the basic Maps app to be especially useful for finding directions from “current location” to another point.  Its ability to figure in traffic delays to time estimates was especially useful, and it was more accurate time-wise than our regular GPS.  (Now, can anyone tell me how to get that beautiful compass to appear in this app?)
  • Mail:  Although I was on vacation, there were some business-type issues that arose during the trip, and I was able to take care of them with the iPhone’s mail app.
  • Messages:  I only began texting recently, but it came in handy on several occasions during our vacation, including when our lead car lost us at a red light and my sister texted me to tell me what the next turn was.  (Maps didn’t help me in this case as they were taking an alternate route to avoid traffic.)
  • Safari:  From pulling up hours and locations to checking the newspaper at home, I used Safari frequently throughout the days of our trip.
  • iPod:  On one of those days when the kids were short on sleep and nothing was going right, the iPod saved our sanity.  Connecting it to the aux port of the car and playing some well-chosen songs pulled everyone out of their bad moods and made the rest of the day’s drive tolerable.  (The Princess Who Saved Herself, followed by Baby Kangaroo and the Chicken Dance did the trick for us.  I have now added these songs and a few others to a new playlist called “Desperation.”)
  • Mobile Hotspot:  When we got to a hotel that only had wired wifi and I needed to use the iPad because my netbook died, my iPhone’s mobile hotspot allowed me to do the research I needed to do.

Free Apps:

  • Tally Counter:  When counting Wall Drug billboards while traveling across South Dakota, we began to lose track of how many we’d seen.  Tally Counter came to the rescue, keeping an accurate count for us until we got to Wall after seeing 90 Wall Drug signs.
  • State Plate Hunt:  This app does one thing only, but it’s just right for keeping track of license plates you see while on the road.  For this trip, we saw license plates from 43 states and 5 Canadian provinces.  I think we could have found them all if we’d wandered the parking lot at Mount Rushmore for a few more minutes.
  • Flex Fuel Locator:  We drive a flex-fuel vehicle, and it’s not always to find our preferred E85 fuel.  The Flex Fuel Locator app shows us where the closest stations are.
  • Google:  Used for a number of things along the way, the most memorable was searching to see what color the pasque flower (state flower of South Dakota) is.
  • Google Places:  We used Google Places to find restaurants and gas, but most importantly, we found a service station that could check a bad tire in a remote area of South Dakota.
  • Google Voice:  My text plan doesn’t come with a lot of messages, so I switched to Google Voice texting when having some text conversations with my brother and sister.
  • Facebook: I use Facebook on the go as a way to keep up with others and to post photos and checkins.  It’s one of the apps that lives on my front screen.
  • Twitter:  The official twitter app made it easy to post updates with my #twizzlers #roadtrip hashtags.
  • Current Altitude Free:  This altimeter was useful as we went up and down through the Black Hills, but we used it especially while riding the train up Pikes Peak to see how fast our altitude was changing.
  • A Free Level: You never know when you might need a level, like when setting up a camper, or trying to figure out the “mystery” of the Cosmos Mystery Area.
  • RedLaser: Some of the travel information I had utilized QR codes, and I used RedLaser to quickly find more information about those sites.
  • Shazam: Solves those “who sings this song?” arguments; Shazam “listens” to the song and returns title and artist.
  • Colorado Springs Travel Info:  When we wanted to be sure we weren’t missing anything in Colorado Springs, this app was nice to browse through to check attractions and events.
  • PhotoPad by Zagg:  This one is an iPad app, but I used it to wow my dad.  After taking a timer shot of the whole family by balancing a camera on a car, it turned out to be a decent photo but needed cropping and some rotation.  I plugged my SD card into the iPad’s camera connection kit, opened the photo file, rotated and cropped it, and then passed the iPad around so everyone could oooh and aaah over it.  It was a three-minute edit that will likely be seen on Christmas cards come December.

Paid Apps:

  • Roadside America, $2.99+: I’ve long been a fan of Roadside America’s website, but their iPhone app helps find off-the-wall places while we’re on the road.  It’s what led us to the Wonder Tower of the World.
  • Magellan Roadmate, $49.99:  I bought this for $34.99 on sale and have used it in situations when I didn’t have a GPS unit with me.  Its turn-by-turn directions, traffic information, and maps rival those of a regular GPS; you just have to plug your phone in or it will drain the battery completely in about two hours.
  • Weatherbug Elite, $.99:  I have about eight different weather apps on my phone, but I like this one for being able to add several cities and then page through them to see conditions, forecasts, and maps.  It made it easy for us to keep an eye on the weather where we were, where we were headed next, and back home.
  • MyCast, $2.99:  Another weather app, MyCast seems to have faster radar updates than some other apps.
  • Capture, $.99:  Instead of fumbling through the iPhone’s camera and switching it to video, Capture starts recording as soon as you tap the app icon.  It helps capture video more quickly.  The downfall is that you may tap it accidentally and get some video of the inside of your purse or pocket.
  • Photo Transfer, $2.99: This app worked very well to transfer my iPhone photos to my laptop using a wifi connection.  The directions are clear and it works very well; no cables necessary.
  • Home Library, $.99:  When we stopped at Barnes & Noble to get books for the drive home, this saved us from duplicating something we already owned, as I’ve scanned the barcodes of the books in our home library and stored them in my phone.

Do you have an iPhone?  Which apps do you find the most useful when traveling?

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7 comments so far

7 Comments to “iPhone Apps for Roadtrips”

  1. Kara @ The Vacation Gals on 27 Jul 2011 at 8:34 pm

    Bookmarking for our Yellowstone road trip in a couple weeks!

  2. minnemom on 27 Jul 2011 at 8:41 pm

    If you find any others that are useful, please do share. I’ve gone a bit app-crazy since getting my iPhone. :-)

  3. Lisa Meyers McClintick on 31 Jul 2011 at 2:06 pm

    Awesome topic! Thanks for sharing all the great ideas! I’ve been mulling over the same thing–especially since my Droid hit the “loop of death” and I switched to an iPhone last month.

    My favorites so far (all free):
    The flashlight app.
    Great extra source of light for dark trails or hotel rooms when the lights are out.

    Just started using it. Seems to be helpful in tracking what I need to bring and even those before-you-go tasks like stopping the mail.

    Pandora Radio (via a Bluetooth device we put on our van visor)
    It’s a nice way to discover new artists–especially for the kids who like pop stars like Selena Gomez.

    Weather Channel
    I like it better than the weather app that came with my iPhone.

    Find iPhone
    Good to know if I do something stupid–like leave my phone in a cafe–I can send an alarm and message for the finder to contact me.

    Our groceries
    Our favorite app ever! Lets my husband and I each add to a collective set of lists for groceries, Target, clothes the kids need, etc. So if you need something along the way (like bug spray or Band-Aids) there’s an easy place to type it in. And if you’re both shopping in a big store and going in separate aisles, you can cross off items as you get them.

    Night Sky
    I think that’s the name–gives you what star constellations to look for :)

    Paid-for apps
    If you’re interested in reviewing any travel apps with dining, lodging, attractions insight, let me know. They’re a fantastic new travel tool blending maps, reviews, photo albums and insider tips. I have written one Minnesota travel app and have another on the North Shore in the works. I also know the writers for many other apps (all from Sutro Media) on everything from Kansas City and the Dells to Florida State Parks. Most are $1.99 or $2.99–about the price of an ice tea when eating out.

    If you don’t want to invest in apps, TripAdvisor comes in handy, too, for restaurant reviews. I love having insight on what to order.


  4. Lisa Meyers McClintick on 31 Jul 2011 at 2:17 pm

    Oh–one more! TripIt also is nice if you have a vacation with hotel, plane reservations, car rental, etc. It bundles your info into a report, adds weather, etc. Very handy. Doesn’t work if you’re camping, going to a B&B or smaller venues.


  5. minnemom on 31 Jul 2011 at 3:12 pm

    Lisa–thanks for all the suggestions!

  6. Maggie on 01 Aug 2011 at 3:38 pm

    Thanks for the comprehensive list of apps! I also use some of these apps whenever I go traveling somewhere. They’re so useful! I’d be very lost without them… I’m going to try a few of the other apps you’ve listed here!

  7. Peter on 30 Sep 2011 at 3:08 am

    Wow great post! I really like the apps you posted some are new to me but some I already knew. Thanks for this great list and I see I have to download a lot more great apps. Thanks and keep on the good work.

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