Get your motor runnin’
Head out on the highway
Lookin’ for adventure
In whatever comes our way
Lyrics from “Born to be Wild” by Steppenwolf
Got a hankering to hit the open road?
Before you load up the car, load up your smart phone with these helpful free apps.
Gas Buddy is probably one of the most useful apps I have. It shows prices for all grades of gas and when the price was updated. Stations are shown in either in list form or on a map. Using the map, I am able to target areas where gas will be the least expensive and aim for fill-ups there. As part of the Gas Buddy community, you can contribute by updating information…but don’t do it while you are driving!
The Inrix Traffic map program shows real-time traffic conditions including where accidents, road closures and construction projects might slow you down. The roads are green when traffic is flowing freely, yellow for slowdowns and red for stop and go conditions. Whether you are trying to find the quickest commute or plan a long trip through an unfamiliar city during rush hour, Inrix is the way to go.
Need a bathroom break? Pining for pizza? Ready to hit the hay? The Road Ninja app shows what’s coming up at the next exit and beyond. It also has gas prices but unlike Gas Buddy that tells the minutes, hours or days when the info was last updated, Road Ninja only tells the date.
FOOD AND OTHER STUFF
Trip Advisor is my go-to app for trip research. The candid reviews of restaurants, hotels, and things to do, usually give a well-rounded glimpse into what to expect. I especially appreciate the attraction reviews where many people will go on and on about something you know can’t be that spectacular and someone else pipes in with the real scoop that it’s interesting for about 5 or 10 minutes. Trip Advisor has a good mix of reviews from inexperienced and jaded travelers giving enough information for you to decide. I also use this to check out Groupon and Living Social deals before I buy.
Urbanspoon has a goofy slot machine way to find restaurants. Skip that and just go to the search mode to find restaurants sorted by location or cuisine. I’m not a fan of the latest app update layout but there is good information here. In addition to reviews from users, there are also links to reviews published by critics from local and national media. Urbanspoon lists hours and meals served with easy links to the restaurants’ website when available.
Yelp is another great app because it expands on what Urbanspoon offers with reviews that cover more than food. It includes shops, parks, salons and more. It too lists hours and has quick links to websites. You can bookmark and check in at the location. I like to use Yelp in conjunction with Urbanspoon and Trip Advisor because all have slightly different information.
Around Me does just what the its name says. It will find everything from banks to theaters in your immediate vicinity. When you are in unfamiliar territory, use Around Me to find food, beds, medical help or a good parking spot. No good parking spots? It can find a taxi to get you to where you are going. That said, I find that it isn’t totally reliable. From my living room, it didn’t find the closest gas station 4 blocks away. Instead, the first one listed is more than 4 miles away.
When you need a jolt of joe and coffee from a clown won’t cut it, the Starbucks app is just the fix for the caffeine junkie. It’s ammunition when you know that the only thing that will nail your eyes open and get you another hundred miles down the dark lonely road is a triple tall non-fat, no whip mocha.
Once you are caffeinated and ready to roll down that wide open road, it’s good to know if you are driving into the eye of the storm. I have four weather apps on my phone. At first glance you might think that’s excessive but I used to have five. I deleted AccuWeather because I had a problem with an updated version and because five weather apps WAS excessive.
The app called simply “Weather” that comes on an iPhone is perfectly fine for a quick check of the current temperature, hourly and 7-day forecast. I also have one from a local TV station for when my DirecTV goes down in severe weather, I’ll know when a tornado is bearing down on me. Instead of just getting conditions from the airport or some other location, WeatherBug allows me to put in a place close to me to get the most up close and personalized weather possible, short of putting a weather station on my roof.
Both WeatherBug and The Weather Channel have good radar maps but The Weather Channel’s radar goes a step further with computer model of storm paths for an hour and 45 minutes into the future. I also like The Weather Channel’s pollen count better. Both have forecasts for various outdoor activities including golf, fitness and sports events.
The best time to use the Priceline app is after 5 or 6 pm when you are pulling into a city looking for a bed for the night. That’s when I have had the best luck for great results. At that time of day, lowball offers seem to have a better chance of being accepted. On a Monday night when I couldn’t find any rooms in D.C., I offered $75 for a 3 or 4 star hotel and ended up with a room that normally costs $200 – $250 a night. Another time, we got a condo at TPC Sawgrass for $75 a night when other guests were paying $150-$200 a night for a regular hotel room. Captain Kirk has taken good care of me.
I have not used Hotel Tonight yet but I have it on my phone looking for an opportunity to take it for test drive. At first glance, it seems like the offerings are slim so I am curious to see if I keep it. Other notable apps for places to stay are Kayak, Hotels.com and Airbnb.
ENTERTAINMENT ON THE ROAD
The long ribbon of black stretches out in front of you and boredom sets in. You and your co-pilot start talking about movies and can’t remember all the movies a certain star has been in. That’s when you turn to IMDB because the Internet Movie Data Base has all the answers.
Shazam is another one of those brain fart apps. It always starts one of two ways. Someone asks, “Who sings this?” or “What’s the name of this song?” Whip out your handy, dandy Shazam app, hold it near the speaker and Shazam! It will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about the song, link videos and stream lyrics. You’ll even have the opportunity to buy it.
When you are sick of music and want to catch up on the news and in-depth discussions, the NPR Station Finder app is the way to go. It will locate all the local radio stations in your vicinity by showing each station’s signal strength. So when you don’t know if you are heading towards or away from Podunk, USA, this app will help you keep informed.
When you finally get to your destination and you are curious what it would cost to settle down there, Realtor.com and Trulia will either give you hope or dash your dreams. Whether you are looking for a $10,000 fixer upper in downtown Detroit or a $59 million dollar, 10 bedroom, 15 bath mansion in Palm Beach, these apps will give you the lay of the land.