iRoad Trip!!
July 1, 2010 12:26 PM   Subscribe

I'm not new to road trips, but I am new to iPhone apps. Which apps have you found helpful when traveling by car in the US?

So, I got my iPhone for possibly the lamest reason ever: it was the only phone I could switch to on my AT&T plan that didn't have little bits of nickel, which I'm allergic to, on the front. I've had it since last fall, and I'm very happy that I no longer have a nickel-induced rash on my ear, but I haven't really gotten into all the nifty iPhone features. I'm going to be on the road for a few weeks this month, so I figure this is a good time to go crazy in the app store. But the sheer amount of choices is overwhelming and the reviews for everything seem very mixed. So I would like to hear from all of you, which apps have helped you on your US travels?

I'm specifically thinking of:

-Finding gas stations and rest stops on major highways and smaller roads
-Locating and booking hotel rooms
-Getting traffic and road construction info
-I don't have - or want - a GPS, and I do have paper maps, but apps with maps (heh) might be good too, if any of them are particularly useful. (Despite my username I don't actually want to get lost!)
-Weather forecasts/warnings
-I have a AAA membership; do their apps do anything worthwhile?
-I know my car insurance co (Geico) has one, is that something I should get?

I'm not really looking for ones that suggest places to go - I have that part down. But if there's anything else I'm forgetting, I'd like to hear about those too.

Free or cheap apps are preferable. So far I just have Yelp, Kayak, Travelocity, and Expedia. The phone is a 3G, if that matters.

posted by DestinationUnknown to Travel & Transportation (22 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Excellent timing! I just saw a link to this article on Consumerist.

When you say you don't have maps and GPS... are you sure? I thought all iPhones had Google Maps and GPS in them, hence the ability to go geocaching. (Geocaching, incidentally, is an awesome way to use your iPhone and learn more about the areas around you, even close to home. Sucks batteries like crazy, though.)
posted by Madamina at 12:35 PM on July 1, 2010

I don't have any specific suggestions — although the built-in GPS and map on the iPhone has saved me on many a roadtrip. Google's built-in map app is the best one I've seen.
posted by good day merlock at 12:47 PM on July 1, 2010

Best answer: Yeah, Google maps functions as GPS (whether it really is or not I have no idea). You'll basically be able to see yourself driving down the road in (pretty much) real time. It'll show you traffic jams, too. You can search for anything (gas, a business, hotels, etc) and it'll find what's around you. It's neat, but it does drain the battery and data. I'd get a charger, obviously.

Urbanspoon is a great app for finding grub and has a lot of data for the 'burbs. It's fun to use, too! I linked to the city/area list. I know you said you weren't looking for places that suggest places to go, but this can be good in a pinch if you are picky (like me).
posted by two lights above the sea at 12:49 PM on July 1, 2010

Road Trip lite (the free version) is pretty good for figuring out how many MPG you're getting. I used it on my last trip, and it helped me figure out there was something amiss with the engine because I wasn't getting nearly the mpg I should have been...
posted by patheral at 12:52 PM on July 1, 2010

Best answer: There's an app called "WHERE" that notes your current location and can give you info on nearby gas stations (distance & price), restaurants and a bunch of other more-or-less useful stuff. I have it on my iPod Touch, on which it only works when WiFi is available. On an iPhone I imagine it would be work anywhere.
posted by jon1270 at 12:55 PM on July 1, 2010

oh yeah, and weather underground has a great app for the iphone if you go to their website on your phone they'll forward you to it.
posted by patheral at 12:55 PM on July 1, 2010

Best answer: You're right that you probably don't need the expensive turn-by-turn directions offered by TomTom or the like, but I agree that the built-in GPS and maps are lifesavers for getting around. You almost certainly have them, so it's worth getting to know how to use them.

The standard weather app isn't very good, so I would recommend either getting The Weather Channel or Weather Underground app. Both interfaces are more cluttered, but there's a lot more information to be had, and they're free.

You also might want to think about picking up a photography app, since you never know when you might want to take a picture. The iPhone camera isn't great, and a few of the apps go a long way to making the pictures nicer. I like Hipstamatic for its vintage chic look, but it really depends on your taste.
posted by Diagonalize at 1:02 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

The phone is a 3G, if that matters.

The key difference for navigation and location services between a 3G and the newer models is that the 3G doesn't have a compass.

On the newer models the compass is useful in Google Maps and navigation apps because you can get the phone to orient the map according to the direction you're moving. It's very useful, especially when locating things on foot, but you should still be able to do most navigation without it.
posted by galaksit at 1:12 PM on July 1, 2010

Just remember that your Iphone maps and nearly all of the apps will not work once you leave the area of coverage for AT&T. Mobile apps rely on an always on internet connection to update the local area. This basically means that the long stretch of highway between cities may not have 100% coverage. And coverage goes away even faster if you are travelling through mountainous areas. Make sure you have a backup navigation method.
posted by ShootTheMoon at 1:22 PM on July 1, 2010

Best answer: Your local bank's application, even if you never intend to bank through it, so you can find a compatible ATM nearby.

Starbucks app. You know, I hate them as much as the next person, but when I am falling over or want something that isn't iffy food wise, it's been a lifesaver. It shows you the nearest one.

I don't much like Yelp but it has been helpful sometimes in finding "the closest X" near me.

"Around me" is an app I've used to find various things, and Siri also can help (and it helps that you can talk to siri and don't have to type it in).

Take...My Car is an app that allows you to mark where your car is in a crowded parking lot with no other landmarks.

The FRee Wi Fi detector is helpful for obvious reasons. There are a ton of those, pick the one you like.

Repair Pal can help you find out how much it *should* cost for a repair in the area you are currently located in. I have friends who swear by it, right now it's my emergency standby if I suspect I'm getting a shady estimate.

Target app: my bank has free ATM's in Targets and there are a lot of other reasons you might want a target on the road (drinks, bathroom, forgotten toiletries, sunshade, cheap sneakers, you name it). i prefer Target to Walmart but I realize that's probably much of a muchness, but that's why I have the app.

I have various white noise apps on the phone to help me concentrate in noisy circumstances and it has saved me twice in motels where there were other noises (crying children and enthusiastic guests).

The GEICO app isn't helpful except to pay your bill. the AAA app is helpful in that you can use it to report an incident & they can use the GPS to more precisely pinpoint you than they can with a phone call (or so they say). Knock wood, I haven't used that yet.

I use AccuWeather. It can default to your exact current location so there's none of the BS of needing to know the local zip code to get the correct weather. But you can also enter the cities you will be traveling through and page through them to see what's going on. It's free, and I'd pay for it if they offered a paid version, that's how much I like it.

Flashlight or similar app: yeah, all it does is turn the screen white (or yellow, or red) and yes you should have a real flashlight, but at least the iphone Flashlight will let you get to the real flashlight.

Put the Voice Memos icon on the home screen, you can use it to record notes and things to yourself you don't want to forget (if you're driving alone).

I swear by the Sirius XM app and the MLB At Bat app, I can listen to good radio and keep up with my team no matter where I am. (I never listened to satellite radio until I got the app. Now I love it to death.)

Those would be my picks. Also, don't rely on Google Maps - have real maps from AAA with you just in case.
posted by micawber at 2:09 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

oh, hotel rooms: most of the chains have their apps, as do Priceline, Travelocity (love the gnome!) and Kayak. I have the SPG app since I am an active user of SPG points.

I also use TripIt to organize my trips - I enter everything on the web and use the web app when I'm on the road. Mr. M. prints everything out, I use TripIt, between the two of us, it's all covered (and we carry the printouts in PDF on a thumb drive. OCD FTW!)
posted by micawber at 2:12 PM on July 1, 2010

Truckstops Pro.

I ran across this recently, it's written by a professional truck driver and lists truck stops, rest stops, Walmarts(??), and a whole bunch of other information. It's $5.99. There's a lite version for $1.99.
posted by CosmicRayCharles at 2:34 PM on July 1, 2010

Best answer: The Pandora app is pretty awesome as long as you're still in 3G range

Sit or Squat - shows you where the nearest public restroom is.
posted by JV at 3:21 PM on July 1, 2010

Oh, and my wife has one called Cheap Gas - it shows you where the cheapest gas is in your area...
posted by JV at 3:22 PM on July 1, 2010

yelp app for reviews of local restaurants
posted by lalochezia at 4:01 PM on July 1, 2010

Yelp all for finding gas stations, restaurants, stores, banks, etc.
posted by coolguymichael at 4:24 PM on July 1, 2010

I just finished a road trip across the country, and I often wished I had offline, searchable maps. I use Android, but I've heard good things of
posted by papalotl at 4:44 PM on July 1, 2010

I like's app for finding neat things to see. It solves the "I've got enough time left for One More Thing today, what should it be?" question for me pretty regularly.
posted by DaveP at 6:18 PM on July 1, 2010

Best answer: Every single item here is free:

Waze - Social GPS
Skobbler - Open Maps free turn by turn directions.
Mapquest mobile alternative to google maps (think it does voice directions)
Kayak Kayak hotel/flight finder
Sit or Squat - bathroom finder.
posted by filmgeek at 9:03 PM on July 1, 2010

Response by poster: Oops, I didn't know the maps thing that came with was a GPS. I confess I only used it for directions once, and it told me I was on a (non-existent) street in Connecticut when I was, in fact, in Rhode Island. But I'll look at it again and see what it can do, maybe that was just a fluke, or I made a mistake.

As for everything else, these suggestions all look awesome. I'll go back and look at each one more carefully when I have more time, but I wanted to say thanks to everyone who answered!
posted by DestinationUnknown at 1:03 PM on July 2, 2010

Best answer: There's a rest stop finder, I think it's called Rest Area Finder. Ah yes, and there is also Rest Area (which I haven't tried).

You don't really need separate apps just to locate all your favorite restaurants and stores, because you can just use Google for that through the iPhone's Safari browser. (Caveat: The store's app could be more up to date than Google with new/closed locations, or vice versa.) The exception is I keep Pizza Hut's app on my iPod Touch because I believe I read that my first order through it will be 20% off.
posted by IndigoRain at 1:24 PM on July 2, 2010

Response by poster: A few people mentioned having backup maps, so I just wanted to reiterate that yes I will take my usual AAA maps and Rand McNally Atlas with me in addition to the phone.

I marked the answers with apps I ended up downloading as best, but again, these are all great!
posted by DestinationUnknown at 11:25 AM on July 6, 2010

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