Here in the United States, Memorial Day is almost upon us, and with it the official start of summer. Millions of Americans will take to the highways headed on a much anticipated vacation, whether it be to the great National Parks of the Western states, or a sandy beach in Florida. Flashing back to my own childhood, I know how hard road trips can be, especially for families. Luckily we live in an age of technological wonders, and the iPad is quickly becoming an indispensable tool for not only amusement, but practical help on those long road trips.
1. Road Tripper – In-car navigation systems are so ubiquitous, I was hesitant to mention a map app, but this one is different and can also be used for walking adventures and not just road trips. Instead of entering a specific address, which can be done as well, you just tap the map to indicate your starting and end points and the route is mapped. This can be done for multiple segments, or just a one stop trip. It’s not just for highways, walking directions in cities complete with directions and estimated time is also available. If you upgrade to the paid version, you can create multiple trips with unlimited points. I like this map because I can use it in all situations and not just for driving.
2. The Weather Channel – I don’t care where you’re going, how you’re getting there or what you’re doing, weather is one of the most important factors in any travel experience. I’m guilty of ignoring local news and updates when I travel, I just seem to be too busy with my schedule and having a good time. That’s why I love this app. Rather than wait for the evening news or navigate a slow website on my iPad, I just open The Weather Channel app and see what the weather will be like no matter where I am. It’s simple and straightforward, but vital for anyone, particularly the road tripper.
3. Sit or Squat – Ok, this app snuck in even though it’s not specifically for the iPad because I love it. As with most apps, the iPhone version works just as well on the iPad, even though the graphics are somewhat pixilated. I love this app for its simple, but important mission – to help people find the closest restroom wherever they are. It may be somewhat gauche to discuss, but this app addresses a need everyone experiences. It can search based on your current location, or you can even look for restrooms in future destinations. Rather than drive aimlessly, this app will point you to the closest bathroom without wasting time.
4. Goby – Regardless of how far technology advances, I still love having my handy guidebook with me when I’m traveling. There are a couple of areas though where guidebooks stumble: local events and restaurant recommendations. When traveling I always like to know what special events are going on while I’m there, from concerts to special museum exhibits. This is where Goby enters the scene. In addition to being a great general travel resource with information on popular sites and attractions, it provides current information on local events. Goby also succeeds where guide books fail by providing great dining information. The “Where to Eat” sections in guidebooks are usually too small, too incomplete and many times totally off the mark. I don’t think I’ve ever been happy with a restaurant recommended by a guidebook. Goby, on the other hand, lists all dining options in the area, making aimless wandering in search of good eats a thing of the past. Their listings also provide reviews, contact information and directions.
5. Free WiFi Finder – Free WiFi is vital for anyone traveling and is the best way to access the internet and stay in touch with friends and family. Rather than wander around a foreign city looking for a McDonalds or Free WiFi sign, I use this app to help me quickly find the closest free WiFi hotspot. Of course one would think the irony here is that you have to be online to find free WiFi, but not so with this app. You can download an offline WiFi Finder in advance so that you can find a free hotspot anywhere in the world.
6. Story Patch – Road trips are long, often boring and sometimes contentious. I remember some real blow up arguments on long family car trips. Kids are lucky these days though, cars have DVD players and there are enough electronic devices out there to amuse children for hours. At least that’s the hope. There are also a lot of really great iPad apps for kids, including interactive books and unique games. One that a friend told me about sounds really cool, and I just had to highlight it. Story Patch is a unique, interactive application that allows users to create new stories using personal photos, or in-app clip art. This is a fun and creative way to not just pass the time, but to get your kids to think and learn, instead of just trying to kill some green pigs. Although that’s fun too.
7. Urbanspoon– I actually use this app a lot for finding restaurants at home, but it really proves its worth on the road. Finding a good place to eat is a constant problem and I have wasted many hours wandering new cities desperate to find a good, non-generic meal. With Urbanspoon, you set your area and then search using a cool, slot machine like tool for restaurants. You can either be completely open to neighborhood, price and style of cuisine, or you can search using some or all of these criteria. I especially like the app because it’s not only focused on major, metropolitan areas, I can find things in the far flung suburbs or the middle of nowhere. It doesn’t always find exactly what I am looking for, but it serves as some great inspiration and basic information when I’m searching for some food.
8. Hotel Negotiator – In preparing this post, I looked at a lot of hotel applications. Most of the major brands have them and there are countless third party sites that have corresponding apps. Many offer very similar services with similar results, which is why I chose this Priceline app as one of the best for snagging a great hotel deal. I have used Priceline many times all over the world and have always been happy with the results. This app is exclusively for hotels and brings the unique Priceline bidding process to your mobile device. Be warned, you have to be flexible and open minded to use this service. If you know exactly which hotel you want, then it’s best to just book with them directly. But if you are open to a certain range in a particular area, then the Hotel Negotiator can help you find a cheaper hotel rate. All you do is select your city, browse from recent deals at various hotel types and place your bid. They’ll let you know right away if you were successful in getting a great deal.