Thursday, September 25, 2008

Top Cell Phone Applications for Your Next Road Trip

Autumn puts me in the mood for a good ol’ road trip. I’ve always been this way. Full-fledged vacations are reserved for the summer or winter, but spontaneous weekend getaways, those are for the fall. The weather is perfect, leaves are changing and no pesky spring rain to dampen the mood.

Road trips have always been a little tricky, though. By most definitions, road trips are spontaneous. You start driving and find an adventure along the way. But by nature, I am a planner. I live life by the five Ws: who, what, when where and why. Spontaneity doesn’t exactly fall into those Ws. Luckily, smartphones bridge the gap between spontaneous and sanity. If you’re like me, perhaps you too can appreciate these must-have smartphone applications for a successful, yet spontaneous autumn road trip.

1. GPS (or at the very least, Google Maps) – It’s okay to jump in the car and just drive, as long as you can find your way back. Not only will GPS-enabled phones get you where you want to go, but they also find you the best path home. Several phones are equipped with GPS navigation applications, but if yours is not, make sure you have a great mapping application to reference.
  • For those of you lucky enough to have a GPS-enabled phone, check out BuddyWay – an application that works with your GPS phone to log your trip. You can see where you are, where you’ve been, map out where you’re going and share your trip with friends (the ones with you and the ones you left behind). You can even save the route taken, just in case it was a particularly good trip you’d like to take again!
2. “_______ Finders” – Finders are great. What do you want to find? A finder application will find what you’re looking for, tell you how close it is and allow you to employ your GPS or maps app to get you there. Here are some great examples of finder apps:
  • Restaurant finders: Restaurant finders allow you to look by location and genre of food to find a great place to eat in a new city or town. More advanced restaurant finders will include reviews of the food/experience and price guides, so you know what you’re getting yourself into when you stop in at Hobo Joe’s (a real restaurant in Madill, Ok.; I had a great burger there!). Some examples of restaurant finders are Local Picks by TripAdvisor and UrbanSpoon for iPhone and Breeze Restaurant Finder for Blackberry, Symbian and Windows Mobile phones.
  • Gas finders: These applications aren’t just finding the closest gas stations anymore. Within a specified radius of your location, gas finders will let you know where you can find the cheapest gas around. Let’s face it – the popularity of road trips has dwindled because it no longer costs $20 to fill your gas tank. But with a gas finder application, you can at least make sure you’re getting the biggest bang for your buck.
  • Historical landmark finders: So, I haven’t found any applications dedicated to finding historical landmarks along the road trip route, but I’m hopeful that with the open-source platforms gaining popularity, someone out there will create one of these soon. It would be such a shame to drive by the world’s biggest ball of twine without snapping a photo with my phone’s camera. To substitute in the meantime, there are applications that allow you to "leave a note" using GPS or maps-enabled phones, so when you do pass the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas, you can make sure to pinpoint it for the next person that drives through the Texas panhandle.
3. Blogging, pictures, video – Trips are meant to be shared with friends and family. What better way to remember a trip with friends or share a trip with an absent family member than to log your activities and fun online, through blogging, picture-sharing and video-streaming.
  • Blogging: We all agree that the best part of a smartphone is the ability to take the Internet with us. With your Internet-enabled phone and its touchscreen or QWERTY keyboard, you can now keep everyone at home involved in your trip. Use a blog site, such as Blogger or Wordpress, or use a microblog, such as Twitter (and the many mobile Twitter applications) to create your road-trip diary.
  • Picture-sharing: Our smartphones come equipped with great cameras (the megapixel capabilities increase with every new release) to snap shots of our adventures, and applications like Flickr and ShoZu make it easy to upload pictures directly from your mobile phone to your favorite photo-sharing site.
  • Video-streaming: Perhaps one of the coolest apps to come out recently is Qik, a video-streaming application compatible with iPhone 3G, Blackberry, Windows Mobile, Symbian and Linux, which will allow you to stream live video from your smartphone to an online Qik social networking site. Make your Qik site as private or open as you want, and share your road trip in real-time, or save it to download and share later.
Spontaneity might be the name of the game when it comes to road trips, but these applications are sure to create an experience you’ll yearn to repeat.

Check out Qik in action on an iPhone 3G!


J said...

Another perfect travel service (actually not an "app" since it's free and you don't download anything) is Reservations via Text --

It relays your reservation summary to your cellphone/PDA via text message, without you giving out your cellphone number or having to extract the highlights or worry about making a typo.

You create a relay and enter your cellphone number there, and you can either forward your existing reservation confirmation to yourself, and they'll condense it and send just the critical parts to you in a text message, ...

...or, you can give the relay to your airline/hotel/rental car company and ResTXT will automatically send you both e-mail and condensed text message copies for every reservation.

How convenient!

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