Before we left on our trip we knew internet and phone were going to be huge deciding factors on our trip. Neither of us can work without internet every day, all day, and Ross has regular phone meetings that require decent cell reception. With our iPhones came AT&T and no other options. I got my phone refurbished for $99, an 8gig 3G and Ross got the newer 16gig 3GS. So far, we haven’t noticed significant differences between them.
For internet we have an AT&T USB internet device and a Verizon wifi hotspot (our second after Sprint’s service didn’t work out). If anyone cares to know, for traveling, Verizon has the BEST coverage for phone and internet – like the commercials say – 5 times better than AT&T. We learned the hard way, having not had TV in years and not listening to radio ads closely enough, we probably would have got Verizon for cell service as well. At the time, you couldn’t get an iPhone without AT&T unless it was used and jailbroken – which at the time I didn’t know enough about to trust.
I am always in the passenger seat since I don’t have a drivers license which by default makes me the navigator. While we are driving, if I’m not working, I am looking up information and weather at our next destination. Making an attempt to become somewhat informed about the place and maybe even have the place mapped out in my head. By the time we get to a town, I know where we can eat, what there is to do, where we can buy groceries, what the weather will be like all week, what our cell/internet reception will be like and maybe even why the town is called Bubsville for example.
I decided after two friends this year bought or got the iTouch for Christmas, that I would make a list of travel apps while it was fresh in my mind. They are not in a particular order except ones I use most often. I dont see a point in rating them – if they have issues – I will not hold back telling you.
First, Google Maps of course. This app comes with the iPhone and iTouch and although we have GPS (TomTom) in the RV, it has proven instrumental in finding places that either the GPS cannot find by name or provides a map view of a search, unlike GPS, letting you see things in relativity to you and each other – rather than a list that only tells you how far away from you things are. GPS is also only updated every so often and is nowhere near as thorough of a search though sometimes it will surprise you. When you cant find a place on GPS by name you can search Google Maps for the location which will give you an address. If you can’t find a place on Google Maps but know generally where it is, you can drop a pin by clicking the peeling paper in the bottom right and drag it where you want it. If its on a road, Google will tell you the location of your dropped pin, which you can then type into GPS. Do NOT by AT&T GPS if you plan to leave a major city, unfortunately iPhone GPS just isn’t dependable enough and often lags (when you need to know what your next turn is this is a no), even Google Maps gets stuck sometimes and thinks you’re in a field or the center of town – so paying for GPS that is hardly better than the free map service isn’t worth it.
Other advantages of Google Maps is Satellite and Hybrid view which will show you the topography of the region and in cases where you are really lost, you can find buildings, RV parks and even the street view of the place you are going (in a town or city – not state parks or country roads). We have many times found RV parks by looking at the satellite view and seeing a row of RV’s from space. We find most of our State Parks and RV parks though Google Maps as well as anything like vets, propane and parks for Chena to play in.
Weather is an obvious necessary app. We ran from snow storms and 18 degree nights for weeks thanks to this built in feature. It’s pretty self explanatory.
Yelp (download) is just like the website, generally. You can find places and see their ratings – unlike Urban Spoon, it has more than just food and unlike Around Me, it has the reviews. Yelp has however gotten us lost a couple times and it’s best to confirm with Google Maps and maybe even call a place before betting money. Yelp does have a live feed though where local reviews for places pop up as a list and you can bookmark favorite places to check them out later. They also have a Talk feature where you can post or answer local questions about places to find things or just use the Nearby option to find anything near you in set categories. Retailers can also post coupons and sales on the Yelp website which show up as a category in the Nearby page giving you an edge in shopping or eating cheap.
Around me (download) will let you search many categories or use an open search for places in your area. You can search a list that tells you the address and how many miles it is or view it as a map with pins on it. They are pretty up to date on what business are actually still around, a problem you run into allot while traveling the US we’ve found. There is a category called Nearby that will tell you a short history of towns around you.
Urban Spoon (download) is strictly food as you can guess. You can search by type of food, places near you and unlike Google Maps or Around Me, you can see the price range, reviews, ratings and sometimes menus. The restaurant page has the phone number, address and a link to the map or website if they have one. Once on the map, you can send it to Google Maps which will show were you are relative to the restaurant and plan your trip there.
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Wi-fi Finder (download) is another great app for people like me and Ross who have a limited amount of bandwidth with our services (5 gigs each). We like to download Podcasts, Torrents and ebooks and NEED to regularly update software or hefty Windows updates. Libraries are the best places to sit outside for long periods of time and steal internet (its free so its not really stealing). Some RV parks already have internet but we don’t normally stay in them – so far RV park internet has been a little undependable to work on and depends on location in park, quality of connection, how many people are using it and how attentive the hosts are if the modem crashes. You will find that most places on Wi-fi Finder are paid internet sadly but Libraries are almost always a gaurante, from Glasgow Montana to downtown L.A.
If you love movies and don’t want to be kept out of the movie loop just because you are traveling, IMDB (download) is an excellent app for up and coming films, trailers and of course actor/director info but it is not the best app for traveling because their theater search has a very limited search range. I use Flixter (download) most often and for more reasons than just their theater search. Flixter is connected directly with Rotten Tomatoes reviews, Netflix and their Facebook app. You can see and edit your Netflix queue, add movies to a “want to see” list, rate movies and see friends ratings (the last 3 are through your Facebook account). Unfortunately it does not connect your Netflix ratings with your Facebook ratings, which would make my number about 800 rather tan 47 – but we cant win everything. It’s main features has “in theaters” to search movie and then theater, or” theaters” then movies as well as “upcoming” and “whats on DVD”.
Wikipedia (download) is another great app for people who like to know everything about a place or person on their journey. There are lots of Wiki apps but this one is free and official. It’s basic like the site, just search.
Stanza (download) is probably the best E-book app I have found. There are tons of books for free or cheap and a variety of ways to format reading from text size, color, background color and of course vertical or horizontal reading. Flip the pages with your finger or tap to go back to the menu. I don’t mind reading on a small screen and the size of the iPhone or iTouch allow you to read in bed without crumpling pages (I paid for only one of the 10 books I have on Stanza).
Pandora (download) is my favorite internet radio but NPR Addict (download), Stitcher (download) and iFM (download) are great audio sources as well. NPR Addict lets you download shows and Stitcher is radio shows from all over the world. iFM is useful for people who enjoy the radio locally though – not because it plays radio locally, but because it looks up all the radio stations around you and tells you what kind of music they play and even what song they are playing at that moment. Unfortunately this is not dependable everywhere you go as their database seems pretty limited. So far small towns have had terrible radio and we just listen to Pandora or our own music. Pandora is great because you can fine tune your listening preferences by adding stations while a fancy project called the “genome project” uses psychic powers to use your thumbs up and down on songs to find songs you are guaranteed to like.
Facebook (download) is probably an app I use really often but is not specifically an app useful in travel. It is however a great app for posting your location, activities and photos to torture friends and family who are not traveling.
Other apps for travel that we don’t get much use out of are Cheap Gas (download) which finds well.. cheap gas stations , Repair Pal (download) which gives you estimates on car repairs and find you mechanics with reviews and Trapster (download) that warns you of speed traps or police in your area.
For international travel start with a Lonely Planet guide and go from there. They aren’t free and they are large apps that require wi-fi to download but you wont regret knowing more about the local area than half the natives.