Over the River and Through the Woods…Helpful Trip Apps for Your Next Vacation Adventure

Recently, my wife, one-year-old son, and I took a road trip out to Arizona to visit her family. We used a number of different applications for our smart phones – iPhone 5C and 5S – to help keep in contact with family and plan out our trip both before and during the trip. I highly recommend all of these for your next road trip or vacation adventure!

TripIt

TripIt-Logo

This app allows you to build an itinerary by pulling from airline, hotel and car rental confirmations sent to your e-mail address. You simply enter the e-mail address into the app and the app pulls in all the details about the reservation(s) into the app and builds an itinerary for you. You can then make adjustments to this itinerary, including adding driving routes, as necessary and then share it with others when you are ready. The free version of the app only allows you to build, edit and share itineraries. For hard-core road warriors, you can upgrade to TripIt Pro and get real-time flight status notifications, flight refund information, alternate flights available as well as complimentary one-year memberships to Hertz #1 Club Gold and Regus Gold that includes VIP car rental and access to 1,200 business lounges worldwide. TripIt Pro has a free 30-day trial and then costs $49 per year. Available for iPhone/iPad; Android; Windows Phone; and Blackberry. There is also a website at http://www.tripit.com where you can do everything the app can do.

I used this app to put together all the information about the hotels we would be staying at over the course of the three days we had planned to take to drive to Phoenix and the three days back to Bolingbrook. I then forwarded it on to my in-laws as well as my parents so they knew the itinerary. It was handy to have all the hotel information in one place for us as we decided to cut short one of the return legs of our trip and stay in a different hotel than what we had originally booked. The app gave me easy access to the hotel information and allowed me to place a cancellation call from the TripIt app to the hotel we were going to stay at by accessing my phone app and dialing the number for me.

Glympse

Glympse logo

This free app is available for iPhone, Android, Windows Phone 7 & 8 and Blackberry. The concept is simple: you want the party waiting for you at your destination to know when you will arrive. However, vagaries such as traffic, weather, and other unforeseen circumstances can cause you to under/over estimate your ETA. Using the app, you select contacts that you would like to be sent a Glympse, then you can input your destination address and a message to them. You can set a Glympse to last up to four hours, but that can be extended any number of times. The receiving party can then track your progress through a web browser – including the speed you are going if you so choose to share that information – or, if they have the Glympse app, through the app on their device. The other party sees your real time progress, as well as a calculated ETA based on how fast you are going and the route you are taking. You can also ask someone coming to meet you to send you a Glympse so that you can see what their ETA may be. We found it to be very accurate, almost down to the minute.

iExit

iExit250

This app is very handy for when you are traveling over the major interstates, tollways and turnpikes of the United States. What it does is show you the services – gas, food, hotels, shopping, etc. – located at each interstate exit located up to 1.5 miles from that exit. Once you get off the highway, you can only see services available 1.5 miles from the exit and will be unable to see exits further down the interstate/tollway/turnpike. If you are too far from the interstate/tollway/turnpike, you will not see anything.

There are two versions of the app – a “lite”, free version and a pay for one. The lite version only allows you to see up to 10 exits ahead of you on the road. You also do not get the great sorting and search features of the paid version.

The paid version only costs $0.99! The paid for version can show you what is coming up 150 exits down the road, up to 250 miles away. You can set favorites – I knew someone that liked to stop exclusively at Cracker Barrel to eat when they were on the road – and then show you which exits have your favorites. There is also a feature that allows you to see services that are offering promotions to users of iExit. This version can alert you when a favorite is coming up, even if the app is only running in the background on your device. There is a quirk with this though, as sometimes the app cannot “see” across state lines. When we were traveling through Oklahoma, the app did not show upcoming exits in Missouri until we crossed into Missouri. This was the only time this happened, as all other times the app showed what was beyond the state lines of the states were crossing to and from.

The downsides to the app are it only works for exits along the interstate highway/tollway/turnpike system. State routes are not part of the service, unless they link up with an interstate/tollway/turnpike, even though many state routes are treated like highways in parts of many states. It is only available for iPhone and Android devices, although a Windows Phone version is in development. Also, we found that many closed exits and rest areas were not indicated in the app.

Up above when I was talking about TripIt and how we decided to change where we were going to stop on one leg of our trip, I used iExit to locate hotels – Fairfield and Hampton Inns – along our route and, based on their distance from us at that time, guessed how long it would take to travel there. Once I found a hotel located at an exit that was an appropriate time/distance away, I went to the hotel’s website on my device and booked a room.

Waze

waze-logo

If you watch the Chicago morning news on ABC7, you’ve probably seen Roz Veron’s traffic report when she says “A Wazer is reporting…” Waze is an app that you can use to get directions, but it is also more than that. Using the app, you can score points by reporting on road hazards, weather conditions and police presences. You can also see what other people using Waze have reported. You can see where there are traffic slowdowns, including an estimate of how fast traffic is moving through a certain area. There are other ways to score points, primarily by distance traveled. But it really isn’t the points that matter, it is the “crowd sourcing” function, showing you what others are reporting, even before those incidents make the traffic reports heard on the radio. It is also good to see where exits and rest areas along highways are closed – something that iExit does not do well.

On a different trip a few months ago to Indiana, we were able to see an accident on I-65 that had shut down all lanes of traffic. We were then able to reroute ourselves around the trouble area, well before we reached that point and got caught up in the mess.

A word of caution: if using the Waze app for directions, it really likes interstate highways, shunning almost every state route/local road even if the state route/local road is shorter/faster. This was an issue in Arizona, as the more direct and quicker way to my inlaws was to get off of I-44 and head over state routes down into Phoenix, especially since my father-in-law works for the Arizona Department of Transportation and he warned us I-17 around Flagstaff was a mess, which is the route Waze wanted to take us on.

On the flip side of the coin, coming back we stopped to visit my best friend and his family in St. Louis, and Google Maps was trying to take us down slower state routes and local roads – because it was a shorter distance – when Waze was taking us over the quicker interstates. Even though the Waze route added 11 miles to our trip, we used that.

Waze sometimes has difficulty finding specific street addresses, and you can switch between a variety of different sources in an attempt to locate an address – but not the Google Maps database. Most of the time it will get you to the street itself and leave it up to you to find the numbered address.

Waze is available for free on iPhone, Android and Windows Phone devices.

Google Maps

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Last, but certainly not least, the “granddaddy” of travel apps. I would say that Google Maps was one of the first free travel apps available for smartphones, and is what has and is killing the standalone GPS market, in my opinion. Why would you need a standalone GPS costing hundreds of dollars, plus yearly subscription fees, when Google Maps is available for free for your smartphone?

With Google Maps you can get driving directions – including turn-by-turn navigation – find services near a location or in a town/city, locate a specific business or service, and see traffic status. You can also see indicated construction zones as well as reported accidents. However, unlike Waze which will tell you the speed cars are traveling in a traffic jam as well as using a red/yellow color indicator, Google just indicates via a red/yellow/green color scheme to show traffic status.

Comes pre-installed on most Android devices. Available for iPhone/iPad and Windows Phone.

Happy trails!

-Tony L.

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