A Trio of Road Trip Apps

July 18, 2014

in App Reviews

  • SumoMe

It’s mid-summer and many Americans are just starting to load up the family car and hit the road.

But what’s the best way to find places to stay, eat, and have fun at, and put them altogether in a road trip plan?

Well, you could buy printed guidebooks, consult online sources of information, and type up an itinerary.

But wouldn’t it be neat if you could find a Website or app that would do all of the research and planning for you?

Well, I have yet to find one that will replace your intelligent brain with an artificial one full of algorithms that will take all of the work out of your hands.

But here are a trio of Websites and companion mobile apps that you might find helpful.

Roadtrippers

RoadTrippersRoadtrippers is both a Website (www.roadtrippers.com) and an app (free for Apple mobile devices and also for Android ones) for road trip planning. Apparently you are supposed to plan your trip using the Website, then use the app on your smartphone as your cruise the highways.

I gave Roadtrippers a “test drive” by setting up a proposed trip to my old hometown, Seattle, Washington.

On the Roadtrippers Website I plugged in a start and end date for a one-way trip. (I didn’t find a way to automatically set up a two-way trip.) All Roadtrippers did was give me the total driving time and distance, and an estimate of how much I’d spend on gasoline. It didn’t suggest any place to stop overnight along the way; I had to figure that out myself.

I put in two overnight stops. But when I first added them with the dates I’d be staying, Roadtrippers failed to include those dates in my itinerary so I had to add them in a second time.

Then I asked Roadtrippers to suggest accommodations at each stop. But instead of giving me a lodging list for my overnights stops, it forced me to zoom in tightly on a map in order to see them.

I didn’t do a detailed comparison with other Websites to determine if Roadtrippers found all accommodations at my first stop (Ashland, Oregon), but I doubt it since some restaurants I’ve dined at many times didn’t show up in the Website’s listings.

And Roadtrippers didn’t show me comparison prices between accommodations nor allow me to book a room directly; it simply gave me a link to a lodging’s Website or a phone number icon that I could click on to call the place.  (A recent update to the Roadtrippers Website makes it easier to see details on a hotel or restaurant after you’ve added it to your trip, but directly booking a reservation still isn’t possible.)

After creating a trip on the Roadtrippers Website using my iMac desktop computer, I was able to see view it on my iPhone. But the app’s small map display on my phone was hopelessly cluttered with more location pins than I could possibly sort out, basically rendering the app useless.

You can share your Roadtrippers trip on social media sites or via e-mail.

In her “Webb Buzz” review of Roadtrippers  for the Los Angeles Times, my friend and colleague, Jen Leo, complained that the smartphone app doesn’t have the same features as the Website.

My take: Roadtrippers should stay at home, not go traveling with you.

Roadside America

Like Roadtrippers, Roadside America is both a Website and an app ($2.99, plus in-app purchases, available only for Apple devices running iOS7 or later).

The idea is to find well-known or obscure attractions for you to check out while cruising near your home or elsewhere in the U.S. or Canada.

Roadside America 568For example, how many of you (unlike me) didn’t know that The Grateful Dead once hung out in a house that is now part of the Olompali State Historic Park in Marin County, California (about 25 miles north of San Francisco), and that the “Out- of-Control Christmas House” (Christmas holidays only) was nearby?

You can select a state map chock-a-block full of clickable pins showing roadside attractions, save the ones that interest to you as “My Sights,” then use RoadsideAmerica.com to set up an itinerary that includes some of those “cool” places.

RoadsideAmerica.com provides a printable map with turn-by-turn directions and driving time to each of those places which you can share via e-mail.

While you can save a trip created on the RoadsideAmerica.com Website as a file that can be imported into a GPS device, I couldn’t find anything that said whether a trip created on the Website could be viewed on your iOS device.

What about the app?  Well, having no upcoming road trips, I didn’t think it was worth $2.99 ($5.99 to view everything, everywhere) just to try it out. But to find out more about it, you can either read the app’s description on iTunes or go to this page on the RoadsideAmerica.com Website.

GasBuddy

GasBuddy tries to find you the best gasoline prices at nearby stations. You can use the Web-based version, or the free app for iOS, Android, Windows or Blackberry smartphones.

Gas BuddyYou can display the gas stations in either a list or on a map, and specify whether you want to see prices for “Regular,” “Midgrade,” “Premium” or “Diesel” fuel.  You can sort the search results by “Distance” or “Price.”

Note that the prices are “crowd sourced” rather than being supplied by the gas stations themselves. If you find the price is actually higher or lower than the app shows, you can report it to GasBuddy.

Tap on a station’s listing or map pin to see where it is located. Unfortunately, the app doesn’t give you turn-by-turn driving directions.

I don’t use GasBuddy at home since I know which gas stations generally have the lowest prices.

But the app is useful when you’re “on the road,” especially if you’re driving a rental car and want to find the closest (as well as cheapest) place to fill up its gas tank before returning it.

GasBuddy worked well when I was on Maui a couple of years ago. Its results seemed to match up with where my friend who lives on the island told me I could buy the cheapest (albeit not cheap) gas. Unfortunately, I couldn’t go to where GasBuddy told me I could get the best deal, since that was across a big patch of the Pacific on the adjacent “Big Island.”

(Kit Eaton of The New York Times reviewed all three of these apps in this video.)

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