Carl Henning

There’s an App for That… and a Website… and Hardware

As I prepare for another trip, it’s time to update this post from July of last year. I’ll add some detail and some websites that I use. Plus one piece of hardware. I actually have an extensive hardware emergency kit, but that’s information for a future blog post.

There are some apps for my iPhone that are indispensable for automobile travel. Apple Maps or Google Maps is a good start, but what about when you travel away from cell service? MAPS.ME is the answer. It’s free and you can download the states you need. I downloaded the whole USA (while on Wi-Fi); I’m optimistic about future travels.  There are often updates so check before you travel.

So Apple Maps or Google Maps? The reviews say Apple maps have caught up to Google except for public transportation. Apple maps seems to show the speed limit more often and for me at least the app is easier to read. Whichever you use be careful what you put for a destination. I learned that the hard way looking for Cumberland Gap National Historical Park (Cumberland Gap). The moral of the story is to be specific with your destination; for example, use “Cumberland Gap National Historical Park Visitor Center.”

iExit will tell you the food and gas available at Interstate exits; it tells which side of the highway and how far from the exit. It includes what kind of food and gas prices. It also gives the location of rest areas. (I used to use a separate app for rest areas.) This app is listed first for a reason – it’s the most used… by my navigator. When the gas gauge runs low, she can check ahead for the best gas prices at several exits.

Gas Buddy provides gas prices and locations. iExit provides gas prices only at Interstate highway exits.

Best Parking is great for in the city. It provides parking locations and rates.

Roadtrippers will show you things to see along your route including off-beat attractions. The Buddy Holly crash site was my sentimental favorite, The Day the Music Died. The app also shows hotels, restaurants, and more. You can select what things you want to see. You can use on your computer and your trips will appear also in the app (as long as you log in). TIP: don’t trust the Roadtripper map locations! They have led me astray too often. Instead enter the attraction in Google or Apple Maps.

History Here used to show local historical sights. BUT it no longer works; you can delete it.

I use the Weather Channel app to check what storms we’re driving into.

I have the AAA app for car trouble although it has some travel info, too. Did you know that AAA can still get you a TripTik? Remember the booklet of strip maps with a green highlight for the route? You now have to request that online and wait for them to send it to your local AAA office. But the local office is fully stocked with tour books. We’ve used them for all our recent trips. We browse them and see if any of their highlighted stops are of interest. (They call them “Gems.” We actually hit two of them on the day of this update.)

My auto insurer provides an app. It can be used for accident reporting. Fortunately, I have not needed to use it.

How high am I? In altitude, that is. Altimeter provides altitude and GPS coordinates. So does the iPhone-included Compass. But Altimeter continuously updates with large, easy-to-read numbers.

TripAdvisor has too many ads for my taste, but I use it occasionally.

For the National Parks, REI provides a National Parks app that emphasizes hiking trails with descriptions, difficulty, and maps. Some national parks offer their own apps; Grand Tetons and Yellowstone do. Check the park’s website for a link on the menu under Plan Your Visit | Basic Information.

There’s also an app from the US Forest Service, ExploreUSFS. It’s a portal to various National Forests. While still in WiFi click the forest you are interested in to download the needed content. It includes maps with points of interest. Touching the point of interest provides the details.

I have a folder of lodging apps. I’m lifetime platinum with Marriott, so they are in the top spot. But I also have for Holiday Inn, Hilton, Choice, and Best Western. I deleted Motel 6 because they suck. I don’t rely on, expedia, etc. but use their apps if you are so inclined. The direct apps say they provide the best rate. When looking for lodging in out-of-the-way places, I use Apple or Google maps and search nearby the city for hotels.

All of the above are free, but there is one series of pay apps that I heartily recommend: GyPSy Guide. They are available for many parks and drives. We’ve used them in Maui, Arches, the Florida Keys, and Grand Teton/Yellowstone. It’s really like having a tour guide in your car. It plays through our Bluetooth-connected radio in the car, keyed off the GPS and the direction you’re driving. It does not require a cell connection, but you will want to power your phone while driving.

A website you might consider is For many, many highways it literally lists everything that’s there from major sites to gravel pullouts and call boxes. I tried to use it for a trip up PCH but found it provided TMI (Too Much Information). You tell it what you’re interested in like museums, golf, etc, and it creates a customized PDF for you; mine was 18 pages long. I opened the resulting PDF in Word to edit it but found it tedious.

One small piece of hardware I keep in the glove box. It works with an app. It’s called BlueDriver and it plugs into the car’s computer port. When the Check Engine light came on in Wichita last trip, it provided me with the error code and likely solution (via Bluetooth to the app on my phone). A quick check on the web gave me the expected cost. I was worried about getting ripped off. At least in this instance I needn’t have worried; the shop was AAA approved and the folks there were super nice. Still worth the $100 for the peace of mind the device provides. I bought it at Amazon with the case recommended under “Frequently Bought Together.”

Our ancient (2011) Toyota Sienna minivan has an app too. Your car manufacturer may provide an app as well. Ours provides manuals, recall notices, dealer finder, and more. It also provides service history. So my recall services are there plus my regular services when I used to take it to the dealer for service (since it was in walking distance to work). Now that I’m retired I have it serviced locally or wherever we happen to be when the 5,000 mile counter reminds me to have it serviced. (I’ve also learned how to dismiss the annoying reminder until it’s serviced.)

We’ve racked up over 60,000 miles since I retired 2 years ago so these apps have been well tested!

Do you have an indispensable app? Please tell me in the Comments section.

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