There's an App for That!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012 Road Junkies 0 Comments

San Antonio, TX 
Today dawned gray, foggy and rainy in San Antonio.  After the scheduled service on our car was completed at the local Acura dealer, we decided to take it easy for the rest of the day.

For lunch, we gave Romano's Macaroni Grill one more chance, primarily because it was close to the hotel and we had some coupons.  Macaroni Grill used to be one of our reliable favorites when traveling because the quality of the food and service was consistently excellent.  Recently they seem to be in a downward spiral.  Our last three experiences have been uniformly bad, resulting in two free meals and a couple of coupons for a free meal that we have yet to use because the meal today was comped.  Giving the managers credit, they always respond appropriately when we point out the poor quality of the food and/or service.  But just because a meal is free doesn't mean it's good.  So we're done with Macaroni Grill.  Anyone want $20 worth of Macaroni Grill coupons?

Although rain normally doesn't stop us from letterboxing, the traffic in San Antonio, America's seventh largest city, is frenetic, a quality that doesn't mix well with pea soup fog and pouring rain.  So we found a few drive-by boxes (close enough to where you park that you can grab the box and stamp in the car) and called it a day, making this the perfect day to talk about some of our favorite iPhone apps that make travel so much better.

The great thing about the convenience of being "connected" 24-7, of course, is that it makes so many things much easier and more convenient.  If there's a downside, it has to be losing touch with how to function without the gadgets.  But the world continues to move forward and so are we.  Some apps we use daily, even multiple times a day but these are the ones we use most often for our travel-related needs.

Where to Stay:
Once we decide on our destination, we depend on Trip Advisor to identify the best place to stay.  The many travelers who post reviews to this site don't mince words.  If there are bed bugs at a hotel, you don't have to find out the hard way.  Someone will have posted that nasty bit of news on Trip Advisor.  We have found the reviews to be quite reliable and wouldn't select a hotel without consulting TA.
Now that we know our desired lodging, we turn to the hotel apps to find a place to stay.  Of the three we use most often, Marriott is by far the best, making it very simple to schedule, review and manage our reservations.  Priority Club, the Holiday Inn family, is probably next best, and Hilton is the worst.

How to Get There:
In addition to our car GPS, we find ourselves using the iPhone Maps app, which employs the Google maps database.  Even though Google has a map app themselves, the iPhone app is far superior.  We especially find it useful for locating the nearest... whatever.  For example, we located the nearest Macaroni Grill with the Maps app.  That was a mistake, but it was easy to find.

Maplets helps us when we need a map of a particular place such as a national, state or local park, a college campus, or a subway system.  Our efficiency is increased if we don't have to track down a map when we arrive at a place.  It's great for situations like looking for a letterbox near the football stadium of a unfamiliar campus, for example.

Car Care:
When the tank is nearing empty, we need to find fuel.  Just like everyone else, we don't want to pay any more than we need to.  We turn to Gas Buddy to help us find the best gas prices near our location.  Normally we ask the app to sort the stations in order of price, but if we wait too late or almost too late, we can find the nearest station.

The oddly named Gas Cubby with the inexplicable woodcut icon is a vital tool for helping us monitor fuel usage and maintenance on the car.  We record all our gas fill-ups and can analyze the data by gas brand or octane rating to try to identify what's giving us the best mileage.  The data can even be exported and put into a spreadsheet to help with expense records.  We love that we can sync the data so both our phones have the same info.  (And we can store data for both cars on the app.)
Finding the Letterboxes:
In our pre-iPhone days, we had to plan well in advance where we would be letterboxing so we could identify letterboxes in the area and print the clues from the Atlas Quest web site.  Thanks to Clue Tracker, there's no more printing of clues.  It's all at our fingertips.  If we know we'll be in an area where we may not have cell reception, we can save the clues for that area within the app.  It even employs GPS data to allow us to "search nearby."  And the app draws on data from both of the primary letterboxing web sites.

On the frequent occasions when letterbox clues require us to follow a certain compass heading, we no longer need to dig the old compass out of our backpack and wonder whether it's functioning properly.  Our Compass app gives us the precise, reliable reading we need.  In fact, we have a more accurate reading so much faster, it probably increases the overall number of letterboxes we can find by... at least 0.5 to 1.0%.  Not to mention it's so much less annoying.

Finding Food and Drink:
What Trip Advisor does for lodging, Yelp does for food.  Although Trip Advisor has restaurant ratings as well as hotels, we find ourselves turning more and more often to Yelp for restaurant reviews.  We can search for the nearest restaurant of whatever type and check out what previous guests had to say about it.

Gasoline isn't the only fuel we need to find when traveling.  Ken loves a good bold cup of coffee and no one does that better than Starbucks.  Wherever we are, he turns to his Starbucks app to locate the nearest shop and fills up with his own brand of high octane.

How's the Weather?
Though Apple does a great job with most of their apps, we have found the weather app that came with the phone to be inadequate, since it provides only the forecast conditions and high and low temperatures for the day.  Shine is our weather app of choice.  It allows you to monitor conditions at any number of locations while automatically providing the forecast for your current location by using GPS data.  In addition to today's high and low, hourly forecasts are available as well as a look at the upcoming week.

These are our most treasured apps that enhance our travel experiences.  There are lots of other apps we use on a daily basis for communication, news, shopping, and a host of other needs. With more than a half million apps available for the iPhone, there truly is an app for almost anything and everything.

We had been talking about this today when I asked Ken what he wanted to do on this rainy San Antonio afternoon.  "There's a nap for that, " he replied.