If you head over to the local App store to look for travel apps, you're going to be buried under an avalanche of icons. Every travel site - Hotels.com, Expedia, Travelocity, Kayak - has its own Android app, and so does every airline and hotel chain. Most states have a guide to the state parks and you can find specialized guides to the "best of" for most large cities. You can even find an app or two that will show you where to take your four-footed best friend in southern California or Denmark (though not most other places).
It goes without saying that you should probably have apps on your smartphone that connect you to your favorite airline and your favorite hotel chains, but there are plenty of other applications that can make a road warrior's life easier or more interesting. Whether you travel every day for business or just hit the road for that annual vacation, here are some apps that you can certainly use.
Find out what's in the truck next to you on the freeway... if you dare!
Credit: reivax / flickr.comEver pull up behind a tanker truck and see that four-color diamond-shaped placard on the back? Ever idly wonder what it means? Well, with Cargo Decoder you can find out in a hurry - and hurry away if it's super scary. Just enter the four-digit code. Cargo Decoder tells you what's on the truck or in the tank and gives details about the material - toxicity, how to clean it up, and whom to call if there's a spill.
There's also a general guide to the placard, a list of the various classifications, and an emergency responder's guide. Mostly, though, it's just fun to look up what's being hauled in that eighteen-wheeler you just cut off on the freeway...
Every day, a couple hundred thousand "spotters" punch gasoline prices into the GasBuddy application on their smartphones or enter them on a computer. The GasBuddy site has a geographic index of hundreds of thousands of gas stations across the country, with up-to-date price information for most of them (generally accurate, though occasionally suspect).
Even if you don't punch in the prices, you can use GasBuddy to find the closest gas station when you're on the road or look for a better price nearby in strange cities. You know how the prices are always worst right next to the interstate? with a GasBuddy app you can follow a map to lower prices just a few tenths of a mile away. Even if it weren't free, the GasBuddy app would pay for itself in just a fillup or two -- but it's free!.
You can also enter a weekly drawing to win a $250 gas card - just rack up 1000 points for each entry into the drawing (you can get 750 points in a day by reporting just five prices).
People used to mutter into little tape recorders to make memos while they were driving: "Remember to get shoelaces for Bitsie's patent-leather saddle shoes"... "Ask Marie about the alien blood on the break room floor." How can you do that with a smart phone? Easy: download a copy of List Note, with speech-to-text recognition. It takes just one touch to fire up the app, then you can record your notes: it's pretty good at the transcription, too.
If your hands were free, you could type in your note (but why would you?). The app also has filing system and trash can and, if you're a list-maker, lets you draw a line through the note to indicate you've attended to that little task. Bitsie will be so happy about those new shoelaces...
It used to be that when you plunked down in a hotel in a strange town for the night, you could depend on the local phone book to find a place to eat or buy a new toothbrush. The last few times I did much traveling, there was no phone book in the room. In that case, I usually used google maps on my phone or laptop - but Localicious ("What's Good in the Hood") has come in handy a time or two.
With this app, you can search for restaurants and shopping, even gasoline - all location-based. You can search by neighborhood or ZIP code in larger cities, and there's a search function for neighborhoods in case you don't know where you are. You can also search on a map. They display reviews of just about everything.
The downside is that the interface is a little clunky and not terribly intuitive, but you can't ask for everything if it's free - right? The database seems to be incomplete (several restaurants near my office don't show up) and the map function is a little confused about which side of the street businesses are on.
There's also a FourSquare check-in function if you're one of "those people."
Since Localicious is free and not always complete, I combine it with a second local search product, YPmobile. The search is a little better and the map is more dependable, plus they also have links to menus for some restaurants. The interface is a little easier to use, but there are fewer reviews and the database seems to be more out of date - I've found restaurants in there that have been closed for five years.
In a more remote location - like Fort Stockton Texas, maybe - the combination of YPmobile adn Localicious pretty much covers all your bases; in a city either one is probably sufficient by itself.
OandA Currency Converter
If you travel internationally, you know how hard it can be to keep track of your spending in other currencies; especially if you can't multiply and divide in your head. Is six Euros for a cup of coffee a good deal? Is 300 Japanese Yen for a chocolate bar a rip-off?
The OandA Currency Converter app makes answering these questions a snap: pick your currencies and enter the amount; you get the conversion instantaneously. You can convert in either direction and at differesnt standard rates - the official rate, the bank rate, the credit card rate. Oanda has prevented many a traveler from busting his or her budget - in just about every currency in the world, from the Afghanistan Afghani to the Zimbabwe Dollar.
Combine these apps with your favorite travel site apps and a handful of airline and hotel apps, and you're set. Happy traveling!