You heard it here: gas prices are dropping and more people are hitting the road for summer trips. But packing up the car isn't the only thing you should do before you head off next week for the holiday; you should also be packing the phone with useful apps.
Whether you're looking for traffic reports, a clean toilet, or an exit with some good food choices, you'll want to make sure you're well supplied with some of the apps below before you put the pedal to the medal.
Before we jump in, though, a reminder -- please do not use these apps while driving. All of them should only be used when pulled over or by a co-pilot if the car is moving.
Of all the apps listed here, this is our favorite. Sure, there are traffic apps and ways to see traffic in Google Maps, but Waze provides social data about traffic. The service allows you to report the traffic you see and then communicate with those around you. You can then see where others have reported traffic.
Even better, there is built-in navigation with voice commands to get you around the traffic. Waze has become so popular in the last couple of months that Apple is using it in its upcoming Maps app for iOS 6, and carmakers are figuring out ways to build it into in-dash navigation systems. (Free for Android, iPhone, BlackBerry)
With the traffic out of the way, let's move on to the next car peeve -- gas prices. Sure, they have been dropping in the last few weeks, to$3 or below in some places, but you'll still want to shop around for the best prices on the road.
Gas Buddy is one of the best apps out there to do that. Let the app know your location and it will find the stations closest to you and then sort them, from cheapest to most expensive. It will also break down the grades -- regular, premium, etc. Lastly you can dive in and see the details about each station, including whether it has an ATM or restroom. (Free for Android, iPhone, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone)
|Charmin and Bestroom|
While GasBuddy can tell you if there is a restroom, it cannot tell you is if it is clean. That's why you need an app that tells you where to find a semi-clean restroom on the road. There are a bunch of options, but both Bestroom and Charmin's Sit or Squat will do the trick. Charmin's is particularly cute: green toilet paper rolls denote the best places to sit and red the best ones to squat. Bestroom is only available for the iPhone, while Charmin's app is available for Android and iPhone. Both are free.
|IExit and Yelp|
Okay, we realize you might not want to talk about food after that one, but it is as hard to find good food at a rest stop as it is to find a clean toilet. iExit is the best choice if you are looking for a quick bite. Share your location with the app and it will give you a list of the upcoming exits and what stores and chains you can find there. You can also set it to alert you when a specific chain is coming up.
Yelp is a good alternative if you really want to venture off the highway and find a good local restaurant. You get lots of user reviews as well as full menus if they are available. (Yelp is free for Android, iPhone, and Windows Phone; iExit is only available for the iPhone for $.99)
We obviously don't condone speeding here at ABC, but we understand that sometimes, well, it happens. Trapster is an app that will alert you to police speed traps, enforcement cameras, and road hazards. Like Waze, it is based on social information, meaning others can report where they saw a cop or a speed trap and then you will see the tip on the map. It will also alert you to when the speed limit changes and provides voice alerts. (Free for Android, iPhone, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone.)