In the years when we had young children at home, every family vacation was planned with military precision. We not only knew our destination, we also plotted how many miles we would cover each day, where we would eat and where we would stop and how often.
Now that the kids are grown, I’m looking forward to more relaxed road trips, where we’re free to slow down, explore and discover. And I’ve found a bevy of mobile apps that will help us do just that.
Once we have a general route in mind, Roadtrippers and Along the Way will fill in the details and help with spur of the moment choices.
Roadtrippers lets you share your route with friends and shows you traveler ratings for nearby attractions, lodging, gas stations and restaurants. You can build an itinerary on a computer, then call it up on an Android or Apple smartphone.
Along The Way
When you’re actually on the road, Along the Way uses your location to suggest interesting places that happen to be along your path. The list includes museums, parks, golf courses, nightclubs and other attractions along with restaurants, shopping malls and places to refuel.
When pets are part of the traveling crew, DogFriendly.com and BringFido.com will help find places where four-legged visitors are welcome. The websites and their companion apps point travelers to pet-friendly hotels, restaurants, and attractions and DogFriendly can find nearby dog parks and beaches that allow dogs.
Almost any travel app will point you to museums and theme parks, but where do you go to find the Big Chicken, the world's longest freestanding escalator or a wax figure of Colonel Sanders? Roadside America and its iPhone app know all the hidden treasures of kitschy Americana, like Cadillac Ranch in Texas and the Alabama version of Stonehenge.
When you check with The Most Unusual Restaurants in the World you never have to settle for Applebee’s. The website operators say they've spent seven years monitoring news sites, blogs and forums in a quest to find unique gastronomic experiences.
Their picks include a meal on wheels aboard the My Old Kentucky Dinner Train, the 7-pound burger at the Kooky Canuck in Memphis, dinner served in a prison and Market 17, a Fort Lauderdale eatery where you dine in the dark being served by a blind waitstaff.
Field Trip is an Apple and Android app that will buzz you when you're nearing something interesting, like a significant historical site or an iconic bit of architecture. If you're connected to a Bluetooth speaker, it'll read information about the site to you. Enter travel dates and a general location into Joobili to get a list of major sporting events, festivals and concerts and other events happening when you’re in town.
And it wouldn’t be a vacation if you didn’t tell friends and family how much fun you were having. Remember postcard? They’re back in an app called Postagram for smartphones. Shoot a cool photo, enter a message and an address and grandma will get an actual glossy color postcard in her mailbox in about five days.
Or you could do it the old-fashioned way and post selfies on Facebook.
I started reporting on gadgets and gear when Atari ruled electronic games and computers used floppy disks. My weekly column ran in the The Louisville Courier-Journal and online at USAToday.com and ABC News.com. I regularly attend CES, the CEDIA home theater convention and other tech events. You can follow my Twitter posts @ricmanning and contact me at email@example.com