Roadtripping – and which apps save your sanity

This is a bit belated, but in January it seems like a bit of holiday reporting might fight the new year’s depression. Hence: I went on a road trip (last year). The second half, so to speak, since I drove from New York to Chicago and back a few years ago. Now I drove from Chicago to Los Angeles, with lots of detours….

Most of the trip went smoothly, and we saw an amazing amount of landscapes, things, cities, etc, but to plan a trip “on the fly” is quite a task, actually. Preparing ourselves, and now being on the road, I can say that my iPhone was my best friend, and here is why:

Navigation: It tells me where to go. I downloaded the sygic app, after comparing, and it is a great GPS navigator for my iPhone 4. Not only does it work without Internet connection, I can also download the offline maps state by state as to not crowd my phone, and it was the cheapest of all of them at 24.99$ for the US version. I have to say though, while it worked like a charm on the country side, sygic did not quite understand the difference between city traffic and highway traffic, and in Los Angeles, 6 miles do NOT equal 10 minutes drive, so there’s a big caveat there. Sygic also got a little confused with the carpool lanes, trying to tell me to not take them or take them as exits, which might get stressful when you are driving without a passenger who interprets her stumbling. So in the city, I used google maps, and where there was not much reception, I used sygic. If you have an ipad with 3G, you can also use that for GPS navigation, but the wifi only ipad does not have a GPS chip.

Hotels: It also tells me where to sleep – for cheap! I have to say, I am impressed by Priceline. For roadtrips it seems like the ideal way to book hotels: the less time you book ahead, the cheaper it gets. And if you bid with your own price without needing to know the name of the hotel before, it’s even cheaper. We have so far stayed in great 3 or 4 star hotels for under 90$ per night for the (mostly huge) room! It’s nice to know where you’ll sleep, and find out while on the road – and it saves a ton of money. Over the three weeks, however, it turns out that sometimes it is good to check the priceline offers, to then compare them with the hotel rates directly – some places will match that price, since they earn more without a third party broker. In general priceline is great to see what’s out there, and their secret bidding deal is usually worth it, but they have mostly chains and few motels, and no bed and breakfasts. Hotwire is similar to priceline that it reveals the name of the hotel only after buying, and sometimes has other hotels on offer than priceline. Another great all, especially for cities, is hoteltonight. While their servers are a bit slow sometimes, they offer a preselected variety of places per city, all of which they tested and know, and have great deals. We stayed in some amazing places for very little money through them. Only problem: you need Internet connection the day you want to book at noon, since that is when they launch their offers, and they might be sold out while you scramble to get reception in Utah…

Food: It tells me what and where to eat. There is of course yelp – mostly a good first test of what’s around you, and what people think, but it also has some touristy voters giving a less than amazing burger joint a great review, since it is next to a club and they had drunk grubby food there. Urbanspoon is a bit more informative and reliable, I find, giving you more of a feel why people like it (if they do). This saved a few dinners and lunches on the road, helping to hit some local favorites and staying away from the fast food chains. Another one is from the food network, with diners and dives along the way. This one has helped us to some nice roadside things, but is not very comprehensive – more of an idea giver that a full on search tool. There’s also roadfood, which seems good, but I didn’t use it much.



Tripadvisor: good for hotels, not so great for food.

Further links for roadside apps here:

Also check the forums at, they have a lot of travelers exchanging in depth information.


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