Ahhh, here we are, the middle of summer and the time of year where a lot of folks pack up and head out on the road.
As a child, I remember how simple it was to just wake up and jump in the car. Dad and Mom knew where we were going and packed for all contingencies. All I had to do was ask, "Are we there yet?"
Now that I am a parent myself, preparing for a road trip is more daunting. Will we have enough clothes or the right accessories? Where will we stay once we get there? What happens if we blow a tire along the way? Thankfully, it's 2015 and we have smartphones to rely on.
Using the right combination of apps, planning and pulling off a driving vacation should be completely effortless. Here are a few you should have in your arsenal -- and know how to use -- before hitting the road.
PackPoint travel packing list (free)
Before you go anywhere, you've got to make sure you're packed up properly, right? The PackPoint travel packing list helps you put together a checklist of the items you'll need to enjoy your time off. This is more than a simple Notes list, though.
Once logged in, you select your destination, dates, and define whether or not this is business or for fun. The app can help build your list based on a variety of activities that you might enjoy, like swimming or going on a bike ride.
All of these custom settings add up to a checklist that also considers the upcoming weather forecast. When it's all said and done, the app delivers an itemized list of essentials, as well as items you'll want to pack for your side excursions.
Although the free app might be more than enough for your next getaway, the premium version unlocks additional features that could prove more useful down the road. For $1.99, you'll get custom packing templates and activities as well as integration with Evernote and TripIt services.
If you plan on driving for more than a day, gas costs will surely have an impact on your budget, especially since summer prices tend to spike. GasBuddy, the old reliable, has a handy mobile app to help save a few bucks along the way by identifying lower-cost stations down the road.
Users can, however, sort by gas type, location, and/or price. What's more, the filters can pare results based on specific gasoline brands and other details, like if the gas station has an ATM or car wash.
If you have a GasBuddy account, you can log in to share or confirm pricing. Additionally, the app has a gaming aspect that offers challenges and a chance to win free gasoline. Just a heads up, however, the free app supports itself through ads.
All right, so now you're on the road and headed toward the beach (that's where I'd go, anyway). Chances are you will want to grab a bite or need to pull over and sleep. This is where iExit comes in handy for answering the question: do we get off here or wait an exit?
Designed with highway exits in mind, the free app lists the hotels, gas stations, and restaurants awaiting you at every off-ramp.
Let's say you're driving a camper on your trek across the country. The iExit app can notify you whether locations are RV friendly or whether there is diesel fuel available.
The app works in real- time and also lets you configure favorites. On a quest to hit up every Cinnabon from here to Miami? You'll want to load this one onto your smartphone before departure.
AAA Mobile (free)
To me, AAA is synonymous with roadside assistance and discounts. Hence, AAA Mobile is a great all-around companion app. This goes double for those of you with AAA memberships already.
Whether you're looking to save a few bucks on a hotel, searching for a rental car, or do something else travel-related, the AAA app can help. Indeed, it also rounds up current gas prices as well.
The key feature, perhaps, is the ability to quickly find a AAA-approved or Diamond Rated hotel, restaurants, or other businesses.
If you're logged in with your member ID, you'll also be able to save trips across mobile and desktop apps. And, should you break down on the side of the road, you can even use the app to request a tow or receive a quote on a new battery.
Hotel Tonight (free)
Are you the type of person who likes a serendipitous road trip, preferring to not plan too far in advance? Hotel Tonight is the kind of app to help you find a place to crash the same-day.
Upon opening the app, you'll be given a handful of options by which to sort or search. Have a specific destination in mind? Use the app to look ahead and see which hotels have vacancy and how much you might expect to spend. Hotel Tonight prides itself on providing last-minute mobile deals on hotels, but users can also look ahead a few days and plan a bit.
Once you find a place that piques your interest, you can read reviews, check the weather forecast and learn more about the hotel. Dive deeper and you'll soon know whether you can bring pets or if Wi-Fi and breakfast are free. There's a wealth of information at your disposal about all the amenities.
Hotel Tonight is not only designed for metropolitan markets and larger cities but for smaller towns, too. Likewise, the experience isn't relegated to large chain hotels; you may find the random one-off boutique as well.
Have your say
There are plenty of other travel apps to choose from besides this list, including these other. Perhaps you have a favorite app you turn to every summer for help. I would love to hear what you're using to organize your summer vacation.
Leave a comment below with your favorite app for a successful road trip or weekend getaway.