Travelling Across the Country? There’s an App for That!

Although our entire trip has been focused on getting back to nature, we’ve relied quite heavily on modern technology, including computers, smartphones, and the Internet.  Technology enables us to research parks, select our hikes, and find campgrounds, restaurants, and gas stations.  Previously I wrote an article about all the technological hardware we use.  This article is focused on the software.  Most of the apps listed below run on iOS, in other words, on our iPhones and iPad.  A few run on our Windows laptop.  Here are the apps we’ve used the most on our trip, in alphabetical order:

ACDSee

acdsee

ACDSee by ACD Systems International Inc. ($49.99)

I’ve taken A LOT of digital photos on this trip, well over a hundred photos per day.  I’ve used successive versions of ACDSee on Windows for over a decade.  The program strikes a good balance between power and ease of use.  It helps me organize all these photos, plus it has most of the basic editing functions I need, such as cropping, rotating, enhancing, red-eye repair, etc.  The biggest downside is the price, but I usually skip a few versions before upgrading.


AllTrails

AllTrails

AllTrails Hiking & Mountain Biking Trails, GPS Tracker, & Offline Topo Maps by All Trails, Inc. (Free)

This is a “crowd-sourced” app that describes and rates hiking trails.  Crowd-sourced means that users of the app upload information and reviews about the hiking trails.  Thus as more people use the app, more trails and reviews are submitted, and the app becomes more useful.  Therein lies the rub.  This app included many of the trails we wanted to hike, but some key trails were missing, and some trails didn’t have any reviews.  But given the cost (free), this app was very useful and served as a good complement to the Trails app listed below.

Coverage?

Coverage?

Coverage? by Two Steps Beyond ($2.99)

This app shows cell phone coverage across the country for our AT&T and Verizon iPhones.  Each time before we head to the next park, I use this app to check what kind of cell phone coverage we can expect.  If it looks like we’ll be out of range, I’ll use the Internet in our current location to research the next park and hikes, pay our bills, etc.  I’ve found the coverage maps in this app to be very accurate.

FastFood

FastFood

FastFood – Top Restaurant finder app by Kuchbi Inc (Free)

When we pass through a city about once a week to shop for groceries and do our laundry, I also try to get my “fast food fix.”  This app shows all nearby fast food restaurants in a list or on a map.  I can click on any restaurant, and it’ll take me to Google Maps for driving directions.

GasBuddy

GasBuddy

GasBuddy – Find Cheap Gas Prices by GasBuddy Organization Inc (Free)

When driving an RV that gets only 8 miles per gallon, finding the cheapest gas is economically essential.  This is especially true when travelling in remote locations or Alaska where gas is expensive and prices can vary widely, up to a dollar per gallon.  GasBuddy has been an indispensible app for finding the best gas prices.  It displays the prices for all nearby stations (or any selected city) in a list or on a map.  I can click on a gas station to get driving directions and a phone number.  One downside is the prices are not always apples-to-apples so I cannot compare them easily.  For example, sometimes this app lists the cash price, special membership price (like for Sam’s Club), credit card price, or discounted price when using their specific credit card.  But it doesn’t tell me which price is used, so we have to actually visit the gas station to find out, which is very inconvenient.  So over time I’ve learned which gas stations have discounts we cannot use and thus avoid them.  I’ve found that Pilot and Flying J stations often have the cheapest prices, as do “mom & pop” stations not associated with any of the major brand oil companies.

Google Maps

image

Google Maps for iOS by Google, Inc. (Included Free with iOS 5; not yet available for iOS 6)

Google Maps is perhaps the most useful app of all on our trip.  We own a Garmin Nuvi GPS for our RV, but we’ve found that it has an unfortunate habit of sending us down gravel or twisty mountain roads, which can be difficult or even dangerous in an RV with a tow car.  It’s gotten so bad that we dubbed our GPS “The Crazy Lady.”  Over time we stopped relying on the Garmin GPS and started using Google Maps on our iPhone.  It provides real-time traffic data and almost always recommends the very best route–on paved and safe roads.  Google Maps is also very useful when trying to find dispersed camping spots in the national forest, especially the satellite view, which shows back-country roads and nearby features such as lakes and rivers.  This app is also handy for finding specific restaurants and stores or finding all nearby laundromats, for example, though it doesn’t always find every one.  The downside is the program doesn’t work well without an Internet connection.  So if I know we’ll be heading into an area without cell phone coverage (using the Coverage app mentioned above), I’ll download and cache maps for that area while we still have a connection.  The app isn’t perfect.  For example, the font can be very tiny, especially interstate exit numbers.  And the blue route line covers up traffic data.

Live Writer

Windows-Live-Writer-Logo1

Windows Live Writer by Microsoft (Free)

If you follow our TNTRV and National Park Explorers blogs, you know that we write a lot.  Live Writer is a terrific program for writing blog articles.  It’s like a simplified version of Microsoft Word, is rock solid, and best of all, free.

myPilot

myPilot

myPilot by Pilot Flying J (Free)

We have found that Pilot stations tend to have the cheapest gas prices and often have spacious RV-friendly lots.  We also have a Pilot RV Plus gas card, which gives us an additional discount of 3 cents per gallon off Pilot’s already low price.  Note that Flying J stations are affiliated with Pilot and also appear in this app.  The only downside is that Pilot and Flying J gas stations are not found in some areas, especially Canada and Alaska.

Park Maps

Park Maps

Park Maps by Big Air Software, LLC ($0.99 on sale)

This nifty app displays the official National Park Service maps for 250 U.S. National Parks, Monuments, and Recreational Areas.  When you zoom in on a map, the resolution keeps going higher and higher until it eventually switches to a topographical map, which is one of the coolest features I’ve ever seen.  Additional high resolution maps can be obtained with an in-app purchase.

RadarScope

RadarScope

RadarScope by Base Velocity, LLC ($9.99)

RadarScope is the best (and most expensive) app that allows you view NEXRAD Level 3 and super resolution weather radars.  It also has tornado, severe thunderstorm, and flash flood warnings, as well as predicted storm tracks issued by the National Weather Service.  What makes this app special are its high resolution animated maps that show individual storm cells approaching our exact location.  The downside to this app is it only shows radar from one station at a time, so if I want to see storms far off in the distance, I have to switch radar stations (or switch to another radar app).

Rest Stops

Rest Stops Plus

Rest Stops Plus – Rest Areas and Welcome Centers by Allstays LLC ($1.99)

When travelling on the interstate, it’s nice to know where the next rest stop is located.  This app shows the closest rest stops and their amenities, such as RV dumps.

Trails

Trails

Trails by Demand Media, Inc. (Free; Annual Subscription to Trail Data $50.00)

This app is the companion to the Trails.com website, which provides professional, high quality trail guides for almost every major hiking trail in the country.  The guides are scanned directly from popular hiking books, such as the top-notch Falcon guides.  The guides can be downloaded to my iPhone, iPad, or printed on paper, which is best for bringing with us on the trail.  The app is free, but access to the guides costs $50 for a one year subscription.  It has been worth every penny, as we would’ve likely spent many hundreds of dollars to purchase all of these hiking books for the dozens of parks we have visited.  The downside is I have to search and print every trail guide separately, instead of the luxury of having them already printed and bound in a book.  The other downside is the guides are scanned from the books instead of being HTML formatted, so they don’t size well or switch orientation when I rotate the phone.

Walmart Overnight Parking

Walmart Overnight Parking

Walmart Overnight Parking Locator by Allstays LLC ($2.99)

About half the Walmart stores across the USA and Canada allow free overnight parking for RVs.  Apparently this policy started in the early days of the Walmart empire because founder Sam Walton was an RVer himself and wanted to do something for the RV community.  It also makes good business sense: RVers parked overnight at Walmart are likely to shop there too.  We’ve stayed overnight at about a half dozen Walmarts on our trip.  This app allows us to find the nearest Walmart on a map, get driving directions, and shows whether each Walmart allows overnight camping based on crowd-sourced data provided by users.  This app is useful even when we’re not staying overnight and just need to shop at Walmart. 

Weather Channel

The Weather Channel

The Weather Channel® by The Weather Channel Interactive (Free)

Having an accurate weather forecast is essential on a trip like this.  The weather determines which clothes to bring on a hike.  If it’s going to be very cold or wet in a particular park, we may choose to stay in an established campground instead of in the national forest.  We’ve even skipped a park due to bad weather, changed our course to avoid storms, and delayed our stay because the weather was fantastic.  The Weather Channel app provides relatively accurate forecasts and has a nice interface for monitoring the weather across multiple favorite locations.  The downside is this app tends to crash a lot.  We also use the iPhone-formatted Weather Underground website.

WhereAmIAt?

WhereAmIAt?

Where Am I At? by Aaron McDonald (Free)

Every time we dispersed camp in a national forest or BLM land, we send an email to our family to let them know where we are camping.  That way, if they don’t hear from us for a while, they can dispatch the authorities to our location (fortunately this has never happened).  This simple but useful app provides our latitude and longitude and nearest road address.  The only downside to this app is it frequently crashes while trying to get the street address, so when that happens, I copy the latitude and longitude to the clipboard before the app crashes.

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