Saturday, February 20, 2010

My favorite travelin' apps

The past few posts have highlighted some of my home-office solutions that keep me productive while on the road. Equally important, though, are the solutions that help me "in transit" to find where to go when and how.

My two "don't leave home without them" devices for RV travel are my Garmin 265 GPS and my iPhone 3Gs.

My Garmin unit features Bluetooth connectivity and customizable points of interest. So, not only can I do the typical GPS stuff like navigate from point A to point B or find the nearest gas station, if my RV ever breaks down, I can easily find the nearest Winnebago or Sprinter dealer and have the GPS dial the phone number for me.

Garmin provides a free POI Loader tool that you can download from their website onto your PC. Once you have that, you can find a lot of free POI (points of interest) files on the web. One very nice source for RVers is the Discovery Owners page of downloadable GPS files that identify everything from low clearance bridges, to the nearest campground or free overnight parking spot at a Wal-Mart, etc.

While some of the free POI files are great, some others can be out of date and in need of further editing. I use a shareware product called GeePeeEx to edit these files. It's not the prettiest product out there, but it does the job well. Once I've edited a POI file the way I want it, I use the Garmin POI Loader tool to upload the file onto my Garmin GPS.

Like millions of others, I've found my iPhone 3Gs simply indispensable. Not so much for it's hardware or phone features, but for it's applications. There's not only "an app for that", there are usually a half-dozen very good apps for that!

Here are a few of my favorite iPhone apps right now:

While Bing is a worthy competitor for voice-controlled web searches, I still like Google Mobile App and the iPhone's default Google Map app a bit better on the 3Gs. If I need to find the nearest laundrymat or post office, I just speak what I'm searching for and Google quickly provides a list of the nearest search results around me (based on the iPhone's built-in GPS and Compass) which I can then click to see them located on a map, click to call them, or click for driving directions. No typing required!

Keeping track of the weather is always important for an RVer. I've not found 1 perfect weather app, so I use a combination of 4 of them to gather all my weather info:

  • TheWeatherChannel app has the best animated maps that you can zoom and scroll easily on the iPhone to see where storms are and how they're tracking. It also gives good forecast info, but I find the small numbers on blue background makes their 10-day forecast a bit hard to read, so for that, I like WeatherBug with it's bigger fonts and white background a bit better. AccuWeather also gives a nice "at a glance" forecast view when I just want large numbers and graphics rather than detailed text.

  • Finally, if severe weather looms, and I'm aware from my dedicated weather radio in the RV, I use a neat app called WunderRadio that streams the nearest NOAA Weather radio station broadcasts (that app streams many other radio stations as well and is great for listening to your hometown radio stations while traveling!
There are a couple of very useful multi-purpose proximity-based apps that I use:

  • Where has a GasBuddy widget that allows you to find the cheapest nearby fuel by grade (great for RV'ing when I must locate diesel!). Where also can search the entire site, but you must type in search terms as it doesn't support voice search.

  • AroundMe is similar to Garmin's default POI where the categories are pre-defined so you don't need to type anything to find the nearest grocery store, gas station, restaurant, hospital, etc.
Now for some miscellaneous cool apps that are useful while traveling:

  • Clinometer is the best 99 cents I've ever spent! It provides a great 4-way bubble level that allows me to use my iPhone to level the RV when I arrive at a campground. It also measures slope/tilt/elevation, which can be helpful when pointing a satellite dish or for determining where the sun/moon will be at a certain time of day (see below for the companion app I use for that).

  • MyAltitude is a free app that simply displays what altitude you're at. Nice for climbing up mountain passes.

  • Flashlight is a silly, but useful app that fills the screen with a single color (which you can choose). Gives you enough light to find your glasses, unlock a door, or walk up a staircase in the dark.

  • Dragon Dictation is amazingly accurate way to generate text without typing. You can then copy/paste this text into any other iPhone app or can email or text message it.

  • EveryTrail is a neat little app for tracking a hike, bike ride, or paddling route you take and incorporating some iPhone photos of any cool things you see along the way. Another cool feature is that you can share your trip with other users and also search/view their trips (a great way to find interesting "trails" at a destination you'll be visiting soon).

  • Wikihood is a fun little app that provides you with Wikipedia entries for locations that are currently around you. An interesting way to learn more random and unusual facts about a place you're visiting (things that might not be in the typical travel guide books).

  • TapForms is a customizable database app that can take full advantage of iPhone features to capture/store information. Databases can contain the usual kinds of fields (text, dates, numbers, look-ups), but also can contain a photo, audio clip, or GPS location captured from your iPhone, a 5-star rating, a file attachment option for attaching any file the iPhone can view, a website URL, or even a phone number you can click to make a phone call. It's a great app to create inventories of all items in your RV or Household (for insurance purposes), and is also a great log book for remembering past campgrounds or great photo locations you've visited.

Speaking of photo locations, since that's one of my main reasons for traveling, there are a couple great photo apps on my iPhone as well:

  • Focalware is a "must-have" for any outdoor photographer. It uses the iPhone's GPS and compass to show you where and when the sun or moon will rise and set, and the position of where the sun/moon will be at any particular time of day. It provides this info for your current location, or a location you're wishing to travel to for today or in the future.

  • PhotoBuddy is a useful collection of photo tools for calculating depth of field, exposure, flash coverage, bracketing, and also provides a handy little bulb timer when taking long exposures.

Well, there you have it! My list of favorite traveling apps. If you've got some favorites not listed here, please post a comment and let me know about them!

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