You’re the designated driver. Your travel buddy is staring at the road atlas, looking for that turn-off labelled in size 8 font. She’s squinting, you’re speeding along at 80km/h.
Oops, missed it - and it’s another 8km before you can make a u-turn. Welcome to a common nightmare road-trip scenario.
To avoid any Amazing Race-type squabbles with your fellow road trippers, here are some tips and tricks to help turn your next road trip into a well-oiled example of (fun) efficiency!
Planning and hitting the road
It all starts with planning. Once you’ve decided on your trip, plan your route. Now, here’s where gadgets can help: a basic itinerary can be mapped via Google Maps. The 'My Places' function in Google Maps allows you to create a route with notes on the various stops along the way. You can also invite collaborators to work on the map and once it’s done, share the URL with your mates. Some local tourism boards and automobile and motoring websites also offer trip planners.
If you’ve got a good mobile/cellular data connection while travelling, you’ll simply turn on Google Maps on your smartphone and let it direct you. Android users even get turn-by-turn navigation. There are several downsides to this: if you’re overseas, data charges get mighty expensive. Worse, you might lose coverage in more remote areas, turning your mobile into a pretty dashboard ornament.
If you want to eschew relying on Google Maps, hire or buy a GPS/satnav device (you know, the chunky ones you mount on the dashboard). Many now include an itinerary planner function. You can program your trip and away you go!
However, with the surge in smartphone ownership, avoid doubling up on devices by purchasing navigation software for your smartphone. Companies such as TomTom, Navigon, Garmin, Telenav and Metroview offer apps. These essentially turn your smartphone into a satnav. Maps are stored on your phone (no data charges, as it’s all offline) and you get turn-by-turn navigation. I can’t help but get tickled by the ‘Homer Simpson’ voice pack, an in-app purchase in TomTom software. Cute!
Tips and tricks
If you’re using your smartphone for navigation, you’ll find that your battery wears down very quickly. Plus phones tend to heat up, making it uncomfortable to hold or put in your lap. Buy a car kit which comes with a charging cable (to plug into the power socket on the dash) and dashboard cradle. You’ll find cheap ones on eBay.
Consider using your iPad or Android tablet for navigation - make sure you get a version with a GPS chip inside. Don’t laugh! It’s also a great way to entertain the kids.
Some smartphones include free offline satnav apps. Nokia includes a Map app, Samsung includes the Navigon software on some of their Android handsets. Apple...well, you’re outta luck. Try the app store. Of course, the best thing about using a tablet or smartphone for navigation is that you can play music while the satnav app is running. This is multitasking at its road-tripping best.
Some useful apps
It’s not all just about navigational software. Download an app for local recommendations so you can hone in on the best local sights and eating/drinking spots. Try Wenzani, Foursquare, Beanhunter (for coffee snobs), Urbanspoon and Zagat.
If you’re worried about getting a speeding or parking fine, download Trapster. You get crowd-sourced updates on red lights and cameras, police patrols shown on local roadmaps.
There are parking apps such as Park Patrol that warn you when a) your meter’s almost up and b) if there’s a parking inspector nearby. There are apps that give you the price of petrol (Gasbuddy, WhatGas and more). The Cheap Parking app tells you where to find, well, cheap parking - sadly, in some cases, there’s none. (Melbourne and Sydney, we’re looking at you!)
Do note that a lot of these apps are localised versions and you’ll need to find the one which is relevant to your destination.
But hold up! Trying to use technology on your trip might actually make it worse: if you end up fussing and switching from app to app, you may end up spending the entire trip staring at your gadget instead of enjoying the scenery outside. So raise your head and enjoy the view. Or start playing an old-fashioned road-trip game. Try ‘I Spy’ or ‘Slug a Bug’ (careful when punching your driver!) So, are we there yet?