Tech Talk: Road-trip apps that make those miles fly by
TEXARKANA, ARK. >> Hitting the road this summer? Forget Yelp and those hotel booking apps — they're useful, but boring. Instead, pack along these apps to liven things up along the way. You might even learn something.
Discover the quirky
Consult Roadside America's database of offbeat tourist attractions, and you could marvel at a giant map of Chicago painted on a skyscraper or visit the post office that straddles Texarkana, Arkansas, and Texarkana, Texas.
The iPhone app costs $3 and lets you unlocks one geographic "region" out of seven across the U.S. and Canada. Pay $2 apiece for more, or an additional $6 for all of them — a better deal if you travel a lot.
A companion iPhone app, Roadside Presidents, focuses on birthplaces, graves and other sites related to the nation's commanders-in-chief. There's Mount Rushmore , of course, but the $3 app can also lead you to the New York site where George Washington took the presidential oath or an eatery Barack Obama visited in Boulder, Colorado.
As you make your way across the U.S., History Here, produced by the History Channel, will alert you about nearby places where interesting things happened.
That can be serious, such as the Rodney King trial in Simi Valley, California, which led to rioting in Los Angeles after the acquittal of four white police officers charged with beating a black motorist. For something lighter, how about the New York apartment where baseball legend Mickey Mantle lived?
The free app sends location-based notifications to iPhones and Apple Watch. There's an app for Android, but you must open it to see what's nearby.
Are they here yet?
Folks you're visiting can track you with Glympse for iPhones, Android and Windows phones. The free app sends your friend or relative a Web link to track your whereabouts. That person doesn't need the app. By default, your location is shared for a half hour, but you can make that longer or shorter.
The iPhone's Find My Friends feature does something similar, but sharing is continuous. Glympse lets you choose with whom and when to share, and for how long.
The slower way there
The best route isn't always the quickest, something mapping apps don't understand. For scenic drives, visit http://myscenicdrives.com . There's no app, so you can use this free service on Windows and BlackBerry phones as well as more common iPhones and Androids.
Enter your city or ZIP code to see what's nearby, or just search by state for gems such as California's Big Sur coast and Kansas' Wetlands and Wildlife National Scenic Byway .
Distracting the kids
Search the app store, and you'll find lots of apps devoted to classic road-trip games, such as who can find the most out-of-state license plates. The $2 Family Car Games app for iPhones gives you more than a hundred options searchable by difficulty level and categories, such as singing.
Most of the games aren't directly related to travel, but will help pass the time until your next rest stop. The travel-related ones include spotting those license plates and trying to find words on billboards starting with each letter of the alphabet.
The nice thing is these games aren't meant to be played on your phone. Once you look up a game, you can put the phone away and just hang with your travel companions.
Where are we?
The GeoGuessr app isn't so helpful while traveling, but it's great for seeing what you've observed and discovered along the way. It shows you a Google Street View image of some location in the world. You then navigate for clues from road signs or vegetation, then guess where you are. Play alone or challenge friends.
The iPhone app is free, but make sure you don't spell it "GeoGuesser," or you'll get a similar game that costs $2. You can pay to focus the game on specific countries or cities. To avoid paying or to use other phones, visit http://geoguessr.com .
Warning: GeoGuessr is addictive, especially on a lazy Sunday afternoon at the bar.
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