Road trips have changed a lot in the last few decades. If your parents like to take long driving trips, you probably remember the big atlas or collection of folding maps of your state or region stuffed under or behind the passenger seat of the family car. Planning a road trip involved choosing a destination then carefully charting the route across interstates using paper maps, notes, and sometimes dead reckoning when street signs and map lines don’t quite match up.
Then there was the Mapquest era, in which directions to anywhere could be looked up, printed out, and carried with you on the road. Compared to the atlas, this seemed like amazing precision and freedom right up until the GPS navigator gadgets started coming out. Having a Betty (female computer voice) prompt your turns and freeway exits was an incredible innovation in hands-free navigation, even when she was wrong or late giving a direction.
Now the world has changed again. Your smartphone mount and nav apps have taken the place where your Garmin used to sit and they have gotten much smarter. You can plan and change your route, dodge construction, and choose intermediate destinations along the way. Want to know how? Here are five great tips for the ultimate smartphone road trip:
1) Google Maps: Your New Best Friend
While there are many navigation app alternatives, Google has once again come out a head and shoulders above its competitors in terms of features, data integration, and intuitive helpfulness. To start your road trip, or even just a trip to the great downtown ice cream place, start by selecting a destination, then navigating from “your location”. Select your favorite route and routing settings and go! Oh, and a word to the wise: don’t use a tablet, they lack the GPS function for accurate location tracking.
2) Watch the Mini-Map
The Google Maps mini-map feature (for phones) is one of the coolest ways to travel I’ve ever seen. It zooms in and out to show you your next turn and stretch of road, moves with you in a semi 3D fashion and helps you find turns in the dark with exact location reporting. If you hit the compass button on the right side, it will follow your car so right vs left turns are obvious or, if you miss the old maps, you can set it to always look north.
Google is usually pretty good about telling where there’s traffic, but Waze has real time crowdsource updates and Google’s alternative course suggestions are not particularly intuitive. For the local’s point of view on shortcuts and detours, check out Roadtrippers instead to avoid heavy traffic, troublesome intersections, and eternal construction zones.