(USA TODAY) - While your road atlas collects dust in the car-door bin, your kids in the back seat are ignoring the DVD player and tapping away at their tablets and smartphones.
Mobile devices have become inseparable companions for millions of Americans hitting the road this year for summer vacation. In just a few years, it's become unfathomable to start a trip without essential smartphone tools - GPS maps, weather updates, camera, Yelp - at your fingertips.
The travel category has remained popular among app developers, and choices for handy travel apps have widened in recent years. They range from money savers like GasBuddy to fun time-killers that digitize the nostalgic road games we played in our childhood (spotting license plates, road sign bingo).
Here are some apps to consider this summer before heading out the door. Don't forget to pack a car phone charger. Running apps, particularly GPS, will drain the battery more quickly.
(free; available on iOS, Android,
BlackBerry, Windows Phone)
Gas Buddy is a mobile version of the website GasBuddy.com, which shows nearby gas stations and current prices that are updated by users. The app lets you sort stations based on your current location.
While it's not worth driving several miles to save a dollar or two at a cheaper gas station, the app can be helpful on long car trips as you cruise along the highway. Instead of filling up in Town A, drive farther and exit a few miles down the road to save. Prices, particularly in densely populated areas, are generally accurate because of its large base of fans.
($2.99; available on iOS)
Serendipitous discoveries are often the most memorable moments of a road trip. This app makes finding offbeat local treasures a little less serendipitous. By selecting a U.S. region, say Northeast, users can unlock a list of odd and unique places not likely found in guidebooks, such as the scary stairway from the movie The Exorcist in Washington, D.C., or the parking garage in Arlington, Va., where journalist Bob Woodward met his source, Deep Throat.
The app says it contains 7,800 such attractions. But you have access to only one region for $2.99. It divides the U.S. into six regions, and you'll have to pay more for the rest.
(free; available on Android)
iOnRoad is a distracted-driver prevention app that uses the phone's built-in camera, GPS, accelerometer and gyroscope to display your car's position in relation to the driving lane and the car directly in front.
Once mounted below the rear-view mirror, the phone's app emits an audiovisual alert - as pre-set by the driver - if your car gets too close to the car in front or swerves from the lane. As with other driving-aid apps, it should be used as a supplement for safe driving, not as the sole guide.
ROAD TRIP BINGO HD
($1.99; available on iOS)
The app features more than 40 colorful road-trip-themed bingo squares, including road signs, animals, vehicles, street marks and mountains.
It's good for killing a couple of hours with toddlers, but not likely to retain the attention of older kids for long. The Android Market has similar games.
SKOBBLER GPS NAV 2
(99 cents; available on iOS)
While a turn-by-turn, voice-guided GPS device is a nice tool to have in your travel arsenal, not everyone can afford to spend $150 for yet another device. Meanwhile, TomTom, which makes a GPS device, sells its map software for $37 as an app.
Skobbler's GPS Nav 2, on the other hand, is a low-cost alternative that can handle most navigation functions, including a "3-D" map and voice instructions on where and when to turn. It lacks the bells and whistles of other expensive GPS devices and apps, and its lists of nearby restaurants and other points of interests are limited.
But if a simple navigation guide for directions from Point A to B is all you're after, this app is sufficient. But beware that on our trial run, it was often inaccurate on smaller streets.
(99 cents for iOS; free for Android)
While Yelp and other local guide apps can spot restaurants and shops near you, iExit is a highway app that lists points of interest at upcoming highway exits. It's a handy feature for those with a sudden appetite for a specific dish or looking to gauge how far to go for the nearest rest stop.
iExit allows you to select favorites and receive alerts. Its content is fairly extensive but mostly limited to large national chains. You'll still need to turn to Yelp for local favorite restaurants.
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