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10 Essential Mobile Apps for Your Next Road Trip

10 Essential Mobile Apps for Your Next Road Trip

10 Essential Mobile Apps for Your Next Road Trip

     

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    I’m getting ready to embark on an 1800-mile road trip. In addition to having my car checked out, packing my bags, and picking out a selection of fine roadfoods at my local Trader Joes (ah, Sweet and Salty Trail Mix…) I’ve also been loading my blackberry up with useful software to lend a hand on the road.

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    While some rural areas don’t have data coverage, by now most interstate corridors do, as well as just about every reasonable-sized town. So at worst, I’ll find myself in a data blackout zone from time to time, usually as I navigate the straightaways between towns where I won’t need to look anything up anyway. (Just in case, I’ve marked my route on a current road atlas, and have printed out information about anything I know I definitely want to check out along the way.)

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    Wit location-aware phones becoming more and more common, a smartphone can take a lot of the sting out of driving. From finding a place to eat or fill up your gas tank to avoiding traffic jams and speed traps, as the folks at Apple would say, “there’s an app for that.”

    Here are the ones I’ve decided are essential. I’m listing them by category, naming the one I’m using on my Blackberry, and naming some alternates in case the same app isn’t available on other platforms.

    1. Maps: Even if your phone isn’t GPS-enabled, as long as you have a connection to a cell tower today’s phones can pinpoint your location reasonably well. Although there are many high-quality paid apps out there, I am perfectly happy with the free, cross-platform Google Maps (you can download one, some, or all the Google Mobile apps at that link). Google Maps does a great job of creating directions, finding nearby businesses, listing traffic in major metropolitan areas, and if you’re not too worried about the privacy implications, letting selected family members know where you are (using the new Latitude system).
    2. Local Search: Google Maps is pretty good, but sometimes a dedicated local search app will find businesses that Google doesn’t – or present other information in an easier-to-use way than Google. On my Blackberry, I like Poynt. It’s slick, easy to use, and does local search and movies (for when I’m back home). It also has maps, but like I said, I like Google Maps best. Similar apps on other platforms include Live Search Mobile for Windows phones and Yelp Mobile for iPhone (non-iPhonies can access Yelp through their phone’s web browser, too). Palm users are pretty much stuck with Google Maps, which sucks because once upon a time they had the best of all local search apps, Vindigo, now gone forever.
    3. TwitPic: Technically not an app, TwitPic is nonetheless useful on the road where you might not have the time or ability to download pictures and email them to friends and family as you travel. Instead, take a picture with your cameraphone and email it to your personal TwitPic email address (under “Settings” – TwitPic is free, by the way) to have the picture posted online and a tweet automatically sent to Twitter with a link. Any phone with email can use it, although some Twitter clients have TwitPic functionality built in, too.
    4. A Twitter client: On Blackberry, there’s really just TwitterBerry. On Palm Treos, there’s MoTwit. Windows Mobile users like PocketTwit. iPhone users have 16.482 different Twitter clients to choose from, all of them good. Point is, you’re traveling – forget email. Forget postcards. Tweet. 140 characters from the base of Carhenge (in Alliance, Nebraska – go now if you’ve never been!) or the rim of the Grand Canyon is enough. Keep the wordiness for when you get home.
    5. GPS Tracking: Track every step of your trip with a good GPS tracking program. The best are the ones that produce a stream that can be merged with your geotagged pictures to create a visual map of your voyage, but even if you can’t (maybe your camera doesn’t geotag?) you can still create a pretty nifty map using something like GPSed on your Blackberry, iPhone, Win Mobile, or Symbian device. (Sorry Palm users – if it’s any consolation, maybe the release of the Pre next month will attract developers? In the meantime, Garmin used to make a pretty good GPS tracking program that it sold with it’s Bluetooth GPS devices – and maybe still does?)
    6. Qik: Qik is in a category of its own, allowing you to stream live video  from your phone. In a rare turnaround, iPhones aren’t supported (yet); everyone else can look for their phone on the supported phones page. Streaming video from your phone will burn through your battery pretty fast so make sure you have a car charger handy…
    7. Picture Shopping: On the road is nowhere to be buying everyday items. A wooden carving of Mt. Rushmore, certainly, but not a wrist-rest for your mouse. Now image recognition technologies allow you to use camera-enabled apps to shop – you just take a picture of the thing you want and the app figures out what itis. On the Blackberry, there’s Amazon Mobile, which will add the item to your Amazon wishlist (or you can order it immediately once the picture is identified, which takes about 10-15 minutes – this isn’t on the spot shopping!), which is also available for the iPhone. iPhonies have another choice, though ,that’s arguably better: SnapTell(also available for Android phones). SnapTell reportedly works faster and searches more sites than just Amazon.
    8. Speed Trap Finder: Trapster collects data from thousands of users to warn you of impending speed traps, red-light cameras, and checkpoints to let you know what’s coming up. To make sure the reports are accurate, Trapster gives more weight to reports confirmed by multiple users, and you can set the level of reliability you want to respond to. Trapster runs on most phones except Treos (and Android, it appears).
    9. Weather: There are a million of these, take your pick. Try to find one that lets you track weather in several locations, and add your destination for each day. I use WeatherEye (to save memory, I only install WorldMate – see below – when I’m traveling by plane). Unfortunately, you can’t add a second city – but it does pretty good short- and long-term forecasts that kind of make up for that.
    10. Travel Planner: WorldMate runs on Blackberry and Windows Mobile; you’ll have to search around for other platforms, because I don’t know anything quite like it myself. WorldMate stores itineraries, and sends you reminders for flights and other time-sensitive events. It also does weather for several locations, so scratch #9 above if you can use WorldMate. The neat thing about WorldMate is that you can forward reservation confirmation emails to them and they’ll automatically enter them in your itinerary – and they do a pretty good job of pulling the relevant data, too!

    There you go – 10 great mobile apps for travelers. Tell us what you use in the comments!

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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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