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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 January 13, 2020

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    More on Building Habits

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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