Why I Can’t Road Trip Without My Droid

So, if you’re like me, your vacations are oftentimes road trips. There’s no better way to relax. You’re with the ones you love; you’re on your own time schedule, and you have the freedom to go on every little detour your heart desires. Perfect, right?

But one second everyone in the car is all like: “Look, a chipmunk!”

“Aaaaww, the hills are so beautiful; I’m so glad we didn’t fly”

“O. . . M. . . G. . . ! That cropduster flew right over the top of the car! That was AWESOME!”

All in unison: “This is swell!”

But then a few hours later everyone is all like: “If you play that Bon Jovi song one more time . . . !!!”

“I have to pee!”

“I told you we should have exited back there!”

And of course, from the back seat: “ARE WE THERE YET?!”

It doesn’t take long for the young, happy family to get started on a dysfunctional road trip.   But you don’t have pack muzzles and rope anymore to achieve the relaxing, scenic drive you were looking for. Why? . . . Because you have a Droid.

Here are the top 3 reasons I MUST have my Android phone to take any sort of road trip:

Reason #1: Keeping the Kids Quiet

While I don’t actually have any of my own, I often road trip in the company of young children. And this may come as a surprise to some of you, but children get crazy bored on road trips. CRAZY bored. And I don’t know about you, but I can only play the Alphabet Sign Game so many times before I start thinking of new and creative ways to make the Silent Game sound fun again, and that’s starts getting cruel pretty quickly.

Thankfully, my Droid help keeps my conscience clear and my sanity in check. It has some great, clean apps that can keep the kids busy for hours, and it sure beats letting them play Grand Theft Auto on their DS and hearing them talk about how cool it is when they run someone over. Here are some of my picks:

  • Homerun Battle 3D – mostly because it’s straight up addictive and will keep them busy for hours.
  • What the Doodle!? – This is pretty awesome. It’s a real time game that allows you to pretty much play Pictionary with other Android users anywhere. See for yourself.
  • Word Up! – It’s also addictive, and keeps them thinking.

Reason #2: I Get Lost A Lot

I have no sense of direction. At all. You know how you used to feel confused after spinning around for a long time with your arms out when you were a kid? . . . I feel like that all the time.   But thanks to my Droid, I spend more time lost in my thoughts than I do on the road. I got my Droid a year and a half ago. At the time, the Maps app was unimpressive and unreliable, but it has come a looooong way. Now the Google Maps app has full navigation capabilities and several settings. It will even show me a picture of the exit I will have to take. Plus, I get a kick out of hearing the voice in the navigation try to pronounce signs that have abbreviations in them.

Reason #3: I Get Lost A Lot

Did I mention that I get lost a lot? Well Android introduced the Layar augmented reality app about a year ago. Since it’s introduction, developers have added a lot of bells and whistles, but I love it just for finding simple places, especially when I’m on foot. Let’s say I’ve road tripped to Philadelphia and now I’m leisurely touring the city on foot (Note: Your feet will hurt a lot after doing this. Trust me). I know that Rocky Statue is somewhere, but maps are Greek to me and I don’t know where to go. So I just do a search for the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Layar pulls up a real time screen with a dot that shows you where the museum is in relation to me. All I have to do is keep walking in the direction of the dot, and I’m there. I use this a lot when I have to park far away from a venue, and by the time I find a spot, I have no idea how to get back to my destination. Layar has a million other cool features, and my description simply can’t do it justice, take a look for yourself.

Devil’s Den, The Tourists Club and Google Maps

Devil's Backbone, Devil's Den State Park ArkansasWelcome to Devil’s Backbone, part of the Devil’s Den cavern and crevice system in Devil’s Den State Park Arkansas.   Arkansas has amazing hiking, terrain, and apparently the people in Fort Smith are pretty nice too.

Hiking is a family vacation tradition for the Long’s dating back to the days of “high socks with stripes” and uncomfortably short shorts.

When I got the chance to go to Fort Smith, Arkansas I knew I wanted to take an extra day and go hiking, but I was unfamiliar with the parks around Fort Smith. So I began my Google map investigation. My goal with this post is to show you how to use Google maps to help you find the best and most relevant travel destinations for you. In my case that means getting back to nature.

Your first step in finding a hidden treasure using Google maps is to learn about the area. Simply, what is around Fort Smith, Arkansas?

Google Map of Fort Smith Area

Next I decided that I wanted to spend my time in an area that had a pretty high elevation change, so I used the “Terrain” button located in the more section of Google maps.   I could tell by looking at the terrain that there is a 1000′ elevation change from the bottom of Lee Creek to the hills that surround the Devil’s Den State Park. This gave me a pretty good idea that the area not only had a nice winding creek, but indicated the area might be good for my hike.

Terrain feature showing a change in elevation

photo of Devil's Den Waterfall in Google MapsThe best tip I can give you is to use “Photos” under the “More” section of Google maps to see other people’s interests.

Photography and the internet give you a more realistic idea of what you may encounter. In this case I could see waterfalls, caverns, cabins, bluffs, etc. Most of the map photos come from Panoramio as it allows the photos to be tagged with geographic locations.

In a separate trip to San Francisco I was able to find the Tourist Club near Mt. Tamalpais & Muir Woods using this same technique of user generated photography map discovery. Aww hell, I think that needs an acronym – UGPMD (User Generated Photography Map Discovery). Google does a terrific job of helping you find unique and scenic experiences.

If you’re brave enough, skip the “touristy” excursion on your next cruise and make one of your own by uncovering the scenic wonders of Chankanaab Park, Cozumel, Mexico from Google Maps (I also suggest additional planning to account for safe transport).

Another Google map travel insight is to plot your route and distances using the directions feature. It is also a “must” that you print off your maps and take them with you.

Even though you iPhoners may cringe at the thought of paper, I suggest you print maps for convenience and because “truly getting away” often takes you out of cell phone range.

Google Maps has indicated that my trip to Devil’s Den Arkansas from Fort Smith should take 55 minutes and is mostly an interstate route of 46.9 miles. However, I live in Houston and am tired of interstates. I might venture to say that I hate them.

So, I am going to use Google maps feature that allows me to drag the route to a particular road. I have now changed my trip to a more scenic route that drives up highway 220 and winds through some awesome terrain. My trip now has changed to 1 hour and 37 minutes at 47.8 miles. My concern however is with experience and not time, so I am satisfied.

One word of warning though – apparently in Arkansas, highways can be “dirt roads”. It was an adventure climbing over mountains passes in a rent car on highway 220, and one of the best drives ever. I would however suggest you decide if you are the type that can be out of phone range in rugged terrain separated from civilization. For me it is a yes.