Certainly some first-time road warriors might find the thought of a long drive daunting. But for those wheelers who feel the call of the road, roadtripping can be a great way to travel. And now that vehicles are becoming rolling electronic centers, there are more travel aids than ever to smooth the way for even the most anxious newbies. In fact, there are plenty of devices, services and apps to help you find your way, get you help, keep you in touch and aid your search for whatever goods and services you may need on your trip — no matter how far from home you roam.
Never Get Lost
(Well, almost never.)
The National Mobility Dealers Equipment Association lists fear of getting lost as one of the reasons why some wheelers develop a fear of driving. Their recommendation? Use a GPS or print out directions from the Internet.
Garmin’s 5-inch screen, 3590LMT ($399.99), and the 3490LMT ($349.99), its 4.3-inch screen little brother, come packed with enough features to counter the argument that smartphones have eliminated the need for a stand-alone GPS. At the top of most rankings and rated excellent by Consumer Reports, the units come with Garmin 3.0, the company’s newest, fastest guidance program, quad-friendly capacitive glass touch screens and bodies almost thin enough to rival an iPhone’s.
The devices also boast free lifetime maps, free traffic updates and Bluetooth hands-free calling. But what impresses most is the convenience their voice-activated navigation offers. Truly hands-free, unlike anything else in the industry, the unit comes alive when you say “Voice Command” and offers up a list of choices, like Find Address, Go Home, Stop Route. Choose one and the device will prompt you through the applicable menu, all done verbally.
Of course, as any smartphone user who has been reduced to screaming at Siri (Apple’s voice recognition program), or Android’s equivalent can tell you, the technology still has a way to go. Road noise, accents, low speaking, mumbling and plain old programming weirdness can sometimes confuse it. You can get better results by entering your information when you’re at a stop — and also lessen the chance of driver distraction.
Road mishaps are never any fun, especially when you’re 100 miles from nowhere and clueless as to where the closest aid might be found. Fortunately, help can be only a button press or a phone call away.
OnStar FMV takes the same suite of satellite-enabled roadside services that have been aiding GM drivers for the past 15 years ($18.95 – $28.90 per month) and packs them in a rear view mirror ($99.99 including installation). Roadside service, which thanks to GPS always knows your location, is available at a press of a button. Likewise voice-only directions. Press another button for hands-free Bluetooth calling. And most appreciated by those who’ve needed it, in case of accident, sensors alert OnStar and a trained Emergency Adviser contacts you through the mirror’s speaker, assesses what help you might need, and stays in contact until it arrives.
Then there’s AAA, founded in 1902 as the American Automobile Association, the granddaddy of auto clubs ($66 a year). While they don’t have specific wheelchair traveler services, their road service is dependable and their planning services cover just about every other thing a road warrior might need, including nationwide lodging discounts. Their printed lodging guides show icons for accessibility and for roll-in showers, and their TripTik mapping service offers either a printout or a paper map showing everything that a driver might encounter on the road, up-to-date and mailed to your home, no charge. For long trips, it’s a far better paper backup than either a Mapquest or Google printout.
Keep in Touch
Whether you’re an iPhone freak, use an Android or other smartphone, these nifty little devices are a must-have for any road warrior. With them you can call, text and e-mail from wherever you are and find your way with a basic GPS program that gets you from point A to Point B. Many smartphones, depending on brand and carrier, can be turned into mobile hotspots, enabling WiFi-only electronics — like any tablets, laptops and e-readers you might be carrying — to access the web wherever you might be.
And, depending on what vehicle, phone or apps you have, you can pair your smartphone’s Bluetooth with the vehicle’s for almost hands-free talking, plug in your phone to control and listen to music or audiobooks through the onboard speaker system and, in some cases, have your smartphone‘s display show and function through your dashboard’s screen.
The Plantronics Legend Bluetooth headset ($99.99), a PC Magazine Best Product, top-rated by CNET, makes receiving calls on the go a truly hands-free affair. The headset announces calls by name or number, asks whether you want to accept or reject and acts on your voice command. Calling out or calling up the smartphone assistant, like iPhone’s Siri, can be initiated by a 2-second, one-finger button press. A little bulky but comfortable enough to be worn all day, the Legend sports easy, quad-friendly controls and crystal-clear sound.
10 Free Apps for a Smoother Trip
1. THE WEATHER CHANNEL provides weather reports, forecasts and maps for where you are and where you’re going.
2. MAPQUEST will get you there as well as most Smartphone GPS programs, and is a bit better than iPhone’s.
3. GAS BUDDY lets you find the cheapest gas, displaying nearby gas stations and their current prices.
4. ROAD AHEAD makes sure you never miss a pit stop again, alerting you to upcoming rest areas and exits.
5. TRAPSTER annoys the cops by warning about upcoming road traps, speed cameras and light cameras.
6. AAA ROADSIDE allows members to summon emergency help, connect to AAA, or dial 911 with a button push.
7. TRIP ADVISOR helps travelers find lodging, dining and local attractions ranked by members’ reviews.
8. YELP offers listings of just about any goods or services a traveler might want, ranked by users and shown by proximity.
9. OPEN TABLE lets travelers in medium-to-large cities find upscale dining choices, read menus and reviews and make reservations.
10. GLYMPSE sends updates of your location by text, twitter, e-mail or Facebook to your friends or family, so they can follow the progress of your trip.