How Smartphones are Changing Travel

You might not know this, but I’m currently in Nebraska. My son, who’s had medical issues since birth, had a surgery done here and we as a family have been here in some capacity since early December. This was my first out of state road trip in a probably a decade. And it was interesting to me to see how much smartphones have changed how road trips are done. And I don’t mean in the “keep your kids entertained” kind of way. What follows are just a few observations as to how having a smartphone has changed road trips.

On the way up to Nebraska my wife and I used my Android smartphone’s built in Google Navigation application to get us from Houston to Omaha. With only a small part of the trip spent without a cellular data connection (middle of nowhere Kansas, to the first parts of Nebraska), we had very little trouble relying on the phone as a GPS device. The only downside was I couldn’t check in on Twitter or Facebook while driving (I know, first world problem).  This feature on my phone also helped us navigate around Omaha once we got in and settled.

While driving, and looking for food at times, we used Road Ninja on my wife’s iPhone to tell us what was coming up at future exits along the interstate. This app is very spiffy, and if you do any kind of traveling by car, you’ll want to have this application on your iPhone. It helped us find food and gas stations at upcoming exits and allowed us to plan stops a little better. As someone who’s done more than a few long road trips, such an app is quite helpful.

Finally, once in Omaha, Nebraska and settled in to our hotel, we ran into the problem everyone does when they’re in a new place, finding a place to eat.  For this problem I simply opened up FourSquare on my phone, pressed the “Food” icon, and we were off to find food at places both new and familiar. For the places we don’t have back home in Texas, we used the FourSquare tips left by other FourSquare users to figure out what places we should try and what places to avoid. So far, we’ve had great success and haven’t been to a new place that we don’t like yet.  FourSquare also helped us find the local mall(s) and movie theaters, again using the tips on FourSquare to tell us what places to avoid.

Again, this is not an exhaustive list, just a few observations from how I used to have to travel to how it can be done today if you have a smartphone. What is interesting is that kids today will not know what it means to have a road atlas in the car with you, having to guess what may or may not be at the next exit, and having to find your way around a new city by trial and error. For them, when they get older, they’ll just plug in their phones and go. Heck, they’ll probably never have to take the phone out of their purse or pocket and it’ll all just happen automatically via bluetooth (or some other wireless technology).

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