Road tripping this summer? Free apps can help before and during your journey

If you’re like many Americans, you’ll be hitting the road this summer or fall for a family vacation.

Last week, I wrote about some of my favorite road trips. Now, here are dozens of free mobile apps to make planning your road trip — and driving it — easier and more fun.

Planning your road trip

Download the AAA Mobile app to map routes and find food and lodgings along the way. Google Maps and Waze also will do this (other uses below).

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Image by Matheus Bertelli via Pexels License.

Roadtrippers will help make sure you don’t miss any must-see landmarks or off-the-beaten path stops along the way. Browse categories from historical markers to hiking to amusement parks, read about each site and add it to a to-see list on the app.

Type any location into the map-based Findery free app to access notes that other users have left about the place (a walk they did there, tips, photos) or browse the latest notes. You also can leave a public note or make it private.

TollGuru will help you calculate gas prices and tolls for your journey by vehicle type, including RVs and towing a trailer.

If you plan to drive on major U.S. interstates, GPS-based iExit will help you plot where to take pit stops. The default mode shows a summary of amenities, such as gas, toilets, coffee, playgrounds and camping, at upcoming exits in real time, but you also can search upcoming exits for a specific service. The app can be helpful while driving.

While on the road

Google Maps is still the best way to steer clear of traffic snarls and accidents that could cause delays. If a faster route opens once you’re on the road, the app automatically changes your directions. Similarly, Waze will help you find a faster route based on crowdsourced, real-time reports, and it can send you speed-trap alerts from other users.

GasBuddy will find the lowest gas and diesel prices anywhere based on crowdsourced data. Just type in a city/state and voilà.

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Apps can tell you that Six Flags Magic Mountain amusement park is just off Interstate 5 near Los Angeles. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

There’s nothing worse than not being able to find a bathroom when you need one. In addition to iExit, two apps will help you find just toilets. You can search Flush Toilet Finder‘s database of 100,000 public bathrooms worldwide (no Internet connection needed). On SitorSquat (powered by Charmin), clean locations get a green “Sit” rating; less desirable ones get a red “Squat.”

GPS-based Glympse lets you temporarily share your real-time location and estimated arrival time with friends, family and others.

You’ll find many apps to help you find overnight lodgings. Airbnb is one of the most versatile. It’s everywhere and you can filter searches by price, type of accommodation, wi-fi service and more. Try Hotel Tonight for discounts on same-day bookings or seven days ahead. I also like the TripAdvisor app (on iTunes and Google Play for its user reviews, photos and deals.

If you want to eat something other than fast-food and truck-stop fare while on the road, Yelp will help you find the best places to eat and drink in many U.S. towns and cities. User reviews are helpful for quality, service and meal recommendations.

Happy travels!

5 tips for summer travelers to avoid new food screening at airport security

Get ready for longer airport checkpoint lines this summer as travelers may have to remove fruit, sandwiches and other snacks from their carry-on bags for separate screening under new security measures.

Transportation Security Administration agents recently asked a friend of mine to remove fruit and snacks from her carry-on bag at three airports — Dallas Love Field, Denver International Airport and San Francisco International Airport.

Although food is allowed in carry-on bags, the new screening is part of the TSA’s enhanced measures to raise the “baseline for aviation security.” Now, TSA officers may require travelers to separate items from their carry-on bags, such as food, powders and “any materials that can clutter bags and obstruct clear images on the X-ray machine.” (Tips to avoid this at end.)

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Pack your carry-on snacks in a separate bag for easy separation at the airport security checkpoint. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

Under the new rules, items that cannot be identified (does that include a mangosteen?) and resolved at checkpoint cannot be taken on an airplane. The entire process could hold up security lines and make waits much longer even though the TSA is adding over 1,600 more security staff at airports in preparation for the summer crush.

Oh yeah, the TSA expects to screen a record number of U.S. travelers this summer: 243 million people vs. more than 239 million during summer 2017.

The TSA’s stronger security measures began last summer — with requiring travelers to separately place all electronic devices bigger than a cell phone (laptops, tablets, e-readers and game consoles) in bins for X-ray screening.

Its appears that travelers with TSA PreCheck, a program that moves low-risk passengers through security quicker without having to remove shoes, laptops, liquids, belts and jackets, won’t be subjected to the enhanced screening measures.

Here are my tips for getting through airport security faster this summer:

  1. Review TSA’s list of banned carry-on items before packing for your trip.
  2. The TSA encourages travelers to organize their carry-on bags and avoid overstuffing them to avoid screening gridlock. Pack your snacks in a separate bag, whether it be a canvas or plastic bag, so you can easily separate it from the rest of your carry-on items. (See my photo at upper right.)
  3. Join TSA PreCheck ($85 for five years) or Global Entry, a similar program ($100 for five years) that also provides faster U.S. Customs clearance.
  4. Buy your snacks at the airport after going through the security checkpoint.
  5. Consider buying food on the airplane. It’s still not the most affordable option, but food options and quality have improved.

Photo at top of a security checkpoint at Chicago’s Midway International Airport is by Chris Dilts, Creative Commons via flickr.