My family is accustomed to the fact that I am a compulsive trip planner. For me, at least half the fun of taking a vacation is thinking about it beforehand. I'm not obsessive about times and locations, but I really want to know what our options are along the way, what experienced travelers think is interesting and worthwhile, and the best way to cut costs wherever we're going. This typically ends up working out well for all of us...I do all the prep work, which I love, and everybody else gets to reap the benefits of not getting lost, being without a place to stay, or missing gems along the way.
As an example, we were originally planning to go to the Four Corners Monument at the intersection of Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico--which took us a bit out of our way. Today I discovered that it's closed for the summer due to construction, and the misleading "open Fri-Sun" actually means that only the vending area is open...you can't stand where the x marks the spot! So I've re-routed us so that we can swing up into South Dakota to see Mount Rushmore instead, and not go quite as far west as the original itinerary had required. It would have sucked to have rushed to get to the monument by Sunday, only to find that it was closed.
This year, I'm having particular fun geeking out with road trip planning tools online and on my phone. It's amazing how much there is to work with, and how much it helps. I thought I'd write up some of the things that I'm using both for future trips of ours, and for others to know about.
For mapping our route, I started out with Google Maps. It's a great tool, and it's easy to share a URL for the completed trip when you're done. I've been maintaining our overall itinerary at http://icanhaz.com/roadtrip2010, so that as I make changes I don't have to keep giving people the new lengthy URL. One downside of those lengthy URLs is that on a long, rambling trip like the one we're taking, the URLs can become too long for some browsers or servers, causing random errors.
However, I've also been maintaining a more detailed itinerary, including hotels and landmarks, using AAA's online TripTik tool. I have great memories of Triple A TripTiks from trips past, so I figured I'd give their tool a try. The interface is a little bit clunky, and you can't share a live URL, but it generates fabulous lengthy instructions and maps, complete with up-to-date information about traffic and construction along your route. One thing I particularly like is the ability to show hotels and points of interest on the live map, so that you can easily roll over one along your route, pull up more info in a pop-up window, and add it to your itinerary.
The third map-related tool I'm using is the one at RoadsideAmerica.com. It allows you to see all the quirky attractions in any state, along with traveler-generated comments about each. I liked it so much that I bought the iPhone version ($2.99 if you just want one of the four regions of the US, another $5.99 to open the rest of the country, for a total of $9.98...cheaper than most guidebooks). It allows you to find all the attractions near you, or to locate them based on proximity to a given city. It also has some nice features like "tourist interruptus" option to have your phone "call" you after a certain amount of a time in an attraction, so you can gracefully exit if a tour guide has you pinned. Another feature allows you to mark which of the attractions you've visited, and to upload your own comments and photos that the site editors can then add to both the website and the app.
Which, of course, brings me to the iPhone apps. In addition to the Roadside America app, I've installed AAA's free Triptik app. It's a remarkably full featured navigation tool, complete with turn-by-turn voice navigation! Unfortunately, it can only route between two locations--I'd gladly pay for an upgraded version that could import my full itinerary from the AAA site! The app lets you put in your AAA member number, and has a one-button "Roadside Assistance" option that calls the closest AAA road service location and transfers your membership info to them. I'm hoping not to have to use that, but it's nice to know it's there.
Two free apps that I expect will come in handy on the road are priceline Hotel Negotiator, and Kayak Fight/Hotel Search. Since we're not 100% sure of how far we'll get each day, we'll use those to find good deals on lodging when we know our intended stopping point.