Scores of smart-phone apps make locating gas stations, roadside eateries and last-minute hotel rooms easy. But you'll get even more mileage from our favorites. They'll steer you around traffic jams, help you manage an emergency, and point you toward scenic hiking trails. All are free.
One for the road. With gas prices painfully high, finding cheap fill-ups and avoiding traffic snarls will keep your wallet and passengers happy. Tell GasBuddy (Android, BlackBerry, iPhone and Windows Phone; it also works on iPads, as do most Apple apps) your location and it will display the lowest fuel prices nearby. The system relies on user updates. If you own an electric car, download CarStations (Android, iPhone) to find recharging stations. At last report, the app listed more than 4,000 locations.
GPS apps are a dime a dozen, and you might already have a device built into your car. But for additional navigational muscle, check out AAA's TripTik (Android, iPhone), which bolsters your directions by including AAA-approved restaurants, repair shops and campgrounds, plus gas prices and directions to more than 2,000 charging stations. Waze (Android, iPhone, select BlackBerry, Nokia and Windows phones) records its users' locations, their speed and other info to create a constantly updated map with traffic jams, speed traps and construction delays.
Hikes and bites. When you tire of gas-station hot dogs and billboard scenery, these apps provide some relief. Stretch those cramped legs on hiking trails pinpointed with Sierra Club Trail Explorer (iPhone). The app is powered by AllTrails.com and uses GPS to alert you to the nearest paths.
Tell Goby (Android, iPad, iPhone) what you want—food, hiking, family fun—and it lists the options nearby. Type in any city, town or region in the U.S. and Goby gives you options in that locale or close by. It can sort options by distance, date or price, or via your "fun feed," a list tailored to your interests (entered manually or by syncing with Facebook). TripIt (Android, BlackBerry, iPhone, iPad, Windows Phone) lets you create an itinerary that you can share with others and syncs it with your phone’s calendar. To add to your itinerary, simply forward confirmation e-mails for hotels, restaurants and entertainment to the app.
Sleep cheap. Book last-minute lodging directly through these apps and get generous discounts. Priceline's Negotiator App (Android, iPad, iPhone) includes the "Name Your Own Price" function for savings of up to 60%. "Tonight-Only Deals" (available on Apple products only) lets you reserve a room on the day you need it. Rooms are discounted up to 40%, and they can be booked as late as 11 p.m. For spur-of-the-moment detours into the city, download Hotel Tonight (Android, iPad, iPhone). You can find discounts up to 70% on hotels in 35 cities.
In case of emergency. You'll want these apps after an accident to help you record the necessary information, take photos of the damage and call for help. Nationwide (Android, iPhone) includes a form for recording and exchanging post-accident info, GPS to log the accident location, and instructions on how to take photos of the damage. Nationwide customers can use the app to start filing right away. Roadside Assistance Lite (Android) gives you an accident checklist and instructions for taking crash-scene photos.