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5 apps for summer travel

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Summer has officially begun here in the States. Schools are closing and families are planning vacations across our great land. It can be a hassle, but don't fret! Here are five apps to make your adventure more enjoyable.

Sunday Drive (Free)

When my sisters and I were young, my dad routinely stuffed us into the "wayback" of our Matador station wagon where we sat, sweaty and gobbling Chicken McNuggets, en route to nowhere in particular. Ah, I can still smell the BBQ dipping sauce and leaded gas fumes. Few contemporary families enjoy a Sunday drive, and that's what the aptly-named Sunday Drive for iPhone aims to change.

The attractive, location-based app represents a growing database of user-supplied travel routes, attractions and single-day getaways. To get started, let the iPhone find your location via GPS. A map will load with the familiar blue dot as well as Sunday Drive icons representing logged drives. Tap any one to see its title, distance from your location and length (9.1 miles, for example).

Tap again to review details, like an overall description, standout points of interest, photos and the ideal starting point. Finally, you can mark certain trips as favorites (Facebook login required) and even submit your own. If your submission is featured on the Sunday Drive website, you'll earn ten bucks!

If only we had this app back in the day. I mentioned the fumes, right?

Flight Update ($4.99 or $9.99 for Pro; universal)

You'll be flying to visit Grandma's retirement village in Florida? Grab the SPF 100, Dramamine and inevitable acknowledgment of your own mortality while you install Fight Update Pro. I've used this app for years, and it consistently beats the airport itself at dispensing timely info and completely eliminates paper. Here's how it works.

First, enter a name ("Trip to Florida"), the start and end date plus any relevant notes. Next, tap Add a Flight. A new window appears. This is where it gets good. Scroll through an exhaustive list of airlines to find yours and then enter your flight number (via the conveniently-supplied number pad) and the date. Hit Save, and the app does the rest.

A tidy window appears that lists the airline, flight number, type of plane and status (on time, late, departed, etc.). You'll also find the originating and destination airport, actual departure and arrival times (updated in real time), gate and terminal information as well as the airport's home country and local weather.

Lest I gush like a 13-year-old who's watching Justin Bieber sing "Baby" from the first row, I'll skim through the remaining awesomeness. There's a handy, at-a-glance overview of flight information, a seating chart for nearly every type of plane, a list of alternate flights should a cancellation befall you and even a super convenient, in-app way to alert family and friends of your status (boarding, en route, landed, etc.) via SMS or email. The Pro version offers integration with Tripit.

Flight Update is among my top 10 iOS apps ever. Now enjoy the Sunshine State. Just don't accept any fancy pens.

MotionX GPS Drive ($0.99 for the app, $2.99 - $19.99 in-app purchase for live turn-by-turn voiceover)

The App Store is home to many GPS-based driving apps, several of which are from the industry's big names. My favorite is MotionX GPS Drive. I've used it for over a year and have never had a problem, plus the pay-as-you-go option appeals to me as a frugal New Englander. Here's why you should check it out.

To get started, tap the Search button to reveal the comprehensive search screen. Here you can manually enter an address or hit a button to find shopping, restaurants, gas, hospitals or more in your area. Once you've identified your destination, tap Nav Choices to opt for live voice navigation or visual navigation. The latter is always free, while you can buy 30 days of live voice (non-recurring) for $2.99 or a full year for $19.99. That's a huge selling point: don't pay for it if you aren't using it.

Finally, tap Navigate and off you go. The visuals are extremely clear and work in portrait or landscape. A number of voices are available (some free, some via in-app purchase), but I've found the default to be perfectly acceptable (I've named her "Roadsie"). You can zoom in and out with a tap and even play music as you drive via on-screen controls.

There are plenty of options available, like night mode, live traffic updates, favorite destinations and more. You'll find pricier GPS navigation solutions, but MotionX GPS Drive is my favorite.

Best Road Trip Ever ($3.99)

Best Road Trip Ever (BRTE) is another location-based day trip app, similar to Sunday Drive. The main difference is the destinations. BRTE features the off-beat, unusual and atypical destinations that dot the US. Think folk art installations and UFO culture.

They've amassed more than 7,000 attractions for you to explore, including diners and eclectic greasy spoon-type places. Finding an interesting spot is easy. Just tap one of the spots that appear on the map next to your location, follow the directions and go. You'll find lots of photos and even a few videos to get you excited for what you're about to see. BRTE is certainly not for everyone, but those who appreciate the kitsch of a roadside stand in the shape of a doughnut will enjoy it.

The Chimani Guides (Free and $4.99 versions available)

If you intend to visit some US National Parks this summer, grab the Chimani Guides. These fantastic apps are your electronic guide to several National Parks, including Acadia, Cape Cod National Seashore, Yosemite, Cuyahoga Valley and the Grand Canyon.

Of course, you'll find detailed maps and photos -- that's expected. But the Chimani apps also feature audio driving tours and up-to-the-minute listings of scheduled activities. You can even have push notifications let you know what's going on. Finally, sunrise and sunset times will benefit those on a tight schedule as well as photographers anticipating the golden hour.

Honorable mention goes to SpotWorld. It takes the idea of social itineraries, similar to Best Road Trip Ever and Sunday Drive, and sends them into the stratosphere. Users have contributed details on appealing trips all over world. In fact, SpotWorld features photos, audio recordings and articles for more than 500,000 spots all over the world. It's definitely one for the globe trotter.

So there you have it, five apps for summer travel. One for leisurely Sunday drives, one for tracking your flights, one for long road trips, another for discovering the unusual and, finally, a pocket guide to some of America's National Parks. Have fun and enjoy the summer.

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