Spring Forward: Leave Winter Behind and Hit the Open Road

Few things are more rejuvenating than the first days of nice weather after a long, cold winter. People slowly begin to emerge from hibernation, dusting off the cobwebs and reacquainting themselves with the outside world. And now that most of the winter weather is (we hope) behind us, people’s wanderlust starts to return too. After staring at the same four walls and the same four lanes to and from work for the last few months, people are ready to go somewhere – anywhere!

What better way to celebrate the return of spring than to embark on one of America’s greatest traditions: a road trip?

Whether it’s a three-day weekend, a week-long getaway, or something even more epic, hitting the open road can be an energizing and cathartic experience. It doesn’t take much – just a vehicle, a bag and an idea (even a vague one).

A good road trip combines the perfect balance of planning and spontaneity. You want to have some idea of where you want to go and how you’re going to get there, but you also want to leave yourself open to calling an audible and deviating from the plan when opportunity and inspiration arise.

Traveling light is important too. Limiting yourself to the basic essentials and throwing caution largely to the wind rushing by your open window is a hallmark of a good road trip. Leave something home? No worries, the cat will keep an eye on it. Too much planning and too much packing and you might as well scrap the term “road trip” and call it a vacation. (Think more Jack Kerouac and less Clark Griswold.)

While there is a certain romantic appeal to just filling the tank, throwing a dart at a map and hitting the road, it’s good to have some resources on hand to prevent your road trip from turning into the Donner Party. In the spirit of road trip simplicity, your smartphone or tablet can be your co-pilot.

Getting there

Some of us, mostly out of habit, still have a road map or two tucked into the console or the glove compartment. But your smartphone has more navigation power packed into it than any paper mapmaker could have dreamed of.

Apps like VZ Navigator, Google Maps and Apple Maps all offer turn-by-turn directions for getting from Point A to Point B easily. Relying on each app’s spoken directions frees you up to enjoy the passing scenery instead of pulling over to read a map. You can even change the settings on VZ Navigator and Google Maps to avoid highways or toll roads and take the truly scenic route instead. Have your passenger use their phone or tablet to access the Roadtrippers app to research nearby attractions or sights to see along the way. (You’d kick yourself if you missed the World’s Biggest Ball of Yarn!)

Windows down or windows up, music is a necessity on any road trip. Sure, your car radio will do, but who has a better playlist than you do? Beam your favorite tunes from your device to a UE Boom portable speaker and give your road trip its own soundtrack. (Thumb mic optional.)

Being there

After a long day on the road, it’s time to wind down and relax. From a cozy bed-and-breakfast, to a roadside motel, to a five-star resort, your road trip accommodations are just a touchscreen away. The app-mosphere abounds with travel apps to search for and book places to stay almost anywhere. HotelTonight specializes in last-minute bookings. The old standbys like Priceline, Orbitz and Expedia are also great resources.

Finding a great restaurant on your phone is just as easy. Yelp, OpenTable and Foursquare are very robust apps. Try LocalEats if you want to focus on the truly local fare. After dinner, paying the check is as easy as waving your phone in front of the payment terminal if you use Google Wallet or Apple Pay at a restaurant that accepts them.

And be sure to generate some serious road trip-envy among your friends by documenting your journey. The cameras on smartphones and tablets are tailor-made for capturing the moment in photos and video and uploading them to sites like Instagram and Facebook. Feeling really ambitious? Go to MobileMovieMaking.com and learn how to shoot and edit video on your mobile device.

Getting back

All good things must come to an end. But remember, the return trip is still part of the road trip. Just be sure you make it all the way back by using your phone to find the nearest and best-priced gas – your navigation apps will help you there too.

And hopefully you remembered to pack your portable device chargers to keep your phone, tablet and speakers powered for the trip home.

Wherever your road trip takes you, your smartphone or tablet can be your go-to resource for getting there, being there, and getting back.

John O’Malley is a public relations manager with Verizon Wireless. Follow him on Twitter at: @VZWjohno.