Acting as co-pilot on a United States Interstate Road Trip

Last modified
Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Taking a United States road trip with a sighted driver using your iPHONE, you can become a full partner in the experience.

My husband and I are again driving from California to Indiana on our seventh cross-country road trip, which gives me the necessary experience to share some tips.

First, as you drive the interstate highways, you will have varying levels of service from fast LTE to pokey Edge to no service at all. You might wish to keep a log of where you do not have service so on your next or return trip you can be prepared to download the navigation data you'll need. You might need a PC or Mac to collect data from websites, but exit guides are supported by advertising so are readily and freely available. To confirm the accuracy of any data source, compare it with others online.

I usually save websites as PDF files and store them in cloud storage, then download them from there to my phone for local viewing. You can also find apps that will save website content as PDF files. Though not all PDFS are accessible, if your website is text-based, you should be able to read the PDF in iBOOKS fine. Test things out before traveling!

Be aware if you save as HTML, then try to open the file from cloud storage, you might discover Safari won't open it. This surprised me, and it's yet another reason to do a test before traveling. Put the phone in airplane mode and be sure a file you thought was stored locally actually is and that you can open or share it with an app that makes reading it easy.

Be aware also the iPHONE tends to get confused if service levels keep changing. If you have a voice connection -- your phone shows three of four bars, but you have no data, you'll get messages such as "Your iPHONE cannot connect to the internet" or "no internet". Another common message reads: "unable to download from server".

If your voice connection is consistent, try this: go to Setttings/General, and pick Reset. On the screen which appears, you will see a warning that resetting will erase all data on the phone. No worries. Below that is a button labeled "reset Network settings". If you are careful to click that button to just reset the network, nothing will be removed. You'll get a warning that all network settings will be reset to factory defaults and will be required to enter your passcode. Only your network connection's information will be deleted and re-created.

Your phone will restart. Just restarting your phone doesn't reset your network, you have to choose the "reset network settings" button for that to occur.

You probably know there are a variety of navigation apps, but if you are traveling for miles on the interstate they will be less helpful than you might think. these apps are designed to show what's around you and to route you to a destination. But when you are driving a long distance, you need to know about things right at your highway exit, and you don't need the routing and voice-guided directions running constantly if you are staying on one highway for an extended period.

your driver is going to be able to read exit signs and billboards advertising services near the highway. But the more he can keep his eyes on the road, and the more you can find out about what's nearby in terms of exits, the more helpful you can be.

Apps like Navigon, Google maps, Seeing Eye GPS, Nearby Explorer and BlindSquare are most useful in cities. On the road, they can easily locate services which require you to thread your way through an unfamiliar town so don't use them to locate gas stations, rest areas, truck stops or fast food joints. Instead, use an app specialized for highway driving.

My favorite of these apps is iExit, whose data is also freely available on their add-supported site You might enjoy exploring the website when you are not on the road and from there you can also save pages of interest.

But when you are on the move, the app is much easier to use because when you are connected to the internet, it knows where you are.

other aps, even those which specialize in highway exits tend to know where you are but offer choices you have already passed. For example if you are looking for a T.A. Travel Center and are driving East, these apps might helpfully suggest the nearest one is only two miles west of you. A car cannot turn around on the highway the way a pedestrian can do on a city street, so you want to know what's ahead and not behind you. iExit constantly tracks which direction you are driving, and where you are on the highway. it lists the exit numbers, tells how many miles ahead each one is and whether services are available.

If you want more information, tap on the exit, and a screen with details slowly appears. iExit does take a minute to download this from its servers. Details include the name of the business, whether it's a right or left turn, in which cardinal direction it lies and how far away it is. For example, you might see Burger King is a right turn a half mile southwest away, motel 6 is a left turn northeast and a mile away and there are four gas stations less than a tenth of a mile from the exit. All this is easy to read with Voiceover and there is also a visual map included.

The businesses you usually see are motels, food, gas and truck stops and yes, truck stops are also for cars. A truck stop has large clean restrooms, a restaurant, fast food, snack bar, a little store,showers, gas, lounge, a fast, fee-based internet connection and of course a lot of trucks parked outside. You'll appreciate the hot shower and budget-friendly food especially if you are sleeping in your vehicle.

A rest area is funded by the federal government or state and it's a shaded area with restrooms, tourist brochures, possible sight-seeing opportunities and a pet relief area. iExit lists all rest areas and other state services such as welcome or visitors centers.

These businesses also each have their own apps which you might wish to have on hand as well. For example if you like the Pilot or Flying J truck stops, you might want their free apps. McDonalds, Burger King, and subway restaurants for just a few examples, all have free apps. But these apps will only navigate you to their own business which might be nearby but on a completely different highway from the one you are traveling. Even so, the apps offer discounts and special deals.

It is always a good idea to arm yourself with all the apps you might need as most are free. You will also want your sighted driver to map out the planned route in advance so you know what highways you are traveling. For example in driving to Indiana we take I-80 through California, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming and Nebraska East. At near the Missouri border, where iowa, Nebraska and Missouri come together, we head south on i-29 until St. Louis, where we continue East on I-70. There is a bit of looping around in cities to switch highways but this rough guideline was all I needed to track exits.

I also made lists of possible hotels on my route with their phone numbers in case it came time to make a reservation and the internet wasn't available. Though you can use the built-in Notes app, if you plan to make extensive lists, you might want to master an app which has more features. Voiceover tends to read an entire note out loud and it's time-consuming to locate a single phone number within the text of a long note. Also because you have to be editing to read a note line by line, you cannot tap on the number to automatically dial it.

If you do keep your notes in an app, make sure you can access them in airplane mode before your trip begins. We all get spoiled with always-on internet, and I cannot emphasize enough how the internet can come and go on a long interstate highway drive!

Be aware too how national chains handle reservations: whether you use their app, website or call in, reservations are centrally located so you'll want to be sure you have the correct address for your intended hotel. You can call the hotel's local number and be silently connected to an off-shore call center which handles all reservations. It's always frustrating to discover you thought you were staying in the Days Inn on the west side of town only to discovery you inadvertently made reservations for the Days inn on the North side of the same city. If you use third-party apps or sites that specialize in reservation discounts, be particularly careful because they are giving you the lowest rate in a city and may not pick a hotel near the highway at all, necessitating you driving miles out of your way. The extra funds you spend on gas will usually not offset the discount you hoped to gain!

Whether you make reservations weeks, days or hours ahead depends on how busy a particular locale is. Call ahead to find out. For example, we've learned due to a celebration called "Hot August Nights" it's hard to get a hotel in Reno NV during the first and second week of August. To save money, join the rewards program for your favorite hotels so you can earn points. Also you can often use government employee, senior or tripple A discounts at both hotels and eateries.

Once you are settled in your hotel room, I hope you didn't forget not only your iPHONE's charger but a nice long extension cord. Many hotels -- especially cheaper ones do not have conveniently located outlets. At the hotel where I am currently typing this, one outlet is behind a massively heavy bed and another is behind a desk that must date from the Truman era! It has a privacy panel which makes running my charger's cord behind it a feat worthy of a gymnastics champion!

Two good things to carry on the trip are a cigarette lighter plug for charging your phone in the car, and a sturdy string with a clothespin on each end. The clothespins make it easy to drop the charger cord behind the desk so you can crawl on the floor to plug it in to a less accessible outlet.

I hope this guide helps you become an effective co-pilot for your sighted driver!


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Submitted by Seanoevil on Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Thanks for the great read. Best wishes for a fantastic road trip!

Submitted by gregg on Wednesday, August 21, 2019

gasbuddy finds gas stations with both price and distance. Flush pro finds public toilets. Also, you can download offline maps for google maps for those dead spots.

Submitted by Shersey on Wednesday, August 21, 2019

In June of 2017, my husband and I moved from California to Massachusetts, and since we own a car, we had to drive it The whole way. Well, he had to drive it. I was usually the one trying to find things along the highway, like gas stations or places to eat while my husband concentrated on driving. If I had known about this app, I would’ve been able to do exactly what you outlined above! That is, find something like a gas station in the direction that we were already driving. If we do take another road trip, which is quite likely, I’ll definitely have this app on my phone in plenty of time to explore it thoroughly. Thanks for putting this up here; it’s very much appreciated.


Submitted by gailisaiah on Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Deborah, Thanks so much for this very helpful guide!

Submitted by Remy on Thursday, August 29, 2019

Not sure how this managed to be trending after only four comments, but I'm glad it is. This was a really helpful article for many of us and I appreciate the time taken to put this information together.

Submitted by Roxann Pollard on Friday, August 30, 2019

Thank you so much for your recommendations. Love the clothes pin and string suggestion. You spoke of using the notes app vs. another app for taking said notes and being able to dial a phone number. do you have a suggestion for an app outside of Notes for making lists and also being able to dial the number inside of it? currently, I use AnyList for many, many things, but I don't know whether or not I could dial a number from there, if needed. Again, thanks so much for your time in posting.