10 Best Free iPhone Travel Apps

Thinking of doing some traveling this summer? If you are anything like me, any chance to hit the open road is definitely taken advantage of. I have already taken a cross-country train ride this year along with a few long driving trips, and I have plans for many more in 2011. And although I have many favorite tools that I always have with me on my trips (like my trust radar detector!), one of the most important ones is my iPhone. Between finding a place to eat, making phone calls, GPS directions, and streaming Pandora, it’s definitely at the top of any packing list I put together. With that in mind, I wanted to assemble a Top 10 of free travel-oriented apps that I either currently use or have used in the past, in hopes that it can help out other iPhone owners during your travels this year. Each link opens up the app in the iTunes app store.

Gas Buddy – If you’re on a road trip you’re eventually going to have to stop for gas, right? Well, if you aren’t in the middle of nowhere (where I usually find myself), Gas Buddy can help you choose which gas station to buy your gas from based on your location and the price of the gas for sale. A must-have.

TripIt – A comprehensive travel organizer, TripIt keeps your entire itinerary at the ready whether you’re online, offline or in airplane mode. Brilliant, really.

Hotel Tonight – Need a hotel room today?Hotel Tonight offers same-day exclusive deals on rooms in several major U.S. cities. You can book a room up until 2 am, so even after driving 16 hours you shouldn’t have any problem finding a place to lay down for a bit.

SitOrSquat – Chances are you have needed to find a bathroom before in an unfamiliar area, and that’s where SitOrSquat comes in handy. By entering a zip code, city, or just an intersection, you can find a clean bathroom to do your business in.

Yelp – Hands-down my favorite app on my iPhone right now. Find places to eat, hotels to stay in, businesses to visit, or just things to do in most cities. An absolute must-have.

Trip Advisor – Another review site like Yelp, I have used Trip Advisor to select hotels to stay in many times over. The reviews of other users is an invaluable tool when searching for a place to stay.

AroundMe – Hanging out somewhere you have never been before? Check out AroundMe, which can tell you immediately where the closest bank, gas station, hospital, or grocery store is in relation to wherever you are.

AccuWeather – This is my favorite weather app and the one I use every day. While it’s great for telling me the weather at my house, it’s very handy for looking up the weather along the routes of my trips.

Goby – Goby helps you find things to do, no matter where you are. Stuck with the kids in a strange city? Find something to do just by clicking a few buttons, from outdoor adventures to live events.

Instagram – This is the second-most used app on my phone right now. Handy for taking pictures and sharing them online with just a click or two, Instagram also lets you add creative filters which make your pictures stand out even more. Everyone loves seeing pictures from your trip, and this makes it even easier to share them.

What are some of your favorite travel apps that you can recommend? Please be sure to let us know, as I am always on the lookout for new ways to take advantage of my iPhone on my trips!


How to Save Money with the Best Online Shopping Sites, Deals & Discounts

It’s pretty much guaranteed that if you are looking to save money on anything you need to buy, you’re better off buying whatever it is online. I am a big supporter of buying local when I can, but sometimes the extra cost is just too much to take, especially on some big-ticket items. For example, I recently bought tires online to save a ton of money, but I did have them installed by a small local independent shop rather than my nearest Costco or Sears. I think it is important to find a healthy balance between saving money and supporting your local economy, so I try my best. Online shopping, though, is where you can find major savings, especially if you do a little homework before hitting the “BUY” button.

My biggest tip for saving money when shopping online is to think before you buy. The internet makes it just so easy to click that Buy Now button without giving too much thought to your actions, and sometimes that behavior can put you in the poorhouse. So before you buy something, put it in a wish list or in a spreadsheet for a day or three and revisit it then. When I am browsing Amazon.com, I put products I am somewhat interested in purchasing into my wish list where they often sit for weeks or months. Doing this has saved me from buying completely unnecessary items!

If after you have taken some time to contemplate your purchase you decide you do in-fact need it, well, be sure to go hunting for coupons or discount codes. While not every online store (Amazon, for example) accepts coupons from outside vendors, some stores do and even encourage you to use some. I used a coupon I found when I bought my big-screen TV from Dell.com, saving me about $100. There are hundreds (thousands?) of coupon sites found everywhere online, but some of the more popular ones include Coupon Monster, Cool Savings, and Deal Hunting. Offering codes for things like money off a purchase or free shipping, it’s vital you check around before finalizing your purchase.

For those of you interested in getting back rewards points or rebates for shopping online, you may want to check out sites like Ebates.com or FatWallet. Offering cash back on purchases or points you can redeem for other products, these kind of websites can be a helpful tool when looking to save during your online shopping. The sites make their money by getting paid commissions by online stores to send shoppers their way, and you get back a cut of that commission in return.

Don’t forget to check all the major sites for the same item you were looking at on your favorite shopping site. Overstock.com, eBay, and Half.com offer overstock and/or used products at a significant discount which can save you a ton. Why buy something like a book brand new if you can get it for 80% less just because it’s slightly used?

And lastly, if you are out somewhere and come across an item you think you may want to purchase, it can pay to have an app on your smart phone which enables you to do some comparison shopping. I use both the Red Laser app and the Amazon scanner to scan barcodes and check out prices online.

What’s your favorite way to save money while online shopping?

(photo credit: shlomif2)


How to Save Money and Find Local Deals with Groupon and Yelp Coupons

The other day I scored a car wash and complete auto detail package which normally costs $230 for the low, low price of only $40. Yes, you read that right — $230 worth of car shine-up for $40. How did I do that? By buying a deal from the website Yelp, best known for being a one-stop site for all things local to your neighborhood. I use Yelp anytime I need to find a business because it has reviews from regular people who live near me, and I found my mechanic and my dentist through the site in the past. But now the site isn’t just for trustworthy reviews anymore, as they are offering coupons and deals that users can buy into just like another popular “deals” site, Groupon. Here’s how both of them work and how you can use them to save a ton of money on services or restaurants you may have been willing to pay for at full price anyway.


Yelp is one of my oft-visited sites on my computer and my iPhone. Filled with millions of reviews for restaurants, businesses, services in almost every metropolitan area in the country (I think they are in the UK now too), I use it all the time. And business owners are paying attention, too — once I complained about a restaurant experience and the manager got in touch with me, offering me a gift certificate to come back and try his place again!

But now they have gotten in on the Deals game and are offering big discounts/coupons which locals can buy in to. Once you’ve bought your deal, you print out a certificate and present it to the business it is for. I cannot wait to use my gift certificate for my car detail, especially since I only paid $40 for it. My Mini needs a thorough cleaning before summer comes!


Groupon is a site that negotiates huge discounts, sometimes up to 90% off, at business in various cities around the country. Subscribers to the free service are sent emails every morning which include the daily deal in their city, and they have the option of then buying into the coupon offered for sale. After a certain amount of people say they want to buy in, the deals are “tipped” and are released on the site available for purchase. This is to ensure that enough people will buy the coupon to make it worth the company’s offer.

As of this writing, some of the deals in my area include an $88 90-Minute Swedish or Deep-Tissue Massage for $45, $20 worth of merchandise for only $10 at Barnes & Noble, and $90 worth of kids’ cooking classes for just $39. My last purchase through Groupon was for a $50 gift certificate to use at a Jackalope store — which I paid only $25 for. 50% off retail is a hard coupon to pass up, especially when I was planning on picking up some stuff for my yard there anyway this Spring.

If you haven’t at least checked out deal sites like these already, you are missing out. (Even Google thought Groupon was important, as they offered them $100 million for the company — which they turned down) They not only save you money on things you may be buying anyway, but they also can save you a ton on gifts for other people. Thinking of buying a gift certificate for a massage for your friend? Check to see if one is being offered at 50% off on these sites!

Have you tried any of these deals sites? If so, what has been your experience? Are there other ones we should also be checking out?


10 Ways For How to Save Money on Utility Bills

As I mentioned in a recent post I have moved back to California for at least a little while. Not sure how long, but will be here at least until the end of the lease on this house. That being said, renting a house to live in here in California costs a lot more than renting one to live in back in New Mexico. But that’s not only because the rent is higher; it’s because utilities cost more too. My water, gas, electricity, sewage, and trash bills are way higher than any amount I have ever paid for them. I have lived in many different apartments in SoCal, but paying all the bills on a stand-alone house is much different. For the first time in my life I am scared to open my utility bills, even with all the energy (and cost) -saving steps I have taken to keep them as low as possible. With that in mind, I wanted to put together a list of things that you may or may not already be doing to keep your utility bill on the low side. If you aren’t trying all of them, I recommend you do so! Let’s take a look, shall we?

1. Change out those light bulbs. I know, I know, you are tired of hearing about this. But CFL and LED bulbs use a fraction of the energy of regular incandescent bulbs and last 10-20X longer. We all need light in our homes; but why pay the electric company so much for the privilege?

2. Install a low flow showerhead. By reducing the amount of water flowing out of those epic showers your family takes every day, you can drastically cut down on the water bill. The one I use is this Oxygenics 40025 5 Star Resort Spa Showerhead, which uses up to 70% less water than a regular showerhead. 70%!

3. Open your shades in the morning and close them at night. It may only help a little bit, but during the day let the sun in and at night add a little insulation to those cold windows.

4. Put down area rugs on wood floors. It took me a long time to figure this one out, but wow — what a difference this can make. I recently put a 9 X 12 rug down in my main living space and I could tell the difference immediately in room temperature.

5. Caulk around leaky doors and windows. If you have cold air seeping through any cracks, it’s going to make your heater work extra hard to keep your space warm. At only a few bucks per tube of caulk, it’s a small investment for a big return.

6. Put power strips on any electronics you access daily. My computer equipment and my TV/DVD/cable box are all on power strips. Every night they all get turned off and I only turn them on when I need to use a device on each one. Why power this stuff if you aren’t using it?

7. Only use lights when 100% necessary to do so. I don’t turn the lights on in my house until the sun is about to go down, as I get plenty of natural light inside. Too many of us automatically turn lights on all day long when they aren’t even needed!

8. Put your heater/AC units on automatic thermostats. This way you can set one temperature for during the day and another at night, saving a ton of money in the process because they no longer run all day and night. That being said, turn down the heat at night as your bed will keep you plenty warm till morning.

9. Install rain barrels or cisterns under downspouts. Saving rainwater can significantly cut your outdoor water bill, and you can see the cistern setup I had back in New Mexico.

10. Wash your clothes in cold water. Unless you have a deep stain, cold water does just fine. I have been washing my clothes in cold water for years with no ill effects. Also, think about doing some line drying once it gets warm enough to do so!

I do each and every one of these things just to try to keep my utility bills down each month. Do you have any others that I should add to be repertoire to save even more? Please chime in the comments and let us know!

(photo credit: Editor B)


How and Where to Buy, Sell & Swap Unwanted Discount Gift Cards

It’s been a month since the holidays and you may have recently found some gift cards you received from your favorite relative or a coworker. When you first opened them, you said your “thank yous” and then they disappeared into your junk drawer in the kitchen because they were for stores you never, ever shop at. A gift card to a cooking store when all you do is eat Ramen Noodles? That’s not going to be of much use to you, is it? Thankfully, you don’t need to give away your gift that you would never use, as there are ways in which you can sell or trade that gift card for one to a store you may actually buy a product in! All you have to do is know where to look online and you can either sell the card for slightly less than its face value or you can trade it for something else. Let’s take a look at a few places where you can buy, sell, or trade those unwanted gift cards for something a little more “fitting” to your lifestyle.

1. Plastic Jungle – When you sell your gift card to Plastic Jungle, you can get paid in an Amazon gift card, via PayPal, by Cashiers Check, or the value can be donated to charity. You can also buy gift cards at a discount that other people have sold to them. I’ve used them in the past and I will definitely use them again in the future.

2. CardPool – CardPool lets you buy gift cards for up to 30% off or sell gift cards for up to 92% cash back on face value. All cards are shipped for free, and payment is via Amazon, cash, or Facebook credit.

3. Monster Gift Card – After registering your gift card with them, you can enter the dollar value to see what they pay. You can get paid with a check or in “Monster Points”, which allow you to buy another card listed on their site for sale. You get more value by choosing the points, but you may not be interested in any cards they offer.

4. Card Avenue – These guys were around for a while but it looks like their site is under construction at the moment.

5. SwapAGift – While you can visit the website, they also have walk-in centers around the country called “Certified Partner” locations. You can select the state you are in to find a store near you which will pay cash for your gift card today.

6. CardWoo – “As Seen on The View!” says their website, if that kind of stuff matters to you. CardWoo buys and sells gift cards, ships for free, and pays out in cash.

7. Gift Card Rescue – Gift Card Rescue pays out up to 90% of card value, and you can get paid in cash, an Amazon gift card, or you can use the funds to buy discounted cards to other stores.

Most sites do require you to mail in your gift card prior to getting paid, so be sure you deal with a legitimate company before sending it in. Also, keep in mind that you will be losing some face value on your existing card, so make sure you can’t spend the card on something before trading it in. But either way, a card you can use is better than one that you can’t, so don’t get stuck with a card you don’t need. Happy selling/trading!

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