As the summer travel season kicks into high gear and you hit the road with your bros or your brood, the free Rest Area app for the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad may come in handy. When nature calls and won't take no for an answer, Rest Area points out the public pit stops nearby. Or if you know that one of your passengers has a bladder the size of a pea, the app can map out rest areas on your route ahead of time.
While you can get the same info from a paper map, with this app you can pass your iPhone to squirming passengers and let them keep tabs in real-time on how close they are to the nearest relief.
This simple and straight forward app toggles between a map and list view to keep track of the nearest rest area. When first launched, the app shows results for your current location on the map view. You can pinch-zoom in or out using a finger on the map screen. But while driving it's probably better to depend on the two auto search and zoom icons at the top of the map view. One is a double-sided arrow that can be set to search between 1 and 300 miles; the other is a crosshair icon that can be set to zoom between 1 and 50 miles.
Each rest area is noted by a blue pin in the map view. Tap the pin and basic info such as the road and side (eastbound or westbound, for example) the rest area is on and how far you are from it (in miles and kilometers) appears. Tap it again and another page pops up that provides details on services available at the rest area using the familiar blue-square icons for restrooms, food, handicap access, etc. Below the list of icons is a Show on Map tab that displays the zoomed-in location of the rest area.
The list view gives similar info, and if you tap on an individual rest area you get the page with the blue-square icons. A reload button and an "i" tab that takes you to the settings menu are at the top of the list-view screen. Menu choices here include searching your current location or one that you type in, sorting rest areas by description or proximity, setting the search and zoom radius and choosing to always show the closest rest areas.
One suggestion we have to improve the app is allowing user comments. It would be great if you could find out, say, the type of food available from the vending machine before you stop. ("Snickers? I'm so there!") And which rest areas are clean and safe and which ones are filthy and full of creeps like Ted encountered in Something About Mary, unless that's what you're looking for. There's probably an app for that too, although don't look for a test of it here.
Gretchen McFarlan, Contributor
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