You’ve driven some very scenic highways, toured National Parks and historic sites. Imagine how much more enjoyable these experiences would be if you’d had a personal, expert tour guide in your car (without the need to share your guide with a busload of other passengers).

There are numerous audio driving tour apps for smart phones and tablets that provide interesting, informative facts and history spoken as you drive (triggered by your GPS location and direction of travel)—and they’re easy. Just find and download a tour, and connect your smartphone to your car’s audio system and power adapter. Then enjoy your personal guided tour at your own pace! Prices range from free to $9.99. Free tours are often sponsored by museums, festivals, advocacy groups, or events.

What you need to know
Don’t worry about roaming fees on your smartphone; the apps don’t need a data connection to operate (turn off cellular data and international roaming). The apps are large, so download them only via Wi-Fi. They consume lots of power so buy a car charger, a windshield mount and an audio patch cable (connects from the smartphone’s headset plug to the car’s radio AUX input jack) or “pair” your phone with the car’s audio system. The GPS, compass and accelerometer in your smartphone are the keys to making these apps work. They may not work well or at all when the GPS signal is weak or interrupted (tall buildings, mountains or on the wrong side of a train).

Check the reviews of any app that you buy and be concerned if there aren’t recent reviews or updates. The most recent reviews are the most relevant. Ignore reviews that you suspect were made by friends of the author, competitors or those who criticize the apps because they don’t know how to use the technology or ignored the tips and warnings.

Who offers audio guides?

What destinations can be toured by audio guide?

  • Las Vegas
  • Grand Canyon
  • Hoover Dam
  • Red Rock
  • Maui
  • Oahu
  • The Road to Hana
  • Miami to Key West
  • Arches National Park
  • Beverly Hills
  • New York City
  • Hawaii
  • Chicago
  • Nashville
  • The National Mall
  • San Francisco
  • Ringling Brothers Museum
  • Civil War Alexandria
  • Washington, DC
  • World Science Festival
  • Ashville Cemeteries
  • NYC to DC by rail
  • Mt. Haleakala
  • Lake Mead
  • Yellowstone National Park
  • Glacier National Park
  • Golden Gate National Recreation Area
  • Canadian Rockies (Banff, Lake Louise, Jasper, Icefields Parkway)
  • Vancouver
  • Vancouver’s Sea to Sky Drive
  • Nassau, Bahamas (walking guide)
  • Paris Art & Stamps
  • And many more!

What can you do to expand the selection of audio guide tours?

  • Urge TripAdvisor to permit reviews of GPS tour apps in each destination’s “activities” section
  • Participate in the forums at Fodor’s and TripAdvisor
  • Encourage local experts, guidebook authors, chambers of commerce and tourist bureaus to create and/or sponsor tours apps
  • Rate the tour apps you use

Audio guide tours that have not yet been created (but should be):

  • Gettysburg
  • Amtrak from Denver to Grand Junction*
  • Homes in the Hamptons
  • Pennsylvania Dutch country
  • Trail Ridge Road
  • Ouray to Silverton & Durango
  • Drive around Lake Michigan
  • Giant Sequoias in California
  • The Finger Lakes in New York
  • Big Sur and the Pacific Coast Highway
  • Skyline Drive in Virginia
  • Bryce Canyon
  • Zion Canyon
  • Kentucky Bourbon Trail®
  • 17 Mile Drive in California
  • Lookout Mountain
  • Lake Shore Drive in Chicago
  • Highway 101 in Oregon
  • Michigan’s Old Mission Peninsula
  • California Wine Country
  • The Great Smokey Mountains
  • Amtrak’s Suncoast Limited through the Cascades
  • Hollywood stars’ home tours
  • Riding the railroads of Switzerland
  • The list of possibilities is endless!

What does the future hold for audio guides?

  • AAA Travel should create audio TripTik’s®
  • Frommer’s and Fodor’s should make GPS audio versions of their guides
  • Car rental companies at airports should give discount coupons or sponsor local tour apps and sell the “in-vehicle packages” (windshield mount, charger, cable and installation)
  • Airport concessions should offer tours — the Miami, Ft. Lauderdale & Key West airports should offer Miami and Key West, Tamiami Trail/Everglades apps; the Denver & Colorado Springs airports should offer Rocky Mountain National Park, Garden of the Gods & Air Force Academy tour apps; the Maui airport should offer Road to Hana, Mt. Haleakala apps; the Phoenix airport should offer Sedona, Grand Canyon, Four Corners apps; the Buffalo airport should offer Niagara Falls & Welland Canal app; the Reno airport should offer Drive Around Lake Tahoe app.

*Amtrak has US National Park Service Trails & Rails program volunteers onboard some trains but the routes and seating are limited.

Tips for creating your own audio tour app

  • Use a development website like TourAppBuilder
  • Hire a knowledgeable programmer (someone who has done it before)
  • Use do-it-yourself tools — iPhone apps are written using Xcode and a SDK (Software Development Kit) that’s available from Apple; once signed up as an Apple developer, you have access to this program, support and training; use Adobe Photoshop for image processing
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2 Comments On "A personal tour guide—almost everywhere—for $9.99 or less!"
  1. Liz|

    Thanks for the summary of audio guides and great suggestions for new audio guide destinations. I noticed that you didn’t mention TravelStorys. It’s a time-tested audio tour app developed by a mission-driven company. One of its latest tours is in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park!

  2. Marc|

    Hey Bob,
    Excellent article.
    Inspired with some of the locations you have listed here, we created Audio Guides for them.
    Check them out at http://www.ActionTourGuide.com.

    Our Audio Guides are location based. They work offline once downloaded and trigger stories automatically using the phones GPS on approaching an interesting site! Experience engaging and entertaining stories narrated by an award-winning artist!

    No crowded tours, no set start times, and the freedom to take any breaks you want!
    Easier, more hygienic and more yours than anything.

    http://www.ActionTourGuide.com

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