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Originally published Sunday, August 12, 2012 at 10:30 AM

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Apps for Northwest travel

From AAA to GasBuddy, free apps can be a big help in planning your travels.

Special to The Seattle Times

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Chances are if you're traveling this summer or fall, you're packing a smartphone loaded with apps, some useful, some not.

Here's a few that will come in handy for travel planning around the Northwest and beyond:

Help from AAA

Did you know Payless ShoeSource offers a discount to AAA members? Neither did I until I downloaded AAA Mobile, the auto club's free app for finding hotels, restaurants and businesses offering AAA discounts; calling for roadside assistance; and TripTik planning.

Drop a pin in your location, and the free app brings up information on nearby gas stations, electric-vehicle charging stations, restaurants and hotels, with a $ sign marking those businesses offering member discounts.

In my Seattle area, these included hotels and restaurants as well as the shoe store, a chocolate shop, drugstores and the Space Needle.

The TripTik maps your route. Roadside assistance (members only) is available 24/7 electronically, provided you have an Internet connection. No membership requirements to download.

See www.aaa.com/mobile.

Going green TripSketch has launched the series of regional "Green Travel" apps (http://tripsketch.com/mobile) covering eco-friendly and sustainable attractions, tours, restaurants, hotels and travel services.

Its U.S. West version includes Seattle's FareStart Restaurant and Portland's Food Fight vegan grocery under its "Do good, feel good" listings.

The Kimpton hotel chain, owner of the Monaco, Vintage Park and Alexis in Seattle, and the Monaco, Vintage Plaza and RiverPlace in Portland, rates a mention for in-room recycling, use of nontoxic cleaners and the sustainable seafood served in its restaurants.

The apps are $1.99, with the company pledging to donate 20 percent of proceeds to nonprofit social and environmental causes featured in the guides.

Local getaways

Tourism promoters in Idaho and British Columbia have done a good job of creating mobile visitor centers with free apps for on-the-go trip planning.

Near Me BC for the iPhone and iPod Touch includes destination descriptions, maps, phone numbers and more for most of the 6,000 activities, attractions, restaurants and accommodations listed on the HelloBC website.

Mark and save your favorite activities and accommodations to view on or offline. Details at www.hellobc.com.

Travelers to Idaho have a new trip- planning tool.

The Idaho Department of Commerce Division of Tourism has launched an app for its Idaho Travel Guide. Details at www.visitidaho.org.

It would be great to see the Washington Tourism Alliance come up with something similar for Washington state.

Checking gas prices

GasBuddy's (www.gasbuddy.com) free app helps locate gas stations near you and current prices. Useful if you're traveling and trying to decide to stop now or later. Plug in a state, city or ZIP code and find locations of stations along with prices.

A recent search for stations near Seattle brought up listings for more than 100, with prices of regular ranging from $3.44 per gallon (Safeway, Rainier Avenue) to $3.99 (Shell, Ballard).

Prices are updated by users of the app. Recheck for current prices.

Have a travel question? Contact Carol Pucci at travel@ carolpucci.com.

Web/Blog: www.carolpucci.com

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About Travel Wise

Travel Wise is aimed at helping people travel smart, especially independent travelers seeking good value. Drawing on her own experiences and readers', Carol Pucci covers everything from the best resources to how to tap into the local culture. Her column runs each Sunday in the Travel section.

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