NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Smartphones are wonderful -- until you go on a road trip and discover 3G/4G mobile service is spotty, if you can even get service at all. Traveling abroad can also render a smartphone useless or else have you constantly searching for wireless hotspots. Thankfully, a handful of app developers have become wise to the dilemma and have released mobile apps that work even without mobile service. Of course, pre-trip preparation is necessary. You've got to install the app, for one thing, and, for the most part, you also need to download data before heading out the door. I tested several on a recent road trip in rural America. Some didn't work so well (if you want to know more about those, leave a comment). Here are ones that worked without service and were definitely useful: Big Truck Stops: Truckers know best about where and when to stop on the road. So this app, which is popular among truckers, is one of the better ones for finding out where the nearest truck stop is even if you're offline. Offline, the app lets you look up major truck stops (like Flying J and Love's) in select cities and states. It will tell you what exit to take, types of food available and whether there's Internet. Opt for AllStay's premium version for $9.99 to get loads of rest-stop information that truckers need to know (low clearance, scales, motels with truck parking) but also some for the ordinary road-tripper (ATMs, UPS, game rooms). AllStays.com/apps, Android & iOS Local library apps: Listening to audio books helped our 14-hours trip pass a little quicker for the whole family. Apps like Overdrive and OneClickDigital (both offer iOS and Android apps) are connected to various libraries and allow library card holders to check out ebooks and audiobooks for free. While there is limited audio-book selection, I used Overdrive and discovered "The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories" by Dr. Seuss. My 5-year-old loved it. Overdrive.com, OneClickDigital Audible: If you are searching for a specific audio book, Amazon.com's ( AMZN) Audible is happy to sell it to you. We chose the unabridged version of "The Hobbit" by J.R.R. Tolkien. It was 11 hours long and my kid listened the whole time -- no iPad intervention necessary. audible.com, Android & iOS & Windows
Maps With Me: Sometimes our GPS had us going on strange small roads. That's when the Maps With Me app came in handy. You must download your route ahead of time -- and offline maps are available for every U.S. state and most countries. It's nice and fast, and smooth to the touch. If the mobile device's GPS is turned on, you can quickly pinpoint your location and see what sort of businesses are nearby. The free Lite version seems more than adequate, but the paid version adds search and bookmarks. MapsWith.Me, Android & iOS Pocket: For those in the passenger seat, Pocket keeps an offline edition of stories you want to read -- as long as you synced your mobile device while in the presence of Internet. It works with images and text but not videos. Saving videos to watch later works if you remain online, but apps that once did offer this either yanked the feature or they no longer exist. GetPocket.com Free Wi-Fi Finder: If you know you'll desperately need Internet access on the road, the JiWire app lets you download the entire database of Wi-Fi hotspots, as powered by aggregator JiWire. You'll be able to search for nearby Wi-Fi hotspots even if your phone has no service. The database is full of paid and free hotspots, though most are likely suspects such as Starbucks ( SBUX) and AT&T ( T) JiWire's free Wi-Fi Finder for Android and iOS More to try: Hungry Pet: For pet owners, you probably know what a dog or cat can or cannot eat. But if you're traveling and you find your dog has just eaten something strange, Hungry Pet gives a yay or nay on most foods. And you don't need to be connected. If you have GPS, the app also finds nearby help if you are able to get online. Android only. Google Translate: Use your phone as your personal foreign-language translator if your mobile service is spotty while visiting other countries. The free Google Translate app works offline, provided you download one of the 50 languages available while Internet is available. You can either speak a phrase or type it in. Google translates it to one of the 50 languages. Google.com/mobile/translate, Android & iOS Currency Exchange: XE Currency keeps track of the latest foreign exchange rates and offers access when your phone is offline. Of course to get the latest rates, you do need Internet access. XE Currency, Android & iOS TouristEye: This vacation-planning app lets you drag and drop destinations into a trip planner. But it's not just your everyday travel guide, like what to do in the city of Denver. This crowdsourced app includes unique sidetrips and wishlists like free things to do in Denver and Denver in one day. Download the whole trip and you'll have access to all the suggestions offline, including maps. touristeye.com/features, Android & iOS Follow @Gadgetress This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.