You already know the downsides of a long trip by car: traffic, road construction and boring hours with nothing but the highway to look at. Any device that can make the journey easier, safer and more entertaining for you and your passengers is going to be well worth the cost. There are many gadgets available today that can help make the journey more pleasant -- even fun.
The key thing to remember is that a road trip doesn't mean going without. Whether it's phone service, your favorite television programs, games, or the full range of information and entertainment available over the Internet, you can have it at all your fingertips while you travel.
Travel gadgets are aimed at making your time on the road easier and more enjoyable, so it's not unusual for people to become completely attached to them. Take global positioning systems. A novelty not too long ago, GPS is now something many drivers can't live without. The latest GPS devices not only give you driving directions, they guide you into the proper lane at intersections and offer updates on weather and traffic. Many new cars come with GPS built in.
These 10 cool gadgets may soon make it onto your must-have list for future highway excursions.
Systems like the Autonet Mobile router let you take the Internet with you in your car. You can file a sales report, listen to Pandora radio or surf for restaurant suggestions without ever leaving your seat. The Autonet folks have developed a technology using the 3G network that gives you seamless connections even when you're speeding along the interstate. For even better reception, you can mount an external antenna to your vehicle.
Mobile wireless routers offer the same range of services as any home network. Use your laptop to connect to weather sites and get full-size pictures of conditions up ahead, or take advantage of the connection to access the latest traffic flow reports. Passengers can watch YouTube videos or send instant messages. Because the signal travels up to 150 feet (45.7 meters), you can still access your mobile network from your motel room if your car is parked nearby.
If your car breaks down on a curve or along a stretch of busy highway with a narrow shoulder, you could definitely be in danger. Placing a bright flashing light on the roof of your car or farther up the roadway could save your life.
Road flares have gone high-tech. The old combustible types were handy, but they could be dangerous, they burned toxic chemicals and they lasted less than half an hour. New light emitting diode (LED) warning lights put out a bright flashing beacon designed to alert oncoming drivers. They're safer, more effective and reusable.
The Aervoe LED road flare is shaped like a hockey puck and includes a rechargeable battery. It will flash for up to 60 hours and can be seen for up to half a mile (0.8 kilometers). In addition to warning other drivers of road peril, LED flares help police or roadside assistance personnel to locate you.
If you subscribe to DirecTV or Dish Network, you're used to a wide range of television options, many in high definition. A mobile TV receiver lets you take that entertainment on the road. All you need is a television, a power source, a satellite antenna and a subscription to a service. (This is obviously not a gadget to use while driving.)
The power source can be your car battery, a dedicated battery pack or even a small electrical generator. The DirecTV Sat-Go system includes its own rechargeable battery. Antennas are compact, but you'll need a direct view of the sky -- trees or tall buildings can interfere. Just a few minutes of setup time will get you up and running. It can be a kick to watch your favorite shows while at the edge of a remote lake, keep up with the news in a national park, or enjoy sports highlights at a tailgate party.
Using a handheld cell phone while driving is illegal in numerous states and the District of Columbia. If you must take calls on the road, the answer is a hands-free system based on Bluetooth technology. Bluetooth allows your phone to communicate with a wireless headset and microphone. You can make and receive calls and never have to fumble with the phone. Advanced models can even read text messages to you or let you know the status of the phone's battery via voice prompts.
Bluetooth can also send signals to full stereo headphones, giving you better sound quality and letting you play music as well as. You should not use headphones while driving. Yet another alternative is a Bluetooth speaker phone, which fits onto your dashboard and lets you or a passenger make hands-free calls.
Try out the device before you decide. Make sure the earbud is comfortable or that the speaker is designed to be heard in an environment like your car's interior.
Some passengers love to curl up in the car with a good book, and that no longer means filling the car with a small library. Today, e-readers like the Amazon Kindle or the Barnes & Noble Nook give readers access to hundreds of books with the push of a button. The e-paper screens on these readers are great for reading in cars because they reduce glare and eye strain.
E-readers are steadily improving. The Kindle DX boasts a nine-inch screen. Newer versions of the Nook offer color images -- ideal for kids' picture books.
Another great feature of e-readers is that when you finish your Janet Evanovich thriller, you can download her next book over a WiFi or 3G network. You can also keep up on your favorite magazines and newspapers so you stay in the know while you're on the road.
They're standard in many minivans, but you can install a mobile video system in any car, too. They're the perfect antidote to that dreaded query, "Are we there yet?" Some systems mount the video monitor in the back of the driver's and front passenger's headrests, so that backseat passengers have a good view. Other systems have screens that drop down from the ceiling. The sound can play through the car's stereo system, but individual headphones usually make more sense. Noise cancelling headphones filter out road noise.
In addition to watching movies or television shows on DVD, passengers can play video games, including head-to-head competitions. Systems come with USB ports and card readers, allowing them to play any video or audio files you've saved. For example, you might collect a group of internet videos or DVDs about your destination or attractions along the way, so passengers can get excited about the places they're about to visit.
Everybody knows the frustration of dropping a cell phone connection. On long trips, especially to remote locations, it's likely to happen more than once. The solution is a satellite phone. Services like Iridium, Globalstar and Thurya provide coverage virtually everywhere in the world by using satellites to transmit signals instead of antennas mounted on earthbound towers.
A satellite phone is an especially good choice if you're going to be driving into areas where cell service may be spotty or nonexistent. The only restriction is that you need a clear view of the outdoor sky -- if you're at the bottom of a canyon, you may have to hike up to the rim for reception.
If you don't travel frequently enough to merit purchasing a satellite phone, you might consider renting one for your trip. Keep in mind that you'll pay more for calls, typically $1.69 a minute. Text messaging can save you some money, as they usually cost only 50 cents per message.
Salmonella, streptococcus and cryptosporidium -- these exotic-sounding inhabitants of unsafe drinking water can play havoc on your digestive system and turn a vacation into a nightmare. Keep them from tagging along on your travels with an effective water purification system. The SteriPEN Traveler uses ultraviolet light to deactivate germs in almost any water. It uses four AA lithium batteries and fits into most commercial water bottles. The SteriPEN takes less than a minute purify a bottle of water and retails for about $50.
The device is ideal for those days you stop your car to take a hike, especially in hot weather. As long as there are water sources along the way, you won't have to bring bottles of water for each hiker. And the SteriPEN, at 3.6 ounces (102 grams), is lighter and less bulky than most filters.
You're 800 miles (1287 kilometers) from home and the check engine light begins to glow ominously. Now what? You might be glad you invested in a CarMD Vehicle Diagnostics Kit. Every car made since 1996 has built-in computerized diagnostic circuitry; mechanics use it to quickly identify problems in your vehicle. The CarMD lets you do the same. A check engine light can mean something as simple as a loose gas cap, or it can alert you to a serious mechanical problem. With the CarMD, you'll know what you're dealing with.
The CarMD system doesn't just present you with a trouble code. It works with a computer program to convert that information into a description of the problem, a list of parts that might need replacing, and even the likely cost of parts and repair. It also alerts you to recalls and technical bulletins from the manufacturer. Run a scan on your car before you leave, and it will give you a heads-up on looming problems. Use it on the road if trouble pops up to figure out what you need to repair.
The CarMD readout can be a boon when you're approaching a mechanic while away from home. You'll know what's needed and what a fair price for the repair should be.
One of the most useful gadgets you can take along on your car trip is the one that lets you power up all the other gadgets. An inverter changes the 12-volt direct current from your car's battery into the 115-volt alternating current used by most appliances. You can operate a small television, a laptop computer, a toaster or a coffee maker with that.
Inverters come in a variety of sizes. Smaller ones, like the Kensington K38037US, fit into the glove box and plug into the lighter/power outlet. In addition to giving you AC power, it lets you charge your smart phone or iPod through a USB cable. Larger inverters can be wired directly to the battery. A model from Power Line looks exactly like a coffee cup. Plug it in and you have two AC outlets in your cup holder.
Keep in mind that the power in your battery is limited. You'll have to look at the maximum load of any inverter you use. You may need to turn on and run your engine periodically to make sure you're not draining your battery.
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