The holiday road trip. Almost all of us have done it, and many of us still pile unto the car and take off for family get-togethers (or to get away from them). Some of us even enjoy it.
I remember riding in the back of the family Truckster, with nothing to do but munch on 3-hour-old fries and ask my mom if we were there yet, while Dad got us lost for the third time in 50 miles. Those days are over.
Now we have in-car entertainment to stave off boredom, GPS to keep us going in the right direction, streaming video to entertain us and more. Here are a few tips on getting the most out of your in-car tech.
GPS: Unless your favorite pastime is re-folding paper maps, there is no beating GPS systems for getting you where you need to go.
1. If your car has built-in GPS, see your local dealer about having the maps updated once per year. This isn’t always cheap, but if you have a good relationship to your dealer they will often help you out on the price. If you’re tech-savvy, you can search the Internet for instructions on how to do this yourself, but that process isn’t always easy or risk-free, so tread carefully.
2. All GPS units have the ability to orient the map either with north being ‘up’ or with ‘up’ being whatever direction you’re driving. If you’re trying to learn a new area, switch it to ‘north is up.’ That way when you look at the map, things on the display will be oriented the same way they are on a paper map. For example, if you were driving on I-40 East and passing Lebanon, Hartsville would be ‘above’ you on the map because ‘north is up.’ This would make it easier in the future to remember that Hartsville is north of Lebanon.
3. Don’t let the turn-by-turn directions cause you to make unsafe driving decisions. If you’re driving in the far right lane, and you suddenly realize that you misunderstood the GPS the first time, and you’re supposed to be exiting on the left, don’t just swerve across three lanes of traffic to get there. Just drive on by and let the GPS re-route you back to where you need to be. It will do this for you on the fly, and in most cases you’ll be back on track in almost no time at all. The five minutes you’ll lose are not worth causing a 12-car pileup.
4. Co-pilot: Even if you’re using your car’s GPS, or a stand-alone GPS unit stuck to the windshield, your traveling companions can be a real help when it comes to improving the fun and efficiency of your drive. What will not improve anything at all about your drive is having an accident because you’re distracted by gadgets in your car. Let your co-pilot handle the technology while you keep your focus on the road.
Smartphones: Nearly all of us have at least a little experience with using apps on smartphones by now. That’s a good thing, because there are many ways to leverage that technology to make travelling safer and more fun.
1. Waze: This is an app that will function as a turn-by-turn GPS, and will alert you to traffic conditions, road construction and even speed traps, all in real time. This means that the information you’re getting is reliable and fresh. Waze accomplishes this by sharing data from all of the people using Waze, so if you like to use ‘airplane mode’ while you ride in a car, this won’t work – you have to be connected to the phone/data network.
2. iExit: This app will tell you exactly what businesses and services are available at any given freeway exit, with operating hours and other useful information. You can set it up to tell you when you’re near a favorite restaurant, or how far you are from the nearest open gas station, etc. If you’re traveling any sort of long distances on the Interstate system, this app is indispensable.
3. Netflix: Many people already know all about how great Netflix can be for watching movies and TV shows over the Internet. What you might not know is that Netflix has recently rolled out a feature whereby you can download shows and movies to your mobile device and save them for later viewing – like say, while you’re on a road trip in the middle of nowhere with no cell signal. Try it!
Co-pilot: Just in case you missed it the first time, don’t screw around with your phone while you’re driving. Ever. An upcoming issue of Consumer Reports magazine will contain an article called “the Dangers of Driving While Distracted” in which they took an in-depth look at the perils of not paying attention to the road while behind the wheel, and the data is bleak. On average nearly 10 people are killed daily in the US in distracted driver accidents. Please don’t be one of these people.
Kids: I have ‘em. Maybe you do to. Here are a few ideas to keep the kids tech-happy on long rides.
1. Shade the windows: If your kids are using screens of any kind (DVD players, tablets, phones, etc.) the sun shining through the rear side windows is their enemy. You can go to any auto parts store, or any large online retail variety storefront (Amazon.com, Walmart.com, etc.) and search for “auto window shade” and you’ll find many options to block out the sun for the kiddos.
2. Headphones: I’m not a fan of in-ear buds for my young kids, so I bought them quality over-the-ear earphones instead. They are kid-specific, in that they are built to fit smaller heads, and they also have built-in volume limiters so that they can’t listen at hearing-damage levels. These are also available online if you search for “children’s headphones.”
3. Tablet: A tablet is like a giant smartphone. It can be used for watching shows or movies, playing games, reading books, drawing, and many other fun activities. Name-brand quality options are available at good prices. I recently found a name-brand 8-inch Android tablet for my son for well under $150.
Do you have more ways you use technology when you travel, or in other areas of like that help you be faster, more efficient, have more fun, or entertain or educate kids? Or maybe you have questions involving technology that you’d like to have answered? I’d love to hear about it. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know!