Road Trip? Top Tech to Take Along

Some helpful tech to keep your next family road trip on track.

By David Isaac

Technology has come a long way since the Griswolds headed to Walley World in the 1983 comedy National Lampoon’s Vacation. Thankfully, it hasn’t come quite as far as the ludicrously tricked-out Albanian-made Tartan Prancer from the 2015 remake of that movie. Better you should pick your own technology than have it built into your car—unless you want your steering wheel to disconnect at the touch of a button. Here we offer a few suggestions that will help make your road trip safer and more comfortable.

Zubie

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Zubie turns your old car into a smart car. Simply plug the device into your car’s OBD (on-board diagnostics) port—a port that’s available in all car models after 1996. You’ll get a host of safety features viewable on the accompanying smartphone app, from maintenance and low battery alerts to engine diagnostics. Zubie reduces the possibility of a surprise breakdown on your next road trip.

Other great features include a fuel finder (for locating the cheapest gas on the road) and motion monitoring (which notifies you when your car is moving and you’re not the one moving it). Zubie also offers in-car Wi-Fi, thanks to its partnership with Verizon. Members of your family can enjoy all the web surfing and online games they want because the high-speed hotspot travels with you.

Zubie costs $100 per year. The Wi-Fi bundle carries a one-time charge of $100 plus $10 a month for service. The service’s family plan comes in two- and three-key packs, and saves you 15 percent off the total cost.

CGear’s Sand-Free Multimat

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If your road trip includes a beach destination or a campsite, you’ll appreciate CGear’s Sand-Free Multimat. The Multimat’s dual-weave mesh design lets sand, dirt and grit disappear as if sinking into quicksand. But it can’t come back up. It’s remarkable to watch sand poured onto the mat vanish as if by magic. In this video, you can see someone eating directly off the mat without worrying about biting into a sand sandwich. Even wet grass passes through to the other side.

The sandless beach mat was developed for the military by CGear, still the category leader in sales for these types of mats. Their original purpose was to serve as portable helicopter landing pads, preventing grit and sand from getting kicked up by the helicopter’s wash.

CGear’s Sand-Free Multimat retails for $100.

GoTenna

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If it’s more accurate to describe your road trip as an off-road trip, the goTenna is for you. The goTenna turns your smartphone into an off-grid communication device, giving you reception in locations where cell phone towers fear to tread. The company calls goTenna, a "high-tech buddy system."

It works by pairing with your cell phone via Bluetooth so you can send text messages and your GPS location via VHF radio waves. In open environments, it has a range of up to 4 or 5 miles. In urban centers, that range is drops to 0.5 to 1 mile. But under the right conditions, it can go quite far. Currently, the record is 27 miles. Another good feature of goTenna is its ability to work in Airplane Mode so you can save battery power and still reach out and touch someone—someone who might just save your life. The goTenna automatically creates its own network with other goTennas in the area. This is important, as goTennas are sold in pairs.

A two-unit goTenna set retails for $199.

Aervoe LED Flares

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Part of any road trip adventure is misadventure—anything from a flat tire to a fender-bender to veering off into the ditch when Christie Brinkley drives up in a Ferrari and starts to play love connection. High-tech flares like Aervoe LED flares will send a bright signal that you’re in the middle of repairs on the road. They’re a big improvement on those old-fashioned flaming sticks that last only 15 minutes and have more in common with One Million Years B.C. than with the 21st century. You are not Tumac of the Rock People. It’s time for an upgrade.

Aervoe’s Super Road Flare kit comes with four flares, each of which contains 24 incredibly bright LEDs that can be seen up to 2 miles away. Each flare lasts for hours and is rechargeable. Aervoe flares can be set to one of seven different flashing patterns including SOS in Morse code. They’re waterproof, magnetic, and crush-resistant. Emergency responders love them for the superior protection they offer.

The Super Road Flare Kit retails for $311. Aervoe flares are also sold separately for $34.

RAM Mount

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If you plan on using your smartphone’s GPS to find your way, you’ll want a good mount. RAM Mounts make some of the best models for phones, tablets, and phablets, specializing in rugged mounting for hard use. The company’s X-Grip Mount is a fine example, with a spring-loaded holder that expands and contracts to accommodate most smartphones.

RAM Mounts keeps innovating. At the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show, the company won an award for its protective IntelliSkins which now include universal docking technology.

A standard RAM suction cup mount and X-Grip Mount cradle will cost you $56.

Coleman 40 Quart Powerchill

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No one likes a warm soda, least of all kids in the backseat of a packed car on a hot day. A portable car cooler will keep cold drinks cold. The Coleman 40 Quart Powerchill may be the mother of all road-trip coolers. This baby holds 44 cans plus snacks. Its motor is quiet, unlike the ones on many other coolers, and it comes with a 12-volt vehicle outlet. Its door can open from the right side or the left side, and it can be set upright or on its back like a chest cooler.

In addition to functioning as a cooler, it can act as a warmer, heating contents up to 140°F. So whether you want a cold drink or a hot sandwich, this cooler/warmer has you covered.

The Coleman 40 Quart Powerchill’s dimensions are 21¾ inches by 15 inches by 17⅛ inches.

It retails for $135 with free shipping.

Whistler XP2000i

image alt textWith your new Coleman Powerchill cooler on board—not to mention all those tablets and phones your family is carrying around to stay connected—you’ll need something to keep everything charged. A power inverter is a great solution. The Whistler XP2000i ($350) converts your car’s 12-volt DC battery power to 110-volt AC. It includes three AC outlets and two USB ports. With 2000 watts of continuous power, you can charge not only gadgets and chest coolers but hair dryers, 40-inch TVs, and microwaves. Just don’t try using it to charge the Tartan Prancer.

Photo credits: Warner Bros., Zubie, CGear, goTenna, Aervoe, RAM Mounts, Coleman, Whistler.