The summer road trip season is upon us. Maybe you’re already prepared for your next driving journey; maybe not. Either way, here are our favorite must-have gadgets, apps, and services for planning, loving, and surviving your next road trip.
Filming your road trip is mandatory these days. If you don’t Instagram it, did it even really happen? But, a camera — a dash cam, in particular — is also invaluable in the event of an accident (assuming it wasn’t your fault). The Transcend DrivePro 200 Wi-Fi Dash Camera is an ideal entry-level solution with plenty of useful features. The camera features low-light and high-res capture capability at 30 frames per second — more than enough for casual users. A 2.4-inch screen allows for immediate review of your footage, and to ensure the camera is working properly. Built-in Wi-Fi connects to a free mobile app where users can download footage to and share from their smartphones. The memory card slot works with cards up to 128GB which is plenty for even the most extended road trip.
Mosquitos suck and so does camping in the dark. Whether you’re tent- or car- camping, Thermacell solves both problems with their Trailblazer Mosquito Repeller plus Camp Lantern — a lantern that (wait for it …) also keeps mosquitos at bay. The 300-lumen lantern features four settings and a 50-hour run time on the highest setting. The repellent relies on a single, included fuel cartridge to create a 15-by-15-foot “bubble” to protect you from those pesky skeeters. If it sounds like a bunch of useless, infomercial-esque sales speak, consider that it’s the same technology used to protect the U.S. Army from insects abroad. Best of all, it does so without the use of harsh chemicals like DEET.
More and more cars are debuting with usable 110V AC and USB ports. But, if you’re looking to retrofit an older car or add more ports to your ride, this Cobra power inverter fits into a standard cup holder. It swaps the stock 12V DC jack for two practical USB ports and a 110V AC outlet as well. Now, you and your road trip cohorts needn’t fight over who gets to charge their iPhone first.
That vintage aluminum Coleman cooler your grandpappy took on his fishing trips still looks cool, but it’s a little less than functional. Extreme coolers like those from Pelican and Otterbox feature modern technology that ensures days — sometimes more than a week — of ice retention. Sure, the best models run north of USD $200. But, they’re the closest thing to a camping refrigerator if you’re planning extended time off-road or off-grid. Many boast must-haves like built-in cup holders, bottle openers, pop-out side tables, and wheels.
There’s an app for everything, but Roadie may be the only one that allows you to make money road tripping. Think of it as the Uber of “sending stuff.” The premise is simple: it’s an on-demand, peer-to-peer service that enables road-tripping travelers to courier someone else’s packages to their final destination and get paid for it. Couriers can search the site for available gigs that require delivery along their route. Payment is based on the distance traveled and size of the package. Delivering a desk lamp across town, for example, might net you less than $20, while schlepping a couch cross-country could pay $1,000 or more. Remember you can always make more room in your car by ditching your least favorite friend.
The Garmin Speak is for anyone who wants a stripped-down GPS device with all the functionality and charm of Amazon Alexa. There’s a “vintage” feel to its interface which replaces the typical color touchscreen display with a simple, 1.5-inch OLED screen. Drivers interact with the device through voice commands. Anything Alexa would be able to “do” for you, Garmin Speak can too. Ask it for directions, where the nearest gas station is, or play music from your Pandora list. It can also be used for more mundane tasks like creating and updating to-do lists, checking the weather, or controlling your smart home devices. Like Alexa, the device also gets smarter and more useful with frequent (and free) software updates.
Old-school road flares add a bit of fireworks-like fun to any roadside breakdown. But, this isn’t 1985, so it’s time to upgrade your emergency kit accordingly. These LED “road flares” serve the same function as traditional road flares without harsh chemicals or the risk of a 3,000-degree magnesium burn. Each one is about the size of a hockey puck and lasts up to 36 hours on a single charge. Plus, they’re magnetic so you can affix them directly to your car if you like.
If you’re planning to crash in hotels and other traditional accommodations, there’s no shortage of apps for that. But, if you’re an adventurous sort interested in off-the-beaten-path lodging, Allstays Camps and RV is invaluable. The app’s sheer volume of sites — more than 30,000 — is amazing. These include standard campgrounds (like KOA and national/state parks), but also obscure, primitive off-road sites and BLM land maps where you can camp for free. What’s more is that it even works offline, so it has you covered no matter where in North America you find yourself. Many reviews are accompanied by crowdsourced photos and reviews. Allstays also markets related niche apps like an Overnight Parking Walmart app and Rest Stops Plus which details every aspect of thousands of rest stops throughout the country.
Getting far off-road is awesome, but sometimes you still want (or need) a reliable Wi-Fi connection. Whether you’re looking for a dedicated mobile hotspot or a backup data connection, the AT&T Netgear Nighthawk LTE Mobile Hotspot Router provides high-speed data coverage throughout the U.S. It offers all the features of a standard, in-home router like bandwidth throttling, secure access, and the ability to connect up to 20 devices concurrently. It displays all the essential details — the number of connections, signal strength, and battery life — on a crisp, bright LED screen. The built-in 5,040mAh battery will last up to 24 hours, and the connection can be offloaded to a standard Wi-Fi network to minimize mobile data usage.
Standard in-dash gauges and instrumentation will no doubt disappear in our lifetimes. Thankfully, they’ll be replaced by way cooler, fighter-jet-style heads-up displays. Some luxury automakers already offer such displays in their high-end models. But, for anyone looking to outfit their existing ride with the same tech, there’s Hudly. The unit is available in three flavors, but it’s the flagship Hudly Wireless that interests us most. The high-tech display wirelessly mirrorcasts your smartphone’s screen (think: Google Maps and Waze) directly into your line of sight, and allows you to interact with them via voice commands. It not only displays essential information like speed and average gas mileage but virtually any pertinent details from your favorite driving-related apps. The company also claims their units offer the sharpest, brightest screens on the market.
Google Maps used to lead the pack among smartphone mapping apps, but Waze is now our go-to favorite. The mapping functionality, user-friendliness, and easy-to-read interface are all second to none. But, Waze’s crowdsourced data also ensures you can stay on top of speed traps, traffic, vehicle breakdowns on the shoulder, and even errant hazards like trash or obstacles in the roadway. Best of all: it’s free for iOS and Android.
Choosing the right multi-tool can be a challenge. But, the fact is, if you’re planning an extended road trip, it’ll likely be the single most useful thing you pack. Whichever model you choose, it should offer essentials like a bottle opener and a variety of knives. We’ve long been fans of Leatherman for their utility, versatility, and reliability. The Leatherman OHT Multi-Tool is an excellent all-around choice. Not only does it offer all the essential tools you might need for thriving and surviving a long-distance road trip, but every tool is 100% one-hand-operable and locks when fully opened. It also boasts Leatherman’s 25-year warranty so it’ll probably outlast you.
It’s a fact that, if you travel long enough, you will break down. While you should be prepared to change a tire or get yourself back on the road as best you can, we’re not all professional mechanics. AAA is still a great backup plan for any driver. But, if you’re not keen to pay for an annual membership you may never use, Blink Roadside is a convenient pay-as-you-go option. They offer roadside assistance services for a flat $49 fee that includes jump starts, vehicle lock-out, spare tire installation, and fuel delivery. Plus, tows of up to five miles are available for just $79. The company claims coverage in more than 99% of U.S. zip codes, and they handle more than 10 million roadside events annually. Blink works best via a free mobile app (available for iOS and Android) or directly through their website.
Article originally published by Austin Parker on June 28, 2016. Last updated by Mike Richard on June 5, 2018.