Lessons Learned from a Week of Road Tripping

Sarah and I have had a busy summer, but the big finale was definitely this past week. We started out Labor Day weekend, where we headed to Virginia, before returning to New Jersey for a day and then heading to Maine for a friend’s wedding. Lots of travel, lots of packing, lots of gear. What did we learn? Read on to see our hard-earned lessons and tips!

Technology:

Let’s start with travel gear. I opted to travel light to VA since we were driving to Richmond, then Virginia Beach for a race, then back to Richmond and then finally home. So all I had with me then was my Droid and an iPod Touch. Sarah had her Droid Incredible as well.

For Maine, I also grabbed my Kindle and Chromebook. As it turned out, we were so busy, as well as in a low signal area, that I barely used either of them. Without WiFi or 3G, my Chromebook was nearly useless, and I didn’t have much downtime to read. Thankfully my Droid was still going strong, though we could have used some extra SD cards for Sarah’s Nikon D3000. We blew through a 4GB card pretty fast, and luckily I unearthed an extra 8GB from my backpack.

Now, my trusty, often-abused Droid was definitely quite the trooper during this week, but the real “I will never travel without these” items were Sarah’s car charger and my Droid charger. Both of these were awesome because they had USB ports, so anything with a USB charger could be plugged in and kept juiced. We didn’t have to juggle external batteries, and all we needed was a few microUSB cords and an iPod cord, plus the car/wall bricks, and we were set. Not only did it lighten our load, but it also lessened the risk we would forget something at someone’s house or a hotel.

We used Pandora on and off, but since we were driving anyway, Sarah stocked us with audiobooks from the library. Rather than rely on Overdrive’s small electronic library, we used real audio CDs. Nothing makes a long drive go faster than a good book, especially one you borrowed from the library for the low price of free.

Finally, never leave home without a Scottevest product. Virginia was hot, but Maine is getting cool already. At the last minute when swapping clothes during the turnaround day, I tossed in a Scottevest Q-Zip Shirt. Originally it was for running if it was cold in the morning when I headed out, but it quickly became my go-to shirt for the weekend. Had I planned better, I would have also grabbed my SeV fleece, but having the Q-Zip (and the extra zipper pocket) was an absolute lifesaver as the temps dropped!

What would I do differently with the next epic trip? We were driving, so we had a fair amount of space, but good gear can be delicate. I purposely didn’t bring my NOOKcolor along because I knew we wouldn’t have much if any, WiFi access. It was a tough call with the Chromebook, and in the future, I think I’d still toss it in a bag. Even though it didn’t get much use on this trip, having a computer with built-in 3G is too handy not to transport if there’s room. I’m also very, very glad I brought the iPod Touch. My Droid works well until it doesn’t, and when it threw little snits having the Touch made for a handy backup plan. And while it’s not technically a tech-y gadget, never leave home without a foam roller. If your hips, legs, and back hurt from too much time cooped up in a car, nothing beats 5 minutes on the foam roller. Finally, while I love my Kindle, I barely touched it since I had zero time to read. On a busy trip, with the Kindle app available on every device I carry (except my digital camera, but seriously, it’s only a matter of time), I’d probably leave it home unless I knew there was a fair amount of downtime for reading.

Software:

The big observations here were on what worked and what failed. It wasn’t about special software just for traveling, but more things that annoyed me while in everyday life were much bigger issues while not home, and features that were always helpful but came through big time when we really needed them this week.

Like I said above, I didn’t have a lot of time to grab my Chromebook during our trips. So I relied heavily on my Droid and iPod Touch for my news flow. My biggest peeve: CNN and Facebook don’t redirect to mobile sites from Twitter links. It’s minor, but a huge pain if you’re trying to read while someone else is flying down the highway going 75mph and your touchscreen has become jumpy about pinch and zoom. And seriously, I know both CNN and Facebook have perfectly capable mobile sites. So why don’t they redirect? Seriously, if there’s a technical reason I’d love to hear it, otherwise I just know not to bother clicking through to those sites from Twitter for Android.

More importantly, when you’re on the road you’re probably looking for gas or food. We learned the hard way not to trust my Garmin Nuvi to have updated data after it sent us on a wild goose chase for a grocery store that had closed months earlier. After that, we stuck with Google Places as a resource for immediate data, which was handy since it listed when stores were open and closed. Oddly, Places had no idea what to do with Maine; we were in Casco, Maine and it tried to claim the nearest coffee option was in Portland, Maine (roughly 40 minutes away). Thankfully we used the old-fashioned strategy of “Drive down the road and yell if you spot coffee” and found several options quickly.

There were two big wins for software this weekend. First of all, Google Maps was indispensable. On both trips (Virginia and Maine) we hit tons of traffic. The GPS could re-route us with detours, but it couldn’t tell us if the detour was better than staying on the highway. Thanks to Google Maps, we could hit a detour on the GPS, scout the alternate route on Google Maps, and then determine if everyone else on the road had the same idea we did or if there was a sneak route. Even if the detour didn’t officially save us time, it felt better to be moving instead of sharing the “angry traffic stare” with other drivers.

The biggest winner has to be Facebook, though. Like I said before, my best friend was getting married. Two of her friends were supposed to fly from DC to Portland on Friday, except heavy rains flooded the DC airports Thursday and canceled all the flights. So they were stuck scrambling for a plan and complained on Facebook. Two of the other guests (driving out of Boston) saw the complaints and offered rides for them if they could fly to Logan Airport. Thanks to the magic of Facebook, everyone was able to coordinate and attend the wedding, despite the best efforts of mother nature! I have said many times that I have mixed feelings towards the social network, but in this case it was certainly great.

Random Personal Observations:

This isn’t really tech-related, but spending 25ish hours in a car over the course of a week is stressful. Sarah and I learned it was important to listen to when the other was getting cranky, and when we needed time in separate corners between drives. We also took the time to stock a cooler with water and tried to pack dried fruit and nuts. We didn’t eat perfectly (as a McDonald’s stop in Maryland proved!) but we did try to keep the snacking healthier.

The best thing we did was just relax and enjoy the driving as much as we could. That meant side trips to places like Stonewall Jackson’s death site, stopping in Boston, and just rolling with repeated storm and traffic-related detours. In the end, it made the trips as fun as the destination!

Have you done any epic road trips? Do you have a go-to list of gear for long drives? Share your tips and lessons in the comments!

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About the Author

Carly Z
Carly has been a gadget fiend for a long time, going back to her first PDA (a Palm M100). She quickly went from researching what PDA to buy to following tech news closely and keeping up with the latest and greatest stuff. She loves writing about ebooks because they combine her two favorite activities; reading anything and everything, and talking about fun new tech toys. What could be better?