We recently went on a road trip to visit my college roommate. Being whom we are, we naturally took along some "tech toys" to make the trip easier and funner. Let me share some of my favorite trip gizmos.
WHEELS: Supercharged MINI
The first thing you need for great road trip is a fun yet reliable car. We bought a MINI Cooper S (JCW) two years ago and are still "on honeymoon." It's not considered by some to be the best choice for road trips but we couldn't disagree more. Thanks to the oversized supercharger and other John Cooper Works options, it goes like a marsupial out of purgatory The sports suspension makes it corner like a go-kart. The leather wrap-around sports seats are comfortable and fully adjustable. It's got electronic cruise control. It's small on the outside but has plenty of legroom and headroom for the "pilot" and "navigator." And with only two of us traveling, folding down the rear seat gives us 25 cubic feet of storage -- all we need for our travel stuff. Did I mention it also gets good gas mileage?
Like many contemporary cars, the MINI has various built-in techno gizmos. For example it has a trip computer that computes average speed, average MPG, and how many miles you can go before you need gas again. It also informs you when it's time for service or something is haywire in the engine compartment. Our MINI came with the optional instrument package that includes oil pressure, oil temperature, and water temperature gauges (instead of "idiot" lights). We do have some idiot lights for warning when the door or rear hatch is not closed completely. One light is tied to the tire pressure monitor which alerts you if any tire is losing pressure. That's very helpful since the MINI has no spare. It's saved my bacon when I bought some new tires and one of them was leaking around the bead.
I had the optional iPod connector installed by the dealer which enables me to use the audio system's controls on the dashboard and steering wheel to select a playlist, jump a track, and adjust the volume. The playlists must be labeled MINI1, MINI2, etc., to match the five programmable radio station selection buttons on the console. Since I upgraded to the 3G iPhone, I used my original (disabled) iPhone as the trip iPod whose tunes sound awesome through the MINI's Hardin Kardon audio system.
BMW offers a factory option that lets you answer your cell phone using steering wheel controls and hear it through the audio system's speakers. Since we don't have that feature, we use the earbuds that come with the iPhone which include a microphone.
The MINI has two 12-volt DC power outlets (one under the dash and one in the back cargo area) which are useful for powering or charging various electronic devices.
iPhone 3G + 2.x Software
I can't say enough about how useful the iPhone was on our road trip. For starters, now that it has a GPS chip, Google Maps follows you down the highway with a pulsating dot. We often used the app to compute the distance and time from our "current location" to the next town. Once we got to our destination, the "drop a pin and bookmark it" feature was very useful for marking key towns or our favorite places, thereby streamlining the "get directions" function when we wish to return there.
The Where app had "presets" for finding the nearest Starbucks or gas station. We used iWant to find the nearest vegetarian friendly restaurant.
During the trip, if you don't want to drag out the MacBook Pro, it's nice to be able to check email with the iPhone. There were times when I didn't have a strong enough signal to make a call but was able to send and receive text messages from friends and family.
On one occasion we were at a restaurant having lunch with a friend and he decided he wanted to take us to a movie. As he was wondering out loud where the movie might be playing or what the show times might be, I whipped out my iPhone and launched the Showtimes app. It located us geographically, listed all the nearby theatres, what they were showing, and the show times. He was blown away.
WeatherBug has a Radar function. We were able to see if there was rain ahead and how heavy it was in case we wanted to take an alternate route.
I could go on and on but suffice to say that the iPhone 3G is a no-brainer-must-have road-trip companion.
NEXT TO THE iPHONE....
my MacBook Pro was most useful. For one thing, if you are searching for something or getting directions, the full size keyboard is more efficient for typing in the address or playing "where is" and "what if" with Maps.Google.com or MapQuest.com sites. Then you can send a link or the addresses to your iPhone.
Also, I was able to compose this article using the MacBook Pro and upload it to the website -- an impossibility with the iPhone.
Longer winded emails are easier to compose with a full size keyboard.
BUT, the MacBook Pro is of limited use without a broadband internet card.
For example, you can't use WiFi when speeding down the interstate. With the Verizon Wireless (or AT&T) 3G broadband card you can get a highspeed connection anywhere -- assuming there is a 3G signal available. There are a few areas we passed through with only 2G (National Access and EDGE) but that would apply to the iPhone as well.
Though you can get a car adapter for many devices, someone has yet to create a magsafe car adapter for the MacBook Pro (unless you count the "home grown" versions). So I purchased an inverter which converts the power from your 12 volt DC power outlet to AC. That way you can just take the normal AC adapter for your MacBook Pro and plug it into the inverter box which, in turn, is plugged into the car's DC outlet.
The model we chose was the Kensington Ultra Power Inverter 150. It has a flexible cord to plug into the MINI's front power outlet. That's helpful since the receptacle is positioned facing upward under the dashboard with limited clearance. Plus the flexible cord is less likely to torque the connector like inverters without a cable.
The Kensington inverter puts out plenty of power, rated at 150W of peak and 120W continuous.
My wife and I don't speed excessively but we do add 10% to the speed limit for speedometer error -- wink, wink, nudge, nudge. In case there is an unsympathetic law officer with his radar gun pointed at us, we would like some advance warning so we can ease off the go pedal and put on our halos.
So we added a radar/laser detector to our toy collection. The model we chose, the Beltronics STi Driver, was the result of some googling of reviews, especially the site called RadarTest.com which rated the STi Driver as the "world's best radar detector."
According to them, its strengths were:
1. Excellent overall radar sensitivity
2. Extensive feature set
3. High resistance to false alarms
4. Undetectable by radar detector detectors
DIGITAL PHOTO READER
On this trip we took our trusty Nikon D300 along. To offload, preview, edit, and share photos, we included the SanDisk Extreme FireWire 800 CompactFlash card reader in the bag. It's the fastest way to transfer high-rez photos to your MacBook Pro. No flashcard reader is faster than this one.
When we were driving and didn't have the Nikon handy, we used the iPhone to snap a few photos then transferred them to the MacBook Pro. These photos are nothing to sneeze at since they are 1600x1200. If we share them over the internet, they are usually reduced to 400x300 anyway.
DeLongi EC155 Espresso Maker
One of our guilty pleasures is a cup of Kona Joe's Trellis Reserve coffee each morning. And we are picky about what machine and method we use to brew it. So we decided to find a small espresso maker to take with us to use in the hotel room. We chose the DeLongi EC155 and could not be happier. It's compact yet it is a pump driven like the "big boys." The frother works better than our large kitchen expresso machine.
We also took along the DeLonghi DCG39 Electric Grinder since we are snobs that want the beans ground just before brewing. However, our grinder "died" during this trip so we're researching a replacement.
For an afternoon "pick me up" that won't keep you awake at night, Bettay makes us a green smoothie. To accomplish that feat on the trip, she packed the trusty Blendtec Total Blender smoothie maker in the MINI. (See the Chez Bettay, the Vegan Gourmet webite for info on the smoothie recipe and the blender.)
KEEPING IT COOL
Of course, our coffee and smoothie requires ingredients that must be kept cool. So we purchased a portable refrigerator at the local WalMart. (You see, we aren't total snobs.) It fits perfectly in the "step-down" storage area next to our MINI's rear hatch. It can be set to cool or heat its contents. It even includes an AC adapter in case you want to take it into the hotel room and plug it in. This his helpful if the room doesn't have a refrigerator or you don't want to have to unpack it for a one-night stay.
The particular model we have is no longer available but here's a link to a very similar one being sold on Amazon.
Sometimes it's nice to be able to print directions or a photo but who wants to lug around a full-size inkjet printer? To complete our traveling office, we chose the Canon iP90v Photo Inkjet Printer.
We are already planning our next road trip. There are some tech toys we plan to add to our "kit." For example, we found our devices competing for the DC power outlets. Though we have two in the MINI, that's not enough. So we ordered and received the SPP-4 four port power socket from Lenmar. It multiplies our dashboard DC outlet from one to four. That enables us, for example, to keep the iPhone or MacBook Pro at peak charge while continuing to use the radar detector. In other words, we don't have to choose.
We recently acquired a small HD camcorder, the Sony HDR-SR12. We chose the model that uses only 16G memory sticks. Not only is it lighter than the hard drive version but to preview or edit the footage, you simply insert the memory stick in the SanDisk MultiCard ExpressCard Adapter of our MacBook Pro. It automatically launches iMovie and displays all the clips. You can import them then erase the memory stick so you're ready to shoot the sights of the next day.
The two Hotels in which we stayed had free WiFi internet in our room. We could download email but could not send it using Mail app. Experimenting, I was able to get it to send from within Mail by disabling "Authenticate by Password" on the Bare Feats SMTP server settings.
A hospital where we visited a friend having surgery had free WiFi but could not get email to send. So I shifted to plan B: I used the WebMail feature of my BareFeats site host or I could access my Me.com (Mac.com) mail using Safari. If you use some form of temporary webmail, be sure you download the email to OS X Mail when you get to the chance or your mailbox on the server may overflow.
Theft can happen no matter what precautions you take but there are some simple steps you can take to protect your data. I always log out of my MacBook Pro if I leave it in the car or hotel. That way, if it gets stolen, the "perp" has to figure out my password to get to the good stuff. I backup my key files before I leave on the trip and store them in a safety deposit box. After all, theft or fire can take place while we're gone.
Documents on the MacBook Pro with financial info, passwords, and serial numbers are encrypted or they are password protected using Word or both. I carry a encrypted back up copies of critical documents on a flash drive either in my pocket or in a secret place. If disaster strikes, I can get to critical information to help me "bounce back."