MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. – With Memorial Day the unofficial kickoff to summer, many of us will be hitting the road. Thanks to technology, we can enjoy ourselves a little more, with some fun accessories.
Ready? Let’s take a drive.
Here are 10 essential gadgets you don’t want to leave home without.
The most important accessory for the car. You want to be charging up while you head down the highway. Otherwise, all the podcasts, playlists and mapping directions are going to really eat at your battery. And forget about the kids getting through a movie without losing juice.
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There are many available, and all use the power source of the 12-volt accessory socket to power up. We like the Belkin Road Rockstar ($29.99), which offers two USB slots for the driver and passenger and has a cable that extends into the backseat with two more USB slots for the kids.
Alexa or Google for the car
“Alexa, would you like to join us for the ride?” Beyond two slots for charging your devices, the $49.99 Roav Viva (from Anker) taps into the wireless internet of your phone and the Amazon Alexa smartphone app, allowing you to voice search for playlists, podcasts, audiobooks and the nearest gas station. You can also use your voice to make calls. Viva works with iPhone and Android devices. There is also a version for Google assistant, called Roav Bolt, but it only works with Android phones and in our testing, it had hissy, annoying sound. (Amazon announced a similar product last September, Echo Auto, but it’s yet to be released nationally.)
For when you’re not in the car and traipsing around touring, your phone will experience battery loss as you’ve never seen before when you’re sitting in the office. Times like that call for an external battery to power up. There are many available from companies like Mophie, Belkin and Anker. We like this Jackery Bolt. It’s compact and solves two pain points. It has built-in Lightning and USB cables, meaning you won’t have to drag extra cables with you. This is great if you have an iPhone, but if you have a phone with a USB-C or traditional USB connection for your phone, you might try another product, like the ($49.99) Mophie Powerstation, which has universal slots for all phones.
For lost stuff
Where did that wallet go? What happened to my keys? All common questions during a trip – and daily life, right? Many people look to solve that issue with the Tile tracker accessory, a small Bluetooth square that attaches to (or hides within) your devices. The small Tile Mate starts at $16.99. Open the Tile app to search, and it will emit an audible tone to get you back to your no longer lost item.
Back in the car, if you’re like me, you love to get great driving video shots as you cruise down the highway. I love GoPro’s Jaws Clamp ($49.99) accessory for this. You snap it onto the windshield wiper, or the side door, and it’s on rock steady. Drive down the road for some smooth footage, or bring it along with you, and attach it to a pole or bench for a timelapse. The GoPro Suction Cup ($39.99) can also handle the driving shots, but it won’t act as a portable attachable tripod.
For the airplane
Nobody likes to listen to screaming babies on an airplane – even the parents, and what are you going to do when you want to tune out the talkative seatmate? Noise-canceling headphones to the rescue. Many brands have them, including Bose, but our friends at Reviewed.com, a sister unit of USA TODAY, say the Sony WH1000XM3 are the best. Selling for $349, they tune out background noise and let you listen to music, podcasts or audiobooks without distraction. And for those who left their headphones at home, but fly with an iPhone model that doesn’t have a headphone jack, Belkin’s 3.5mm Audio + Charge Rockstar $19.99 cable will let you plug the airline’s earbuds into your phone.
In several states, it’s now illegal to hold your phone while driving. Which necessitates a new product category – the phone holder. Several slip onto the vent of the car. The $9.99 Mpow Car Phone Mount sticks to the dash itself. Belkin has a twist, with a $29.99 car cup holder, for those whose space for drinks is close to the dashboard.
Stock up on e-books
On a long flight, when the airline turns the lights low, it can be hard for some of us to read a physical book. Instead, you can stock up on e-books for the flight. The Amazon Kindle store sells books that can be read on Kindles, as well as Apple or Android phones, while Apple’s iBook has titles for viewing only on iPhones and iPads. Beyond the hits, many older titles are either dirt cheap ($1.99 for Hemingway) or free, for public domain authors like Mark Twain.
There’s nothing more annoying than searching around a motel room for available plugs to power up your gear. The hair dryer, coffee maker, TV and lamp seem to get prime position. For that reason, if you’re traveling with others, don’t leave home without a power strip. You can always find one available socket, and now everyone else can plug in.
Finally, what to do when you’re out on the open road and your car battery runs out? Perhaps you forgot to turn the lights off. Or worse. Maybe AAA can get out and help you, but if not, $79.99 will get you jumper cables and a portable battery for juice. The Roav Jump Starter has enough power for 15 jump starts, two USB ports for extra phone power and is small enough to rest in a glove box, The unit comes with a charger to re-up the battery.
Follow USA TODAY’s Jefferson Graham (@jeffersongraham) on Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.