Thanksgiving is around the corner, and that means holiday travelers will be clinging to their last scraps of sanity as navigate the open road. Whether you’re making the journey solo or traveling with a caravan of hyper youngsters, spending hours on the highway can be downright brutal. But fear not! This year you can give thanks for tech toys and tools that will make your trip not only more bearable, but even — gasp! — enjoyable.
HOW SMART IS YOUR CAR?
If you happen to have a choice of vehicles — or if you’re in the market for a new car anyway — remember that smarter is better. The Kia Sorrento, for example, offers features such as iPhone compatibility, an intuitive user interface and even blind-spot detection, all of which help take the edge off a long drive. Oh, and it comes with heated seats, and if you’ve ever traveled in chilly weather you already know that nothing compares to the comfort of a warm keister.
MAKE ANY CAR A SMART CAR
Even if you’re stuck hauling the family across the country in an older ride, there are things you can do to bring the smart car experience to that 1989 station wagon in your driveway. Clipping the SuperTooth HD to your car’s visor and syncing it with your smartphone lets you use advanced features like voice commands for dialing, answering calls and even sending text messages, all without taking your hands off the wheel. Combine that with the AppRadio 3 by Pioneer, which brings streaming music and other smartphone apps to your dashboard, and you have a smart car experience that rivals even the newest vehicles.
APPS TO HELP YOU ALONG THE WAY
Your smartphone can also become your ultimate tool for saving cash on the way to Grandma’s house. Use the Fuelzee app to scan for the cheapest gas stops along your route, and earn points that you can redeem for cold hard cash. The RoadNinja app shows you location-specific discounts for dining, shopping and even a hotel room if your eyelids get a bit heavy.
For cutting precious minutes (or even hours) off of your road time, the Waze Social GPS app can alert you to traffic issues or speed traps before they become a problem for you. And if you want to really avoid any unnecessary brushes with Johnny Law, you can equip a Cobra iRadar for the ultimate crowd-sourced speed-gun alerts.
MOM, ARE WE THERE YET?
One of the biggest challenges during particularly long trips is simply finding an enjoyable way to pass the time. One of my favorite road-trip go-to’s are audiobooks. It’s a great way for the entire family to get engaged in stories like Harry Potter, the Hunger Games or even the Twilight series (for older kids). I mainly get these from iTunes, my local library and apps like Audible that offer thousands of titles. Picking up a series of hot reads will keep you busy for hours, and you can even sample titles ahead of time.
Younger kids, on the other hand, might not remain entertained by audio alone, which makes the Family Car Games app a perfect choice. This app features over 100 family-friendly games that require no actual equipment or additional accessories, which means there’s nothing for your youngsters to lose in the seat cushions. Or, if you want to stoke your child’s creative fire, you can let them make their own road trip movies! The Crayola camcorder is an inexpensive gadget that will keep kids busy for a while, and the videos they shoot can be saved to an SD card and kept as treasured memories forever.
Even if you use just a handful of these terrific travel tools you’re much more likely to arrive at your destination with a smile on your face rather than a tired, defeated frown. Chin up, road warrior! And happy travels!
Jennifer Jolly is an Emmy Award-winning consumer tech contributor and host of USA TODAY’s digital video show TECH NOW. E-mail her at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter: @JenniferJolly.