Tech rules of the roadAug 02, 2022 11:00AM ● By Adam Cochran
In the past two months, I’ve taken both of my parents on week-long road trips to knock sites and activities off their bucket lists. Doing so knocked a couple of items off my own bucket list as well.
In October, my brother and I took my dad to various air museums in Southern California. In June, my aunt’s wedding gave my mom and me an excuse to travel back to a region in Oklahoma and Missouri that she considered “home” before she moved to Colorado in her early teens.
Each trip was an adventure in the traditional sense, but it was also the type of adventure that can only be lived when you combine two or more members from differing adult generations into the same vehicle for long periods of time.
This month’s column includes as much observation about technology as it does advice. I hope it helps you use technology to survive a road trip with your grown family, sans kids.
Rules for technology
Remember that technology is a tool. If it isn’t making life easier, you should leave it at home. The list of technology necessary for entertaining kids can be endless. Adults are much easier.
The purpose of technology on a grown-up road trip is not to entertain or pass the time; it’s to make the trip safer, and to escape emotionally or mentally. The latter of the two will likely never happen, so taking along an iPad or loading music or an audiobook onto your phone to listen to when you get bored is usually a waste of time. Some people can all agree on music. Those people are not family. Even if they say they don’t care what you listen to, someone always does.
The technology you may want for a grown-up road trip is short: a GPS (not the one that is built into your phone), your smartphone and any charging or connection cables they require.
The dedicated GPS is an extremely handy piece of technology. Unlike the GPS that’s built into your phone, a standalone GPS will work whether or not you have cell service. If you’ve never had a family argument while trying to figure out which way to go in the middle of the country where you only have one bar of cell service, then you have missed one of the finest bonding experiences known to modern navigation.
If you do have a dedicated GPS, only refer to it if nobody else insists on using their own map or other devices. This is because the person who insists on using their own map holds in their hand the most accurate navigational device ever invented. If you want peace while navigating, trust me on this.
A smartphone has other uses that can make the trip handy. For example, you can book a hotel, check gas prices, look up points of interest and even call for help should you get stranded. Again, phones only help if you have service. If you get stranded without service, a text will often go through when a call won’t.
Record the experience
There are some fun gadgets that I suggest packing to make your road trip more memorable.
I love GoPro cameras. They can be mounted anywhere in the car and they offer standard video recording, still photography and timelapse options. I have a timelapse video from both road trips that I took my parents on. Sometimes I recorded the road, sometimes all of us in the car, and other times I just set the camera for a timelapse of our activity at one of the destinations.
I also love portable gimbals. A gimbal is a self-balancing monopod for your camera phone that you can walk with. No matter how fast you move or how much you shake, your video footage will be steady. This can make videos of a city walk or natural park hike easier to watch.
Whether you keep a journal in your phone’s notes app or you create an epic documentary of your adventures, remember that everything you see on the trip will likely be exactly the same 100 years from now—except the people.
During those hours in the car, don’t just tell stories, capture them. Do your best to make the camera and the smartphone regular parts that become invisible. If you want to take pictures your family will look at and videos your family will watch, include the mundane interactions you had throughout the trip. I guarantee, someday, you or your kids will play the recording of Dad and Aunt Janet talking about how bad the sandwiches were at the roadside diner that day, not because it’s interesting or entertaining, but because it’s the closest they can get to having those mundane moments back again.