Road trip season is finally here, and it's time to get your car ready. You'll want to make sure your car's tuned up of course, but there's also plenty of other non-essential upgrades that can help turn any trip into an enjoyable one.
Here are a few options to consider that will bring upgrades and additional conveniences you can add to any car—old or new.
There’s no more important road trip gadget than your smartphone, which makes a good smartphone car mount a near necessity. iOttie’s Easy One Touch Qi Wireless Car Mount may cost more than your average car mount, but it also offers more features, including a telescopic arm that can be mounted on either your dash or windshield, dual USB charging ports for your passengers and, most importantly, Qi wireless charging.
It comes recommended by both and , while The Wirecutter gives the (considerably cheaper) non-Qi version if you don’t need wireless charging.
If you take regular road trips with a car full of people and really want to accommodate your passengers, Belkin’s Road Rockstar will let you put two USB ports within easy reach of the backseat in addition to another pair up front. The two ports in the front are only 1 amp so they’ll charge some devices a bit slower, but the pair of backseat ports are each 2.4 amp for faster charging, and the charger unit itself can either be tucked into a seat pocket or attached to a surface with the included double-sided tape to keep it out of the way.
It’s always a good idea to bring a spare set of keys with you on a road trip, but a Bluetooth tracker like the Tile Mate is a great and relatively inexpensive way to give yourself a bit of extra piece of mind. Just add one to your keyring and you’ll then be able to use your smartphone to track your keys down or trigger an alarm in the event you lose them.
As a bonus, you can also use the Tile Mate itself to help find your phone if you happen to lose it. Leave another Tile Mate in your car and won’t have to worry about remembering where you parked it, either.
You can never have too many sources of power when you're on the road. Anker's Compact Jump Starter and Portable Charger will not only help keep your portable devices powered, but it can also jump start your car. The last thing you want on a road trip is a dead battery. Anker even includes a built-in flashlight for good measure.
You can easily find a cheaper travel mug, but Zojirushi's stainless steel wares have long been racking up recommendations as the go-to mug if you want to make sure your beverage stays hot (or cold) for hours on end. They're available in 12, 16, or 20-ounces, and in a range of different colors—all of which come with a five year warranty on the mug's vacuum insulation.
Sure, you can bring that old beat up cooler you've had since college, or you can step up to something like Wagan's 12V Cooler/Warmer that can keep your beverages cold or your food warm until you're ready for a lunch stop. It's big enough to store four 2L bottles upright and can get up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit on the warm setting or 32 to 36 degrees below room temperature when switched to cool.
This is another gadget that may be unnecessary if you're driving a newer vehicle, but anyone with an older ride can make a cheap and easy upgrade by adding a bluetooth car adapter. iClever's Himbox HB01 is for its ability to pair with multiple devices, which could make things easier if you have a couple of passengers looking to take turns playing music.
Whether you're using your smartphone for navigation or not, you'll want to make sure you have a car charger, assuming your car doesn't have its own USB ports. Anker's PowerDrive 4 will give you four USB ports that'll charge everyone's smartphones and tablets. If you're traveling with a smaller crew or a less gadget-inclined bunch, however, you can probably get by with the , which save you a bit of space.
A standalone GPS unit isn't the must-have gadget for a road trip that it used to be, but there are some advantages to leaving your smartphone in your pocket in favor of a dedicated navigation device. That's even more true with a high-end unit like Garmin's DriveAssist 51, which offers a range of driver awareness features to keep you alert as well as a built-in dash cam that can automatically save video and log GPS details in the event of an accident.
You can always use your smartphone's tethering feature to get your laptop or tablet online when you're on the road, but a mobile hotspot could be a better option whether you're traveling solo or with a group. The best hotspot for you will depend on your carrier, but one like AT&T's Unite Explore ( on contract), , will let you easily provide wifi to a car full of people and all of their devices. It will also likely pick up a signal in areas your phone may not, and you can even add an external antenna if you really want to push the limits.