By Jason Snell
August 18, 2017 9:58 AM PT
Notes from a road trip
Note: This story has not been updated for several years.
I’m seven days into a 11-day family road trip. While this has been mostly a work-free vacation—as you might have noticed from the lack of posts on the site this week!—there were a few experiences that I’ve had this week that I thought were worth sharing.
Travel prep. I didn’t need to buy much new technology for this trip, but earlier this year I bought every member of my family a six-foot-long USB-to-Lightning cable on Amazon. At home, that extra length leads to less tugging on the end of the cables, which (theoretically) reduces the strain on the cables and should increase their lifespan. On the trip, this lets the kids in the back seat plug their devices in to the dual USB adapter that’s in the front dash. I also bought a high-capacity battery just in case we’re in a situation where our devices are running down and we don’t have power available.
Surprise! You need a cable. My son’s birthday falls during this trip, and several months ago I bought a Nintendo Switch with the intent of giving it to him on this trip, a couple of days before his birthday when we were making a very long drive. The surprise was excellent and my kids got to play Mario Kart in the back of our car while we drove across the entire state of Nevada. There was just one catch: I didn’t think about the fact that the Switch comes with a hardwired power plug, rather than the more commonly seen power block with detachable USB cable that most devices seem to come with these days. Oh, Nintendo, don’t ever change.
Since the Switch’s plug is a USB-C connector, we didn’t have any way of keeping the device charged in the car after the battery ran down. It turns out, however, that in 2017 you can stop for gas at a truck stop in the middle of nowhere and find a wall of charging cables and adapters in the adjoining convenience store. The wall was dominated by Lightning cables—wow, the iPhone is a popular product—but I was able to find a USB-A to USB-C cable and pay for it (with Apple Pay, no less). We pulled out of the truck stop and back to the road, and my kids were able to play on the Switch until they were absolutely sick of it.
Reliable internet, or not. Two of the three places we’ve stayed on this trip have been rentals, rather than hotels. (They’re mostly ski condos repurposed for the summer months.) Both of them advertised Wi-Fi as a feature, but that’s an incredibly vague concept that can encompass a lot of different experiences. The first place was connected to the Internet via DSL, which is quite slow, and the connection was unreliable on top of it. The second place offered cable internet, at pretty fast speeds, but once again the Internet seems to keep dropping and then resuming. The Wi-Fi at the hotel was fast and reliable, which isn’t a given.
In the meantime we’ve blown through a giant chunk of our cellular data allotment for the month. Oh well. Life on the road.
Family photos. On this trip we reprised our Hawaii photo decision—namely to bring along an iPhone 5 waterproof case with wrist strap—and used it for various adventures. The phone was in Airplane Mode the entire time, but once we were all done, I was able to get it on the hotel Wi-Fi and plug it in and in a few hours it had synced all of its photos with my iCloud Photo Library, at which point we could view and share those photos freely.
This vacation we’ve also spent a lot of time using AirDrop to get photos between different family devices. Given our sketchy connectivity situation, it’s refreshing to be able to do fast device-to-device transfers of photos and videos.
Tech I didn’t bring. No Mac on this trip at all. Just my iPad Pro and, in case I needed to type anything (like this story!) its accompanying Smart Cover. (Yeah, I went with the Smart Cover this time because it’s incredibly compact.) I edited all my podcasts before I left home, and don’t plan to record any new podcasts (bar one, see below) in the meantime. So it’s all iPad all the time.
Camp night, eclipse day. I’m not much of a camper1, but we’re camping one night on this trip, at a campsite within the zone of the total eclipse on Monday. That big battery should come in handy, and I bought a nifty LED camping lantern that I’ll put to use. For the day of the eclipse, assuming no clouds get in our way, I’m planning on enjoying the two minutes of totality without much in the way of technology. Afterward, we’ll get in our car for the very long drive home, and I’ll record a special episode of Liftoff with Stephen Hackett.
As the post card would say, “Having a great time—wish you were here.”
- I grew up in a place where city people went to camp… which has suppressed my enthusiasm for camping ever since. ↩
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