Travel is a big part of military life. Whether moving to a new duty station, road-tripping to visit family or vacationing, packing your bags is no longer as simple as tossing clothes in a suitcase and a book in a backpack. Today, tech-savvy service members and military families hit the road with mobile apps and travel gadgets that do everything from track lost luggage to flag off-the-beaten-path tourist destinations.
“Military families tend to be technology savvy simply because of all the moves we do and the going back and forth to visit family,” says Army spouse Bridget Carlson, who blogs about hiking, travel, military life and other topics at “Antics of a Nutty Hiker and Military Spouse.” “The technology we have compared to 18 years ago when I first stepped into this military way of life is amazing. Back then, I had to use a road atlas to travel. You were going at it blind and hoping for the best. Now information is at our fingertips.”
Before leaving her Texas home on an annual 30-day cross-country trek, Carlson turns to Roadtrippers. This travel-planning app alerts her to offbeat tourist destinations, restaurants and hotels along the route. “I was able to find ghost towns in West Texas I would have never known about, as well as other unique stops,” Carlson said about one recent family vacation.
Less is more when traveling
Consumer advocate Christopher Elliott, author of “How to be the World’s Smartest Traveler,” has been a digital nomad since 2010, traveling full-time with his three children. His travel advice: Less is more.
“There are all kinds of different, complicated solutions you can get, ranging from portable Wi-Fi hotspots to the right kind of voice assistant,” says Elliott, who made two military moves with his family. “If it exists, chances are I have traveled with it before. What I have found is the simple solution is the best one.”
He cautions parents to pack light so children will follow suit. “If you have kids, it’s not just you,” Elliott notes. “Now you have all your luggage, your kids with all their stuff. You must keep an eye on them to make sure they are leaving nothing behind. That adds to the stress of the trip and diminishes the enjoyment.”
High-tech travel accessories worth packing
Belkin RockStar 5-Jack Audio Headphone Splitter
This gadget may be the ticket to avoiding a backseat or midair meltdown over who’s using the tablet or other entertainment device. The RockStar ($14.99) connects to up to five headphones and plugs into any mobile device with an auxiliary port. Go to Belkin.
Being stranded in a broken-down car can ruin a family vacation. If your budget doesn’t allow for auto club membership offering roadside assistance, Urgent.ly is an Uber-like solution. This flat-rate 24/7 assistance requires no membership fees and provides as-needed roadside. With the app, you can summon service for car lockout, gas delivery, towing, key replacement, ditch pullout, jump start and tire change in the U.S. and Canada. Go to Urgent.ly.
This matchbook-sized tracking device could be the key to recovering lost luggage, keys or a child’s prized Teddy bear. Tile uses Bluetooth and a companion app to locate lost or misplaced items. The app can trigger an alarm and show an item’s last location or its location when another Tile user passes within range. Depending on the version, Tiles slip into a wallet, clip to luggage or attach to a key ring. Priced from $25 to $35. Multipack discounts are available. Go to Tile.
Does your family enjoy camping or hiking, but become frustrated when cell phone and tablet batteries fade while off the power grid? WakaWaka offers compact, portable solar-powered charging devices that re-energize smartphones or other USB devices. Products range from the Wakawaka Power+ ($49.99) with built-in flashlight to the Wakawaka Power 10 ($69.99), with a 10,000 mAh LiPo battery. An optional $99.99 solar panel can recharge your Wakawaka powerbank and other USB devices simultaneously. The “Give One” program enables customers to donate a solar light to a family without access to electricity for each WakaWaka purchased. Use the code MILITARY20 for 20% off any WakaWaka product.
If you prefer to privately share photos and videos with friends and family when on vacation, the Egg is your solution. With a 128GB of onboard storage, the Egg can hold about 50,000 photos/40 hours of videos. The Egg is an easy-to-set-up personal social networking server that connects to your home Wi-Fi network. Users upload and store media to their Egg accounts for private viewing, sharing and chatting with family and friends through the free Eggstra app. The Egg retails for $299, but the coupon code AMERIFORCE18 will reduce that price by 30%. To purchase, go to Eggcyte.
This flash-drive-sized USB device will ensure you don’t run out of free space on your phone or tablet while traveling. Picture Keeper Connect plugs directly into a smartphone to backup photos, videos, and contacts. It’s compatible with iOS and Android devices as well as Mac and PC computers. Available in 16GB (holds approximately 8,000 photos), 32GB (holds 16,000 photos), and 64GB (holds 32,000 photos) sizes, the Picture Keeper Connect is priced from $119.99 to $179.99. Use the code Military40 for 40% off at Picture Keeper.
If you spend too much time searching emails for airline confirmation numbers, hotel reservations and rental car information, Google Trips can transform you into an organized traveler. This app gathers travel information from your Gmail account and stores and organizes each itinerary offline. It also provides local maps, tourist information, discounts and restaurant reviews once you arrive at your destination. Get the app at Google Trips.
Are you tired of lugging around a travel bag filled with books? Do you forget to download movies before leaving home? The Hoopla allows users to instantly download digital movies, music and eBooks 24/7 with their library card. Hoopla automatically returns and removes borrowed titles from your device when the lending period ends. Available via the web or mobile app. Sign up is free at Hoopla.
This global trip planner and app takes the fear out of multi-city travel. It instantly displays flight, train, bus, ferry and driving options with estimated travel times and fares for travel destinations. The Rome2Rio search engine contains route information from 4,800 transport operators in 158 countries so getting from point A to B worldwide becomes one-stop shopping. Rome2Rio also includes onside booking and travel guides. Read comments