Lonely Planet dishes out summer travel tips and chance at a Napa Valley trip

Summer is fast approaching and sure to fly by even more quickly than it came. To help Americans get the most out of the summer months, Lonely Planet has launched a special micro-site called “Weekends of Summer” that has 15 free guides for all the weekends between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

The guides reads like a summer to-do list, with suggestions like “pop a cork” and “explore the great outdoors” for each weekend, and then details on where to complete the mission with via a mini-guide. Although it would be great to escape to the Gulf Coast one weekend and then go hunt lobsters in Maine the next, the best thing most of us can do is take Lonely Planet’s advice on summertime diversions and try to complete as many as possible.

Of course, perhaps even more exciting than the actual guides is the fact that Lonely Planet and the Napa Valley Destination Council have teamed up to give one lucky reader a trip to wine country valued at over $4,000. Simply surrender your name and email to be entered in the contest and have access to all 15 of the guides for free.

[Image courtesy Lonely Planet]

More road trip gadgets – technology to help prevent traffic tickets

Here at Gadling, we don’t condone, recommend or suggest speeding – in fact, I’m pretty sure every single one of us sticks to the speed limit at least 25% of the time.

So, if you find yourself on a long road trip, and begin to wonder whether the speed limit signs are the law, or merely a recommendation, then you can put technology to work staying safe from tickets.

Nowadays, there are several ways to be caught – the first is of course the old fashioned cop pulling up behind you with lights and siren. Sadly these cops now get help from red light cameras and combined red light/speed cameras.

Thankfully, the US is not as bad as Europe, where cops hide speed cameras in trash cans, trailers or on a tiny tripod in the shoulder.

In this article, you’ll learn about three technologies that could help save some money, especially if you have a bit of a lead foot.

And while I have your attention – don’t forget to check out our lineup of other cool road trip gadgets, and to enter our awesome “Perfect Road Trip” contest where you have a chance at winning an all expenses paid road trip in a new Cadillac SRX.


Trapster is like social networking for speed traps. The Trapster network allows members to receive and report locations of speed traps. Of course, the service takes full advantage of mobile technology by offering access to their database on the iPhone, Blackberry and Android powered devices, as well as Java compatible phones.

The database can even be installed on TomTom and Garmin GPS units, and you can select your own custom coverage area for loading on your device.

Price: free
Where: www.trapster.com

Escort 9500ix radar detector

The Escort 9500ix takes radar detection to a whole new level. By combining a “regular” radar detector with a GPS receiver and PC upgradeable database, this $499 unit warns of cops with radar or laser, as well as known locations of red light/speed cameras and you can even mark “hot” and “false” spots, which means you won’t get annoying alerts when you pass the automatic doors of the local drugstore.

Before you consider purchasing a radar detector, be sure to read up on your local and state laws, and check whether your insurance company allows them to be used in your car.

Price: $499.95
Where: www.escortradar.com

GPS red light database

Got GPS in your car? If your GPS model allows for user-added point-of-interest databases, then you can often add a list of known red light cameras. Many models allow for warning signals when you get close to some categories, which means you’ll be warned in time to slow down.

In most cases you can just “drag and drop” the speed camera file to your GPS unit, some brands may require a free “POI loader”.

From: Various Internet sites (like GPS-data-team, POI Factory)
Price: Varies per site

10 gadgets to make your road trip more enjoyable

ROAD TRIP! It doesn’t matter whether the economy is making you pick the car over the plane, or that you just really like driving through this wonderful country – everyone needs some time away from home, and taking the car is a fantastic way to see more than you can from 35,000 feet.

Of course, a lineup of awesome road trip gadgets is perfectly timed for the Gadling Perfect Road Trip contest, so read through these ten products, then use them as some inspiration for the contest!

BlueAnt S1 carkit

Each month, a new state, county or city adds their name to the list of places you are not allowed to drive without a hands free device, carkit or headset. The fines for being caught on the phone when not permitted can be as high as $250.

One of the newest hands free devices on the market is the BlueAnt S1 Bluetooth carkit. This compact unit clips to your sun visor, and uses a rechargeable battery to provide up to 15 hours of talk time, or a whopping 800 hours of standby time.

One added advantage of the unit is its ability to play music off your phone, making it perfect for a rental car, or even as a portable speaker in your hotel room.

PRO’S: Good quality audio in phone calls, supports stereo audio.
CON’S: Does not come with a car charger cord, Stereo audio sounds “tinny”.

Price: $79.99
Where: myblueant.com

HiGear TravelRest pillow

The TravelRest pillow is an extremely clever travel pillow. It takes a little time to install, and involves inflating the pillow, wrapping a cord around the headrest (or the back of your seat if on a plane), then attaching it to the bottom of your seatbelt.

Once installed, the TravelRest is actually very, very comfortable and the first pillow that really seems like it would be able to let me sleep through a long car (or plane) ride.

When you are done with the pillow, you simply let the air out, and roll it up.

PRO’S: Very comfortable, folds up nice and small
CON’S: Takes a little practice to install

Price: $26.95
Where: travelrest.net

Plantronics Voyager Pro Bluetooth headset

The Plantronics Voyager Pro is one of the larger headsets on the market, but inside its fairly bulky exterior sits the electronics required to make the best headset ever developed. The Voyager Pro finally makes it possible to speak on a Bluetooth headset without having to yell, or explain to the person on the other end of the line that you are in fact, not talking to them from inside an oil barrel.

When you talk at a whispering level, the other end of your call will be able to clearly hear you, and virtually all outside noise is eliminated. Even when you make a call on a train, or in a car with the windows down, the Voyager Pro manages to make the call sound as clear as it would from in a quiet room.

PRO’S: Amazing sound quality, charges using MicroUSB
CON’S: Does not come with a carrying case, price is steep

Price: 99.99
Where: plantronics.com

Kensington Auto/Air power inverter with USB

The new Kensington Auto/Air power inverter with USB is one of the smallest power inverters on the market. This tiny device turns regular DC power into 120 watts of AC power. In addition to this, its 2 USB ports allow you to charge any USB capable gadget.

The unit even features an “EmPower” plug, which is found on some airlines. Having access to DC and EmPower means you’ll be able to charge and/or power your laptop, phone or other device in a car or a plane.

PRO’S: AC and USB in one device, very small, integrated fan for cooling, powers off car and plane outlets.
CON’S: Power limited to 120 Watts (150 for brief periods), no carrying case

Price: $69.95
Where: kensington.com

Garmin Nuvi 855T

When it comes to finding the best directions from A to B, you have many choices.

However, you need those directions and the latest fuel prices, news, weather, traffic information, a handsfree carkit and the ability to send addresses from your PC to your car, then you’ll need the new Garmin Nuvi 855T.

This top of the line GPS unit offers a huge lineup of features, including a very impressive voice recognition system and steering wheel mounted remote control.

PRO’S: Best routing of any GPS unit I have ever tested, huge array of features
CON’S: Pricey, paid subscription required for wireless (MSN Direct) services

Price: $499.99
Where: garmin.com

XM2Go Satellite Radio

Satellite radio is the perfect entertainment gadget for people who just want to sit back and enjoy the ride. Unlike AM and FM radio, satellite radio doesn’t suffer from having to find a new frequency every 50 miles. You pick the station you like, and it’ll follow you from coast to coast.

Sirius/XM (they are one company now) offers something for everyone in their lineup – from sports to kids radio, there is always bound to be something that will keep most people in the car entertained.

Satellite radio units display the track you are listening to, and some units can even be taken out of your car so you can continue to listen to the radio at the airport or in your hotel room. The XM2Go radio (pictured above) can even record live radio from multiple channels allowing you to listen to your favorite channels when you are far from Satellite coverage (like on a plane, or outside North America).

PRO’S: No more searching for radio stations, easy to install, affordable radio receivers
: Monthly fee for content

Price: From $40 + monthly service
Where: www.xmradio.com / www.sirius.com

Autonet Mobile

This product takes “geeky” to a whole new level. Imagine always having access to the Internet, through a wireless router installed in your car. That is what Autonet Mobile has to offer. Available as a factory installed option on select Chrysler and VW vehicles, this device offers wireless access to a 3G broadband network for any passengers in the car.

The product is also available as an aftermarket accessory for $399.99. Service starts at just $29.95 per month.

PRO’S: Speedy access anywhere within coverage of the nations largest 3G network
CON’S: Pricey compared to other mobile broadband options, annoying login procedure

Price: $399.99 + installation + monthly service
Where: www.autonetmobile.com

Potette Plus portable potty

Bet you didn’t expect to find a portable potty in this button-heavy lineup? The Potette Plus is a “must have” for anyone traveling with small kids. This $16 portable toilet can be used as a regular porta-potty (by using disposable bags) or as a seat for on a regular toilet, so your little one doesn’t fall into the bowl. Its legs fold flat making it easy to bring along, and a carrying bag is included.

Bags for the Potette Plus are $5 per 15, but the biggest advantage is being able to tie a bag shut instead of driving around with a potty full of poop, or having to dump the potty on the side of the road and try to get it clean.

PRO’S: Never having to worry about finding a roadside rest stop for kids potty breaks, bags reduce smell
CON’S: Pricey refill bags

Price: $16 + $5 for disposable bags
Where: Potette.com

Google Latitude

Google Latitude is the only software product in this lineup – but it does something so cool that it really deserves a spot in the list. With Google Latitude, you can share your current location with anyone in the world. Of course, you get to pick who is allowed to see where you are.

Once setup, your mobile phone relays back to Google where you are driving, and those people unlucky enough to be left back home can log in to Google maps online or on their phone, and check your progress.

PRO’S: Family and friends can check your progress, see where you are
CON’S: Family and friends can check your progress, see where you are

Price: Free – requires a compatible smart(phone)
Where: Google Latitude

Wagan Power Dome

If your road trip takes you to places where the signs read “next gas station 200 miles”, then you’ll of course already know that it is important to take some basic precautions. You’ll pack drinks and snacks.

One product you may also want to consider is the Wagan Power Dome. This portable power pack combines a battery booster, DC and AC power ports, USB charger ports an AM/FM radio and a 260PSI compressor.

The unit has enough juice to actually start your car, which is mighty handy if you left it outside your hotel room with the lights on all night.

PRO’S: Never have to find someone to help give you a boost
Heavy, takes several hours to recharge

Price: $119
Where: Auto stores, Amazon.com and Wagan.com

Talking Travel with Road Trip USA writer Jamie Jensen

Avalon travel writer Jamie Jensen, whose travel guidebook, Road Trip USA, hit book stands earlier this month, took time from his busy book tour to answer a few questions about travel, writing, and road tripping across the country.

Don’t forget to enter the Gadling Giveaway of the latest edition HERE, or read my glowing Travel Read review of the book HERE.

Enjoy the interview!

BY: What is the most scenic/interesting/enjoyable stretch of road you’ve encountered?

JJ: One lifelong favorite (well, 30 years and counting…) is the famous stretch of Hwy-1 along the central California coast, through Big Sur. This is an amazing engineering and construction feat – carved out of the cliffs beginning in the 1920s; it offers incredible views and takes drivers to places we couldn’t otherwise reach. The combination of the natural world and the manmade improvements (not just the roadway, but the many rustic lodges and historic sites) is simply amazing – just take it slow!

The Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina is another amazing road to drive, winding through the forests along the Appalachian crest, and for something very different I like to head down to Florida to drive the “Overseas Highway”, which is basically one long bridge over the blue waters of the Caribbean Sea, from near Miami and the Everglades all the way to the tip of Key West.

New England has tons of great two-lane country roads-and perhaps the country’s most beautiful stretch of Interstate Highway, I-93 thru Franconia Notch. And even higher up in the mountains, the Rockies have at least two unforgettable roads, the wonderfully named “Million Dollar Highway” in Colorado, and the sinuous “Going-to-the-Sun Road” through the heart of Glacier National Park.

I could go on – but these are a good starter.

BY: What compelled you to travel nearly half a million miles of asphalt?

JJ: I don’t think I ever intended to spend so much time driving around – and certainly not to accumulate so many miles – but over the years I’ve kept looking at maps and wondering what these places really looked like, and then with Road Trip USA I’ve been going back again and again and keeping track of what’s new. So it has all added up. Then again, there is something like 6 million miles of paved roads across the country, so I’ve really barely scratched the surface.

BY: How did you gather all of the information about the places you traveled?

JJ: Because I’m interested in older roads, the ones that were main roads before the Interstate Highway system came thru in the 1960s, my first best source of ideas for places to travel was a series of 1930s and 1940s travel guides covering all the old US Highways-these were put together as a “New Deal” project for out-of-work writers, and were written by the likes of Saul Bellow, Ralph Ellison, and Jim Thompson.

The WPA guides are great stuff – and full of insights that still resonate today.

More practically, since I cover places to eat and sleep and have fun, as well as the history and culture of these different places, I used to write or call the sundry Chambers of Commerce and tourist promotion organizations for each state, region, city and town, and ask for their brochures and maps.

Now of course, all of that information is on the Internet – but nothing is as valuable as actually visiting these places and seeing (and tasting!) them for myself.

BY: What is the biggest advantage and disadvantage to traveling by car?

JJ: The advantages of traveling by car – especially in a country as huge and car-dependent as the USA – are numerous and probably obvious. Cars offer freedom to go where you want when you want, in comfort and at your own pace. And because it costs about the same to travel with four or more people as it does to go alone, the economics of driving over buying airplane or train tickets is pretty compelling.

That said, the downside of traveling by car is closely tied with the advantages – namely, what with sound systems and air conditioning, etc., cars are so comfortable that is sometimes means it can be hard to stop and actually experience the places you pass through.

So, despite the inertia of buzzing along at 70 mph, for a memorable road trip it’s important to make every effort to stop and get out of the car, even for a few minutes, so the sights and sounds can sink in, and really leave an impression.

BY: How did you score the gig to travel across the country and write this book – and what advice do you have for aspiring travel writers?

JJ: Before I wrote Road Trip USA, I had already established myself as a travel guidebook author, writing and overseeing guidebooks to California and all of the USA for a number of “traditional” publishers (Rough Guides, Michelin Guides, Fodor’s, and those nicely illustrated “Eyewitness Guides” from Dorling Kindersley) so I had a pretty good track record. When I started working on what became Road Trip USA, I never thought I would find enough sights to make a 900-page book, but nowadays the challenge is to keep it from getting too big!

My advice to aspiring travel writers is simply to write. Unfortunately, it is very hard to get paid very much for travel writing, but if you can combine it with other things, it may work out. Once you’ve written something, you’ll have it forever, but if you don’t write things down and tell your stories (even it’s just for yourself right now), the stories start to fade away. And who knows! Maybe tomorrow you’ll find a publisher who wants a whole book of your adventures. If you’ve written your stories along the way, you’ll be much better placed to take advantage of opportunities.

On a more positive note, with the wonderful world of the Internet, it is a lot easier for people to be “published” and reach interested readers directly (through websites and blogs etc), though I don’t know of anyone who is making anything like real money doing this.

BY: What will be your next project? More road tripping or are you growing roots in California?

JJ: That’s a good question. Since I finished the last edition of Road Trip USA, I switched gears a little, and have taken a 6-month trip to Berlin, where the relationship between history and tourism are so much more complicated than they are compared to say, getting your kicks on Route 66. For me, growing up in southern California during the Space Age 1960s with all the fear of Commie infiltrations and imminent nuclear war, it’s been fascinating to spend a length of time where so much horrible stuff happened. Though I don’t think I’m going to do a “Guilt Trip” alternative of my “Road Trip” work, I’m more interested than ever at looking into the mechanics of how we (as individuals, communities and as countries) “remember” history, through monuments and parks and preservation of “historic” places.

Gadling is currently accepting entries to a giveaway of Jamie’s Road Trip USA guidebooks. Entries are due by Friday, April 24 @ 5 p.m. EST!!!

Check out my review of Road Trip USA while you’re at it.

Gadling Giveaway: Road Trip USA

Gadling is teaming up with Avalon Travel to bring you a great giveaway! A few days ago, I reviewed Road Trip USA, Avalon’s latest guidebook written by road trip extraordinaire Jamie Jensen, who also was gracious enough to answer a few questions and Talk Travel with me. Believe me when I tell you: this is the Road Trip bible – 900 pages of travel tips and fun facts that cover the 48 contiguous states and even a little bit of Canada.

Now, you can win a free copy of Jamie Jensen’s brand new Road Trip USA guidebook by leaving a comment in the bottom of this post by Friday, April 24, 2009 @ 5 p.m. EST. Your comment must provide a description of a place in the continental U.S. that you believe people need to see before they die. Please specify the city (if possible) and state where we can find this place. This comment shouldn’t be longer than five sentences, please.

Three winners will be picked randomly. The first winner will receive his/her very own copy of Road Trip USA, and two others will receive one of Jamie’s regional guides to either the Pacific Coast Highway or Route 66.

  • The comment must be left before Friday, April 24 at 5:00 PM Eastern Time.
  • You may enter only once.
  • Road Trip USA is valued at $29.95. The regional guide books are valued at $9.95. (Sorry, but you don’t get to choose which of the regional guidebooks you receive.)
  • Click here for complete Official Rules.
  • Open to legal residents of the 50 United States, including the District of Columbia who are 18 and older.
  • It’s that simple!

    Just so you get the idea, here’s my destination of choice. But don’t worry: I already have my copy. Now go and win yours.

    Brenda’s “entry”: Growing up in Hawaii, I didn’t understand the nation’s fascination with baseball. Why are grown men wearing tight pants and running around three bases? I didn’t get it because I’d never been to a baseball game and the most quintessential ballpark I have to say is Fenway in Boston, Massachusetts. From the Pesky Pole and the Green Monster to Yawkey Way and Landsdown Street, Fenway’s got it all. Plus going to a game at Fenway is absolutely electric.

    Look for a follow-up post and announcement on Gadling late next week!