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Heading on a road trip this Christmas? Let this tech help you on your way to grandma’s house

Traffic roars the day before Thanksgiving.
In this image taken with a 1.6 second exposure, cars and trucks make their way along the Massachusetts Turnpike Route I-90, in Boston, Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021, the day before Thanksgiving.
Steven Senne, Associated Press

For many going over the river and through the woods this holiday season, it means lots of hours spent in the family car. Useful tech can help make the experience more comfortable.

Hours spent in the car with the family aren’t what they used to be. Yes, parents can cajole their kids into playing “I Spy” or the license plate game once in a while, but sometimes even mom and dad want a little peace and quiet. That may necessitate some things as simple as a working, clean vehicle, good snacks and a little screen time.

One way to keep everyone happy is to have nice cool drinks on hand. If you don’t want to stop at a gas station to quench your thirst, try keeping a mini fridge right in your car. Frigidaire has an affordable version ($33.98 on Amazon) that can hold six 12-oz cans and has AC and DC power cords to use at home, hotel or in the car. And for a larger version that can act as a cooler or a warmer with the switch of a button, check out a variety of options from Cooluli. Both claim to be very quiet and great for more than just drinks. Think about storing healthy snacks like yogurt and fruit in the car. Reviewers mentioned even using them for refrigerated medications while traveling and keeping breast milk handy.

If everyone is going to be snacking on the road, you may want to keep a cordless vacuum at the ready. A good basic option is the Black + Decker Compact Lithium Handheld Vacuum for $39.99. It weighs less than two pounds and comes with a wall mountable charger. The brush option helps with dusting and a crevice tool expands for all those hard-to-reach spots. But, if you have a pet that sheds and need a vacuum that can handle all that hair, you may want to opt for something more powerful. The Bissell Multi Auto Cordless Handheld Car Vacuum comes with a motorized brush roll for pet hair. The $185.39 vacuum is out of stock right now, but it comes with LED lights, an expandable hose and a two year limited warranty, so pet owners may want to hold out for this one.

When the time comes for some screen time, it can be a rough go if your car doesn’t have a built in entertainment system. Parents often have to play referee when kids disagree over who gets to hold the tablet and whether or not everyone can see the movie. The Macally Dual Position Car Seat Headrest Mount for phones and tablets ($29.99) could be a great answer. You can either place it directly behind one headrest for a single child, or it expands to position between the two front headrests so multiple kids can have a view. It allows a phone or tablet to rotate and fits any device between 4.5” and 10” wide, although multiple reviewers mentioned lighter gadgets worked best.

A tablet in the car is often disappointing, though without an internet connection. Some of us don’t pay for a hotspot through a phone service provider and aren’t interested in a contract for one. You can purchase a Solis Lite Hotspot and Power Bank for $139.99 and then only pay for the Wi-Fi you need, when you need to use it. You can connect up to 10 devices to this pocket-sized portable Wi-Fi unit that has a 16-hour battery life. Then yes, you can buy a subscription for an internet connection or pay per gigabyte. You can buy 5 GB for $35 and up to 20 GB for $100 and they never expire. Perfect for the few times you may need access to the web on the go, like road trips. The company also has global and European plans for international travel.

Finally, none of these gadgets will do you any good if you’re stuck with a vehicle that won’t start because of a dead battery. Instead of waiting for someone to come by who could give you a jump, consider a portable jump starter. These units just keep getting more powerful and more compact, making them an easy accessory to keep in the car. The NOCO Genius 2000 Amp Lithium Jump Starter is $199.95 and is about the size of a small take-out container. It will give you 40 jump starts in one charge and weighs less than three pounds. The best part is it has spark-proof technology and reverse polarity protection so that if you don’t hook it up correctly, you won’t ruin anything. The company calls it mistake proof.

Whether your last road trip left you longing for a cold drink or a way to clean up that bag of spilled crackers, one of these devices just may be the answer to your road trip dreams.