When life threw me some curves just before Christmas, I hit the road and ran away from home, taking two smartphones, a tablet, a mobile WiFi hotspot and my love for travel and adventure. I rented a car, stopped my mail, made several Airbnb reservations across North Carolina and Tennessee and headed out, blasting the soundtrack CD to “Elizabethtown” in a 2015 Toyota Corolla sedan as I left my home in Lancaster County, Pa., in the early morning darkness of Dec. 19.
Before I departed, I had packed my essentials. Several changes of clothes, shoes and the usual suspects, but also the high-tech stuff I’d need, including a new LG V10 smartphone loaner from Verizon, my own personal Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphone, a Samsung Galaxy Tab Active tablet, an Internet on the Go portable mobile WiFi hotspot, my trusty Canon Rebel T2i digital camera and several Yi Action Camera mobile video cameras for capturing video on the fly.
What I didn’t take was just as notable—I left my MacBook Pro laptop at home so I could make the journey with mobile devices the whole time, without lugging along a bulky laptop.
I also mixed a bit of old school into the adventure—even though I had GPSes in both smartphones, I also had my local AAA office print me up a detailed paper-based TripTik map book from Pennsylvania to North Carolina, through Tennessee and on to Kentucky, West Virginia and then home. I wanted to follow my route on paper and digitally get the different experiences of both. Hey, I still love paper maps.
The Route and The Plan
In the 2005 film, “Elizabethtown,” Orlando Bloom plays Drew Baylor, who is in the midst of a work crisis and a family crisis all at once. A shoe designer, the running shoes he recently created have just been recalled, losing his company some $1 billion, and his father just died, throwing his family into a tailspin. He travels to Elizabethtown, Ky., to bring his dad’s body back home to Oregon, but is hijacked by life along the way.
My plan was to track much of his route, especially the road trip he is sent on after he meets the mysterious Claire, his flight attendant. To prepare, I made Airbnb arrangements in Asheville, N.C.; Nashville, Tenn.; and Memphis, Tenn., and booked a room at the hotel featured in the film, The Brown Hotel, in Louisville, Ky.
Using GPS on the LG V10 and following along with my paper TripTik, the miles flew by as I drove through the spectacular mountains of North Carolina and then into Tennessee. I had never seen this countryside before, and I was overwhelmed with its rich beauty. I stopped and took photos with the V10 in countless locations along the way, including at a scenic overlook on the way into Asheville that took my breath away. Who can pass a scenic overlook without stopping to see it? Not I.
The Gear and What I Learned
I’m glad I left my MacBook Pro at home. It turns out that one can take a road trip today and have incredible conveniences without having to carry bulky devices. Carrying the Samsung Galaxy Tab Active tablet was a great choice, giving me easy and fast startups and a light machine for the trip. The Tab Active could do everything I needed, from quick Web searches to online research wherever I was traveling.
The LG V10 smartphone was also fabulous, with fast performance, fast charging times, great and super-accurate GPS—it never led me astray once in 2,416 miles of my journey—and a main camera that captured high-quality images in daylight or at night.
My old outdated Samsung Galaxy S4 has long been a poor choice for indoor photos since it can’t capture low light at all, but the modern and fast LG V10 made me a believer once again in smartphone cameras that can produce quality images. I used to carry an Apple iPhone 4s before getting the Samsung device, and I had come to miss the great photos the iPhone could take. The V10 is way better than I could imagine.
I posted the incredible images on my Facebook page during the trip and marveled at the speed of the uploads and great display and features of the phone. Absolutely, it is one of the most impressive handsets I have used so far.
So what did I learn about carrying along a WiFi portable hotspot? I found out that nowadays, most places have adequate WiFi, so this was a luxury and not a must-have on most of the eight days of my trip. I did use it several times just to test it out, but if you travel in urban areas, reasonable WiFi accommodations are often available. When they are not around, however, the Internet on the Go WiFi hotspot is a great thing to have.
How I Used Technology on My Holiday Road Trip to Elizabethtown
Carrying my several-generations-old Canon Rebel T2i digital 35mm camera was also great because its image quality is terrific and its flexibility is always appreciated. Whether shooting indoors at night when hearing music in honky-tonks in Nashville or inside clubs in Memphis or when capturing images outdoors at Sun Studio or the National Civil Rights Museum or Graceland in Memphis, the Rebel captured just what I was seeking.
Even the rented 2015 Toyota Corolla opened my eyes due to its technology features. The four-door Corolla had a USB port for my devices, Bluetooth to connect my Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphone for hands-free operation, all the usual musical options from CDs to iPod connectivity to satellite radio, and a nice sound system that let me crank up my music without unwanted distortion.
One disappointment came from the small Yi Action Cam mobile video cameras from Yi. Before leaving home, I decided to try them out like most consumers might—by taking them on the trip and relying on an intuitive set-up and use procedure, rather than setting them up and trying them ahead of time. Bad idea.
I never could get them working properly. The set-up was poorly translated on the instruction sheet and the accompanying illustrations were not clear. I had to call a company representative several times to get things assembled properly, and even then, the set-up was not easy. One of the cameras had a broken flashcard door so they had to send a replacement unit while I was traveling. Even so, the Android app was not intuitive and when I discovered that you couldn’t immediately review the video you just shot on the device I lost my enthusiasm for the Yi. A video camera should have the ability to show a user what they just shot. That’s my expectation, at least. How could I know if I captured what I wanted if I couldn’t immediately review it?
The folks at Yi said they are working on improvements and that my test units were early versions, so I accept that and hope to test out their next version when it is available.
The Journey and the Aftermath
My Elizabethtown road trip was one of the greatest adventures I have taken in my life so far. I drove 2,416 miles and laughed, sang, smiled, explored, saw and experienced everything that life threw my way, from storms to a couple of car crashes on the Interstates. I visited interesting places, ate the best fried chicken in my life—at Gus’s Fried Chicken in Memphis—and tasted real Southern BBQ ribs at Central BBQ in Memphis.
I toured Graceland, I went to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, I visited the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, the home of the Grand Ole Opry. I walked on Beale Street in Memphis and heard the blues, and I stood and said a few words at the grave of Col. Harlan Sanders, the father of the Kentucky Fried Chicken chain, in Louisville.
The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis should be on the bucket list of every American. You can’t walk out the same person you were when you walked in. It was life-changing to me.
I also saw Sun Studio in Memphis, where Elvis Presley made his first recording. I ate shrimp and grits and learned of a whole new way of cooking that I had never before experienced. I met new friends and talked to people everywhere. Traveling alone makes one friendly and available for human contact and connections. A good thing.
Home after eight days and thousands of miles, I felt transformed and alive.
The experiences were amazing and the technology I used helped keep me in the moment everywhere I traveled.
Pulling into my driveway at home on Dec. 26, 2015, I was happy and tired. But more than anything, I was appreciative of the devices that made my trip richer by letting me preserve it for myself and share it with my friends as I traveled.
I recently read that money spent on travel is never wasted. I say that I can’t wait to get on the road again.