December 2, 2022

Tyna Woods

Technology does the job

Summer 2022 Traveling Tips and A Fun Driving Experience

And I’m back.

(If you didn’t notice, I hadn’t posted anything new for over a week. That was not out of laziness, writer’s block, a long hangover, or any of those usual suspects.)

Our summer break — first in years — in Maui was as memorable as expected, possibly even more than expected. We had a good time and made good friends. But managing two active toddlers and an infant while trying to relax and have some fun proved impossible.

Naturally, we picked fun over relaxation and now will need the rest of the week, at least, to recuperate and recover from the sunburns. If you’re a parent, you already know that.

What you might not know is the trip also marked the first time in a year and a half that I extensively drove a gas car — one with an internal combustion engine (ICE) that is. And that turned out to be quite an experience.

The driving part was a non-issue but handling other aspects of the car, including the use of gas, turned out to be a challenge. And that was on top of the high cost at the pump.

I’ll share that fun-in-retrospect experience, plus a few traveling tips that worked well on our trip. You probably won’t learn much, but it’ll be a fun read, considering you haven’t heard from me for a while.

Dong Knows Tech Travel Hawaii Maui Turtle
All around Maui are beautiful beaches, but Ho’okipa Beach Park is where you’ll see many turtles. You’re not allowed to get close to them on land, but in the water, they might run into you — make sure your snorkel gear is ready and get out of the way!

A modern ICE machine that seemed nice at first

Our rental car was a 2021 Chrysler Pacifica with just a few thousand miles on it. Due to the pandemic, the car was “practically new,” per the friendly Budget agent at the Kahului Airport.

And it was indeed so. Oh, the car rental building was just a 3-min walk or a short playground-like train ride from the terminal. The kiddos loved it. That was a bonus.

We picked the specific car because in my book a minivan is excellent for a family. (My wife would say nothing beats her Subaru Outback, but take her assessment with a grain of salt — she married me!) The van has tons of room, and our daughter loved the automatic sliding side doors.

The vehicle is decked out with tech, too. It has a remote control keyfob with a proximity sensor, meaning there’s no need to unlock it. As you get close, the car unlocks itself — yes, just like my 2021 Model Y.

And, of course, you can use the keyfob to remotely open/close the doors. There was no “Summon” feature, but via the fob, I could remotely start the engine to cool the interior off with AC before a trip on a hot day.

When inside, the car’s large touch screen works with my Pixel 6’s Android Auto — I connected the phone to the USB port once for charging, and the two automatically established a Bluetooth connection. The subsequent times I got in the car, the two were already in sync.

The car’s driving-related design itself was also quite remarkable. There’s a button to turn on or off its engine — there’s no key. And when in drive, it turned the engine off during a stop and started back up as I moved my foot from the brake.

Compared to my last ICE car, a 2004 Acura MDX, the Pacifica is significantly “smarter”. And I liked that.

I consider myself an efficient driver who generally wants to cover the most distance out of the least energy — I treat every trip as a personal challenge on this front. My wife and kids often ridicule my calculations by counting the number of cars passing us when I drive.

And we had a smooth ride to our lodging — part of a large and relatively popular oceanfront condo complex in Kihei — after a brief stop at a Paia Fish Market for lunch and then at a Safeway to get groceries. We checked in early and got settled with no issues. Everyone was excited and happy.

So overall, the van seemed efficient and well-thought-out enough. Or was it?

On our first night, the complex’s security officer knocked on our door.

“Sir, I just wanted to let you know that you left your car’s engine on.” He said, after apologizing for disturbing our family time.

As it turned out, the car would not turn itself off when parked, locked, and left alone. And I forgot to turn it off — that didn’t occur to me. With my last ICE car, that’d mean removing the key from the ignition and this van had no key. So, I had left it running for hours.

And that wasn’t the last. Multiple times in the next couple of days, we returned to the car finding it still running. It was like a prank that got old fast.

Hawaii Sunset
Kihei’s sunset is always beautiful and can be a relaxing experience if you’re not having any concerns in the back of your mind — like wondering if your car is wasting gas at the same time.

Like most modern ICE cars, the Chrysler Pacifica’s engine is quiet when idle. It’s virtually impossible to hear its engine in high ambient noise, like the sounds of a tropical island in my case.

OK! It was my fault. I was the designated driver who’d been used to an EV, to which the concept of turning the engine on or off no longer applies. But! There was a chance one of us might have unknowingly pressed the remote start button on the keyfob. (My boy has been in that phase when he sees buttons, he has to push them!)

The damning thing is there’s no button on the fob to turn the engine off remotely. And if there was a way for that, I didn’t plan to spend my vacation reading a car’s manual.

To be sure, for the rest of the trip, I purposely wore the fob like a ring on my finger to avoid “butt dialing” the car and placed it far out of my kids’ reach.

Still, a couple of times, I had to walk to the car in the middle of the night to ensure it was off. I didn’t want to risk finding ourselves out of gas in the AM.

The point is, once you’ve moved to EV, it can be hard to come back. And the keyless approach in the Pacifica could use some serious improvement.

And that brings us to my first quick travel tip.

Handy traveling tip: The dashboard of the Chrysler Pacifica. Note the little arrow by the gas gauge that points to the left -- this car's gas tank cap is on the driver's side.
Traveling tip: The dashboard of the Chrysler Pacifica. Note the little arrow by the gas gauge that points to the left — this car’s gas tank cap is on the driver’s side.

Traveling tips #1: Turn that (ICE) car off

If you’re moving (back) to an ICE car from an EV, don’t forget to turn off its engine! As it seems, all new cars use a push button now for engine on/off. The key is no longer.

So, push that button before you get out, or you might run out of gas unexpectedly and get stuck somewhere.

Traveling tips #2: How to quickly find out what side the car’s gas tank intake is

When renting a car, we often wonder which side the tank cap is on as we approach a gas station for the first time during a trip. It can be a frustrating experience at a crowded gas station.

Here’s how to find out: Look for the little triangle arrow near the car’s gas gauge on its dashboard — it always points to the side where the tank cap is.

Traveling tips #3: Bring your own media streamer

Upon turning on the Samsung Smart TV at the rental, I found the previous renter’s Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime — yes, all three — logins haven’t been removed. And that wasn’t the first time I had run into that situation.

Amazon Fire TV 4K Max
Traveling tip: Super compact, an Amazon Fire TV Stick makes an excellent companion on a trip.

Privacy risk aside, leaving your streaming accounts behind means somebody can mess up your viewing progress. That’s not to mention it’s a pain to program your services into a new device in the first place.

Here’s a better alternative: Get a portable streamer — I’d recommend the Fire TV Stick — and carry it along. Plug it into a new TV, and you’re all set. (In our case, we could even stream stuff from our home NAS server, for real.)

Finally, make sure you don’t forget to take it with you at the end of the stay.

Traveling tips #4: Forget a charger at home? Here’s how to charge your gadget

When you realize you’ve forgotten your phone charger at home, know that you’re not alone.

Here’s the fix: Use one of those USB ports behind the TV — all TVs have at least one such port, as shown in the photo above.

These ports charge more slowly than a phone charger, but they can fill up your phone or tablet overnight. By the way, the USB port of a router, a computer, or any device with such ports, works, too.

Sagemcom Fast 5260 Router
The Sagemcom Fast 5260 Wi-Fi 5 router. It’s pretty fast when you’re close to it. It also has a USB port that you can use for charging a gadget.

Traveling tips #5: How to better Wi-Fi coverage at a rental

This happened to us.

Our condo had fast cable Internet provided by Spectrum. However, the router — a relatively old, not-so-good, and ironically named Sagemcom Fast 5260 — was in the living room, making signal almost non-existent in the bedroom at the far end, separated by the kitchens and a bathroom.

The solution? I turn my laptop into a travel router and place it somewhat in the middle. Problem solved. For more, check out this post on the subject.

Traveling tips #6: How to keep drinks cold without getting ice

This final tip is literally cool.

When going to the beach, we want to keep our stuff in the cooler cool. The general solution is to get a bag of ice. But ice can take up space and is sometimes not readily available.

Here’s a better alternative: Put a few water bottles in the freezer the night before and use them like ice. At the beach, bury one in the sand, and it’ll thaw pronto. And that’s going to be an icy drink.

Dong Knows Tech Travel Hawaii Maui 1
Here are us sitting — except for that little man holding a big rock — at the Magnetic Peak of the Haleakalā (House of the Sun) volcano. Note the clouds in the background — we were a few thousand feet above them. If you count from its base (below the water), Haleakalā is one of the tallest mountains in the world — it’s taller than Mount Everest.

Happy summer!

And that’s it for now. I hope everyone has been having a lovely and safe summer. If you’re about to take a trip, the tips above will come in handy.

Check back soon for more tech and geeky stuff. In the meantime, trust me on the sunscreen! And below is the song we played so many times during our trip. Enjoy!