The road trip car and the hotel luggage rack

Just back from some time on the road, which always prompts me to think of ways to improve travel.

First, and most simply: Every hotel room comes with a small foldable stand on which to put your suitcase. The problem is they all come with exactly one of these. In some rooms there is space on the tables or dresser for another bag, but often there is not. Doing solo business travel I have just one bag, but all couples, and many solo wanderers have more than one, and so you end up putting bags on the floor. It’s quite annoying, since these stands can hardly be very expensive — folding cloth and metal chairs can be had for $10 in most stores. I’ve only tried once or twice to ask housekeeping for another, and been surprised to learn they don’t keep spares. Frankly, I think it would be cheaper to just put 2 in every room than waste staff time delivering extras, but either would work. And the hotel often knows if a room is booked for 2 rather than one in advance. If you have a bellman take up your bags, not only does the bellman see how many bags you have but it’s a sure thing you have several. Every bell station should have some extra racks and throw what is needed on the luggage cart.

Next, I think it would be interesting to see car rental companies develop cars just for road trips. They are the largest buyers of cars (and often owned by car companies) so custom cars are not out of the question. SUVs and some minivans contain many of the features of a road trip car, but they are often 3 times as expensive when reserved in advance, and 1.5x to 2x more expensive in gasoline usage. What features might a road trip car have?

  • A little higher, for nice views and easy-in, easy-out. You’re starting and stopping a lot at roadside locations. Not quite minivan-high, but that might also do. This costs a bit of gas, of course.
  • More places to put things, most notably cameras and camera bags. But also travel guidebooks.
  • Lots of USB charging ports to charge and power everybody’s phones and other devices. The radio, however, should not freak out because a USB device is plugged in. (More on that below.)
  • Easy bluetooth pairing for the renter’s phone, because it will be done with every rental, not just once in the life of the car. Allow it to be done while moving (by the passenger.) Be able to pair several devices, not just one.
  • A nice GPS navigation system, though also make it easy for the renter to bring their own, including a means to get the audio from theirs into the stereo, a place to hold it on the dash, and power for it up on the dash to avoid long cords. Possibly the in-car GPS should make itself available as a bluetooth GPS to phones and laptops too.
  • An optional, easily added laptop tray for the passenger, and maybe even for the driver. This means some sort of sturdy bolt in the dash or central console on which an easily moved tray can be quickly attached. It should be possible to fold the tray up or away for easy entry and exit while still holding the computer securely — ie. some sort of V shape when tilted up. This can also be an eating tray or book holding tray. There are issues with airbags. Possibly a similar tray, in the seatback, for a rear passenger. There should be clips to hold the power cord so cords don’t get tangled our out of the way.
  • A little more trunk space (possibly sacrificing rear seats if insurance will allow.)
  • My own personal want — a place to readily store and retrieve my tripod.
  • Let the user set up a profile and preferences and have the car rental company remember it, or let the user provide a USB storage device upon which the preferences can be stored and loaded from by the cars. Preferences include bluetooth pairings, satellite radio station preferences, seat positions and anything else the user sets.
  • A cellular data stick with account on the best service for the area including unlimited data, combined with a small wifi hotspot allowing phones and laptops in the car to have internet access. Such accounts cost under $50/month, and if rented for $5/day would be a hit, especially with international travelers who have hugely expensive data roaming. Sadly most car rental companies would prefer to hit you up for $10-$15/day for this.

The audio system

As noted, the stereo should support being bluetooth headphones so that music devices can play their music through the stereo, as well as being a speakerphone headset. GPS devices can also talk through the stereo. It would be nice if the system were able to pair several and merge them together in a priority order, so that the music player can play music but the navigator can mute the music and talk. That does require a messy interface though.

Many cars I have rented recently have a USB port, but when I plug anything in, the stereo imagines it is a USB stick and so it spends about 20 seconds hunting and trying to scan it for MP3s. When it finds nothing it then turns on the radio (even if it was off) to some initial station. If it finds music it plays the first song, even if it was in the middle of another song when you stopped the car. It’s pretty annoying and this can be done much better. The best solution is likely to be playing the music on my own device, and an AUX port was present, but the male-male headphone cable was not provided in the car. If the car’s stereo is to play the music it needs to be much better:

  • It should play as many formats as possible. Most units seem to do just MP3. Most of my music is in Ogg.
  • It needs to have a memory of where it was.
  • It needs a better startup system, remembering the USB device IDs of earlier devices and what to do with them. (My phone, alas, pops up a screen when plugged into USB and I must press buttons to make it appear like a USB disk. When I do, it disables many phone functions that need to access the SD card, which is not good. Android should fix that, of course, which is doable but non-trivial.)

If we’re not going to play my music, then satellite music makes sense. The radios all have it but it is highly surcharged.

Now some of these features are aimed at the car-renting road tripper, but many of them make sense for ordinary cars. Most people take road trips in their cars from time to time, though they don’t use them 100% for road trips the way some rental cars might be used.

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