Driving 1,000 miles in a pandemic with Android Auto as my co-pilot

Google Maps on Android Auto
Google Maps on Android Auto (Image credit: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

As you're reading this, I'm probably either in Mississippi or Louisiana by now, making the pilgrimage home to see my parents and siblings for the first time since the Fourth of July. I'm going to start right off by saying that yes, I am a bad person for traveling home for the holidays this year, but I'm doing it for two important reasons and I'm trying to do it as safely as possible.

After four months alone, I need human contact.

Living alone, the first few months of the pandemic made me a little crazy. I eventually needed to make a trip home to be around some other people for a few weeks. While I haven't gotten into such a bad funk since then, I'm going home for a few weeks during the year-end to help prevent it from returning.

My trip prep started Friday morning by going and getting a COVID test, making sure I was negative before I risked myself or anyone else I would be going home to visit. I'm avoiding crowded rest stops and trying to get out of the car as little as possible during this drive, which I am making by myself in my trusty CR-V. Driving 1,000 miles solo might sound daunting, but I've done it before, and so long as I have Android Auto — and yummy snacks — by my side, I'm confident I'll safely do it again.

I've long been a lover of Android Auto — in fact, it was the first thing I'd ask sales reps about when I was car-shopping a few years ago — and while it's handy even during my short trips from home to the parks for some exercise and back, long drives are where it really earns its keep. Phones on a dashboard can overheat after hours and hours on the road, but my trusty Pixel 4a will stay cool and collected down on the center console between the driver and passenger seats.

Google Assistant on Android Auto

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

Of course, being able to use my steering wheel controls to control Google Assistant as well as my music is a great benefit, too. With Assistant's easy commands, I'm not going to be tempted to lean over towards the screen for anything while going 75 on I-75. I can keep all my attention on the road while Google warns me of upcoming slowdowns, detours, or speed traps.

new Android Auto notifications

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

In general, I wish notifications on Android Auto were more diverse and more customizable — let me see Slack notifications so I can know if I need to pull over and work, dammit — but during long hauls, the limiting of notifications works in my favor. No dings about Disney Emoji Blitz, no Twitter quotes or DMs, just Hangouts messages (yes, I still use Hangouts), texts, and Google reminders.

We also still don't have widely-available wireless Android Auto like I wish we did, but at least my phone will be fully-charged whenever I need to stop and stretch, and I've got a spare USB-C cable in case I kink the one plugged in right now. So long as I have something good to listen to and Android Auto to guide me across the country, I'm more than ready for a nice, long drive.

There's also a few extra phone-based precautions I'm taking as I prepare my trip:

  • Downloading offline maps for the areas along my route from Florida to Texas. I have to do it in batches, but it beats suddenly being blind if the network goes down for whatever reason. It also cuts down on data usage while driving.
  • Shoring up movies and music to listen to on the drive. Yes, I said movies; I listen to them like podcasts and I'm very much hoping that Google TV and Disney+ steal the new audio-only download feature Netflix is debuting.
  • Digital copies of my auto insurance cards are already stored on my phone, but I'm going to keep a digital copy of my health insurance card, too just in case.
  • I'm sharing my location in Google Maps with loved ones so that they know if I'm on the road yet and what I might be approaching if they're wanting to help me find the best gas prices or food that's on the right side of the road.

I hope you're not traveling this Christmas unless you can travel for long periods and do so safely, but happy holidays wherever you find yourself this week. Now, let's wrap up our remaining work so we can start the year with a clean slate and set about the work of cleaning up the chaos 2020 left behind.

— Ara

Ara Wagoner

Ara Wagoner was a staff writer at Android Central. She themes phones and pokes YouTube Music with a stick. When she's not writing about cases, Chromebooks, or customization, she's wandering around Walt Disney World. If you see her without headphones, RUN. You can follow her on Twitter at @arawagco.