The times where global travellers were used to navigate the planet according to the position of the stars or using a improbable maps are long gone.
Don’t get me wrong, there are still a lot of people that prefer the good old paper map to the newly up to date GPS devices, which now give you real time information about traffic and viability. Indeed, I get the point of wanting to have a visual and tactile experience while deciding your next route.
There’s no right or wrong in terms of what you decide to opt for in terms of navigation system for your weekend adventure or for your 6 months tour. Both platforms (or even none, if you wish) will lead you to your destination nonetheless. Or at least, a destination per se.
I have to say, before i start promoting mobile phones and apps, that I’m quite confident with technology, so when people ask me what do I use to navigate myself through so many unknown locations with such a diverse road system and languages, it comes almost obvious to me to say “my smartphone.” That’s assuming that’s what everybody would use nowadays to do everything pretty much! But of course, I’m also aware that this is not everybody’s reality.
What is not clear, obviously, is that modern mobile technology, combined with the power of social networking and satellite communication, can provide pretty much all the information we need almost instantaneously from wherever we are, no matter what our language is. It sounds probably futuristic for a lot of people, but it is indeed a non-confutable reality.
In this sense I would like to recommend some of the apps and the way I use them while travelling.
Google Maps, first of all, is a great resource for “online” navigation. It does give you real time access to viability and it’s constantly updated with traffic info and roads conditions. There’s sometimes even the possibility to check out the “street view” function, to see what the actual road looks like.
Maps.me is instead a great resource for offline navigation, off road tracks, and even single trail riding. The maps are accurate and you don’t need cellular data to operate the app. You just have to download the maps beforehand. I may suggest that you follow your instincts, especially if you are using the app in the cities. Sometimes the algorithm gets confused with the one way roads and pedestrian only areas, so don’t trust it blindly.
I usually cross reference the two options (Gmaps and Mapsme) before I leave to see which one of the routes seems more logical to me.
Other navigation apps that are worth mentioning are Waze (largely used if you deal with city traffic) and Here weGo (good for online and offline navigation and vocal instructions), both of which combine more features and are still free.
Aside from navigation, a lot of people may be wondering on how to find a place to sleep for the night while on the go. This is also pretty easy and doable with apps if you really want to plan in advance.
The most common app is Booking.com, which allows you to visualize your preferred accommodation by price and type, such as hostels (shared dorms), hotels, or even bed and breakfast.
The other two apps to use are Hostelworld, striclty limited to hostels, and Airbnb, if you want to treat yourself.
Of course you can also ask around in whatever town you end up being and find your own way, but asking people is not always the best way to find the cheapest deal for instance.
Another great resource is iOverlander, a community based app that shows all the camping spots (free and not) and a bunch of other useful information which I highly recommend for any overlander, travelling by bike or not.
Of course there’s also WikiCamp, a similar app to the previous one, but definitely oriented mainly to camping and available unfortunately only in few countries (USA, Canada, NZ, Australia and GB).
Aside from navigation and accommodation, I always recommend you to check the local viability websites. Usually every country has one and it’s retrievable simply by googling it.
For instance I would google “road conditions Alberta Canada” and the government website associated with it will come up.
Or if I’m in South America I would google “estado carreteras Peru” which literally means “Peru roads condition” and a nice website will pop up. This is the one for Peru for instance:
If Spanish or any other language is not your major skill, you can use another app called Google Translate, which will help you in this sense. You can google that and embed it to your browser so you just get everything translated automatically once you open a page.
As you can see, technology is not such an enemy if you know how to use it. Actually it simplify our lives and it allows us to break boundaries and overcome our own limitations.