I used to think that relying on the latest technology was somehow cheating and that I had to “rough it” to get the authentic experience. The fact is, technology has always gone hand in hand with exploration and the great explorers have always sought the latest navigation advancements available.
With each innovation the opportunities for adventure are enhanced, not diminished. Today we have many tools available that allow us to accurately plan trips around the world from the comfort and security of our desk! That is very good news when you are traveling to countries that have limited signage in English and the maps and road atlases often only list major arteries!
My first bus riding experience in Bangkok was confusing to say the least. No one on the bus spoke English, I spoke no Thai, many of the buildings look the same in the outlying areas, and the Thai script on street signs is very hard to interpret from a bus even if you have a map with both Thai and English street names. Where do I get off the bus?! It is easy to miss your stop and not realize it.
This is where technology comes to the rescue. To trip plan I rely on the following three tools and steps to prepare my itinerary:
- Local Map/Atlas – I research and locate where I want to go.
- Google Earth – I locate important reference points and destinations, saving them to my places and recording the GPS coordinates. I visit the locations via Google Earth’s Street View function so that I have a visual frame of reference. Note that some remote locations and countries that do not allow Google may not be available for Street View.
- Android phone* with MapFactor: GPS Navigation App installed (This free app works via GPS – no need for a data plan!) – I program the GPS coordinates into MapFactor.
(*Tip: I always travel with an unlocked Android phone. This allows me to purchase a local SIMS card if I desire to make phone calls or a data plan.)
Now, carrying my map and phone (when I am going to be doing remote traveling or hiking I will add a compass to my day pack), I am ready to catch the bus (or drive, bike, walk)! I can follow the progress of the bus on my phone and set my stop as the destination (remember to mark your starting point if you need to return!). I never rely on the phone alone, batteries go dead, the phone gets lost, and (rarely) the app may have technical problems. In practice, I have found the maps I have purchased are more likely to have an error.
I used this exact system to visit the Cu Chi Tunnels and Cần Giờ Mangrove Forest by bus from Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. Utilizing technology and planning ahead allowed us to travel much more authentically, and inexpensively, than if we attempted to do it on the fly or had utilized guide services.