Since the advent of GPS and the access to it on our smartphones, many of us have completely given up on doing any navigating ourselves. We set our destination, we press “route” and we sit back and do whatever the nice voice tells us to do. No matter where it takes us.
But a recent glitch in Apple maps might have you rethinking that kind of behavior. Fairbanks International Airport had to close an access route because not only one, but two people, were so blindly following directions that they followed a taxiway and crossed a runway before they realized what they were doing.
Apple has temporarily fixed the problem by having a “not available” message pop up for the route. The company has gotten a lot of flack for previous map issues, and after buying up several map applications, CEO Tim Cook has promised that Apple is “doing everything we can to make Maps better.”
While we can all get mad at our iPhones for not giving proper instructions, just because we have access to GPS we shouldn’t lose our common sense. Pay attention when you drive, and if you find yourself nearing an airport runway, consider making a U-turn.
Before a 15-year-old Tim Gravenstreter hopped on a Trailways bus for his first solo trip to the Windy City, his father gave him a piece of advice he still follows.
“Don’t stand on a street corner looking at a map trying to figure out where you are,” the elder Gravenstreter said. “People will mark you for a rube and take advantage of you.”
Although Tim had studied the Chicago map in the days before his trip, the teen was a bit overwhelmed after he stepped off the bus and wasn’t immediately able to place where he was. So he walked into a nearby department store and asked for directions … to the men’s room.
“When I got into the stall, I opened the map and figured out where I was and where I needed to go,” Gravenstreter said. “I really haven’t had a problem finding my way around since.”
Nearly a half-century later, portable GPS units, smart phones and the Internet have made paper maps a virtual relic. Although a few headstrong folks like my brother-in-law Sean steadfastly refuse to give up their dog-eared Rand-McNally road atlas, more and more people rely on technology to get them from Point A to Point B. If you’re under the age of 25, you may have never had to navigate using a traditional map, let alone use a compass.
Gravenstreter saw the writing on the wall last year, closing the Indianapolis map shop he and his wife Dayle had owned for nearly 30 years. First-time visitors were often overwhelmed when they walked into the Odyssey Map Store for the first time, the smell of fresh paper greeting them as they walked through the door. Thousands of maps from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe were stacked neatly on shelves and displays throughout the small shop on Delaware Street. Photos of Midwestern street corners lined the walls next to vintage globes and brightly colored geography puzzles for school children.
“I’ve met so many wonderful people,” Dayle Gravenstreter told me one autumn afternoon before they shuttered their doors for good. “African cab drivers who point out where they’re from on the map, a lot of military families, people going into the Peace Corps,” she said. “Everyone has a story and I’ve enjoyed listening to them all.”
One of those men came in seeking a map of Mars.”When we asked him why he needed it, he said he was building a spaceship in his backyard,” Dayle said. She never saw the man again. A knowing smile crossed her lips as she declined to guess if he managed to make it to his desired destination.
There was also the man who bought an antique-looking six-panel map of Paris at a Salvation Army store. He brought into the store to see what it might be worth. A lot, it turned out.
“It’d been commissioned by Louis XIV and created by the Royal Academy of Sciences and Sir Isaac Newton,” Dayle said. “There were 12-16 originals in existence. He paid $5 for it and it was worth between $1 million and $10 million.”
Customers planning major family trips had been the core of Odyssey’s business, but in its last remaining years, those people stayed home to do their research on the computer. Map collectors became the primary base, but antique globes and reproductions of 17th-century seafarers maps couldn’t keep the doors open. Dayle pulled one of the reproductions from the shelf, lovingly pointing out specific details, like the scary-looking sea monster trolling the southern Atlantic Ocean. Besides the map’s aesthetic appearance, she just likes the feel of it in her hands.
“I like to see things on paper, to get that larger view that you can’t get from a GPS screen,” she said.
Dayle lamented that many younger people might never know the pleasing heft of an atlas or the musty smell of an old glove box map; that old technology is no match for the instant gratification of a Garmin’s lifeless drone telling you where to turn.
I wonder what Tim Gravenstreter’s old man would say about that?
Thanks to cheap mobile phones and the proliferation of the Internet, it is now easier than ever to stay in touch while traveling, even while visiting foreign countries. But there are still certain places on the planet where cellphone coverage is nonexistent and technology of any kind is at a premium. In those destinations, satellite communication remains the best option, although it can be cost prohibitive for many. Enter the inReach satellite communicator from DeLorme, a piece of equipment that can help travelers stay in constant contact from virtually anywhere on the planet and do so without breaking the bank.
Somewhat resembling a two-way radio that needs to go on a diet, the inReach is built to be durable enough to survive nearly any environment. The device is dust and waterproof, designed to float when dropped in water, and while it weighs just 8 ounces, it is also impact resistant. DeLorme built this gadget to operate under extreme conditions, and as such, it functions in temperatures ranging from -4° up to 158° Fahrenheit. In short, the inReach is built like a tank and can withstand nearly as much punishment.
DeLorme designed the inReach to be easy to use and provide functionality that will keep travelers safe no matter where they go. The device uses GPS technology to track its location at all times and has the ability to share that location with friends and family back home via the web or SMS message. It is also configured to be able to send a variety of predefined messages as a text to let others know that the user is okay or that they are in need of assistance. The inReach also features a dedicated SOS button that can call for emergency evacuation should the need arise, providing a measure of security no matter where our travels take us.As a stand-alone device, the inReach satellite communicator is a useful safety net that provides a measure of security for those traveling to remote corners of the planet. But when paired with a smartphone or tablet device via Bluetooth wireless connectivity, it becomes a communications tool that is far more versatile and useful than it is on its own. DeLorme’s Earthmate app is available in both the iOS app store and the Google Play store, and by adding it to your iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch or Android powered gadget, the full capabilities of the inReach are unlocked.
The Earthmate app allows the user to move beyond simply sending pre-set messages from their satellite communicator. Instead they can use their smartphone or tablet’s keyboard to type anything they want and then send it to contacts in their address book as a text message. The app can also post updates to Facebook and Twitter, while simultaneously sharing GPS locational data. You can even send messages directly to other inReach users provided you have the unique address assigned to their specific device.
The app also includes the ability to download detailed maps for most parts of the world. Those maps, when combined with the inReach’s built in GPS capabilities, turns your iPhone or Android device into a navigational tool. When paired with one another, the maps show the users location at any given time, making it easy to navigate through the high Himalaya or the streets of Rome with equal aplomb, without using expensive data plans while abroad.
The DeLorme inReach costs $249 and the Earthmate app is free. The company does require a monthly subscription fee to access the satellite services, providing options that range from as little as $9.95 up to $64.95 depending on the amount of text messages you want included in the package. Considering most of us already own a smartphone these days, that makes this an affordable and powerful communications tool for frequent travelers who simply want the ability to stay in touch from virtually anywhere on the planet. The device uses the Iridium satellite network to communicate, which gives it coverage at both the North and South Pole and just about everywhere else in between.
Powered by two AA batteries, I was concerned that the inReach would need to replace its power cells frequently, something that can be a real drag while traveling abroad. But DeLorme says that battery life is good for about 125 hours and I have a hard time taking umbrage with those numbers. While testing the gadget, I never managed to completely drain the batteries, although I did appreciate the ability to quickly and easily replace the AA cells, which also have the advantage of being readily available in just about any country in the world.
While putting the inReach through its paces, I found that it performed exactly as advertised. I was able to send text messages to contacts in my address book and they arrived within a couple of minutes. I could also send locational data, which came through as clickable links, taking friends to a webpage that displayed my current location. I can only assume that the emergency SOS feature works just as well, although for obvious reasons I didn’t test that particular aspect of the device.
Whether you’re backpacking through the Andes, sailing the South Pacific or simply wandering around Europe for a few weeks, the inReach can be a powerful communications tool to let friends and family back home know that all is well on your most recent adventure. It can also be a potential lifesaver in times of need, giving users the ability to call for help when necessary. Add in GPS navigational options and you have an incredibly useful travel companion that you won’t want to leave home without.
The DeLorme inReach also makes a perfect holiday gift for the adventure traveler in your life. If you worry about a friend or family member every time they head off on another trip, then perhaps this device is just the piece of mind you’ll need the next time they announce their plans to drop off the grid for a few weeks. Its ability to stay in contact and call for help when needed will have you sleeping much better at night.
With temperatures hovering near the 70 degree mark on the East Coast this week, many of us can already feel spring in the air, and that means that road trip season is nearly upon us. I grew up as the youngest child in a family of six boys and road trips were an annual event for us. We used to pile into a big, old station wagon and spend the bulk of our trips arguing over who was taking up too much space, who smelled bad, and who got to sit next to the window.
Once, when I was five, I wandered off at a roadside rest stop and was left behind. An exit or two later, someone noticed that I wasn’t in the car and they turned back to find me. My mother expected me to be upset, but maintains that I was completely unconcerned. I don’t remember the incident, but nearly 35 years later, I still love to wander off and explore.
In the 80’s, we had a radar detector and a CB radio and felt like we were on the cutting edge of technology. There were no apps and the concept of watching movies in the car was still many years away, but we amused ourselves by playing memory games, trying to decipher all of the dirty jokes we heard from truckers with thick Southern accents on the CB, and annoying the living hell out of my parents. These days, I have two little boys, ages 2 and 4, and the tables are turned.
Below you’ll find some apps and tips that might be useful on your next road trip.Free Apps
GasBuddy. With gas prices in the U.S. now at a national average of $3.79 a gallon and rising, saving a few bucks at the pump is a priority for many. This app allows you to comparison shop for the best price based on your location.
RoadAhead. This terrific app provides useful information about what you’ll find near highway exits all across America. Listings include gas stations with the price of gas listed, and restaurants and cafés, some with links to user reviews on Yelp. The app can also tell you what’s nearby even if you aren’t on a highway.
Where. This app is similar to RoadAhead but isn’t focused on highway exits. It does offer listings of places to eat, things to do, and local coupons. If you just need a bathroom, Sit or Squat can help.
WiFi Finder. This app allows you to find WiFi hotspots and also has a worldwide hotspot database you can download (for free) and access while offline.
RepairPal and iWrecked. Some people love these apps, but they don’t suit my personality at all. RepairPal helps you get roadside assistance, find a repair shop or get a range of estimates for fixing common problems. For example, the app says that in my zip code an oil change costs between $27-62, and a power lock problem I have with my Toyota will cost somewhere between $192-$338 to fix.
iWrecked helps travelers prepare accident reports and find taxi and towing companies. I suppose both of these apps could be helpful, but I just don’t see myself standing by the smoldering ruins of my vehicle, fumbling around with apps. If you’re a very bad driver, have an unreliable car, or are simply a very practical person who likes to prepare for the worst, these apps might be useful for you. But I think they just invite bad luck. The only contingency planning I’m into is AAA, which offers unbeatable roadside assistance with membership plans that start at just $66 a year.
Use a GPS but don’t be a slave to it. I finally broke down and bought a GPS last year and now I don’t know how I lived without it for so long. That said, it’s always good to cross-check the GPS’s suggested route on Google maps or another site, because Garmin and other brands don’t always provide the best routes. There’s also the danger of turning into a GPS zombie who will literally follow their device right into a body of water. In June, three women from Mexico did just that – submerging a rented Mercedes Benz S.U.V. with a Hertz “Never Lost” GPS unit in a slough near Seattle (see video below). Invest in a GPS but don’t believe everything it tells you to do. And I wouldn’t bother paying for the traffic function – I have it on my Garmin and it’s virtually worthless.
Hit the library before you go. Before any long trip, I go to my local library and take out a few audio books. This is a great way to kill time while enriching your listening skills.
Contest speeding tickets. In a recent poll, Gadling readers indicated that they think it’s best to admit guilt when pulled over for speeding. I’m not sure I agree with that strategy. Don’t construe this as legal advice, but based upon my personal experience, it is nearly always more advantageous to contest speeding tickets in court. Even if it involves a long drive from where you live, you still might save money.
Mix tapes really do help combat road rage. Let’s face it – the roads are filled with bad drivers these days. Some like to tailgate, others stubbornly putter along below the speed limit in the left lane, and plenty are distracted by mobile devices, unruly children, or that sandwich they’re shoving in their face. Make a playlist of some of your favorite tunes; it’ll help put all the annoyances in perspective.
But listen to some A.M. radio as well. You’ll hear all kinds of doomsday and conspiracy theories, revolting political ideologies, and God knows what else. You might not like it, but it’ll be an education of sorts.
Indulge your children – to a point. A long road trip isn’t the time to be a task master. Stop for ice cream, seek out playgrounds, and help them improve their powers of observation with games. Let them watch a movie or check out this list of apps if you’d rather have them focus on something more educational. If you prefer more old-school games, this site offers ideas for kids,toddlers and babies.
Get more miles to the gallon. To improve your car’s fuel efficiency, use motor oil that is “energy conserving,” take out any dead weight from your car you don’t need, and keep your tires inflated to the proper pressure.
Venture off the highway. This is common sense, but it’s easy to forget that the shortest distance between two points doesn’t always make for the most interesting journey.
Brake for historic districts. Have you noticed that nearly every town in America is billing itself as a historic district these days? You really have to use your imagination to feel the history in some cases, but if you don’t check them out, you might miss some legitimately interesting places. And even the bogus ones are good for a laugh.
Carpool. Paying to carpool is a common way to get from one city to another in some European countries and, according to a story on NPR last week, the company that runs the biggest carpool site in Europe is about to expand their operation into the United States.
Pick up a hitchhiker – preferably one who isn’t a serial killer. This might sound like a crazy idea but, according to a recent Freakonomics podcast, it isn’t nearly as dangerous as you might think. Full disclosure: I only pick up hitchhikers in certain foreign countries where hitchhiking is more common than it is here. If I tried to do it in the U.S., with our two children in the car, my wife would insist that I undergo a full psychiatric evaluation.
Handheld GPS devices are a popular tool for outdoor enthusiasts who regularly hike or backpack deep into the backcountry. They can be an indispensable piece of equipment that comes in handy for navigating through remote regions, and for those who know how to use them, they can quite literally be a lifesaver. The problem is, the devices can also be quite complex to use, which is very daunting for those who would like to be able to take advantage of their basic functionality, without having to earn a degree in computer science to do so. The Backtrack D-Tour from Bushnell is designed specifically with those people in mind. The tiny little device is a perfect companion for casual hikers, runners, or other active people who are looking for an easy to use alternative to a more full functional GPS device.
Weighing in at just six ounces, the Backtrack still manages to pack in some great features. The unit functions as a digital compass, while providing such data as the current time, temperature, and altitude. It also allows users to mark up to five different locations and then navigate to those places. The Backtrack will record your path as you hike, measuring distance traveled, current speed, and average speed as well. And when you get home, you can connect the device to your computer to save your routes and share them with your friends too.
If all of that sounds like what you would expect out of a full-featured GPS, then you’d be right. Those are all features found in more expensive and complex models. But the Backtrack user interface is designed to be easy to understand and provide everything you need to know at a glance, and it does that very well. In my testing of the product, I was able to learn the basic use of the Backtrack D-Tour in a matter of minutes, and I was off and running with the device shortly there after. Along the way, I was never confused as to how the device operated or what exactly was being shown on the display at any given time.
Bushnell has built the Backtrack to be withstand the rigors of the trail, and when you hold it in your hand, it does indeed feel rugged, despite its lack of bulk. It is also weather resistant, which means it can be used in the snow and rain, although I wouldn’t recommend submersing it in water. Unlike its more sophisticated cousins, the Backtrack probably wouldn’t survive a good dousing in water.
Battery life was another strong point of the Backtrack. While many GPS devices suck through batteries very quickly, this device sips power, keeping the unit up and running for as much as 20 hours on three AAA batteries. I used my Backtrack for more than 15 hours while testing it, and it has yet to run out of juice. I also like that it uses batteries that are easy to find, so carrying a spare set isn’t a problem on longer treks either.
Of course, this simplistic approach to GPS means that we are giving up some key features that many would expect on other devices. Most notably, the Backtrack doesn’t include any kind of base maps at all and uses only arrows to indicate which direction you should be going. It also doesn’t have much memory, nor is it expandable, which limits the number of waypoints that can be set at any given time. As you would expect, there is no turn-by-turn navigation at all and forget about a database of points of interest, such as campsites or trailheads. I also found that the Backtrack was a bit slow to lock on to the satellite that provides its navigational data, although once it did connect, it held the signal well, even while under a canopy of trees.
But the lack of those options is not meant to be a limitation of this device, but a strength. As I’ve mentioned several times, this is a GPS unit for the common person, and when viewed in that context, it does its job very well. Bushnell has stayed with the “keep it simple” philosophy, and as a result, the Backtrack is a great option for runners, hiker, cyclists, and others who want to track their routes, speed, and distance. With a list price of just $119, it also is a rather inexpensive way to get the GPS features you really need, without breaking the bank or struggling to learn how to use the device.
The Backtrack would make a great holiday gift for the outdoor enthusiast on your list. Even if they already have a more fully featured GPS device, they may appreciate this one as well, as it makes a perfect companion for those outdoor excursions that don’t require more complex features. It is also a great gift for those looking to track their fitness progress as well.