Given A Map, A Lot Of People Have No Idea Where They Traveled (Or Where They Live)

While early explorers may have spent countless weeks plotting their journeys on maps and charting the best course to get to their destination, it seems many modern day travelers don’t have a clue about where they’re actually going.

A new study has found massive numbers of travelers can’t find their vacation destination on a world map. When asked where Cyprus was located, 53% of respondents were stumped, pointing to countries like Greece instead. This is despite having traveled to the Mediterranean island within the past year. Turkey also had recent visitors scratching their heads, with around half of those surveyed hard-pressed to locate the nearly 1,000 mile long country on an atlas.What’s most bizarre, however, is those people who seemed to have trouble locating their own country on a map. When asked where France was, a surprising 14% of French respondents pointed to their northern neighbor Belgium.

But perhaps we shouldn’t be so hard on the French. After all, remember this famous gaffe a few years back, when a Miss Teen USA contestant was asked why a fifth of Americans couldn’t locate the US on a world map?

But it’s not just beauty pageant contestants that are stumped by geography. Even politicians can get tripped up, like in this interview where John McCain refers to the problems at the Iraq/Pakistan border…which doesn’t exactly exist.

And then there was the time that President Obama managed to visit all corners of the US, including “about 57 states”.

Do you think it matters that so many people are confused by world geography? Or is understanding maps irrelevant in this day and age of GPS and technology?

Space Shuttle Home Nears Completion In Florida

Space Shuttle Atlantis has a new home in Florida that is nearing completion. As the latest Space Coast attraction, the new $100-million home of the historic spacecraft will launch June 29 at Kennedy Space Center. Far more than a place to store the used orbiter, the new facility will offer visitors unprecedented access to what was once highly classified hardware, uniquely displayed.

This unique experience delivers extraordinary access to Space Shuttle Atlantis, positioned as if it were in space as only astronauts have seen it before. Suspended 30 feet above ground and rotated at slightly less than a 45-degree angle, Atlantis will have her payload bay doors open and robotic arm (Canadarm) extended. Visitors will be able to view the orbiter from below or via a raised surrounding platform.

With 33 missions in space to the credit of Space Shuttle Atlantis, the exterior has been left as-is for visitors to see the wear on its protective external tiles. Over 60 supporting and interactive exhibits plus high-tech simulators tell the story of NASA’s 30-year Space Shuttle Program and the amazing engineering that transformed the way humans explore space. Prominently featured is the shuttle program’s role in building the International Space Station as well as the launch and maintenance of the Hubble Space Telescope.While the newest attraction at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor’s Complex, Atlantis is just one feature to be enjoyed by visitors. The Shuttle Launch Experience simulates what it is like to blast off into space. The Rocket Garden features Redstone, Atlas and Titan rockets that first put NASA astronauts in space, alongside Mercury, Gemini and Apollo capsules. The Astronaut Training Experience brings visitors realistic astronaut training.

Other exhibits trace the history of America’s space program from its beginning and get into the future of space exploration. Far from a relic of another time and a different NASA focus, the Atlantis exhibit promises to complete an experience that fans of space travel may have only dreamed of until now.

Better yet, the Kennedy Space Center website has a rich array of interactive content including a “countdown until the next launch” timer and an Ask An Astronaut feature that invites visitors to pose questions to those who have actually been there and done that.

About the only part of the space shuttle program that visitors won’t see is an actual launch, but we have one of those for you here in this video:

[Image credit – Kennedy Space Center Visitor’s Complex]

New National Geographic app puts the world in your hands

If you’re a fan of maps, then you’re definitely going to want the latest iPad app from Nat Geo. The new app, entitled The World by National Geographic, provides an interactive atlas that lets you explore the planet from your easy chair, while giving you multiple zoom levels, country facts, and wonderful photos from a variety of locations.

When you launch the app for the first time, you’ll be presented with a view of the Earth from space. If you’re anything like me, your first instinct will be to spin that globe, just like you would a physical one that exists in the real world. I was delighted to find that swiping a finger across this virtual representation of the planet did just that, with the animation running very smoothly. The usual array of iOS gestures work as well, and soon you’ll find yourself intuitively pinching to zoom, tapping on points of interest, and so on.

At the start, you’ll be able to easily identify the seven continents, with red lines clearly marking the borders between countries as well. You’ll also notice a number of yellow dots sprinkled across the globe that indicate that more detailed maps are available for that region. Some of those dots will be labeled, while others won’t indicate the area they represent until you tap on them. Double tapping will zoom the view in much closer, presenting a higher resolution version of that region that offers far more detail, including individual towns and villages, roads, rivers, and much more.

Along the bottom of the screen you’ll find alternative ways of navigating the app, including a “Maps” section that shows all of the individual regional maps that are available in the software. You can also search for countries by name or continent, which will show an alphabetical listing of those nations along with a graphical representation of their flag. In this mode, when you tap on the country you wish to find, the globe will automatically spin to that destination, while simultaneously zooming in to a more detailed level. You’ll also be presented with a number of facts about the country as well with such data as population, capital, currency, and much more placed at your finger tips.As you might expect, the “Photos” option presents a number of beautiful images from a number of countries, which are once again listed in alphabetical order. Tapping on an image displays a larger, higher resolution version and includes a caption to let you know exactly what the photo is and where it was taken. While you can spend a couple of hours flipping through the photos, I would have liked to have seen even more. As a fan of National Geographic’s trademark photography, I felt the offerings were sparse at times, with many countries having just one photo or none at all.

I’ve always been someone who has been fascinated with maps and atlases, so I found myself thoroughly enjoying The World, but if you’re not a map fiend, you may find yourself growing bored rather quickly. You’ll also discover that without an Internet connection, some of the higher resolution version of the maps won’t be available to you. That said however, this app isn’t designed to be a navigational aid, but more of a reference. In other words, you won’t be heading out on your travels intending to use this for finding your way around. Instead, you’ll curl up with it on the couch when the need to explore comes over you, but you just don’t feel like heading out the door.

The World is available now in the App Store for $3.99 and is yet another high quality app from National Geographic, who has put out a steady stream of them over the past year or so. Unlike most of their apps however, this one is only available for the iPad and won’t run on the iPhone or iPod Touch.

Where are all the travel guide apps for Android?

Nearly two years ago, I bought my first smartphone: the T-Mobile Android MyTouch*. I’m only occasionally jealous of my iPhone-carrying friends, as I find few travel guide apps for Android. Even after a move to Istanbul, I still use and rely upon it daily; Android‘s interface is fast and easy-to-use, and seamless use of Google applications like Gmail and Google Maps is part of the reason I bought it in the first place. Living in a foreign country means English-language books and magazines are expensive and hard-to-find, and like many travelers, I don’t want to carry bulky books around when I’m on the road. This leaves a perfect opportunity for mobile developers to provide real travel guide content and not just travel-booking apps, especially apps produced by reliable media sources with professional editorial. These days, every guidebook and travel magazine publisher is coming out with apps for the iPhone and now iPad, supplying users with content and directions on the go, but there are hardly any for Android.

So what’s available for mobile travelers from the top travel book and print sources? Better hope you’re running Apple OS…Guidebooks:

  • Fodor’s: Happy 75th Birthday Mr. Fodor, but we wish you had more than just five city guides for purchase (in London, New York, Paris, Rome, and San Francisco) and only for Apple.
  • Frommer’s: iPhone guides are available for ten major cities in the US, Europe and Asia, but nada for Android.
  • Lonely Planet: iPhone users are spoiled for choice: dozens of city guides, language phrasebooks, audio walking tours, and eBooks optimized for the iPad. Android users in 32 countries including the US are in luck: there’s a free Trippy app to organize itinerary items, as well as 25 “augmented reality” Compass city guides and 14 phrasebooks. NOTE: This article originally mentioned that the Compass guides were unavailable in the Android Market store, but they should work for most US users. I happen to be in a country where paid apps are not available and not shown in the Market.
  • LUXE City Guides: 20 cheeky city guides work for a variety of mobile phones, including iPhone and Blackberry, but none are compatible with my Android. Bonus: the apps come with free regular updates and maps that the paper guides don’t have.
  • Rick Steves: If you are headed to Europe, you can get audio guides for many big attractions and historic walks for iPhone, plus maps for the iPad. You can also download the audio files free for your computer, and props to Rick for mentioning that Android apps are at least in development.
  • Rough Guides: Here’s a new one: the Rough Guides app works for many phones but NOT the iPhone OR Android! It’s not as slick as some of the other guides (it’s a Java app) and you will use data to use it on the road, but it provides lots of info for many cities in Europe. You can also find a Rough Guides photo app on iTunes to view pictures from around the world with Google Maps and captions from Rough Guides.
  • Time Out: City travelers and residents might want to look at the apps from Time Out for 5 European cities and Buenos Aires, with Manchester and New York on the way. More cities are available for free on iTunes, search for Time Out on iTunes to see what’s available. iPhone only.
  • Wallpaper* City Guides: 10 of the design mag’s 80 city guides are for sale for iPhone for Europe, Tokyo, New York and Los Angeles.

Print media:

  • Conde Nast Traveler: It makes sense for magazines to embrace the iPad, and CNT has free Apple apps specifically for Italy, cruises, and their annual Gold List of hotels and resorts. Blackberry users can download an etiquette guide, but Android users are snubbed.
  • National Geographic: As befitting any explorer, Nat Geo has a world atlas, national parks maps, and games featuring their amazing photography, all for iPhone. A special interactive edition of National Geographic Traveler is for sale on the iPad; you can also read it on your computer. Androids can download a quiz game and various wallpapers; and all mobile users can access a mobile-friendly version of their website at
  • Outside: Adventure travelers can purchase and read full issues on the iPad, but no subscription option yet.
  • Travel + Leisure: The other big travel glossy also has an iPad app for special issues. Four issues have been released so far with one available now on iTunes (romantic getaways) but future editions will follow to be read on the app. Just in time for spring break and summer, they’ve also released a Travel + Leisure Family app with advice and articles specifically geared towards travel and families. The apps are both free but you’ll need an iPad – these are designed for tablets, not phones. You can also read full issues of T+L and their foodie cousin Food & Wine on Barnes & Noble’s NOOK Color ereader; you can save per issue if you subscribe to the e-reader version.
  • USA Today Travel: Most major newspapers have mobile readers for all types of phones, but USA Today is the only one with their own travel-specific app. AutoPilot combines an array of cool travel booking capabilities and information with articles and blog post from the newspaper. Only iPhone users can enjoy free.

Two of our favorite magazines, Budget Travel and Afar, have no mobile apps yet but great online communities to tap into their extensive knowledge.

All in all, other than Lonely Planet’s Compass guides, a pretty weak showing for Android travelers. While iPhone has been around longer as a mobile platform that Android, they’ve lost the market share of users to the little green robot. As Android is available on a variety of phone manufacturers and providers, expect that number to continue to grow, along with the variety and depth of content for mobile and tablet users. Will the developers ever catch up or will travelers have to choose?

*Android has not endorsed this or paid me anything to write about them. But to show I’m not biased – Apple, feel free to send me a sample phone and I’ll test out the apps!

Photo courtesy Flickr user closari. Special thanks to Sean O’Neill, who blogs on Budget Travel and the new BBC Travel blog.

Global Action Atlas connects people with causes the world over

The stated mission for National Geographic is “to inspire people to care about the planet” which is greatly exemplified in a new project that looks to connect people with causes from around the world.

This new project is called the Global Action Atlas, and while it is still listed as being in beta, it is very easy to see the potential to do great things. The site is essentially a database of local cause-related projects from around the planet, with information on how concerned global citizens can get involved on some level, ranging from simply donating funds to volunteering to help in person. Likewise, by being listed in the Atlas, those causes have the ability to reach out to a wider audience that might never have known it existed, garnering support from new sources.

Some of the causes that are currently featured on the Action Atlas front page include rallying support to protect wetlands from the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, working to make Washington DC schools to be more energy efficient, and saving elephants in Mali. Geographically, the opportunities to get involved stretch across North and South America, Africa, Asia, and into Oceania, with projects that are diverse and rewarding on a variety of levels.

At the heart of the Global Action Atlas is the Action Map, powered by Bing. The Action Map shows all of the projects in the database graphically laid out by location around the globe. With multiple zoom levels, you can zoom in on specific areas of the planet to more closely examine local projects in that region, and a handy search function lets you find projects based on keywords or location. Add in the ability to filter the projects by category, such as “conservation”, “exploration”, or “energy”, and you have a powerful tool for finding important causes to participate in.

Looking at the Action Map, I personally couldn’t help but be impressed with all of the great projects that are underway all over the world. There really are some amazing things being done to improve the lives of people or to protect the environment, and the Global Action Atlas allows us to get involved with those efforts no matter where we live.