Police Urge Hikers To Learn Orienteering Instead Of Relying On Smartphones

orienteeringPolice in northern Scotland have issued a call for hikers to learn orienteering rather than relying on their smartphones for navigation, the BBC reports.

Grampian Police have had to lead four separate groups to safety in the past week. The latest rescue included the use of mountain rescue teams and a Royal Navy helicopter to retrieve 14 hikers. The hikers were in the Cairngorms, a rugged mountain range with some of the UK’s tallest peaks.

Police said that the growing use of smartphone apps for navigation can lead to trouble. People are relying too much on technology without actually understanding the world around them. Police then have to rescue them at taxpayer expense.

Hiking with an app sounds to me like the antithesis of hiking. Basic orienteering with a map and compass is not difficult to learn. I’ve been teaching my 6-year-old and his brain hasn’t melted. Not only do a map and compass not have to rely on getting a signal, but they help you understand the land better and give you a feel for your natural surroundings.

So please folks, if you’re going out into nature, actually interact with it!

Where are all the travel guide apps for Android?

travel guide apps for AndroidNearly 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 natgeomobile.com.
  • 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.

Top five travel gadgets NOT to take on your next trip (and what to pack instead)

gadget, gadgets
I’m in the throes of packing for a two-month journey to Ethiopia. I try to pack light, other than the inevitable pile of books. While some tech freaks pack a lot of travel gadgets, I find these to be more of a hindrance than a help. Here are five things that you might want to leave behind if you’re heading out for some adventure travel.

GPS
Yes, these are handy, but they can break with rough handling and are very attractive to thieves.
What to bring instead: A compass. It’s cheaper, much less likely to break or be stolen, and with a good map is just as useful. It also makes you notice the terrain more and become more aware of the lay of the land.

Ereader
Ebooks certainly save space, and many travelers like ebooks, but ereaders are far more stealable than some tattered old paperback. Plus you need to recharge your device and you can’t give or exchange books with the locals.
What to bring instead: A paperback or three. Preferably something you don’t mind trading or giving away.

IPod
Music is fun to have on the road, but it cuts you off from the sounds around you. I want to hear the muezzin’s call, the chatter of foreign languages, the local tunes blasting from shops and cafes. My playlist is part of my life back home, so I don’t need it while I’m away. I can listen to it when I get back.
What to bring instead: Nothing.Translation software
Translation software has improved a lot in recent few years. There’s even Word Lens, an iPhone app that overlays English onto foreign writing. When Jeremy Kressmann visited me in Madrid earlier this month we tried it on a menu. It was impressive but didn’t translate some of the culinary terms. I prefer learning a language the old-fashioned way. Except for France, all of the 31 countries I’ve visited are filled with people who want to help you learn their language. What better way to hook up with locals?
What to bring instead: A good dictionary and phrasebook. Also pack a good attitude.

Laptop
To be honest, I do take a laptop on some of my trips, but not on an adventure. My laptop means work, and while part of my work is travel writing, the best way for me to do that job is to focus on what’s going on around me. Computers can be a huge distraction and you always have to worry about them getting stolen or blasted by a power surge. If you do take your laptop to a developing country, pack a voltage regulator.
What to bring instead: A notebook and pen. Don’t worry, even Ethiopia has Internet cafes.

If there’s a theme to this, it’s that all of these gadgets distract you from the place and people you’re visiting. Doing without them for a month or two can be a welcome break, and your trip will be richer because of it. I didn’t need any of these things twenty years ago when I started doing adventure travel, and I don’t need them now that they exist.

[Photo courtesy user rkzerok via Gadling’s flickr pool]

High Gear Axio Max Steel Watch giveaway

Last week we reviewed the Axio Max Steel watch. This feature-packed wristwatch is ideal for independent travelers who need a compass or altimeter on their journeys. We’re giving away an Axio Max Steel to one lucky Gadling reader! Who’s ready for a backpacking trip?

The Axio Max Steel is more than just a timepiece – it’s a navigational toolbox. The Max Steel has dual time zones, two alarms, a digital compass, altimeter, barometer, and more. All these features are packed into an unassuming metal casing, so it doesn’t look like you’re wearing a two hundred dollar watch – even though you are.

HOW TO WIN:

  • To enter, simply leave a comment below telling us where you would use this watch first.
  • The comment must be left before Friday September 24, 2010 at 5pm Eastern time.
  • You may enter only once.
  • One winner will be selected in a random drawing.
  • The winner will receive one free Axio Max Steel watch.
  • Open to legal residents of the 50 United States and the District of Columbia who are 18 and older.
  • The watch is valued at $210.
  • Click here for complete Official Rules.

High Gear Axio Max Steel watch

When it comes to travel watches, telling time is good, but a watch that can help pinpoint your position is even better. Each trip has a unique itinerary, and those who choose the path less traveled may require a bit more from their timepiece. The Axio Max Steel rises to the challenge with its humble styling and powerful navigational instruments.

The Axio Max Steel is made by High Gear, an up-and-comer in the adventure watch market. They produce a variety of styles, but this particular model packs several features into its unassuming shell. Most altimeter watches have an over-sized face for reading information. The Axio Max Steel does this in a decidedly smaller package that doesn’t scream, “Steal me – I’m expensive!” The stainless steel body could easily be mistaken for a less pricey brand. Below that steel casing, however, lies an army of features that will help you get from point A to point B… or get back to point A, if you’ve lost your way.The main appeal of the Axio Max Steel is this arsenal of features that can help the directionally challenged out of precarious situations. No particular expertise is needed to use this watch, just a good map and a little basic orienteering knowledge.

Altimeter/Barometer
The altimeter on the Axio Max Steel claims to work between -2,303 and 30,045 feet. This means you could theoretically use the feature in the depths of Death Valley or on the icy summit of Mt. Everest. The altimeter uses barometric pressure to find the altitude. Once the altitude is set, the air pressure sensor reads the barometric pressure, and adjusts the altitude accordingly. As with most altimeter watches, the altitude and barometric pressure need to be reset each time the watch lands in a new place. For instance, when you step off the plane in Colorado, your altimeter might be a little confused until it adjusts.

Altitude is a great way to find where you are, if your map has contour lines and elevations marked. If your watch shows you are at 3,000 feet elevation, you can identify the 3,000 foot mark on the map and hone in on your possible locations. Don’t fret if your map has metric measurements – the watch can be adjusted to show meters as well.

Digital Compass
Beyond your map, a compass is the most essential navigational tool you’ll need. The digital compass on the Axio Steel works well. Our tests compared its readings to a magnetic compass, and they matched up almost identically. If you are ever unsure of your location, simply take a compass reading, find north from your position, and find north on your map. Turn the map so that north on the map lines up with actual north on your watch. Now you have oriented the map. Once this is done, you can take a look around at landmarks and natural features to get a better idea of your location.

Other slick features
Beyond the altimeter and compass, there are other features on the Axio Max Steel that make travel easier. The watch is water resistant to 50 meters, which works out nicely for a spontaneous dip in the pool or an accidental fall into the river. There are two alarms to keep you on schedule and ensure you don’t miss the next train stop. A dual time zone feature helps to keep track of the time at home while displaying the time in your current locale. The thermometer also makes for a fun feature when you’ve just got to exactly know how cold or hot it is.

The Axio Max Steel comes in at $210. This price is quite typical of watches that garner this many features. The styling works well for those who want a relatively normal-sized watch, but need the features of the larger computer-style watches.

Specs can be found at HighGear.com