Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Road Trip Technology

We’ve taken a fair number of long, complicated road trips in the last few years. Along the way I’ve worked out some habits for staying organized and minimizing stress. In the past those strategies have involved a lot of toner and paperclips, but now that we’ve each got two mobile devices I figured we can do better. 

I like to plan out our route in advance, and I’m a total sucker for turn by turn directions. I’d love to just use Google Maps on my phone, but I want something that works even in the middle of the mountains where there’s no reception, or the middle of Utah where there are no towers. Besides, I hate trying to type addresses on a phone or tablet while driving. My solution is pre-generating all the directions and saving them to my phones. This takes a few steps, but it isn’t all that difficult. First, sit down at your laptop or desktop and generate your directions with Google Maps as normal. Hit the “Print” button. When you get to the printer selection dialog, instead of choosing a printer choose “Save to PDF” (or whatever your equivalent is). This will, surprise!, save a copy as a PDF file. I used Dropbox to sync the PDFs from my laptop onto my tablet and phones. The only gotcha is that Dropbox won’t automatically download the files to your devices. You have to open up each PDF on your device. That will force Dropbox to download and save them on your device.

I also like to have copies of my itinerary, hotel confirmations, ferry schedules, and anything else I might useful on the road. So I just used the same “Save to PDF” trick on all of them. Usually all those receipts are just overkill. But when you roll into your hotel at 10 PM and the clerk tries to tell you that your reservation is for next week, those hotel confirmations are priceless.

All those directions and itineraries are nice, but if you want to improvise a bit a road atlas is indispensable. Again, Google Maps would work if I could be assured of connectivity. Since I can’t, I needed a different solution. A little searching turned up a free app called Maps With Me that does exactly that. You can download full maps for pretty much anywhere in the world. I spot checked some neighborhoods I’m familiar with, and the maps seem to be about as detailed and accurate as you would get on Google Maps. They weigh in at about 50MB per US state. There are versions for both Android and iOS, which is a nice bonus for those of us with no OS loyalty. Since it’s free and easy to set up, I put it on all four devices, so we don’t have to worry about which one has the maps.

Last up, keeping your homebound family and friends informed. There are plenty of options for letting Mom know you’re not dead, and/or rubbing your friends’ noses in the fact that what you’re doing is more awesome than what they’re doing. Facebook and Twitter are popular for this, but I’ve avoided them ever since burglars started using that info to find empty houses. Instead, we’re setting up a Glassboard for the trip. Glassboard has all that location-photo-messagey goodness of Facebook, but it’s complete private so the nefarious nightcrawlers won’t know we’re gone. Plus, when we get home I can export the entire contents of the board into a zip file. That makes a really easy scrapbook or journal of the trip. You also get copies of all the uploaded photos and videos so you can dump them into Lightroom, iPhoto, Picasa, or wherever you like to keep photos. Copying photos out of a zip file is way easier than trying to coerce them out of Facebook. And yes, it’s true, I’m not exactly impartial on the subject of Glassboard. But it’s still a good tool for the job. Really.

That’s it for my trip tech this time out. Do any of my twelve avid readers have other ideas for travel tools?

1 comment:

John said...

Have you ever tried the Galileo Ofline Maps for iOS?
Combined with the free MobileAtlasCreator it is easy to make your own offline maps and upload KML files (e.g. driving directions from Google Maps or Google Earth) with POIs.