I’ve just arrived back from a belated honey moon with my wife. It was like many holidays for Australians in the northern hemisphere, a whirlwind tour of four countries in Europe. As Australians we have to do as much as possible. Since getting there and back takes the best part of three days, unlike our northern hemisphere friends.
Although going overseas for Australians seems like a national past time even with the jet age it still means long travel hours, much cost and a need to make the most of our time when on holidays.
None of what I say is extraordinary on its own but for the fact that this was the first time we did not lug around with us any travel guides – You know those heavy tomes full of coloured tabs and scrawled notes in the margins. These books that are the the mark of a lost tourist. You see them and their owners at the cafes near tourist areas. You see them a mere street away from the major tourist attractions with the owner gesticulating at a page to an obviously confused local.
This time we decided to ditch the guide book. All four we would have needed to make our way through England, France, Portugal and Spain and instead took a single mobile phone. A smart phone.
One cannot discount the need for a guide, of some description or another. However, we found that the benefits a travel guide book bring a traveller can now be wrapped up in a little phone 1/4 the size of your typical guide book and so much lighter. No longer does the weary tourist have to lug around lugage containing more weight in paper than clothes.
This article will cover what our particular device and approach to traveling did for us. Depending on how you like to organise your holidays and which mobile phone you own your mileage (so to speak) will vary.
Planning the trip
We take our trip planning quite seriously when traveling and in fact I do have to admit we found the travel guide books quite handy in choosing which destinations to go to and four how long but there are also a plethora of forums on the internet like the ever popular Trip Advisor that will give you as good advice if not better. An itinery was built up using Excel and plane tickets booked through travel agents and online. This itinery along with all the travel documents and email receipts were stored on the phone as well as printed out.
Day by day guides were built from information on message boards, guide books, Wiki Travel, friends advice and historical research. When matched with a good itinery we had a fairly good idea up front of what do do each day. There are also electronic travel guide books available for most of the major smart phone platforms from the various publishers.
Each hotel that we booked was plotted on Nokia’s Ovi Maps service and synchronised with my Nokia E71‘s maps software. This would later prove invaluable in making it from our arrival point into the city to our hotel.
I also visited the Wiki Travel page for each town, city, region and country we were going to visit or were even thinking of visiting and saved the web pages for offline use. While Wiki Travel is no Lonely Planet replacement the information supplied did supplement some of our research in our day by day guides.
Nokia/Ovi maps both on the phone and on the desktop is one of the most amazing and fully featured mapping experiences there is. Nokia should not be shy about maps.ovi.com this site equals if not beats Google maps in every area. On the desktop it’s just neat but on your mobile it is invaluable. To be able to plot all the places you will be going to ahead of time and synchronise them with your mobile then have access to the locations and even 3d models of the major tourist destinations is just something no one else can offer. Offline anyway, and offline is the keyword. Roaming charges are just too prohibitive to depend on mapping applications like Google maps which require a constant connection. Ovi Maps stores everything on your phone.
Keeping a travel diary
Active notes on the Nokia is a great application which allows you to combine text notes with sound recordings, video and photos to create a truly multimedia log of your journey. The only regrets I have about it is that there was no easy way to just publish our day’s exploits to this blog with the press of a button. Which is probably a good thing as writing notes on the go is rather unpolished and I will over the next few weeks take my brief notes and give them some polish. Eventually publishing some travel blog entries.
Roaming – data charges when overseas are exhorbitantly expensive. You need to make sure you disable any 3G connectivity if you don’t feel like being charged $20 a megabyte. Use Wi-Fi where available. I became an expert at spotting “free wi-fi” signs while on holiday and even two weeks later I’m still spotting them back home.
Positioning - The built-in GPS receiver on mobile phones is woeful. They all rely in some form or another, on data connections, which cost money. This is called Assisted A-GPS. Without A-GPS you need a good distance between buildings otherwise the phones internal GPS doesn’t get a good enough signal. In these situations knowing how to navigate just using a map and the closest cross street comes in handy. The phone we took with us doesn’t have an internal compass which as all orienteers know would have been very useful when the internal GPS failed us.
Next time we’ll probably invest in an international roaming data package which brings down the cost of data when overseas but at least for Australians can cost as much as a night in a 4 star hotel. The next phone I buy will also need to have a compass just in case GPS fails us.
We’re never going back to lugging around travel books. They are heavy, smelly and a one thousand page book contains about 990 pages of information you don’t need. The smart phone is quickly becoming a true pocket sized computer.