You just had your breakfast, and you are about to leave your hotel/hostel to tour the city. You have planned to visit museums, parks, restaurants, shops, Temple/Church/Mosque, exhibition galleries and finally coming back to your hotel.
But how will you navigate to all these places, all day long? Does your phone has Internet? Or are you depending on that printed tourist map you just got from the reception? But their maps are not scalable. I mean it just shows you places of Interest for the tourist visiting the city.
You may sometime take a Xerox copy of the map from a Travel Guide that you’ve bought. But if it’s a soft copy that you are planning to use it on your cell phone, again that’s not navigable because it’s just a pdf or an epub file. All you can do is only view it. It won’t tell you exactly where you are.
You might have bought those physical maps available in the shop nearby or that street vendor. But what are you going to do with that map once you are done with the city. Will that be useful again if you visit after two years, of course yes, but it will not be updated with the latest restaurants, pubs, bars and other non-historical attractions. You might end up going to a restaurant which is closed already unless you did some google at your hotel using their Wi-Fi before stepping out today. I know people these days, visit a café and use their Free Wi-Fi and move on to their next spot. But again that’s just a hack, can you rely on cafes internet every time.
What if you are in a small town or in the interiors where there is no Mobile Coverage, No Internet, and no possibility of finding any physical maps to navigate?
Of course, you are going to ask people for directions using your language if you are in your own country or communicate in English if you are in a foreign country. But what if they do not understand English, like for example. I was in Vietnam, and people didn’t understand English at all. I had to navigate using my GPS.
Readers from 80s should not get confused with a term GPRS, the 2G internet thing which you might be thinking of. Todays’ Instagram generation may not have even heard of this GPRS thing.
No, I am not underestimating your knowledge at all.
Today everyone knows about a GPS that comes inbuilt with your smartphone, but only a few people know about actual GPS device, a dedicated one, which does not need any sim card, it just works directly with the satellites for free. No subscription required. No monthly or yearly payments required.
Many of them are already using it, your car GPS is a good example, that you use it in your cars for navigating in cities and remote areas. Of course, you need to update your maps every year, but that’s a breeze.
Also read: Why Travel Without Luggage?
Here in this article, I am not focusing on that car GPS; I am focusing on the handheld GPS, which you can carry in your palms, which can be with you all the time, which can be on your waist belt as shown in the photograph below or in your pocket.
GPS does not need any internet; it comes with inbuilt maps, which works directly with the satellite. No paying any charges. All you need to do is, buy the GPS which costs from 80 dollars for a basic one and 150 dollars for a good one.
Just google ‘Handheld GPS,’ and you will get a good amount of search results showing pictures, prices, and videos for many brands and models.
In all my globetrotting journey of 47 countries, I’ve always relied upon my Handheld GPS. I’ve been using GPS in India since 2004. This was the time when very few people in India knew about GPS and its working mechanism.
There are five reasons I would suggest every traveler should have a handheld GPS for navigation.
1) The battery of the GPS would last for 16 hours, I mean 16 hours of actual navigation, that is for 1 to 2 days efficiently. Whereas the Smartphone battery would last no longer than 3 or 4 hours if you are using it for navigation. Even if you are using offline maps, your phone has to still receive and process the satellite signal for updating the coordinates, that is latitude and longitude.
2) The batteries are replaceable very quickly, I mean you can carry 2 AA batteries and change it easily. If you don’t have one, you can buy it from the market in an emergency, if charging facility is not available near you. But I always carry an extra pair of batteries with a charger. I keep it for overnight charging, so that next day morning I am good to go with a backup pair.
3) You can save any location in your GPS, which you can use it again to revisit that spot. You can also share it with other travellers. For example, a food joint or a roadside vendor.
4) You can create a route well in advance, like for example, your first place to visit will be let’s say a museum, then 2nd point would be a gallery, then a famous restaurant you wish to have your lunch that day, then it could be a theatre or a park, Then another tourist attractions like a disc or a pub, and finally returning back to your hostel.
Every city I visit, I’ve always created a route early in the morning, and just started walking with my GPS covering all major attractions. This way I also get to see daily life on the road.
For the tourist’s spots which are a bit far away, I would take a bus/tram or a metro next day reaching out to the corners & suburbs of the city.
There are big cities like London and Barcelona where you need more than a week to explore. But I did it in 4 days; this was possible ONLY BECAUSE of my GPS.
5) The last point I want to mention here is, while you are walking in the city visiting places, you can record your whole route in your GPS with just one button, and this way when you come back, you have an entire path recorded for you in a small file, with size less than 50kb.
You can share this file with other travellers and friends. You can also contribute this file on the internet forums and travel communities.
The GPS also shows you how much you’ve walked today, in how much time. It can show you the same for your whole trip unless you reset it.
It also shows you the altitude, compass and the timings of sunrise and sunset. The GPS can be used on-road & off-road, in a flight, on a boat and everywhere.
The aircraft that did not have the facility to display the flight path, altitude, speed, the distance remaining and more, I just ON my GPS and hold it on the Window for 2 seconds, and it shows me everything. I am doing this since 2004. Once a flight attendant asked me what is this, I gave it to her and said ma’am it’s a GPS, she returned it to me, but then immediately I saw her walking to the front of the aircraft, reaching out to that in-flight communication phone and talking to someone, maybe she was asking the pilot about GPS, which she might not have heard of until now. Sorry, I can’t name the airline, but the year was 2005.
I remember when I had travelled to Brunei, my hostel was actually on an island, and it was a tent accommodation. Wherein I had to take a boat, the moment I landed on the island, not a single sign of any human, and no shops. This GPS helped me to reach my accommodation after walking for a good 400 meters.
Every time I booked my hostel/hotel, I save the coordinates in my GPS that is the exact longitude and latitude; this way I do not have to ask for the direction to my hostel. All I have to do is select the destination and tap (click) on the ‘GO’ button and just start walking and follow the directions given by my GPS. By the way if you go off-route it warns you immediately, asking you to come back to the route or if you have gone too far, it reroutes itself with new instructions to follow, to bring you back on the original route.
The moment I am out of the Airport, Railway or Bus Station or a Jetty, I know exactly where to walk and how far, saving time and money.
This is how GPS helped me travelling in more than 70+ cities in 47 countries.
I never pay thousands of rupees for activating the international roaming facility on my sim card.
In fact, by purchasing this GPS, I’ve saved a hell lot of money on my transportation, navigation and touring places and the city.
Of course, the season you choose for travelling to a particular country or a city also matters. I mean I always travel in shoulder seasons.
You cannot walk for 2 kilometers in April or May in Rajasthan (India); if you do, you are done for the day, ending up in a cafe, sipping iced lemon water. So choosing the right month to travel is also essential while you are planning.
The best part is, the GPS is entirely waterproof, that means I also use it for the local treks in Sahyadri Mountains near Mumbai and the Himalaya.
So this was my experience about navigating without internet and paper maps using a handheld GPS device. What’s yours? Did you ever use any handheld GPS for your travelling, what is the best thing you liked? Please share with me by commenting below or writing an email. I would love to read it.