Of all of the optional extras that I took with me on my last trip, the one thing I would make sure to take with me again would be my GPS-enabled mobile phone. I realise that in the travel world, this can be somewhat of a contentious subject; I’ve had more than one person tell me that backpacking with a GPS is cheating, or that it takes all the fun out of it.
Naturally, I know as well as anyone the benefits of discovering places that are off the beaten track, or stumbling into a cool part of a town that isn’t mentioned in a guidebook; but I also know too well how annoying it is to walk five kilometres in the wrong direction while carrying a huge backpack, because you don’t have a map; or being dumped on the edge of town in the middle of the night, after a long bus trip, and not knowing which way the centre is.
There are so many times when the maps on my phone saved me from a long walk, or rescued me when I was just plain lost – or directed me to an elusive hostel, hidden in backstreets.
But not all GPS phones are equal. It’s important to ensure that you have access to the maps when you’re offline, as is likely to be the case when you’re travelling overseas. The cost of overseas broadband access can be prohibitive, especially if your phone is locked and you can’t buy local prepaid sims.
This is why both standard iPhones and Android phones aren’t particularly good for this, unless you’re willing to pay for extra software to provide locally stored maps; the online map software on both of them is quite useless when you don’t have any network access.
In my case, I was using my trusty N85 phone. It was shipped with free mapping software and downloadable maps that can be stored on a micro SD card, so anywhere you go, the maps come with you.