We’ve used our phones quite a lot on this trip so we thought it was worth writing about how we’ve been doing it and what we’ve learnt.
We went on a camping trip to Cornwall before Trexit to get a feel for walking from place to place. We navigated using paper maps of the area and a compass.
It worked quite well but on this trip, mainly thanks to the EU dropping roaming charges across Europe, we’ve ended up using apps on our phones for navigation instead.
Here’s what a GPS walking route on Guru Maps looks like.
Here’s what a walking route on Google Maps looks like.
Both have things they do better than the other.
Guru Maps is good for:
- using your downloaded maps offline
- showing more walking paths than Google Maps and showing whether they’re wide or narrow
- showing GPS walking routes from GPX or KML files (Google Maps can do this but not as nicely)
- showing altitude on GPS walking routes which is very useful for planning (Google Maps can do this too but it doesn’t show altitude changes as clearly)
Google Maps is good for:
- plotting a route for you
- rich, up-to-date information about areas
- showing elevation on the map (with its ‘terrain’ view)
- having a satellite view to see what the area you’re walking into will actually look like
There are loads of caveats to all this:
- Google Maps sometimes sends us on a route that’s less distance but has some bad ups and downs
- some campsites appear on Guru Maps but not Google Maps and vice versa
- Google Maps drains quite a bit of battery but Guru Maps is fairly harmless
- Guru Maps’ interface takes a bit of getting used to compared to Google Maps
Where we get our maps from
In France and Belgium, we navigated with paper maps from tourist information and our mapping apps. If we took defined walking routes, it was by following signs when we saw them.
Germany was different. There are several popular walking routes with GPX files freely available from sites like http://www.schwarzwald-tourismus.info.
Tourist information offices usually have information that’s local to the area and that you can’t get elsewhere.
It isn’t always obvious which tourist information is the one to go to for an area. For example, Baden Baden had very little on hiking in the Black Forest but Freiburg had tons.
Whatever you do, it’s almost always worth visiting tourist information.
You probably know this but we didn’t. Your phone gets GPS data from the satellites but doesn’t send any back. You only pay for data your phone sends so using GPS doesn’t cost you anything.
Having ‘location’ on does drain your battery though.
The majority of campsites only have one type of plug in their fields: a three-pin 230V socket. This is pretty standard for caravans but, as far as we can see, isn’t any use for anything with a standard European two-pin plug - so it’s no good for charging our phones.
The campsite in Maroilles had two-pin sockets in its fields but we think it’s only because they haven’t updated things yet.
Not having easy access to power when we’re camping means we always end up asking where we can charge our phones when we arrive. The response is usually one of (in order of fun for us):
- “No problem, we’ll plug them in here. Just come back in a bit.”
- “Use the sockets in the washrooms.”
- “Yes, we can charge them but it’ll cost you.”
Long story short: campsites aren’t really set up for charging phones so you have to be prepared to work for it.
Getting the most out of your battery
We’ve found location and mobile data both drain our batteries. We’ve needed both at various points but we try not to keep them on if we don’t need them. Apps can use mobile data even when they’re not open.
We’ve also found both Androids and iPhones have a low power mode. You can’t run most of your apps when it’s turned on but it’s great if you’re low on battery and you know you’ll need your phone later in the day.
Thanks to the EU dropping all roaming charges, you should pay what you do on your UK plan while you’re in Europe. It’s worth checking the details with your provider though. We’ve used a lot more data than we normally do at home so predicting the cost isn’t always obvious.
That’s it for now. If we learn any more we’ll write about it.