Maps and planning

I finally bought all the road maps required for my trip. That includes several on Russia, Central Asia, Kazakhstan, Northern Poland, Baltic states…. And I have been amazed at the surprised reaction of people to this. “Why not use only your mobile phone” I was asked?

Maybe people these day only rely on their GPS or mobile phone to navigate? But really?

How do you start planning a road trip? For me it starts with maps… ok I would start with Google map first, of an entire continent, but soon a real map is necessary.

And it  tells me so much more… the elevation lines showing tall mountains passes take me into thin air, blue skin, sharp crisp cold; those flats deserts where you can almost feel the intense hit as you follow that straight road, with your finger, through the map, for hundreds of miles; that intense green tropical forest at altitude, I can almost picture the cloud forest and thick fog, smell the humidity, hear the exotic birds… those large deep lakes and big rivers that will challenge us for a crossing; those dense forests… my whole trip starts there, reading the maps, looking at the geography, the details, potential roads, towns and villages…. It also tells me of mediaeval villages, Teutonic castles, fortified cathedrals or archaeological point…. All is there if you know to look. I can write on them, circle things, put some notes…. Nothing compare to a real printed map.

Now we do use GPS, but I always start with paper maps. The GPS won’t be able to take me to that little border crossing and into that interesting canyon that has no name,  it won’t take me through those short cuts, across farm tracks and tiny roads, unless I programmed it to do so by planning with my maps!

Some people seem to think that relying on my mobile phone navigation system is enough. Considering that in many places in the UK we can’t get any mobile phone signal, it’s actually quite amusing!

So my answer to everyone wondering is, yes, GPS (and phone) can be useful, if backed up with reasonable assumptions. So proper paper maps are absolutely necessary.

Think that in Russia many villages and places, may have the same name. Whoops. We could end up doing a 1000 miles before we realise we are not on the right track, if we relied only on GPS! And as I said, planning to take the most scenic or interesting trail or road, visit that national park or stop at a specific point of interest would not be possible with only GPS or mobile phone!

And to top up everything? I like to have a small compass…. Because the state and existence of roads, once there, compared with what both maps and GPS describe, can be… slightly mismatched! At least the compass will confirm we are roughly going in the right direction!