Category Archives: Travel

Use These 4 Navigation Apps and Don’t Bother with Anything Else

A long time has passed since we last relied on hunting and gathering for our survival. For better or for worse, our natural instincts for orientation have gone down the drain as well. And good luck with looking at the stars in the light-polluted cities in which we live. Good thing companies are quick to identify and cater to our weaknesses. In fact, too quick, as the market is already flooded with navigation apps. But before you rush and download a bunch of them, don’t bother – here are the only four you will ever need.

Google Maps

I am looking forward to the time (probably in no more than 10 years) when I will come back from work in a Google Car, dine on my Google Table and then go to sleep, covered with my Google Blanket. But for now let’s focus on one of their existing products – Google Maps. It consistently ranks as one of the best navigation apps thanks to the countless options it gives you. You can avoid heavy traffic as well as highways and toll roads. After the acquisition of Waze in June, Google Maps will now forewarn about potential hazards, accidents, road constructions and other reported issues, so you can reroute. And good news for all iPhone owners – Google Maps is now available for iOS, so hurry up and install it before Apple Maps send you straight into the desert. One of the areas Google Maps can improve on is speed. Users are complaining about the lack of a button that starts directions straight away without the need to specify different options.

clasesdeperiodismo / Foter / CC BY-SA

GPS Essentials

When reading reviews of this app, it’s not uncommon to see it called “The Swiss army knife of GPS navigation”. And there’s a reason for that – this clever app gives you a bunch of technical details about your ride, probably a lot more than you asked for. No, seriously, here’s the list of dashboard features it boasts on the Google Play Store: “Accuracy, Altitude, Speed, Battery, Bearing, Climb, Course, Date, Declination, Distance, ETA, Latitude, Longitude, Max Speed, Min Speed, Actual Speed, True Speed, Sunrise, Sunset, Moonset, Moonrise, Moon Phase, Target, Time, TTG, Turn.” Obviously, some of these are useless unless you work at the Navy of the Air Force, but don’t worry – you can choose only the widgets you use so all these values won’t be cluttering your screen. There’s a feature called “Tracks” that records information about your trips – distance traveled, speed (both average and maximum, so don’t show it if you get pulled over) and altitude, etc.

Waze

Even though it was acquired by Google for close to a billion, Waze will continue to be a separate app. The developers at the Israeli company stand behind the principle that “nothing can beat real people working together”. Its crowd-sourcing technology has proved to be a real formula for success in a market crammed with niche-like navigation apps. With now approaching almost 50 million users, Waze shares real-time information about traffic conditions, cheapest gas prices and changes in infrastructure. You might think that can’t possibly be as accurate as satellite images but you shouldn’t underestimate the power of tech-obsessed people in huge numbers. Plus, no satellite can be as fast as someone discovering a dead end street and alerting others that very same moment. And to add a social element, Waze makes it easier to “bump into” your friends. All it takes is logging into Facebook and you can see which of your contacts is headed in the same direction as you. Now you see it’s no wonder that the three tech giants – Google, Apple and Facebook – took an interest in Waze.

The Israel Project / Foter / CC BY-SA

Navfree

Navfree USA is probably the best among the free apps that offer downloadable maps. Actually, it’s not an offer, it’s a requirement – you need to download the maps before you use the app. But that has its upside – it makes loading maps faster and you won’t have to worry about maxing out your mobile limit or going out of coverage. The US version will serve you throughout the States, Canada and Mexico, but should you decide to venture overseas, there’s an international version with maps for 34 countries. It has some cool features such as low glare mode for night driving and automatic volume adjustment for your music when the voice guidance is on, as well as pedestrian navigation. The user interface can be a bit of a nuisance and you have to bear with sponsored ads, but there’s only so much you can expect from a free navigation app that’s not owned by a tech giant. Similarly to Waze, Navfree offers its users the ability to improve the maps. All you need to do is sign up at OpenStreetMap.

Now you are ready to hit the road with confidence. Yet even technology fails sometimes, so it’s good to be prepared, whether out in nature, or in the heart of the city.

How to Stay Safe When Driving This Summer

Whether you are planning to drive your own vehicle or rent a car for your summer vacation, you shouldn’t underestimate the dangers of driving in high temperatures, especially with the latest heat wave that hit much of the US.  While there might not be icy roads, or batteries refusing to start due to low temperatures, summer offers its own risks. Read on to avoid ruining a perfectly planned summer road trip.

likeaduck / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Before you leave

I know much of the excitement about road trips comes from a certain lack of planning, taking spontaneous detours and all that. While I am not arguing against that, it’s good to have at least an approximate idea of the duration of your trip and how much you can spend. It goes without saying that children need a whole new level of planning – games and toys, food and frequent breaks, among others.

Now for the technical part – there’s hardly a part of your car that isn’t affected by high temperatures. Get plenty of water to keep you and your car well hydrated. Except your car needs other fluids as well – fuel, oil, engine coolant, brake fluid, transmission fluid, power steering fluid, windshield washer – and all of them should be at appropriate levels.

We all know from 6th grade physics that matter expands when heated. The same is true for your car tires, so checking the pressure each time you set out on the road is a must. I am not even going to talk about the importance of a spare tire – a real one, and not one of these “donut” spare tires (beware, cars often come packed with them), which will generally not last for more than 70 miles. Same goes for all kinds of belts and hoses – there should be no visible signs of wear and tear. Even small cuts can be aggravated more than usual due to the heat.

Finally, check the performance of your AC, especially if you are riding with people who are sensitive to heat or have medical conditions. But it’s about more than that. On most new cars, the serpentine belt that gives power to your AC gives power to other important parts like the water pump. If the belt goes down, you might start sweating from more than just the heat.

Ryan Stone / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

On the road

Unsurprisingly, the months from July through October are statistically the most dangerous to be driving. Other people want to enjoy a good drive just like you, so expect less of those it’s-only-me-and-the-road-ahead situations and prepare for some traffic congestion. That includes people on motorcycles and bicycles, which don’t exactly have a reputation for safe driving. School is out, so be prepared for the riskiest of them all – teenagers and college students. So drive carefully, don’t “overheat” and get yourself into a road rage situation.

Speaking of overheating, checking coolant levels is not enough. You should monitor the engine’s temperature while driving and pull over and let the fan cool it down a little bit. If the problem persists, look for signs of leakage, usually in the form of wet or white stains on coolant hoses. Don’t underestimate the issue – damage due to overheating will not only leave you stranded by the side of the road, but can cause permanent damage that is expensive to fix.

Nothing is as romantic as driving at dawn or dusk. But that time also happens to be most dangerous for sun glare. Always keep a pair of sunglasses close to you, better yet if they are polarized. As for lenses that darken when exposed to the sun, count those out, as your windshield will filter almost all of the UV light. Clean up all smears on your window-shield as they will help increase the glare.

ashley.adcox / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

 

Finally, summer-grade fuels are a bit more expensive than winter-grade ones, so here’s a few tips on fuel efficiency in the summer. Don’t use open windows to keep yourself cool because they increase the drag. For the same reason, put all roof luggage in a roof box. Your AC is also fuel thirsty, so you can turn it off once it reaches a comfortable level and turn it back on when it starts getting hot again. Now all you need is good company and a destination and you are ready to go!