We are all for keeping things analogue when it comes to maps and directions, especially on a holiday where you might be seeking to have a digital detox. However, technology is here to help if you want, and it’s very user-friendly and accessible too. The technology in question is in the form of GPS and GPX files, with more details below as to how these can be used on your walking and cycling holidays. If you’re a newbie and you were around to get this reference point, rest assured that you definitely don’t need to be Scully from the X-Files to get your head around our GPX files.
Just as with all adventures at home or abroad, you can use a GPS device, such as Garmin hand-held devices or watches. This stands for Global Positioning System and they come in a range of prices, depending on whether you want them to make you a cup of tea or not. On some of our trips, such as walking in the Salzburg Lake District or cycling in North Macedonia and Albania our local partners who meet you when you arrive, can provide you with a GPS. You need to book this in advance on our booking form, and there is an additional charge to do so. It will have your specific daily itineraries uploaded to it of course.
More commonly, however, after you have booked we provide GPX files (GPS Exchange Format) that you can upload to a free app, and use offline while hiking and biking. You use your booking ID to access these files using apps such as Guibo, ARA GPX Viewer (iOS), GPXViewer (Android), or Outdooractive app, which can be downloaded for free from both Apple and Google Play stores. On some tours, we also use a local providers’ own app, which contains the key GPX files that guide you through each day, digitally and safely.
GPX files use clever coding to create waypoints, routes and tracks, as well as elevation, times and so on. If you are a Strava user for running or cycling, it uses a similar system although they add snazzy tricks like measuring our heart rate. Your heart rate won’t be elevated trying to use these trip apps, however, as they are very user-friendly. You really don’t need to be a coder to be an adventurer. If you’ve used Google Maps to get around town, or to get from A to B in your car, then you can definitely get your head around GPX files.
Most of the digital tracks and trails that we share are in GPX format, however, some local providers also use a format called KML (Keyhole Markup Language). The main difference between GPX and KML files is that the former is all about data such as waypoints, elevations, latitudes and longitudes. KML files store geographic details and have a more detailed focus on maps, using information from Google Earth or Google Maps. However, don’t let these formats flummox you. You will be given instructions on which app works for the digital documents we send you for your adventure holiday, and then you’ll be on your way.
Dare to go digital
We recommend trying out a navigation or trails map before you go on your hiking or biking holiday just to get the hang of things. There are several apps out there that provide free, community-led trails. Such as OS Maps (free for certain services) or AllTrails, which isn’t free, but they do offer free seven day trials.
Battery and data usage
Using navigational apps does use up your phone battery, as you will know if you’re a regular Google Maps user at home. So, it’s important to make sure your phone is well charged, and we always recommend carrying a power bank with you. If you are travelling with someone else, then we recommend both having the app and relevant files on your phones so that you aren’t dependent on one phone. It’s also worth bringing a waterproof phone cover in case the heavens open. Or, if you are on a cycling holiday, you can buy a waterproof handlebar mount for your specific phone in advance of your trip.
If you are uploading maps when you arrive in the country you are exploring, make sure you do so when you have wifi access. Although GPS doesn’t require mobile data usage, downloading does.
GPS and safety
With some of the navigational and tracks apps, such as ActiveNav, you can access a geolocalised emergency contact SMS. What’s brilliant about this is that you don’t need a phone signal to use it. You just tap the SMS Assistance button, and it automatically creates a text message to your local provider, with your exact GPS location.
It’s all about being a digital nomad, really. Trust in the technology, but always have a backup map and notes. It’s harder to drop those down the loo, and they don’t have batteries that can fail or get overheated when temperatures rise. For more hiking and biking tips, you may enjoy our blogs on What to pack for a cycling holiday, What to pack for a hiking trip and Tips on walking responsibly.