Let me tell you a story. I won’t be long.
I recently made a trip to Germany. Touristic reasons. I made tons of those trips before, in many places in Europe and South America. Previously I had always relied on having a guidebook and/or a paper map for orienting myself in a new place. It worked.
This time I thought: “hey, Google Maps on my Android phone has offline caching of maps, why not just download the areas I’m going to visit and use the phone for everything?”. I wasn’t going to be online at all, 3G connections costs are too high outside my country and I am anyway pretty much a cheap bastard. So the offline thing was of paramount importance to me.
I had already downloaded some wikipedia articles about the sights and attractions I was going to visit via Pocket so I could read their history. It sounded a great idea. I was going to have the phone on all the time anyway so why not using its battery for something really useful?
I went on downloading all the area maps that I needed. I tested while still at home that they would load, that I could zoom in and out and that they had all the signposts that they were supposed to have. They did. Everything was working. I was happy.
Just because I’m a little bit paranoid and to be really sure, I looked up on the internet for pdf maps of some cities I planned to pay a visit. I found them. I put them on the phone and used an app to read them. That worked too but zooming in was incredibly slow; like, 20 seconds to have street names big enough for the 3.2” of the Lg Optimus One display. Admittedly it is a quite old phone and not even very powerful when it came out. Maps in Google Maps loaded much, much faster so I wasn’t worried. It was only an emergency route, as to say.
I left home feeling really a geeky traveller that was going to do “the smart thing” and do without paper, save forest, be nice and give hope of a better future to the children etc. (sorry, being carried off).
Then it happened. The worst thing that could. Google Maps got stuck while loading. The very first time I launched it after having landed in Germany. I didn’t panic, it had happened before. Rebooting the phone usually fixed it.
Not. This. Fucking. Time.
Google Maps was showing only a creamy-coloured background, bars were on and I could push icons and do searches but no map layer appeared. No satellite, no traffic, no custom maps, no anything.
I rebooted. Again. And again. I plugged in the power cord, just to make sure the phone was getting enough electricity. I enabled 3G data. I enabled WiFi (even if there wasn’t any free hotspot available). I enabled GPS. Nothing worked. Google Maps was stuck. Swearing abounded. I think I caressed the idea of buying a Brin&Page puppet and using voodoo techniques to make them suffer.1
Now the astute reader might think: “why didn’t you pay for Wifi and just use Google Maps when online?” or “why not accepting to pay outrageous 3G data rates? It was an emergency”. I could. But it wouldn’t have been economical. And Wifi isn’t available everywhere and I needed while on the road looking for directions; if I hadn’t internet connection in that moment, free or paid, what would have I done? Be lost anyway.
3G then? WIth my plan it’d be 0,9€/Mb. A guidebook of the area with a map can cost as low as 5€. It’s quite easy to realize that using 3G just to have access to an online map would be uneconomical.
Of course admitting that Google Maps would restart working when back online. I couldn’t have been sure of that.
Using the pdf maps then? Sure, if you can afford to wait 20 seconds every time you have to scroll or zoom it. Nice idea to pass time doing nothing.
So, what is the story’s finale? Well, I told you I am sort of paranoid. Most of the time it’s a negative aspect of my personality. Many times I’ve been scoffed because of that. This time instead it saved the trip: I had written a Markdown file with all the things I wanted to do/see/experience. In a paranoid-schizoid moment of me (or when I was simply bored), I added to this file all the directions, road by road, street by street, place by place, to get from one to another. With a timetable for every public transport stop, be it with bus or with trains, that I could ever have thought of needing. For every sight/attraction/place/restaurant/club/bar/whatever_fancied_me_to_visit.
I then converted the file to html and printed it, bringing it with me along with a sense of carrying an useless piece of paper.
That exact piece of paper fucking saved my trip. Along with my good sense of orientation.
Morale of the story? Use technology, don’t trust it. Pen and Paper aren’t going to betray you. Ever.
where do you buy that? Seriously. ↩