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Apps the new maps for roadtrippers

by Staff

From Google Maps to a Yelping-hand choosing where to eat, technology and social media have, for better or worse, changed the way we roadtrip.   

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I can’t remember how I managed to navigate driving around foreign cities on my own with just a scrawled address and a map unfolded on the passenger seat. Or how I ever chose somewhere to stay without opening an app and checking the reviews before booking, which used to be a lot more complicated before Booking.com was around. Ordering a meal in another language without running Google Translate over the menu first is another skill I seem to have lost.

I still roadtrip with an old-fashioned paper map, though, because sometimes you need to see the bigger picture, rather than just the next couple of turns.

I still roadtrip with an old-fashioned paper map, because sometimes you need to see the bigger picture.

Even camping, which is about as old school as you can get, is now unthinkable without an app or two. WikiCamps is indispensable when looking for somewhere to pitch for a night. Not only does it direct you there, it also gives you the rundown on what it’s really like by people who have been there. Want to know if that riverside campsite you discovered a couple of years ago is overgrown? Someone’s probably been there last week and posted a picture. Social media is pretty handy, too, if you follow folk out there on the road going to the places you want to see. My Instagram account holds a bucket-list of nice-looking places I’ve saved whenever they’ve flashed up on my feed.

Hipcamp – like Airbnb for campers – is a network of campsites on private property. It’s particularly useful if you don’t fancy caravan parks, roadside rest stops or national parks, which are off limits if you’re travelling with pets. And just as I’d never leave home without Google Maps or a sat-nav, I can’t even imagine setting up camp without checking out the weather app first.

Sometimes, though, I pine for friendships made when I asked for directions and ended up being invited home for a cup of tea. And the shared laughter of trying to mime when you couldn’t speak the language, and the person on the other side of the conversation clearly thinking you were insane. Google Translate has a lot to answer for.

Thanks to social media and accomodation apps, there’s less chance you’ll find yourself stuck in some squalid variation of Fawlty Towers for the night.

The more you know…

He said: Knowledge is power, as the saying goes, and that’s the greatest gift this brave new world of digital media and communication has given to the traveller. Wherever you are in the world now, you have the means to find out just about anything you need to know, from the nearest petrol station to your accommodation options in the next town, to the price of a round-the-world air ticket. It’s all there in your phone.

One huge free kick from this technology is the fact that travellers are now able to communicate directly with each other, via specialist Facebook groups and reviews on sites such as Booking.com and Tripadvisor to reveal the ugly truth about the hotels from hell, the airlines that should stay grounded and the rip-off restaurants. Sure, there are plenty of malicious, stupid and fake reviews around, especially those from influencers – which for some reason always seem to be very positive unless the person in question has been denied a free lunch – but once you’ve done a few deep dives into the review pages you get wise to what’s genuine and what’s not.

In the pre-digital era, a dodgy hotel, airline or restaurant could stay in business because customers had no way to make their complaints heard. Now they do. All over the world, with one click.

Hipcamp is like Airbnb for campers and features a network of campsites on private property.

The reverse is also true, of course. Travel operators who overdeliver earn lavish praise from happy, grateful customers. On many sites you not only get detailed comments from people who have stayed, but a numerical rating – an average of the ratings given by individual customers – so you can easily compare the overall performance of accommodation providers. A place that scores more than eight on Booking.com, more than four on Tripadvisor or more than 4.5 on Airbnb is just about guaranteed to be good. Plus there’s a large gallery of images of the property – in some cases snapped by guests with their phones rather than professional photographers who know all the Photoshop tricks and are paid to make things look good – so you can see what you’re about to book.

It sure beats the bad old days when a few lines in the Lonely Planet guide was all you had to go on, and that awful feeling you had once – actually, a lot more than once – when, full of hope and anticipation, you rocked up to your supposed “luxury” accommodation in some exotic locale, ready to frolic an idyllic week away, only to find yourself stuck in some squalid variation of Fawlty Towers.

So to all those people who post honest reviews, thank you. You are making travel a much more accountable, enjoyable experience for everybody.

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