Point of interest

Point of interest

If you do a Google search for “google maps offline” or “offline maps” you will read about “1 weird trick” that someone discovered for caching the current state of a map view for use without a data connection. Well, typing some secret undocumented code into the search bar does not exactly give me the peace of mind I require when preparing digitally for a 2-week, tri-country, many-money-dollars European vacation of a lifetime.

On this particular vacation, I already had two iOS devices chock full of Rick Steves content, PDFs of travel documents, translation and pronunciation guides, a global data plan, all manner of reading material… I was prepared. It’s the year 2013. The future is now and these glassy, swooshy objects of both desire and utility are incapable of displaying electronic maps with points of interest created on another computer. I called bullshit on that because I have my data and I have my maps and this can work and I will show you how.

Here is what I do the minute after hatching a plan to go somewhere: I descend into a fugue state where I Google things and save them all to a new Google Map dedicated to that topic or location. Google makes it really easy to do this (although there are annoying quirks in this tool and it has not been updated in what feels like years) but you can add pins, lines, descriptive text and icons for your placemarks.

I had a lot of things saved in the Europe map and shared it with my travel buddy. Then we were like, “uh… what now though?” These maps are a pain to use on a mobile browser. And I didn’t want to use data overseas, except for info emergencies. Ok. Think. THINK.

I found this site – mapsonpaper.com – which sounds really quaint, like the old site that would turn any image you upload into a dot matrix mural you can then hang on the wall of your dorm. And I was like, “well… at least I can save these as PDF files and see where everything is and have a sense of…” NO. THIS IS THE WRONG ATTITUDE. THIS IS NOT. GOOD. ENOUGH. This is only an option if you are crazy enough to really, really want paper. Maybe if you are printing something out for your grandpa. And he’d be all, “actually… can you just send me the link?”

Do this instead:

  1. Make a Google Map. Here’s one, look at it. Collaborate with your friends on all the fun stuff you want to do and determine the exact coordinates where the fun is located. Don’t bother using different icons, but lines will work.
  2. Download this app for iOS called Pocket Earth. It is $2.99. (Maps With Me is another one, it is also available for Android. It is $4.99.)
  3. Pocket Earth Map with Brooklyn Points of Interest

    Pocket Earth Map with Brooklyn Points of Interest

  4. You will see a map of the world. Go to the country, city, or region that you want to save offline. Tap on the name and try until the pop up matches the area you want. Take a broad view. For Switzerland I just grabbed the whole country rather than going region by region, as we planned to travel around a lot. Read the help manual, there are a lot of features here.
  5. Go back to your artisanally crafted Google Map. Click on the KML link under the title area.
  6. Visit a website like gpsvisualizer.com where you can convert KML to GPX format.
  7. Put the GPX file in Dropbox or email it to yourself so that you can get to it on the device that has Pocket Earth installed on it.
  8. Open the file on your device, Pocket Earth should recognize the file and you can open it there.

Whoa! Now you are suddenly in another country, and you no longer have an all-you-can-eat data plan (you have 100MB total). The great thing about Pocket Earth and the iPhone 5c was that all I needed was a GPS signal and I could always see where we were on the map. (The Galaxy Nexus had a harder time getting a read, not sure if that was hardware or software related.) I could also edit the map on the fly, adding and removing places of interest. The app comes with some businesses and landmarks built in, but searching them is a little hit or miss.

Placemat and map detail

Placemat and map detail

Above is the kind of map you would see all over the hill towns above the Lauterbrunnen valley. They are not oriented North-South. They are crazy. And they all have a different center point, depending on what town you are looking at. They are good for gauging relative altitude and positioning and mountains, but kind of confusing all the same. I liked having the 2-D map (see the one at the top of this post) showing where we were in relation to various lifts and paths. The hiking trail is labeled here too. (And the spot where we got engaged — it’s considered a “viewpoint.” It was lovely.)

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