There are times when we wonder what it must have been like to travel 100 years ago… no mobiles, no internet, no digital camera, no cheap airlines, no email, just the occasional postcard or letter home. How different it would have been, and even in our lifetime we can can remember a time before sony cybershots, iphones and facebook. However the average traveller you meet now, has an mp3 player, a mobile, digital camera and probably a small laptop, maybe even an ipad or kindle. We stay connected more than ever and every third person seems to be writing a blog about their trip or tweeting about the local grasshopper delicacies at the night market.
Sometimes we feel as if we would love to escape all of it, ditch the mobile and laptops, disconnect and just travel without being in constant contact with the world, be free. Yet if we are honest, most of the time we are in awe of how marvelous ‘technology’ is and how amazing it is to be able to blog from the Gobi Desert or tweet from a mountain top.
So we have complied a list of the top 10 websites we use the most, as a celebration of how the interweb can be a useful tool for a travelling cyclist and how being connected can be helpful and inspiring to others.
Knowing what your hard saved pennies will buy you is most important. This site is particularly useful when you first arrive in a new country and we often scribble down the value of 1, 10, 20, 50 and 100 or 1000 on a scrap of paper to refer to, until we get used to it. This will give you the exchange rate, although what you get on the ground may not be as good!
Top tip: rather than checking in pounds or dollars, we like to convert the currency of the previous country to the new one, for example 100 Chinese Yuan into Mongolian Tugrik, that way you can compare the local cost of food and accommodation, and make a comparison on value for money.
2. Google maps
Paper maps are great, but Google maps comes into its own when you are travelling away from the main tourists hubs or when your paper map lacks detail. We use google maps on our mobile, allowing us to pinpoint our location using GPS, great for checking you are going the right way, especially in countries with few road signs!
It is also great for route planning as you can calculate distance and save routes, as well as zooming in to the satellite view to see the roads, forests and other details.
Top tip: take screen grabs of maps when you have an internet connection, that way you can view them offline when you are away from those free wifi areas!
We’re sure many of you are familiar with blogging platforms like WordPress and Blogger. We use WordPress to run our blog and it allows us to share our travelling stories with friends, family, schools and anyone else who might be interested in our adventures. It’s also a way for people to comment and respond to what you are doing, which is great for us on the road as we love hearing from people.
Top tip: WordPress allows you to fully customise your blog to look like your website (if you have one), that way users have a seamless experience.
Most cyclists you meet will tell you that a big brick of guidebook is simply too heavy to lug round, when you have limited space and weight to worry about. Not only that but it can be expensive if you are visiting many countries, and in the developing world the pace of change means that books quickly become out of date. However much of the information is now online and the most valuable resource we found on Lonely Planet is the forum, where other travellers post up to date, specific, first-hand information. Everything from the latest visa requirements, border crossings to new hostels and bus routes, a fantastic use of the web in our opinion.
Top tip: make sure you say which country you are from when you post about visas, as different rules apply to different passport holders.
5. Warm Showers
You’ve heard of Couchsurfing, well Warmshowers is like that but specifically for cycle tourers. Sometimes turning up places with your grubby bikes and loads of bags can be an issue, but with Warnshower hosts they know what it is like and will accommodate you and your bike without any fuss, in fact usually with great enthusiasm! We’ve had some wonderful times staying with Warmshower hosts and shared stories over a beer and a lovely homemade meal. So add it to your list: Warmshowers – Cyclists offering other cyclists a place to stay, all over the world.
Top tip: Email hosts well in advance. Some hosts want to show you around, take you on a tour and cook for you, others will leave you to your own devices. You either need to manage their expectations or simply go with the flow.
Like the main wikipedia site, but specifically for travel edited and written by the wiki community. This site can provide info on places that would never make it into a Lonely Planet or Rough Guide book, or places that LP will say ”there is no reason to go to this town”. As a cycle tourer you are often passing through places that tourists wouldn’t make a beeline for, yet you may be in need of a hot shower or post office. Wikitravel is great as it will give you that kind of info as well as historical or cultural information about the place. Lately we’ve found small hotels listed in tiny towns, that don’t exist elsewhere on the web.
Top tip: Consider stopping at these smaller towns and villages as they can be really welcoming and interesting. Some of our most memorable and real experiences of local culture, have been in these smaller places, with people offering us places to stay, helping us and refusing to let us pay for meals and generally being excited to see us in their town.
Wunderground gives you reliable weather reports from anywhere in the world, even in far flung places like outer Mongolia. We are all at the mercy of the weather and mostly we just get on with it, however if you are cycling out in more remote places it is worth checking the forecast. We’ve been caught in snow storms, freak hail storms, sand storms that last for hours, heat waves and gale force winds on our bikes. If you know what you are going into you can make sure you have enough food and water, not to mention mental stamina!
Top tip: The forecasts are quite detailed, so again, you may want to take a screen grab so you can look later when you are offline. Check the spelling of the place name carefully as it is quite sensitive and won’t return results for misspelt place names.
8. Spot Tracker
If you are planning on going off the beaten track in a serious way (ie no hospitals, no real roads, no mobile signal) then a GPS Spot Tracker is a gadget to consider before heading into the wilderness. You can press a button which send an email to specific addresses (ie your mum) to say you are ok and give your exact location. Or you can press an emergency SOS button if you get into big trouble which will scramble help to rescue you in an emergency. The website allows you to manage the messages sent and edit email addresses and contact details, as you travel.
Whilst the debate may rumble on about the freedom to roam without anyone knowing where you are and having an epic adventure, for us the point of our adventure and exploration is not to cause worry and anxiety for loved ones at home. The Spot Tracker gives us and them peace of mind. And as great as our wilderness first aid skills might be, we’d like to know help would come if we had a serious injury whilst biking across a remote area.
Top tip: Your location is also plotted on a map which you can embed into your website or blog, which is great if you have people following you or schools wanting to track your journey.
9. Hostel World
Wild camping rocks, but in cities it can be tricky and let’s be honest who doesn’t want a hot shower and a soft bed after several days on the road? Finding cheap accommodation is priority for most travellers, if you want your money to last. Hostel world lists all the hostels in an area, with reviews and live availability and booking. There are also map and photos which can save time when trying to find a place.
Top tip: Booking online sometimes gives you 10% discount, free breakfast and generally seems to be cheaper than arriving in person and booking. We also use the website to help negotiate a better price in person ( ie “It’s says 50 RMB per night on hostelworld.com can you match that price?”).
Great site for organizing and uploading the gazillion photos you’ll end up taking on your travels. Not only that but you can use it as a way to back up all of the photos, so if your laptop or hard drive go missing you still have copies.
Top tip: If you’re expecting (or hoping for!) media coverage, or have sponsors, it’s allow a great way to promote them with shots of your tent in wild remote locations, as well as showcasing your own photography skills – one of our photos made it into the 2012 Hilleberg catalogue!