While I firmly believe that your first long, personal journey should be entirely free from modern electronic devices, there are plenty of tourers who pack a smartphone or tablet alongside their tent, stove and toolkit.
Android’s app marketplace may not be as well-stocked as that of a certain well-known alternative brand, but there are plenty of offerings of interest to the cyclist who’d like their smartphone to augment their tour, rather than distract from it. Here are a few – the obvious and the less so – that I’ve found useful and interesting since I came into possession of an Android tablet.
Some of these apps are inevitably going to involve navigation or environmental discovery of some kind. OruxMaps differs from other mapping or routing apps because of its ability to download tiles from all the usual mapping providers – Google, OpenStreetMap, Microsoft, and more – for offline use. It serves a dual purpose as a detailed trip computer and recorder, too, and interfaces with a list of popular track-sharing community websites.
Of the mapping apps here, OruxMaps comes closest to imitating (and outstripping) the performance and feature-set of a modern cycle-specific or handheld GPS unit.
Paper maps produced during the Soviet era for military use are still the best source of detailed topographical mapping in many parts of Asia and Africa. Great – for those who could get their hands on them.
Now declassified, the maps have been digitised at scales from 100k to 500k and are available in this free app (with ads), and a paid, ad-free version with extra features. You can also switch to the usual online tilesets to check them against a modern map. If you’re heading off-road or into the back-country, this is invaluable stuff.
Point your tablet or phone’s camera at the environment around you, and get instant visual information about the landscape. Wikitude shows geotagged Tweets, Wikipedia articles, Flickr photos, placenames, and a lot more besides.
Great if you’d rather ‘browse’ your environment than go and wander around it in ignorance (which, by the way, is often equally fun, if not more so).
I love to lie back and watch the stars when wild-camping. But I’ve always thought that I should know more constellations than just The Frying Pan. I really love the idea of being able to look up at the night sky and see a map, and now I can.
Google’s free open-source Sky Map is an augmented-reality app for just this purpose. Point your device at the sky, and watch as the celestial bodies are identified in front of your eyes.
For tracking weather measurements and forecasts with an emphasis on wind information, WindGuru’s a good bet. You can choose which weather stations to monitor from a map, and then see all the data in one place.
It’s not quite as detailed as yr.no, but beats their crappy app by a country mile.
Warmshowers, as well as a website facelift, have a new app for Android. Finding a host for touring cyclists has never been easier (assuming there are hosts in your area – Western Europe and the U.S. are still disproportionately overrepresented on Warmshowers).
Not a single Warmshowers host in Yerevan! I’ll have to do something about that…
If Warmshowers doesn’t turn up a city host, you can bet that Couchsurfing will. The smooth app is massively superior to the clunky website.
With over 3 million members, Couchsurfing continues to grow at a rate of knots. Just make sure your host has somewhere to put your bike…
Why mention a flashcard app? Well, a lot of us want to learn a bit of the language while we’re on the road. Flashcards are a proven method for efficient learning, and precompiled ‘decks’ are available for almost anything you might wish to learn (national flags, alphabets, lists of British monarchs…).
Importantly, flashcard learning is a simple enough process to be integrated easily into a cycle-tourist’s routine.
More Android Apps for Cycle Tourists
Reader suggestions have turned up the following (thanks everyone!):
- Elevation Profile is better than Google Maps, apparently,
- Backcountry Navigator (16-day free trial) features OpenCycleMap and OS maps for off-road travel,
- French Flashcards does what it says on the tin,
- Cycle information for Bavaria (Germany) is just that.
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I deliberately left out obvious apps like Google Maps, Twitter, Instagram, etc. But perhaps you know another Android app that would fit this list? (And just to reiterate: for your first trip, leave all this stuff behind.)