Planning and Navigation

Disclaimer: Everyone is comfortable with different levels of certainty and different levels of technology. After several weeks of experimentation, the following works for us… although we’d be happy to hear if you’ve got any suggestions or alternatives?

When planning our path around Spain, we decided that we weren’t going to plan everything in meticulous detail. We had a timescale and some destinations that we wanted to get to, but no hard schedule or route. The following is a summary of the workflow we used to get us about.

Step 1: Map

We looked at various travel guides and asked our well travelled friends about good places to visit and tips. We then plotted the locations on a map. I used Google Maps for 2 reasons. First is that I’m a geek, and second is that you can add notes to each location you’ve plotted, and those notes appear on your phone… which is useful later. We did the majority of our mapping before we left.

Step 2: Schedule

We then created a spreadsheet with a list of locations we wanted to drive to, which was mostly our campsites. I created this in Google Sheets because it’s readable on our phones and you can make it available offline, so even if we run out of Internets, we’d still be able to use it.

To begin with, each line on the spreadsheet included the date, a location name or point of interest. We generally tried to keep our schedule updated so we had a few days of where to go roughly programmed in, but it was flexible.

Step 3: Detail

A day or two before we moved there, we added more detail to the spreadsheet (although sometimes we were making it up as we went along, so everything was added at once). At this stage, we put the exact location of our stopping points and then a link to the information. If we were visiting major tourist attractions and going to their car parks, we’d generally check on Google Maps Streetview that the carpark looked accessible for The Van, mainly that it didn’t have a low height barrier!

For general carparks, stopovers and campsites, we found 3 apps that were really handy:

  • CamperContact – mainly for campsites with facilities. Really good filtering capabilities to find sites if you need to wash some pants!
  • Park4Night – good for wild camping spots
  • SearchForSites – a useful backup

At the start of the trip, we were using addresses for the location, but we quickly realised that most locations are best referenced using a latitude-longitude, which is what all the camping apps use. It’s also not hard to get a lat-long from Google Maps.

Bonus tip: CamperContact can link straight through to the location on your phone’s satnav. No copy and paste required, which is useful when you’re on the go.

We also had columns for a backup location if the campsite or carpark was full. Thankfully this was only required a couple of times.

Step 4: Drive!

Planning is no good if it doesn’t get you to where you want to be. So the most important bit is the driving. I’ve recently upgraded the radio in The Van to a Sony XAV-AX100. The main reason I chose it is that it’s got Android Auto (also includes the Apple equivalent, which is CarPlay). It effectively means all the brains of the SatNav comes from your phone, but the interface is projected as a nice vehicle friendly display on your dash. So no more manually transferring addresses, co-ordinates or points of interest from one device to another, it’s all in one place and always up to date and follows the route that you were expecting.

So when we decided to set off:

  • Opened the Google Sheets spreadsheet on my phone and find the destination for the day
  • If this was a CamperConnect location, I could use the link to open the location in the app, then click Navigate and it would open it in maps. Else I’d copy and paste the address into Google Maps.
  • Check the routes available with the current traffic conditions. Turn off tolls if it wasn’t saving any time.
  • Plug the phone in to the radio and the SatNav starts working from there.

The Sony AX100 is an older model, but it was cheap in the January sales. I think the AX3005 replaces it?

Potential improvements:

Google Maps on Android Auto is great. However, it does assume you are driving a car. While trying to get to the site in Figueres, it kept trying to route us through the centre. The issue with that is many of the roads have height restrictions, so we had to keep ignoring turnings to get it to re-route. Also, while driving up towards the peak of the Sierra Nevada mountains, the road it suggested was very narrow. We made it (just!) but a larger vehicle would have had to turn back. We should have checked before we left.

We did also try Waze as it also works on Android Auto. The main advantage is that it can tell you the speed limit. However, this only appears to work in built-up areas and isn’t that reliable. It doesn’t have lane guidance like Google Maps does. The main issue was that I didn’t get on with the interface.

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