Thursday, August 25, 2011

GPS coordinates for Travel

With the advent of the Global Positioning System (GPS) and the number of cheap models of handheld GPS’s that are available in the market these days, I wonder why more organizations do not publish their GPS coordinates on the Internet?  Before I travel I like to know the exact coordinates of the places that I will be visiting, and load them into my GPS before I leave.

All it would take is someone with an understanding of how a GPS works to quickly determine the coordinates of I) the main entrance to a hotel, II) the ticket office to a main attraction, III) the front door of your favorite restaurant, IV) the local airport, V) the nearest car rental company, and VI) many other similar examples.  All they would then need to do is publish the GPS coordinates, in various formats, on their website, allowing customers and travelers the ability to know exactly where the entity is located.

I say ‘various formats’ above, because GPS coordinates are created in different formats, or more correctly different coordinate systems.  Please see the Wikipedia article here.  I prefer to use the coordinate system used by the geocaching website, i.e. WGS84, also known as the ‘Decimals Minutes’ format.  Another popular coordinate system is the Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) coordinate system.  I have never found this coordinate system too useful, and I never use it.

While a full discussion of the various coordinate systems is beyond the intended scope of this article, suffice to say that I would very much like a lot more organizations to publish their GPS coordinates on their website, using say the WGS84 system, the UTM system and perhaps another system (to allow the user a choice of which coordinate system he / she prefers).  I for one am much more likely to visit an hotel, tourist attraction, restaurant or similar if I know in advance its exact location by means of its GPS coordinates.

If, by any chance, you would like my recommendation as to what GPS you should buy, I have always used a Garmin GPS.  I own three Garmin GPS’s for my car (one with the Middle East maps (the Garmin Nuvi 715), an old GPS with the Middle East maps (the Garmin Nuvi 350) and one with the maps for the United States (the Garmin Nuvi 1300 MLT)), and two handheld GPS’s (the Garmin Oregon 550 that I use for geocaching, and the Garmin GPSMap 60CS (that I gave to my mom)).

Final Comment - - - Please, Lonely Planet, Eyewitness Guides and other travel publishers, please ask your travel writers to include GPS coordinates in future editions of your books.  That will make the life of travelers so much easier.  And please, owners of hotels, restaurants and other attractions, please publish the GPS coordinates of your operation so that we can find your place with greater ease.

1 comment:

  1. One thing to beware of is where GPS is banned. GPS devices are banned in at least three Middle Eastern countries, notably Syria and I also believe Iran and Egypt, although that might have changed in the past year or two. North Korea, for what it is worth, is another. Hey!, people do go there on holidays. Not quite Monaco, but nevertheless, it is worth bearing in mind.

    A second thing to pay attention to is sensitive locations, such as airports, police stations and other places that all too frequently might just happen to be right next door to your hotel.

    You might stick in the GPS coordinates because all the street signs have been stolen or are so old and faded (or are in an unintelligible script), but that won't help you when jumpy or paranoid cops or soldiers see you thumbing away.

    Worse still, some of those guys are not rocket scientists, so their knowledge of fancy electronics may be limited. That could lead to your stay being extended by a couple hours at a particular location, or even a couple of years, if it turns nasty. Either way, you could come back with more to show your friends over dinner than just dull slides.

    This sort of scenario, incidentally, is no longer something that happens to dumb adventure travellers in exotic banana republic destinations. Post 09/11, with jumpy cops in the centre of London, New York, or as plane spotters in Greece discovered to their cost, everyone is a potential threat, even confused tourists.