Travelling technophiles

Not so long ago, going on a trip meant that we gave the car a quick once-over, topped up petrol, oil and water, pumped up the tyres, stuffed some clothes into a suitcase, filled up a thermos flask with tea, packed a couple of sandwiches for the road, picked up a route map at the local service station, and headed off into the big blue yonder. Oh – and we took along the old 35mm film camera with a spare roll of film or two – if it was a really big trip.

This time round, it involved a whole lot more high-tech gadgetry:

  • a cellphone, with car charger and normal charger, and international roaming temporarily enabled
  • a digital camera with extra set of rechargeable batteries
  • a battery charger for the camera’s batteries
  • a card reader to download the hundreds of digital photos and video clips to the laptop
  • a laptop with adaptor and power cable
  • a special converter plug for Ireland/UK
  • an i-pod with USB-cable to connect to laptop, to synchronise music files and to charge i-pod battery
  • an i-trip with car charger and connected to the i-pod, so that you can listen to your own music in the car
  • a Garmin navigator, loaded with appropriate maps and waypoints, and with car charger and USB cable to connect to the laptop, as well as a window-mount.

I think you get the picture?

The missing fuse

As our Garmin’s battery-life was limited to about 3 hours, we clearly had to keep the car charger plugged into the cigarette lighter if we wanted to keep travelling. But the cigarette lighter in our hire car didn’t work. When we asked, the man at Budget explained, “Oh, we usually take out the fuse, because the kids like to stick their fingers in there and then they get burnt.”

… ! 8-o [Open-mouthed, goggle-eyed look]

I was momentarily speechless. Are 21st century kids really that dumb? I mean, if the urban legends are true, viz. that a three-year-old plonked in front of its first PC can figure out why it keeps hanging, or if your five-year-old can SMS faster than you… ? Actually, I suspect that disabling the cigarette lighter may have more to do with a non-smoking policy in rental cars.

Naturally, we insisted on a replacement car. With an intact cigarette lighter.

i-Pod and i-Trip

The main reason we took along the i-pod was because I had found some fascinating podcasts and accompanying maps on the Dublin Tourism Website. The plan was to listen to these self-guided iWalks, following the directions as given by the narrator Pat Liddy, as we wandered around the streets of Dublin. It sounded like a very cool idea!

An i-trip is a little gadget that allows you to listen to your i-pod in your car through the FM radio. You “just” have to find a gap between stations, where there is “only” the peaceful rush of static. Then you tune the i-trip to the same frequency as the FM radio. As we discovered, however, this was nice and logical in theory, but difficult to implement sustainably in practice.

This was because we were continually on the move, and thus the radio stations kept changing frequencies, disappearing and reappearing. From one county to the next, from one town to the next, sometimes even from one valley to the next, the stations kept migrating – even if only by a miniscule amount, and new ones kept popping up… which meant that there was constantly the snap, crackle and pop of radio frequency interference interrupting our musical pleasure.

In the end, we listened primarily to the available radio stations. RTE Radio 1 and Raidió na Gaeltachta were the two that we encountered pretty much everywhere, but I really liked the more local ones. Lots of them stream over the internet, although some are restricted to listeners in the UK and Ireland – you can find them here, for example.

Google Maps

In the planning stages of the trip, we had consulted Google Maps extensively, and ended up creating an online Google Map with waypoints and descriptions of all the places we wanted to visit. And I sent the link to my friends and family, so that they could follow our route.

And then my whizz of a husband found a way of downloading the Google Maps waypoints onto the Garmin, using Take it with me. Amazingly, it worked! This saved us so much time, as I didn’t have to re-enter all the destinations and waypoints on the Garmin.

Felicity rulez, ok!

Before we left for Ireland, we debated whether we should purchase a satellite navigation system or not. We’d never needed one back home, and weren’t likely to travel overseas again anytime soon, what with the plummeting ZA Rand. And I hated that phrase the advert used, “You’ll be lorst without it.” Because I’d really never been so “lorst” that asking a local for directions didn’t get us back onto the road, and surely getting “lorst” is half the fun?!

But the rental car company would have charged us around E15 to E17 per day to hire one, which was just ludicrously expensive. So we ended up buying one instead.

Fortunately, our little Felicity proved invaluable. Patient and ever helpful, she got us out of many a pickle… and into a few too.

The physical map I had bought of Ireland did not cover all the little side-roads, nor did it give sufficient detail. Apart from that, the roads weren’t always signposted either, so when we were approaching an intersection on a country road, we’d have no idea whether to go straight or turn left or right.

Quiet honestly, if we’d been relying on our wits and the map to take us around, there might have been countless marital disputes of the “I told you to turn LEFT back there!” and “Why don’t you ever want to ask for directions?!” variety.

Our little navigator persisted in taking us the most scenic of scenic routes from A to B that she could find. Perhaps she was under the mistaken impression that a line on her map was by definition a navigable road.

Only, it sometimes wasn’t.

Often it was a track so narrow there was barely space for one car, and between hedgerows and stonewalls so high we could not look over the sides, or see oncoming traffic. Quite often, we had to stop at a gap or a gate (fortunately there were enough of these) to let another car pass us from the front. And a few times, we had to reverse, up to 20 metres, down a narrow winding bumpy mud-track.

But that was a lot of FUN too!

On that score, I came across this story on the BBC website about drivers who went clockwise around the Ring of Kerry, reportedly the most scenic and tourist-riddled route in the Republic, instead of the customary anti-clockwise; they then had to reverse because they couldn’t squeeze past the bulky tour buses, which all do the route anti-clockwise.

And have a look at this video clip about the poor lorry driver whose truck got stuck on a country lane for three days after he had obeyed the instructions of his satnav.

But we did ask ourselves this:

All the satnav systems are programmed to choose ‘the shortest route from A to B’. But if they cannot always distinguish between a mud-track and a dual carriageway, will that not place serious pressure on tiny roads that aren’t meant to be travelled on by so many cars?

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