Phones in the Wilderness

It’s no secret that smartphone usage has grown astronomically over the last few years, and the range of things they can do is undeniably impressive. From finding a new recipe to working out which star you’re looking at, a smartphone is your friend.

However, they can only go so far. Recently concerns have been raised about the number of hikers using phones to navigate in national parks and wilderness areas. Unlike a traditional map and compass, which (once you know how to use them) are pretty straightforward, there are several different ways phones can fail to deliver when it comes to navigating in the backwoods. They can run out of battery, lose signal or connection to GPS services, or become unusable in bad weather. Even when running and connected the basic mapping functionality they provide often doesn’t have the detail hikers need to get from A to B safely.

The English Lake District is one of the UK’s most popular destinations for mountain hikers of all skill levels. It sees around 16 million visits every year. Most people make it back down off the hills without a problem but lately there has been a sharp rise in call-outs for urgent help. Over the last five years the number of people who have needed to be found and brought back to safety from the Lake District National Park and surrounding areas rose by 50%. Local Mountain Rescue teams lay the blame squarely on inexperience, and in particular on hikers trying to find their way with cell phones rather than paper maps.

Across the whole of England and Wales, the percentage rise in call outs is about the same- somewhere near 52% in the five years to 2011. The UK Ordnance Survey is the body responsible for compiling and updating official maps across Britain, and they claim that sales of paper maps have dropped by a massive 25% over the same period. The trend towards alternative (and often inadequate) navigation methods is pretty strong.

On the other hand, smartphones can be extremely useful in rescue situations. Mountain rescue services in Wicklow, Ireland, recently found a lost hiker in ‘an extremely remote location’ by sending a special locator app to his phone by text. The app, known as SARLOC, has also been involved in a number of successful rescues elsewhere.

There have been reported cases where lost parties have sent a picture of a nearby landmark to rescuers, who were able to determine the correct location using their own knowledge of the area. One lucky hiker was even found when rescuers spotted the flash from his camera. And of course, it must be remembered that many calls to mountain rescue services come from cell phones. Sometimes the alarm is raised when a hiker, runner, mountain biker or climber doesn’t return home at the expected time but often it’s those in need of rescue that make the call.

It’s clear that cell phones are amongst the most important pieces of safety equipment a hiker can carry, but they shouldn’t be thought of as a replacement for a traditional map and compass and the navigation skills required to use them. Mountain Rescue services from the UK, Ireland, Canada, and Australia all agree- take a cell phone, but take a map too.

Jess Spate is an experienced map-carrying hiker and iPhone user. She writes for Appalachian Outdoors, an American camping gear retailer, and edits a British outdoor clothing site.

Will the Games be worth it for London?

We’re fast approaching the end of the countdown to the launch of the 2012 Olympics in London, and the national debate continues, will the Olympics bring the Big Smoke tears or an explosion of wealth and fortune or will we meet the same fate as many past Olympic celebrations such as Los Angeles, Greece and Sydney, still paying off debts for the games over twenty years later?

Since the budget was set for Olympic village, it has doubled, soared, rocketed and doubled  again and again since the original budget of £2.7 billion was set, and has now risen to £24bn and is expected to continue to rise as fears over security, access for the disabled and other unexpected problems have to be accounted for. Whilst venue itself is funded by private sponsorship, some of which comes directly from the Olympic fund, through ticket sales and the sale of merchandise, as well as banks such as Lloyds TSB or international corporations such as McDonalds, Coca Cola and Adidas whilst groups such as the National Lottery have made a contribution of more than £2.2bn. However the extra infrastructure needed to make the games easily accessible and the security and policing costs of the event are estimated to cost the UK taxpayer an extra £20 household tax per year.

It is then important to consider the effect of the games on local housing costs. This year London tenants are being scammed across the city by greedy landlords hoping for a quick cash fix from the 17 day sports event. Many contracts for tenants have given them specific moving out dates for this time period to make way for tourists who are willing to pay up to eighteen times as much the usual cost for a regular tenant in order to see the games. This has led to many London tenants fearing homelessness during the Games or being forced to move out of the City whilst tourists run the city. Could it be that the Olympics are forcing Londoners out of their homes, rather than making it a more exciting and desirable place to live?

It is not all doom and gloom however, according to the European Tour Operators Association, the Games are expected to bring an estimated 350,000 foreign visitors per day, each spending thousands of pounds not just on the tickets, but also on accommodation, eating out and transported. Yet in previous years Olympic cities have been sorely disappointed by tourism generated income. In 2000, Sydney was hoping for 132,000 foreign visitors and only received 97,000 for the entire Olympic period, and Athens was equally disappointed four years later when only 14,000 visitors came during the Games of an estimated 105,000 per night. Yet despite these lows, Sydney did see a gentle boost in the four years following the Olympics, reporting an extra £2 bn increase in tourism generated revenue.

In essence, it is important to remember that although the Olympics may create a bigger cost than revenue, it is about bringing the world together through the celebration of good sportsmanship and uniting different cultures, after all, who throws a party to make a profit?

Vacation Saving Opportunities 101

Tough financial times sometimes call for a decrease in expenditures. While families can save money on vacation, they should not have to do away with them completely. Vacations need not be a financial burden. There are many ways to save money while planning and throughout a vacation.

Savings on Accommodations

  • Consider renting a condo, house, or timeshare for the duration of your stay.
  • Purchase inexpensive yet effective renters insurance. This can save hundreds of dollars or more in the case of accidental damage to the property you are renting.
  • If you do decide to stay in a hotel or resort, compare prices on various dates. Some hotels have lower rates for weekend guests while others have special deals during weekdays.
  • Visiting during the off-season, no matter what location you choose, will almost always save money on accommodations.
  • Join any priority clubs offered by your chosen hotel.

Savings on Travel

  • When renting a car, purchase inexpensive rental car insurance. This is a necessity in case the car is damaged while in your care.
  • Children under the age of two travel free on domestic flights.
  • Most airlines charge for checked luggage. Find out if your airline charges for these items. If so, pack as much as possible in your carry on and keep checked luggage to a minimum.
  • Research the prices of airport shuttle services.

Savings on Dining

  • Prior to departing for your destination, look online for coupons and special offers for dining establishments you may visit.
  • Rent a home, timeshare, or hotel suite with a kitchen.
  • It is not rare to find hotels or resorts that serve free meals. Some hotels provide a free breakfast and many offer free meals for children.
  • Bring your own food from home. Choose one meal a day that you will self serve.
  • If you have access to a refrigerator or cooler within your accommodations, purchase drinks by the gallon.

Savings on Entertainment

  • Ask your hotel or resort about any bundles that they offer for local entertainment venues.
  • Inquire about reduced prices for special groups. Children and seniors often get into attractions at a discount.
  • Look for free entertainment. Museums, monuments, parks, and more can be found for free in many places.

Savings on Souvenirs

  • Plan on purchasing the least expensive souvenirs.
  • Do not purchase any souvenirs that run the risk of becoming broken or damaged during transport back home.
  • Ask gift shops about their shipping policies.
  • Place children on a budget.

Saving while on vacation does not have to take place of the fun times that you can have. Being prepared before you leave home is most of the battle. Knowing when and where you can save money before you start the vacation can keep you from having to stress about funds while you should be relaxing and enjoying your time away from home.

Tips for Camping with Kids

Camping with your kids can be a lot of fun, however, it can also be a lot of work. There are several challenges to camping as a family, including meeting everyone’s needs. As you prepare for this year’s camping season a few simple tips will help you plan for a much more enjoyable family vacation.

Tip #1 – Plan for Keeping Your Family Hydrated

A lot of the problems that can develop on a family camping trip transpire because your family is not properly hydrated. Mood swings, exhaustion, overheating and headaches can all be traced back to an insufficient amount of fluids. To avoid these problems all you have to do is make sure you have enough drinking water on hand and that you encourage everyone to drink water regularly throughout the day.

Tip #2 – Keep Your Family Fueled Up

Another issue that can dampen your family fun while camping is insufficient calories or insufficient nutrients. When you are in the great outdoors and moving around a lot you burn a lot more calories than when you are just sitting at home. To avoid hunger pains, mood swings and crankiness you need to keep your family fed with nutrition food, not just junk. Fruits, nuts and vegetables are all great snacks that can help keep energy levels and blood sugar levels steady. Also remember to plan healthy sources of protein, like fresh fish from a stream.

Tip #3 – Bring Comfort Items

If you are traveling with young children then remember to bring comfort items with you. This will help your kids to adjust to their new surroundings and the sensory overload that they will get by spending time outside in the wild. Comfort items include blankets, toys, books and other small, portable objects.

Tip #4 – Make Preparing for the Trip a Family Affair

Often kids feel left out of vacation planning. As a result, they may act out or be combative about going on a camping trip with their parents. This is particularly true. To overcome this obstacle, have your pre-teens or teens help with the planning and preparing for the trip. For example, have them map out where you will be going, or have them run to the store to pick up the food or other items that you need for the trip.

Tip #5 – Be Prepared for Everything

The final tip is to be reasonably prepared for what could happen on a camping trip. Have rain gear, cold weather clothing, spare tires, air pumps, enough food and water for your family and have a backup plan if one camping idea falls through.

A New Zealand family vacation can be a lot of fun. You’ll find more interesting tips on this NZ vacation blog.