Saturday, October 4, 2014
My internal alarm had gone off shortly after 7 am. My eyelids protested against my mind’s coaxing to read the messages my phone accumulated during my two-hour shutdown. I kept my eyes shut, trying to get more sleep. It took me about half an hour before I decided to get up, take a real bath and go downstairs for breakfast. My roommate, a tall brunette, was already up and packing her things. While the other one, the Mexican I got to exchange a few stories with later on, was still relishing the feel of bleachy white sheets on her.
Today’s itinerary included a do-it-yourself city tour. While waiting in the airport in Manila, I sent a last-minute cancellation email to the operator of the Saigon walking tour I reserved. My fickle mind thought it wasn’t, uhm, cost-effective. But many tourists still sign up for walking tours because of its noble cause of helping students earn extra and practice their English conversation skills. Also, because it’s free. Yes, free but you will have to shoulder museum entrances, meals and fares of your guide. Tips are not required but are, of course, highly appreciated. So it’s not really free because you will end up spending twice as much as a DIY tour. This could work well if you are traveling with a group or if you are a philanthropist at heart. But for the budget or pseudo-budget traveler (like me), walking and taking trusted public transport services are the best ways to explore a certain place.
Of course, my pseudo-budget travelling technique would not be possible without the help of my new travel essential, the offline Google maps. A couple of days prior to my trip, I saved the maps of HCMC and Hanoi to my phone to try out this travel hack I came across on Facebook. I was completely fascinated by the small blue dot and triangle moving as I was when I set foot onto Pham Ngu Lao street, way beyond the reaches of the hostel’s high-speed wi-fi. I found it hard to supress a big smile as I thought to myself, The hack, it was working!
To save offline Google maps, simply type okmaps on the Google maps search bar. Then Google will ask if you want to save the map. Of course, you need to tap/click yes. To check if the map was really saved, disable your phone’s wifi and cellular data and move around the area, maybe go up and down the hostel or go outside. If the blue dot and triangle are moving, your phone and its GPS are doing their job and you’re good to go. Just make sure your phone is fully charged or better yet bring a power bank because navigating with an offline map will surely drain the life out of your phone’s battery. You wouldn’t want to be stranded in an unknown area of the city or town because your phone died on you.
Another important thing to do is to study the map of the area before going out on your own. Yes, even with a fully charged phone and a fully charged power bank. While getting lost is part of solo-traveling and makes it even more exciting, a little familiarity of the area will take you to more places with less frustration and swear words.
Above all, look up from your phone. Don’t just walk around with your eyes glued on the screen not even aware that you are at an intersection or you are about to bump into a light post. Use the not-so-common common sense and remember to put safety first.