Travel navigation: Which road to follow?

“How do you know which road to take?”

“Where do you find the off-the-beaten-path?”

“How do you plan your route?”

People have asked us these questions more than once. And to be honest we were bad in answering them. Strange isn’t it? These questions seem to be fairly simple, right. What is the problem then?

Well, this might come as a surprise, but we never put much time in our navigation. Our route planning is very minimal. No hours of prepping, no detailed road book to follow … simply “what could be an interesting road to get from here to there?”


To find those scenic roads we use the following tools:

  • A free, open-source navigation We totally recommend it!
    • In the past, we were also fans of the paid app “Navigon”. Since this app functions more like a normal GPS, allowing you to specify what kind of route you’re looking for, what kind of routes to avoid and what kind of vehicle you are. It also had a paid add-on that gives you extra restrictions, like height and weight (which can come in handy when you are driving a +7.5 ton, 3m68 high expedition truck). BUT like any GPS it still makes mistakes, AND most importantly we lost all of our purchased add-ons when we switched our mobile provider. As you can imagine, we were absolutely not happy about this.
  • Google maps
  • Old fashion paper road maps. The best are the ones from a specific area, not one covering multiple countries.
  • Recommendations by fellow travelers AND locals
  • Our eyes & ears.

Minimal preparation

When we travel to a new country/area we do some online reading beforehand (to be honest Elmer does most of this). What are the places and activities we shouldn’t miss, what are tourist traps, are there any natural forests, etc.?

We mark these points of interest on our paper road map. This gives us an overview of the places and people we want to visit.  Having this clearly visualized in front of us makes it easier to decide upon the general travel route.

Next, we search for additional geographical features around this travel route that draw our attention: lakes, mountains, forests … These we find on paper road maps, google maps or on the navigation app.

Finally, we look for small roads (local roads, gravel paths, forest roads, …)  that take us there.

And the rest is up to keeping our eyes and ears upon while driving.



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3 thoughts on “Travel navigation: Which road to follow?
  1. Ik mis hier nog altijd de Instagram button.De voorbereiding voor de reis bestaat bij mij uit veel blogs volgen en lezen zoals die van jullie.Als je een plaats noemt ga ik die direkt opzoeken op Google Maps en zet ik er een sterretje bij en dat gaat ook naar mijn smartphone voor onderweg.Dat is wat ikde 10 maand doe die volgen na mijn reis.Noodgedwongen.Mijn wederhelft heeft een hekel aan lange en verre reizen en heeft nood aan warmte dus noordelijke streken zijn uitgesloten en winterreizen ook.Op 18/4 zetten we aan met de caravan,Frankrijk dwarsen richting Spanje en Portugal.Al veel plaatsen op maps gezet die ik wil zien zoals de camino del Rey.Ik vermijd tol en autosnelwegen zoveel mogelijk en dat verplicht ons om traag te reizen en zo zien we nog eens wat en dat gaat van camping naar camping en als het ons ergens bevalt blijven we ietske langer.

    1. Ja helaas bestaat er geen instagram-share button. Maar een directe link naar onze instagram account vind je rechts bovenaan in de sidebalk.
      Het plaatsen van sterretjes doen we ook wanneer we iets gelezen hebben dat interressant kan zijn. Zo vergeten we het niet. En inderdaad dat het vermijden van tole en autosnelwegen is niet alleen goed voor de portomonee maar ook voor je reisritme. Het lijkt dat jullie ook echt genieten van rustig te reizen en er gewoon van genieten zoals het komt.

      Nicole & Elmer

  2. I tend to find that if one does insufficient preparation one simply drives through regions either following the main tourist routes (for which one doesn’t require an expedition truck) or one misses the intesting routes.

    For me a major resource is the tracks uploaded on; if you are following where others have gone before you can have reasonable confidence that the track exists and is passable (although this isn’t infallible – some tracks just peter out or go to impassable areas). You can download the tracks in gpx format and using suitable software follow using the cursor from any gps device.

    The other ingredient is to have an electronic map showing where you are. I find that commercial satnavs are pretty useless if you are seeking offroad trails and many aren’t suitable to upload trails (or have silly restrictions like a ridiculously low limit for the number of track points). You will need a small laptop or tablet as your navigation device.

    A very value resource is the OpenStreetMaps project where you can download maps for pretty much any country in the world. The quality of the maps varies and is entirely dependant on the contributors who build the maps. You need suitable software to display the map. Garmin Basecamp does this but it doesn’t show the GPS cursor which is useless for navigation purposes. I use QuoVadis which is a commercial system but not toe expensive.

    The major drawback of the OpenStreetMaps, apart from the variable quality of coverage (and remote areas can be total blanks), is that it doesn’t show the terrain. If you are going seriously off grid you need something more reliable. Google Earth images (and other similar} cover the whole planet but one has to do a lot of preparatory work to make them usable for navigation. One approach is
    – download the satellite images for the area of interest in a patchwork of tiles, with the gridlines switched on
    – load the tiles into suitable software and geo-reference them (I use OziExplorer). This is a lot of work but it does give you a reliable terrain map.

    Using the latter approach with GoogleEarth you will be able to make up terrain maps for virtually anywhere and you will most probably find someone else’s trail to follow. The preparation is tedious but is absolutely vital for remote areas.

    Finally one should always have a back up such as paper maps and a handheld GPS.

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