Many years ago, Rich and I were in northern India near the Pakistan border and wanted to take an overnight train that would get us to New Delhi at 7:00 in the morning.
We managed to get a private compartment; there was no bedding, of course, but we made ourselves reasonably comfortable during the chilly night by wrapping up in various sweaters and extra socks from our knapsacks. The bumpy ride was punctuated by many brief stops, and then, at 5:30 in the morning, the train lurched to a halt and stood still. Eventually, Rich rolled out of his bunk and wandered into the corridor to see what was happening. Two minutes later he came tearing back into the compartment shouting, “There’s a guy out here who says this is Delhi! Quick, grab our stuff!” We flung the extra sweaters and socks back into the bags, shoved our feet into shoes, tore down the corridor and jumped out onto the platform.
It was at that point that I began to wonder if we had been a trifle hasty. For one thing, there was no signage of any kind. Wouldn’t the train station of the nation’s capital be marked? We could be anywhere from Saharanpur to Gwalior for all we knew. Had some puckish wag in the train’s corridor decided to play a prank on us? Then there was the station itself. A single dim, fluorescent bulb cast a ghastly pallor over the platform without providing much illumination. Peering about in the gloom, I noticed what appeared to be dozens of sacks of potatoes scattered across the concrete, except that I could see the nearest one was breathing; this clued me in that they were actually people curled up sleeping under scraps of burlap. On the outer edges of the platform, a few men leaned against grimy walls, arms folded, scowling suspiciously. I knew just how they felt.
“You think this is really Delhi?” I said dubiously. But Rich had other things on his mind. “Did we get everything out of the compartment?” he asked. I was pretty sure we had, but he said, “I’d better go check.” Dropping his knapsack at my feet, he sprang back onto the train, striding off down the corridor and out of my sight.
That’s when the train began pulling out of the station.
I hate days that start like that. I never like being stranded in the dark, in an unknown city, surrounded by luggage and hostile-looking locals, before I’ve had coffee. As I was attempting to formulate a plan of action, Rich made a flying leap off the retreating train and landed on the platform beside me. “Nope, we got it all.” “Oh good,” I said. “For a moment there I was worried…”
I love wandering off into life’s little byways and detours, but there are times – such as 5:30 in the morning – when it is a comfort to know where you are. But that’s not always easy, even in these modern times. Seville, for instance, is famous for printing maps that are technically incorrect. Local cartographers take pride in giving you a more nuanced understanding of the city, so they’ll make a useful little alley appear three times its actual size to be sure you don’t overlook it, and leave off streets you’re unlikely to need. I’m forever seeing tourists huddled on street corners, clutching their maps, and wailing, “But it says right here…!” The information fed to your GPS is equally inaccurate, as the city has been reconfiguring traffic patterns at a rate that is apparently too rapid for satellite uploads to track. One friend of mine is always hotly berating her navigation system for leading her down one-way streets the wrong way. I can almost hear her long-suffering GPS wailing, “But it says right here…!”
Track My Tour lets you flag each major stop on your route, then add photos and comments.
So I was naturally skeptical at first when Rich told me about Track My Tour, a free app that uses GPS to create a real-time diary of your trip, complete with a map on which you can mark your progress and add your own comments and photos. But I soon became intrigued by the possibilities, and we decided to track our recent journey from Seville to London to San Francisco.
Luckily, you have complete discretion about who can see your site and what information you upload. If you don’t want the folks back home to know you took an overnight detour to Vegas or that you got off the train at the wrong station, you simply don’t enter that information. And not to keep you in suspense any longer, that creepy train station did turn out to be New Delhi. I’m only sorry we don’t have any Track My Tour uploads that would let you see it for yourself. But maybe some things are still best left to the imagination…
This post was written in response to questions I've been asked about packing for long and varied trips. Unlike some of my better-organized and more practical blogger friends, I haven't obtained free or discounted gear or supplies in return for promoting anything on this blog. I'm just letting you know what products Rich and I consider to be the most useful for our kind of travel. Watch for future posts about the garments, gear, gadgets and supplies that find their way into our suitcases.
I'm an American travel writer based in Spain and currently living in California.
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