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Old 11-18-2019, 08:04 PM   #1
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Default Tracking & Plotting Travels - - Exploring Alternative Implementations

When we first discovered ‘ground-based’ travel in the fall of 2012 (i.e. driving), we coincidentally stumbled onto the practice of recording and plotting detailed track files of our travels. We had no idea how useful and rewarding this practice would become. It’s fascinating to reflect on past travels if, for no other reason, to reminisce. But beyond these simple looks into the past, we were surprised how often we have relied on this data to confirm details of where we’ve been, what we’ve done - - maybe to share with others or, more selfishly, to relive: “Do you remember that neat place . . . where was it? Let’s go back.” We’ve even used this record to flush-out small details like where, precisely, along the West coastal highway, did we ‘pull-off’ to take those gorgeous, but non-geotagged, photos!

It is not the purpose of this thread ‘to sell’ our system. In many respects ours is old, clumsy and arcane and could be difficult to recreate even if desired. Rather, we seek to plant a few ideas that others can modify and extend to more modern or alternative hardware and software. And, further, we know that many on this forum have already developed their own approaches. Please use this thread to share your solutions.

We’re gadget freaks, into technology and the internet. So we started with our Windows Surface Pro tablet computer “Ram-mounted” between driver and passenger seats:



We’re pretty much connected 24/7 to the internet but, alas, ours is not an internet or cloud based system. Ours is self-contained. And, yes, a laptop or tablet is required - - but not real-time. You don’t have to go to the extreme of ‘planting’ your computer in front of the dash as we did.

We start with a Garmin handheld GPS receiver of the following type (an eTrex H30) just sitting on the dash:

.

In the simplest implementation, the GPS is tied to nothing, just sits on the dash and runs for two driving days on a pair of alkaline AA cells. Some have suggested that a cell phone can do the same thing - - but we have found the Garmin to be more reliable for several reasons. First, it has a better, more sensitive receiver - - it virtually never loses signal sitting on the dash - - our cell phone occasionally does. And it’s always there, on and in the correct spot. Too often we’ve found our cell phone moved, or the batteries dead, or some other, unexpected malady that interrupts the continuity of the recorded track. The Garmin is a firmwear driven solution that’s nearly foolproof.

While optional, we have chosen to interconnect our dash-located Garmin with the Ram-mounted Surface tablet through USB. We do this for two reasons. First, we don’t have to worry about batteries for the Garmin - - it’s powered through the Surface tablet and, second, it allows us to use the Garmin’s satellite data real-time for ‘programs’/apps on the Surface. Again, this interconnection is not required real-time - - we do it because it adds additional capability and can be so easily implemented in view of where our Surface is normally located. What is required, though, is downloading the Garmin files every few days (depending on the model, the Garmin has limited track file memory and will start over-writing earlier track files when it runs out of file space).

We save each days track files. We combine each days track files to create “Trip Files” and save those, too, separately. Indeed, we add each days track file to the current Trip File so, at the end of each day, we can see our total trip from Day 1 to the ‘then’ present.

Our solution becomes slightly technical at this point. One must be familiar with ‘file types’ and be able to do some ‘manipulation’. For example, the Garmin most easily outputs .GPX files. Here’s a typical single ‘record’/datapoint from the Garmin:

“Trackpoint N43 37.358 W86 32.223 11/5/2019 6:56:06 AM 761 ft 111 ft 0:49:08
0.0 mph 42Ý true”

Lots of interesting information - - but unnecessary for simple track plotting. By the time we’ve ‘manipulated’ the Garmin .GPX files, that same datapoint will look like this:

“43.622633,-86.53705"

A simple decimal-degrees, latitude and longitude number.

But let’s return from the technical to the simple. So far, all we’ve done is drive around for a day with the Garmin sitting on the dash. We’re now relaxing with a glass of wine and some crackers by our campfire, tablet on our lap - - we download the Garmin file and plot it on our tablet. More specifically, after making those ‘technical manipulations’, we plot it on our DeLorme Topo 10 Mapping software. Voila, done.

But here’s where we’re hoping some of you have advanced. DeLorme was bought by Garmin and Garmin all but dumped the DeLorme computer program line . . . thus, one can’t officially buy DeLorme’s Topo 10 software. And even if you can, it’s not being maintained. Unlike the web-based Google solution, DeLorme’s maps are more than a decade old. Yes, the country hasn’t changed size and the rivers and mountains haven’t moved. But it would be nice to have all those detailed track files plotted on actual roads.

We’re hoping that someone on the forum has found a ‘piece of Windows software’ that is ‘current’ and can replace DeLorme Topo 10. Or maybe we have to change platforms? To Apple or Android? Or, at the least, maybe there’s a Forum member who is more facile with Google Maps and can perform a new ‘manipulation’ to place outside (non-Google) data onto the Google Map?

But, for now, let’s look at how our Garmin data can be used on our Windows DeLorme Topo 10 map program.

Ahh, yes, such great memories - - our first camping trip (tent back then):



And the beginning of our maiden DIY ProMaster life:



That ultimately led us to ‘take a wrong turn’ and end up here:



And maybe it’s fitting to show our last camping trip:



Observing all the ‘failures’ of this “Last” Camping Trip, one might ponder whether this will be our Final/Last Trip? But we don’t think so. Let spring arrive and we’ll be off again. (Suffice to say it was exciting to have 30 seconds advance notice of a total transmission failure on the Construction/Interstate in Indianapolis followed within hours after transmission replacement, with a double failure that resulted in overchanging of our lithium pack - - these latter failures will be reported in this Forum, later, when the details and consequences have been determined.)

Here’s another “Trip” plot:



One of our more wacko travel objectives has been to find a GeoCache in every county of this country. The above map shows our spring 2018 wonderings through Texas in pursuit of 208 of Texas’ 254 counties.

We got carried away “with the West” in 2013 so we’ve used ‘color’ to distinguish two nearly overlapping trips:



What’s nice about the Garmin-based track file is its detail. Here is a view of our travels around Crater Lake - - notice you can see not only every ‘switchback’, but our travels through the campground, including to two ‘loops’ we camped in:

.

We’ll conclude our somewhat misdirected ‘Travelog Map Slideshow’ with this overall composite:

.

Hopefully, while extensive, the above series of maps demonstrates how flexible the concept of trip mapping can be and how much fun one can have with massaging the collected track files to create a myriad of travel stories.

We look forward to hearing how others have documented their travels.
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Old 11-18-2019, 08:27 PM   #2
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Hi Winston,

I'm Not into this kind of thing, but wondering if you could not connect a dash cam into the system. Or better yet one of them 4 camera systems. Click on a location and ..............

Bud
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Old 11-18-2019, 09:15 PM   #3
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Hi Winston,

Very interesting - thanks for posting this.

What do you use for navigation/GPS? Are they / can they be integrated? It would be great to be able to use that Windows Surface Pro tablet to do both things in real-time.

Regards, Dick
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Old 11-18-2019, 09:35 PM   #4
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Hi Winston,

Very interesting - thanks for posting this.

What do you use for navigation/GPS? Are they / can they be integrated? It would be great to be able to use that Windows Surface Pro tablet to do both things in real-time.

Regards, Dick
Dick,

Our Surface doesn't have a GPS built in. If it did, we're wondering if we'd get the same compromise on receiver performance . . . as the Surface, like our cell phone, is not completely exposed through the front window. Seems that the Garmin's position on the dash 'fully' exposed to the sky through the front windows has advantages.

There's another issue we inadvertently discovered while installing our Pepwave "Cellular Router". A feature of this router - - one we didn't know was included when we bought the router - - is its built-in Cellular receiver and External Antenna. One would have expected this to be the ultimate solution. We tried it, but soon found that it's sampling rate was 'fixed' and comparatively of longer duration. By contrast - - and we're a little foggy on this - - the Garmin's sample rate can be adjusted, in particular, it can be set from a fixed duration sample or to a fixed distance sample. How often a sample must be taken is directly related to the speed of motion. We need fewer samples while walking, than when driving . . .

In any event, the tracks we plotted on the same DeLorme software from our Pepwave were of noticeably inferior resolution. This may be a factor in using cell phone GPS's as well (although we regularly use Google Nav on our cell phone for navigation). Would love to hear from others on the sample rate issue.
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Old 11-20-2019, 11:06 PM   #5
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Here's another thing I'd like to be able to do: I'd like to be able to plot all our old trips, as well as we can remember them from notes on routes and towns (tedious I know!). Essentially like plotting with a paper map and a highlighter, but on a computer map. Can this be done on DeLorme Topo 10 (we have it) or Google maps or something else? I'd like them to look as good as Winston's maps that he posted above (astounding bunch of trips)!
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Old 11-21-2019, 02:07 AM   #6
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Winston, You made the trip to Alaska almost identical to our trip. I think the only variations was we took the ferry from Skagway to Haines but didn’t go down to Juneau and Sitka as we had already been there on a cruise.
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Old 11-21-2019, 04:12 PM   #7
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Here's another thing I'd like to be able to do: I'd like to be able to plot all our old trips, as well as we can remember them from notes on routes and towns (tedious I know!). Essentially like plotting with a paper map and a highlighter, but on a computer map. Can this be done on DeLorme Topo 10 (we have it) or Google maps or something else? I'd like them to look as good as Winston's maps that he posted above (astounding bunch of trips)!
Dick,

The short answer is yes, but as you noted, a manual plotting is tedious. The basic file format for plotting tracks is this:

BEGIN LINE
32.36615,-86.45665
32.365233,-86.4571
32.365417,-86.456583
32.36545,-86.456467
32.365633,-86.456217
END

A simple list of latitude/longitude points in decimal degree format (with West latitude being a negative number). DeLorme is a bit obscure . . . to import this file one enables the "Show Tab Area Panel" under Options . . . but this is where DeLorme gets obscure as there are actually multiple different views of the Tab Area Panel that can/must be used to properly import files.



The third view of the above collage is the form of the panel necessary to import a file - - by clicking on the "Import" tab in the upper right of the panel (You get to this panel by clicking the "File" tab in one of the other views). Clicking on the "Done" tab returns you to one of the other views. The second view - - with the "line" tab clicked on the left - - allows you to change the weight and color of the file lines to be imported as well as line type, e.g. dotted lines. Incidentally, other symbols can be imported and plotted by hitting the little green 'push pin' visible on the left of the Tab Panel (in the top 2 frames of the above collage). Here's an example of the GeoCaches of Oceana County Michigan where we, first, imported the symbols shown to reflect the 'status' of each cache:



Unfortunately, all of the above is the easy part - - when you have, for example, a list of lat/longs from an external source such as our noted Garmin handheld. To do this manually, and we have, one just uses the line draw tab (shown in the top two frames of the above collage). To get acceptable detail, we've zoomed in until the underlying highways appear (in detail) and just madly click along the road . . . yup, tedious.

We haven't done this, but wondering if it would be possible to take a Google Map - - with a 'missing route' displayed (Google, of course, follows the roads) - - and somehow output the track, itself, for subsequent importing to DeLorme. We're curious and will probably give it a try and will report back if we have success.
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Old 11-21-2019, 04:28 PM   #8
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Winston, You made the trip to Alaska almost identical to our trip. I think the only variations was we took the ferry from Skagway to Haines but didnít go down to Juneau and Sitka as we had already been there on a cruise.
Dave,

Our obsession with finding Geocaches in every county sent us back to Alaska this summer:



Unfortunately most of the places we 'needed' to go can't be reached 'on wheels' so our CamperVan spend a lot of alone-time in Anchorage and Juneau as we flew by commercial and charter to Alaska's far-reaching corners.

Winston
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Old 11-21-2019, 07:49 PM   #9
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I'd like to be able to plot all our old trips, as well as we can remember them from notes on routes and towns (tedious I know!).
Success. We couldn't make Google output or download a track file in any format, but did find there are other programs that can do it. They're not as flexible in 'finding locations' when creating their maps, but you can click on the map to establish 'starting' and 'ending' locations. Don't know if you can 'revise' the track that they create.

The one program that we used was AllTrails.com It's made for hikers, but allows you to create a map/route between two locations for "Scenic Driving". From there one can download a track file in a dozen different formats . . . we found the .CSV to be nearly perfect for importation into DeLorme. The file provides three fields, DECIMAL lat/long (no conversion necessary) and altitude. DeLorme ignores this third/last field so it can be left as is. All that needs to be done is replace the first line of the file with: BEGIN LINE and add END as the last file line.

EDIT: AllTrails.com also allows the uploading of .GPX files from sources such as the Garmin handheld, thereafter, to download the same file as a .CSV file - - thereby avoiding all the 'hoops and manipulations' we've been going through these past years in converting our Garmin files for display in DeLorme.
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Old 11-21-2019, 10:35 PM   #10
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Hi Winston,
I don't track my trips in the same details as you are doing. I have used an old program, Microsoft Streets & Trips, to plan my travels and save the files and associated documents as a record of my trips. Attached image is an example of one part of my trip to Alaska in 2014.

Like DeLormeís Topo 10 software MS S&T is no longer available or updated so it has become more challenging to use it for planning. I've looked at other programs but haven't yet found one that is as useful and easy to use as MS S&T.
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Old 11-21-2019, 10:49 PM   #11
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Hi Winston,
I don't track my trips in the same details as you are doing. I have used an old program, Microsoft Streets & Trips, to plan my travels and save the files and associated documents as a record of my trips. Attached image is an example of one part of my trip to Alaska in 2014.

Like DeLormeís Topo 10 software MS S&T is no longer available or updated so it has become more challenging to use it for planning. I've looked at other programs but haven't yet found one that is as useful and easy to use as MS S&T.

Garmin Basecamp has similar capabilities to the old Streets and Trips, and interfaces with GPS so don't need the computer at the dash, like we had with the S&T. We had tried some transferring to a GPS from S&T without much success back then.


The downside of Basecamp is a quite long learning curve and lack of information about what all it can do. It is not very intuitive to me. I have been using it for several years and still stumble across stuff I didn't know was there. Once it is learned Basecamp works pretty well with limited glitches, but not perfect. In learning the right settings to get an identical transfer to the GPS, and then to use them all, you do get a couple of surprises.
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Old 12-03-2019, 10:55 PM   #12
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I use Google maps to create and often re-create the route and a handheld garmin for any waypoint capture. To put them together I use qgis. It has a steep learning curve, but it is open-source and powerful. Once you get the hang of it you can do most any geospatial activity you will need. What is nice is that all my data and mapping (except the initial Google map route) are on my computer and not out on the internet.
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Old 12-04-2019, 02:02 PM   #13
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I use Google maps to create and often re-create the route and a handheld garmin for any waypoint capture. To put them together I use qgis. It has a steep learning curve, but it is open-source and powerful. Once you get the hang of it you can do most any geospatial activity you will need. What is nice is that all my data and mapping (except the initial Google map route) are on my computer and not out on the internet.
Possibly you could amplify on your system - - is it Google Maps or the Garmin that creates the actual track file? And if it is Google, then what 'waypoints' are you capturing from the Garmin? And what happens if you take a side-road not initially planned in the Google Maps phase?

We tried to create a track file on our cell phone from Google Maps without great success - - the resolution was poor.
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Old 12-04-2019, 06:32 PM   #14
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The process I follow makes use of a computer. Phones are great but I don’t enjoy them once you need to go beyond a point a click and besides, someone is always trying to call. To begin I create a route using google maps on a computer that I print to use during the trip. Along the way I make notes of changes to the route that I use later in the process. The handheld gps is used to mark any notable stops, off road hikes and fishing spots. I really use the handheld gps for waypoint marking and not the actual route tracking.


When done with the trip I go back to the saved google map route and make the necessary adjustments to agree with those changes I documented. This route is then downloaded in the kml format. The waypoints on the hand held gps are also downloaded in their gpx format.

Now the fun begins. Load the route kml file and the waypoint gpx file into qgis. From here there is a “world” of mapping options. A mapping layer similar to those shown in the early posts can be used and your route data added. In this example I used a geo-referenced satellite image and added some routes and waypoints.


All of this could probably be done in google maps or google earth. Likewise, all the route planing could have been done with qgis. I just find google maps easy to use for the initial planning but I do not like to use it to keep all the final details. My current process should work well when I eventually get an android auto system.


qgis info can be found here: https://qgis.org/en/site/
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Old 12-04-2019, 07:05 PM   #15
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Apparently there is an Android app called Traveller that allows you to record your trip using google maps. There is also an Apple app. https://www.wikihow.com/Use-Google-M...Track-Your-Run
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Old Yesterday, 03:36 PM   #16
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Now the fun begins.
Thanks for the additional information. Your approach looks particularly useful when trying to 'recreate' a record of a route already taken - - in situations where one hasn't recorded the route 'real-time' on a phone or GPS. This question partially motivated this thread as another member was pondering how to create such a trip record 'after-the-fact'. And as diligent as we are in 'turning-on' the Garmin, we occasionally 'screw-up' and have to create missing route segments.

Our focus, however, remains on the real-time GPS collection of track data largely due to our lack of pre-planning and the fact that our routes - - even when planned - - often include 'spontaneous' deviations.

We'll give some of the noted cell phone apps a try - - but we probably will not abandon the Garmin handheld due to its superior sensitivity and accuracy. And there remains the question of 'how to use/visualize' the captured cell phone track - - seems that one might still want to export the data to a larger viewing platform.
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Old Yesterday, 07:17 PM   #17
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On another trip I did not really plan the details of where I was going to fish, just the area. In this case I just took my handheld gps and marked locations along the walk to the water. Afterwards I loaded the waypoints to qgis and then tried different maps to visualize the location for future reference. A couple views of the data are (hopefully the links will show the larger versions in the photo section):





This is no different than what would be done with waypoints captured from a longer trip to put them in to context of the roads and paths.
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