Here are the findings of my solutionventing [inventing solutions] to my fear of disappearing as a solo traveler – check out the genesis of my idea here.
I wanted a hardware device. One with a button I could press when I got that opened beer, or stepped into that taxi, or went walking in an isolated place. It would send my current GPS coordinates to a webpage where someone else could log in to see my location. It could also just broadcast my location every few hours, or days, depending on how often I was moving around.
I wanted it on a bracelet that didn’t look obvious, or around my neck. It needed to be waterproof so I didn’t have to take it off in the shower, or while swimming. I wanted it to have a long lasting charge, and a light to alert me when the battery was low.
I thought it might be easy to hack one together and learn a lot along the way. I just needed:
- a GPS module that receives data of your coordinates from satellites
- a GSM module that would then send these coordinates somewhere they could be plotted on a map
- a prepaid travel sim card to put into the GSM module to pay for sending the coordinates
- an Arduino microcontroller to program the whole system so it knows what to do
- a battery source
Then I could just need to write methods to send the location data, build a website to show the data, and wrap it up nicely with buttons, a light and waterproof material…
A bit ambitious? Perhaps… It turned out a location device is not so easy to build, or so cheap to put together. It would cost at least $200 along with a monthly charge depending on the data costs…. and it would never fit on a bracelet.
As luck would have it, a few people have already gone to the trouble of building a location device, to attach to kids or pets or cars… or solo travellers, male or female. One of my favourites is PocketFinder that provides full time tracking of the device from their app or website. I like this one because you can use it in almost all countries, and it works out of the box.
The only downside? Cost. It’s $149.95 for the device, and $12.95 per month locally, or a whopping $29.95 a month internationally.
Existing, inbuilt phone functionality
Not having the cash, I looked at what devices I already have. It turns out my phone has all the power and functionality required to act as a location device. It’s always charged, and with me at all times. I discovered that my iPhone is pretty effective at not disappearing with Find My iPhone on iPhone (or just activate it in the settings). There’s a similar app called Find My Phone on Android.
I just logged in to iCloud to see where my phone was and it tells me precise coordinates – pretty cool.
The downside? It only stores the last known location for 24 hours, so there is no long term tracking. If the phone is turned off for 24 hours, hasn’t been online in 24 hours, or if it just hasn’t been located recently due to bad signal or something, then it shows no historical data at all.
Next I looked at existing apps. There are actually a lot of apps for alerting people when you are in danger. They seem to have bubbled up due to the situation in India. One such app is Sentinal, “for empowering people when they felt harassed or alone in a threatening situation”.
To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of the app solutions I found on this article. Perhaps there are more, and I would love to hear about them in the comments.
The thing is, while drinking my already opened beer, getting into those taxis, or walking in isolated places, at no time did I want to alert my friends or family. I wasn’t ever sure that I was in danger, but had I been, I would have preferred to try to fight off attackers than search for an app [a girl I met fought some potential kidnappers off with her umbrella - true story].
As well as that, no app seemed to simply log my location regularly, without actually alerting anyone, or provide a web service to access the location data, independently.
My solution for feeling safer as a solo traveler, who happens to be female?
I’ve decided to get a local SIM card with data at my next destination, so I can test out Find my iPhone. I’m hoping it won’t cost more than $15 to get enough GB of data to keep my cellular data on when I am not accessing WIFI.
I’ve given my log in details and instructions to my parents so they can attempt to spy on me at all times. Let’s see how effective it is and whether it gives us peace of mind that someone, somewhere, knows where I am, or at least where my phone is :)
Next I’ll have to make sure my phone doesn’t disappear without me attached to it… a solutionventing exercise for another week.
I would love to hear how you tackle feeling worried about being a solo traveler, male or female, and what hacks you use to put your mind at ease. Are there any other apps you use? Would you like a more reliable location logging device? Let me know in the comments below!