OSM for overlanders

The post below was posted on a number of overlander forums. Please have a look at the discussion going on on http://overlandsphere.com/overland-forum/threads/open-street-map-for-overlanders.4645/#post-4762 if you are interested.

Navigation for Overlanders
We just completed a one-year overland trip from the Netherlands via the Middle East to South Africa. We intend to continue the trip in a few months. For almost the entire trip we had at least five map sources: a country and a region paper map and three digital maps: Open Street Map (OSM), Google Maps and Tracks for Africa (T4A). None of them was perfect and the relative quality differed a lot per country, but overall Open Street Map has been the most valuable for us. We use an Android tablet that is mounted on an overhead rack above the windscreen for navigation (see pictures). Because so many people work on OSM I expect that it eventually will replace many specialized maps.

Open Street Map
OSM can be compared with Wikipedia. It is an open global map database that is filled by volunteers with aid of satellite images (Bing), aerial photographs, GPS uploads and local knowledge. A number of free apps are available for navigation with OSM, for Android a.o. OsmAnd+, MapsWithMe, Navigator and OruxMaps.

In some countries in Africa, for example parts of Rwanda, maps are available up to building level while in rural parts of other countries, for example Uganda, only the main roads have been mapped. However, OSM is expanding very quickly. HOT (Humanitarian Open Street Map Team) coordinates African mapping projects in which people from anywhere can participate. Objective is to create maps for local support organizations such as the Red Cross and Médecins sans Frontières. Amongst the many projects that are presently in progress is mapping in ebola infected countries in West Africa, completing the Lesotho OSM and mapping Africa’s National Parks. Such maps are of course very useful for overlanders too.

Apart from mapping roads and rivers also points-of-interest (POI) are defined in OSM. For overlanders campings are amongst the most interesting POIs. Like all overlanders during our trip we maintained lists of potential accommodation, retrieved from various internet sites and blogs of other travellers, but it would be much easier if there were one database holding most of the sites. Unfortunately in OSM the camping “keys” (defining characteristics of a camping) are more geared towards campings in western countries than to camping possibilities in developing countries where camping can be at full facility campsites, but also at the courtyard of a hotel (with a room key for shower and toilet), a beach with public toilet and beach shower or a bush camp with no facilities at all.

A few years ago a German group has worked on a proposal for the OSM camping definition, but mainly with European campings in mind.

OSM by overlanders

Uploading GPS tracks
Almost all overlanders store GPS tracks. Because for many roads few local people collect tracks these tracks are valuable to improve the OSM roads, mainly to validate against satellite data. For many of the road sections that we drove our track was the only one in OSM, especially in East Africa and the Middle East. Overlanders can help by uploading their tracks and POIs. Uploading POIs can be done easily with OsmAnd+ or with OsmTracker.

Map creation
I am currently making our trip again on OSM, checking roads and POIs against the GPS data we collected and the things we have seen. In this way I want to improve OSM. The more overlanders do the same the better OSM will be for all of us. See the Beginners Guide to get started.

POI definition
If other overlanders are involved in map creation I would like to get in contact to make a joint camping definition that is suitable for overlanders to propose to OSM.

Please contact me if you are interested in any of these topics.