Mapping Alternatives For Bloggers (And New Wheelingit Maps!)
Pre-post note -> I had NO IDEA so many people were interested in boondocking “glamping”. Thanks so much for the amazing number of clicks and comments on my last post. You guys are obviously all people of style 🙂 The following post won’t interest nearly as many people, but for those of you who are interested in my new maps and/or creating travel maps for your own blog, read on…
I’m a lover of maps and I’ve been logging our travel routes & stops in detail since we started RVing in 2010 using Google MyMaps. Each year I start a new map and I keep a record of all previous years in our “journey” page. They’re a total pain in the backside to keep up with, but I love having them there to look back at and (sometimes) remind me of the routes we took. So they’re partly for me, partly for my blog readers.
But…as with all things Google….things are always changing.
Google Maps -> Always Changing
Google is notorious for updating/upgrading/changing/deleting things on a whim. I honestly can’t complain given that their stuff is FREE, but every now and then the “upgrades” make me cringe. I’ve always created my maps by dropping pins & drawing routes using the line tool (like THIS). The last set of Google upgrades in 2014 made route drawing much more tricky (the line tool just seems to be soooo hard/finnicky to use now), and (more importantly) all my blog post links which I’d diligently added to every waypoint marker somehow magically “disappeared” (the text is still there, but no clickable link).
I wasn’t the only one having problems either. Several of my blogger friends were reporting similar issues and/or running into waypoint limits when mapping driving directions (the new limit is 10). Google Maps is still a fabulous tool (and the one I would recommend for most folks), but this got me thinking about mapping alternatives for bloggers & how to reduce my own personal dependence on Google so that I’m not at the whim of their every last change.
Basically I needed a brand new mapping program.
Simple Mapping Alternatives For Your Blog
Now, I’m not an easy woman to please when it comes to stuff like this. What I wanted was a program that could handle unlimited stops, was clickable, zoomable & interactive (for the blog reader), could link to my blog posts, could show routes, and was either free or inexpensive. I looked through a TON of options, starting with the simplest ones first:
WordPress Plugins -> There are LOTS of wordpress plugin-type apps such as NomadWorldMap, SimpleTravelMap, MapifyIt, GeoMashUp etc. most of which display/run ontop of Google Maps, but give you a much easier/simpler interface for integrating into your blog. The problem is that most of them are limited to showing simple markers (no routing) or markers with “dumb” routers (just a straight or curved line from one point to the next). They’re great for folks who just want a really simple/easy map on their blog, but none of them met my requirements.
Online Mapping Programs -> There are several big online mapping guys that other bloggers use to create interactive maps which they then insert into their blog. Examples are ZeeMaps, TravellersPoint, and MapMe. The interfaces are snazzy and easy to use, the maps look really sleek, and integration into blogs/social media is easy. However most have the same limitation as the Wordpress plugins listed above. I can create nice, pretty maps, but just not with the route detail and level of customization I want. Also most of these (not all) still rely on Google Maps for display.
Fully Customizable Alternative to Google Maps
Feeling myself at an impasse I got onto Facebook and posted the question to some of my tech buddies there. After a lengthy discussion I was introduced to something totally new (for me) -> OpenStreetMap (a free, openly licensed map of the world being created by volunteers OR/ to put it another way NOT Google Maps) and uMap (a free, open source program to create interactive maps with OpenStreetMap). I immediately found myself in a love, hate relationship.
- Love -> The things I loved about this set-up was no reliance on Google Maps, completely Open Source, completely customizable (routes, markers, inputs, display etc.).
- Hate -> The thing that scared me was that uMaps was NOT AT ALL intuitive to use.
Let me tell you right now. If you are not open to a pretty steep learning curve (with little documentation to support you) this is NOT the program for you. Unless you’re absolutely set on becoming Google-free and looking for the same level of detailed (and rather OCD) type of customization that I want you are much better off sticking with plain ‘ol Google Maps or going with one of the simpler programs I listed above. Trust me on this.
That said if you’re as obsessive as I am, hard-headed and are somewhat techie, this is IMHO the most customizable non-Google-reliant mapping program out there. Also, if you already have lots of maps created in Google Maps they are super simple to import and customize (once you understand the bleedin’ program), and you can layer stuff (much like Photoshop) to create different legs of a journey, different years of a journey, different looks of a journey etc. Plus you can add blog post links, pictures, slideshows etc. Aaaand the interface is rocking fast. This program doesn’t offer everything, but it’s pretty darn sweet!
How To Create A Map in uMap
The only way I was able to get started in this program was because another blogger Mike, from Life Rebooted, was kind enough to write a detailed blog post on how he creates maps in uMap. He actually imports data from his Garmin RV760 GPS, which is kinda cool, but I don’t have one of those so he also included info on how to import from Google Maps (at the bottom of the post). I’m not going to write my own “how to”. Instead, for those of you aspiring to do what I did, I am going to refer you to his most excellent blog post: Creating Route Maps with OpenStreetMap. Seriously if you want to do this, go and read it.
The New WheelingIt Maps
Having now messed around with uMap for several days I’ve been able to import everything I used to have in Google to create some new & interesting maps.
WheelingIt Campground Map
The first is something I’ve wanted to do for ages, but have never been able to do easily in Google. A complete USA-wide map of every single campground review I’ve done since we started RVing in 2010. I plan to update this map yearly. The map is interactive with links to the blog post reviews included. I’ve color-coded our stops too:
PURPLE = public campgrounds (State Park, National Forest, COE, County etc.)
PINK = private campgrounds
GREEN = boondocking spots
AQUA = marina campgrounds
Upgraded WheelingIt Travel Maps
I’ve translated our 2012, 2013, 2014 travel maps to the uMap program/system. You can see each of them in our Journey Page. Blog post links are now active for each and every stop, so you can click on any marker and see the posts I wrote about the area right there, plus you can zoom and study our routing. I’ve yet to start our 2015 map (and I’m still unsure if I’m going to do it directly in uMap or map in Google & just export/import as we go), but I’ll get there eventually.
That’s it folks! Not a post for everyone, but hopefully some of you will benefit and the rest of you can just enjoy the new maps.