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Adventure : Exploration

Essential Road Trip Wisdom

A good road trip involves a certain amount of improvisation. But the best ones require the right strategy and a few essentials. These eight pieces of advice will start you on the right path.

1. Arm your phone

The best app for a long haul is Roadtrippers, which will plan your route, estimate fuel costs, and suggest itineraries (free; Android and iOS). But the trustiest route assistance remains the Rand McNally road atlas ($14). It doesn’t require batteries or a signal, and it’s the best inspiration for our favorite part of any journey: the impromptu side trip. (Is that a lake or an ink spot? Let’s find out!)

2. Pick the right route

Avoid big cities and highways and stick to two-lane roads for the most scenic drive. Unpaved roads are even better.

3. Be prepared

A tire-repair kit and air compressor could be your best friends when you turn onto that enticing gravel lane. We recommend a kit from Trail-Gear ($21) and a Smittybilt 2780 compressor ($80). Keep a set of jumper cables and a jack in the trunk for emergencies, and always carry a couple of extra gallons of water.

4. Pack smart

You can get by with minimal clothing: a few T-shirts, a couple of pairs of socks and underwear, a pair of jeans, a fleece, a rain jacket, and a swimsuit. If you’re traveling with more than that—tents, days’ worth of food, bikes or boards or other toys—invest in an aerodynamic roof box like Thule’s Sonic (from $550).

5. Know where to find shelter

When you’re far from a hotel, open your road atlas and head for the nearest green space. Most national forests and Bureau of Land Management acreage are open to dispersed camping for up to 14 days unless posted otherwise. No public land nearby? Check out FreeCampsites.net, a database of hundreds of grounds around the U.S. and Canada.

6. Stay clean on the go

For when you’ve gone into the wild and it’s starting to show, pack an eco-friendly soap like Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile (from $3.19) and a portable camp shower like Nemo’s Helio Pressure ($100), which heats up when left in the sun. 

7. Refuel often

Never let your fuel gauge drop below a quarter-tank, and if you’re going into wild country, carry an extra can in the trunk. Too late? If you have cell service, download AAA’s TripTik Mobile app and sign up for roadside assistance on the spot (free; Android and iOS). If not, state troopers will take you to a gas station. Or head to the nearest sign of civilization. Even in Wyoming—the least populated state in the country—ranchers usually have gas. And they accept $20 bills.

8. Bring the essential road trip tool

Gary Paulsen was right: a hatchet is a damn useful thing to have. Bring along the Gränsfors Wildlife hatchet ($112).

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Your Travel Photos Are Helping Rhino Poachers

Seeing a rhino in the wild is one of Africa’s quintessential safari experiences and a lump-in-your-throat moment for those lucky enough to realize the dream. This is what you came to the continent for, right? 

Maybe you’ll zoom in with your SLR camera and snap some great shots that you’ll edit later and share online with friends. Or perhaps you’ll take quick pics on your cell phone and post on Facebook or Instagram within minutes.

Either way, what you might not realize is that the second you share that photo online, you could be helping a rhino poacher find his next victim.

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Finding Rhinos

The Hospitality Association of Namibia recently posted a photo on its Facebook page of a sign hanging in a safari vehicle that reads: "Please be careful when sharing photos on social media. They can lead poachers to our rhino. Turn off the geotag function and do not disclose where the photo was taken."

Geotagging is the process of automatically including geographic information in cell phone pictures. When you share your photos with others, the information is embedded within the photograph, and anyone with access to the Internet can extract that data from your picture.

Plug the longitude and latitude into Google Maps, for example, and you could discover the exact spot where the photo was shot, give or take a few feet. Combine that with the fact that rhinos are very sedentary and often hang out in the same general area for days at a stretch, and you have a potentially serious situation.

"If you’ve got a fresh GPS coordinate for a rhino—or you know where it’s going to water every night—it’s very easy to quickly find and poach it," explains Chris Weaver, director of the Namibia program for World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

Rhino poaching has dominated the news recently, as the number of endangered animals killed over the past few years has risen astronomically—all in an effort to sell the horns of the prehistoric mammals. Some believers of traditional Asian medicine think pulverized rhino horn will cure strokes, convulsions and fevers, among other ailments.

Though there is no scientific proof of such medicinal value, rhino horn is nonetheless highly prized—so much so that a single rhino horn can fetch $250,000 on the black market.

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Faux Tourists

As more and more of the endangered rhinos are killed, conservationists and government officials in some parts of Africa have become extremely protective. In fact, they try not to discuss the animals publicly anymore.

"While Namibia would love to boast about its success with relocation of protected species into private parks and the growth of its rhino population and rhino tracking activities, unfortunately such positive news may draw poachers to our area," said Gitta Paetzold, CEO of the Hospitality Association of Namibia. To combat this, several organizations have started educating travelers about how poachers can pluck GPS coordinates off photos that tourists post on social media sites.

Poachers can also examine your photos and identify markers in the background, such as a particular grove of trees or a mountain peak. And some illegal hunters even pose as tourists, going on guided expeditions on game farms or in national parks. The first time this happened, in South Africa’s Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park, two men killed a pair of white rhinos. The men were later arrested. It’s even happened in India, where poachers killed a pair of one-horned rhinos in Kaziranga National Park.

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Guides, of course, lead their visitors right to where the rhinos are, and the faux tourists may then snap photos without raising any suspicions. Would-be poachers or informants can then send a photo with a location tag to anyone or return to the spot later to seek out the rhino.

Weaver was recently exploring the Namibian desert with some guests when he came across a group of tourists who took an unusual interest in two white rhinos. They snapped more than the typical number of photos of the animals with their cell phones and spent more time with them than Weaver has observed during his 20 years working in Namibia.

"I’m thinking, how would a person know that they’re not just forwarding these photos on to China or Vietnam and saying ‘How much will you pay for information on this rhino?’" Weaver said. "Pass that on, and five minutes later, you’ll have an answer back: ‘I’ll give you X amount for that set of horns."

It’s not a far-fetched proposition. In South Africa, for example, officials have become more vigilant about rhino tourism, documenting the names and visits of tourists. Weaver said he’s even heard of some spots where cell phones are forbidden on safari vehicles.

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How You Can Help

Although visitor photos may inadvertently help poachers on occasion, there is a silver lining: travelers can actually be a huge aid to rhino conservation efforts, especially in Namibia where tour operators work with community members who value wildlife and work tirelessly to protect it.

"You as a tourist are actually making a difference," WWF’s Weaver says, explaining that a portion of tour payments go toward community conservation efforts. "Your tourist dollars create long-term incentives for people to set aside habitat for wildlife and live with wildlife."

To ensure you’re not aiding poachers with your travel photos:

  • Disable the geotag function in the settings section of any smartphone you use to take photos.
  • Strip off the location data on photos previously shot.
  • Be mindful of privacy settings on social media sites. if posting photos of rhinos, only share them with trusted contacts.
  • Pay attention to fellow tourists. If you see someone acting out of the ordinary or hear a few too many questions about where rhinos are and how long they’ll stay there, alert national park staff or your guide. That person could be a poacher informant.
  • Be wary of sharing too much information with overly interested people, such as taxi drivers or hotel staff. If a line of questioning gets too detailed about the location of an animal you saw that day, answer vaguely.

Learn more about what WWF is doing to stop rhino poaching.

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The Test of Time

From the $100 surf-ready Mariner Tide to the $1,750 super-powered Astron, these are the season's most exciting new watches. They're ready for anything nature throws at them. Are you? 

Nixon Tangent ($500)

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The Tangent is made from the same burly material used in the fins of big-wave surfboards. It comes with a simple tide dial, and Nixon smartly moved the crown to the nine o’clock position to reduce wrist bite while paddling out.

Seiko Astron ($1,750)

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This titanium-body watch uses GPS to calibrate the exact time, zone, and daylight-savings status. And because it doesn’t use atomic clocks, it can also set itself—precise to one second every 100,000 years— at any point on earth. The only caveat: it uses solar power to take a daily reading, so you do need to be outside at least once in a while.

Freestyle Mariner Tide ($100)

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This easy-to-read watch takes Freestyle’s Mariner sailing model, turns it into a great tool for surfers, and still keeps the price within reach. Programmed with tidal direction, time, and height for 150 beaches worldwide, the Mariner Tide does the thinking for you, so you can watch for the next swell.

Luminox SXC 5127 ($795)

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When the first clients of Space Expedition Corporation launch into orbit, they’ll all be wearing one of these. Basically a spruced-up aviation watch, it can handle G-forces and has a GMT hand, in case you splash down in another time zone.

Reactor Gryphon ($350)

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For the optimal balance of tough-as-nails and light-as-feathers, the survivalist-minded Reactor houses a stainless-steel body inside a frame made of weapons-grade Nitromid polymer. Even the K1 hardened, high-ceramic glass crystal is more impact-resistant than most watches. Its slim profile minimizes the chance of breakage, and it stays illuminated all night.

Suunto Ambit2 R ($249)

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Running watches just keep getting better. The Ambit2 R takes readings for speed, distance, and heart rate and features interval timers and a Backtrack function that’ll guide you on unfamiliar trails.

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