Basic Navigation Tips for the Overland Traveller

Often the need for accurate navigation is greatly reduced when travelling compared to solo wilderness excursions; however, it’s not wise to switch-off altogether. Whether travelling by plane, train, bus or boat it’s always wise to be aware of your rough position and direction of travel. Why? Self preservation is probably the best answer.

As a traveller you should be extremely self reliant, if anything goes wrong any external help should be looked upon as a bonus. Knowing how to obtain your rough position with what you see around you could save your life; being knowledge it doesn’t weigh anything and you can’t leave it behind! Modern technology is fantastic and goes a good way to keep the traveller in touch but as with all technology it has a nasty habit of failing when you need it most. A few basic facts will help should the situation become somewhat sticky and may also be of help in lots of other ways.

Basic navigation, cr-flickr.com

Basic navigation, credit -flickr

The Sun: Whether you are in the northern or southern hemisphere the sun will always rise roughly in the east and set roughly in the west. If you are in the northern hemisphere its path will be via south and in the southern hemisphere its path will be via north. In both hemispheres it travels at 15 degrees every hour and is highest in the sky at midday true local time (solar time for all intents and purposes). The statement that the sun will rise in the east and set in the west on the Vernal Equinox and Autumnal Equinox is only exactly true if you are on the equator but this is an involved subject and we are only looking at the basics. Use your analogue wristwatch to give direction; in the northern hemisphere point the hour hand toward the sun and bisect the angle between the hour hand and 12 o’clock marker (this will be south) and in the southern hemisphere point the 12 o’clock marker toward the sun and bisect the angle between the 12 o’clock marker and the hour hand (this will be north). Your watch has to be set to true local time to use this method, not daylight saving time etc.

The Moon :The moon will also give a basic direction without getting in to complicated times and cycles. Remembering the three statements below will give a rough direction.

    • If the moon rises before the sun sets, the illuminated side will be on the west.
    • If the moon rises after the sun sets, the illuminated side will be on the east. If the moon rises at the same time as the sun sets, it will be a full moon and will be south at midnight local time.

The Stars: Using the stars unless you are in the northern hemisphere is more complicated and probably not worth bothering with under these circumstances. With a little practice during your normal daily life you will see just how easy it really is and you will soon start to do it subconsciously. When travelling on planes, trains, buses or boats all you need to do is to look at the general route, this information is always easily available; by knowing how long you have been en-route and your rough speed, an approximate position can be estimated. The information on speed may be easier to find than you think, let’s take a look.

Aircraft: At the beginning of the flight the captain or first officer will almost always give a short briefing on the route, speed, altitude and flight duration.

Trains: By looking at the arrival time at your destination and the distance it is easy to mentally calculate a rough average speed.

Buses: This is more experience than anything else as the speed can change from 10mph to 70mph depending on the roads and conditions but it’s not as hard as it sounds. As with trains you have additional information by just mentally crossing things off along the way that are visible from the window.

Boats: You are a little more vulnerable when on a boat but all the same rules apply. The information you collate will be there if needed and easily forgotten when that part of your trip is finished. There are many other uses where this information comes in handy; a cab driver taking you around in circles to make extra money is just one. A small amount of basic knowledge on a few different subjects will help to keep the backpacking traveler out of harm’s way as well as increasing personal confidence. The increase in awareness will also assist greatly in your personal security; one of the first things that you will look for when entering an airport or train station is the location of all the exits! Remember, this is something you do all the time anyway… When you enter a large shopping mall you remember where you left your car, how to get back to it and which direction the car park is at any time. You are just expanding an existing skill.

Safe and happy traveling.

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