top travel apps - Polarsteps Travel Tracker

I started using the Polarsteps app in March 2018 at the outset of a 31-day trip to Dubai, Australia, and Thailand and immediately got hooked on it. I’ll be honest. I’ve always thought taking photos and keeping a journal while traveling were self-indulgent and a waste of time. But there’s something about the visual, tangible, and timely nature of this app that really appeals to me.

Gone are the days when a travel journal was just a series of long text passages accompanied by related photographs. Polarsteps succeeds by seamlessly and easily merging the two into a professional and visually spectacular photo journal.

To view the online version of the Polarsteps Travel Tracker journal I put together during my Australia trip, click here.

If you’ve got any additional feedback, let me know via the Comment section below.

Strengths of the App

Polarsteps benefits from the following four general strengths:

  • Ease of setup
  • Ease of use
  • Cool features
  • Cost

Each of these facets is described in detail below, along with a few comments on areas I see for improvement.

The app is available for Android and iOS devices. There’s also a website version you can access from your desktop at https://www.polarsteps.com/

Ease of Setup

Polarsteps app homepage

As with all good apps, Polarsteps can be set up quickly and with almost no effort. After locating the app in either the Apple App Store or the Google Play store, you simply click to download it to your device. After it downloads, you create a user ID and password and that’s it: you’re ready to start planning your next trip.

On a scale of 1 (poor) to 10 (fantastic), I would give it a score of 9 for Ease of Setup. It doesn’t get a 10 because the online help system is buried deep in the app. It appears as the 12th of 19 options listed on the Settings screen. To be truly user-friendly, the help should be directly accessible from all screens within the app.

Ease of Use

Creating a New Trip

Polarsteps app new trip screenAs apps go, this is one of the easiest and most intuitive I’ve come across. When you want to create a new trip, you simply click the + button on the homepage and a New trip screen appears. You then enter the details of your trip and designate who can view it and that’s it. You’re done. Assuming you’ve done some pre-planning, the whole process should take about two minutes.

Adding Steps to a Trip Timeline

Polarsteps app new step screenAs you travel, the app keeps track of where you are and inserts “Suggestion” steps into your timeline. You then have the option to click the Add step option to include the suggestion and then fill in details for it, or you can click a Discard button to remove it.

As you can see in the image, Polarsteps has inserted a new step suggestion called Tambon Khao Mai Kaeo (the location I was visiting at the time) into my timeline. It has also plotted the location of Tambon Khao Mai Kaeo on the map. If I choose to discard this suggestion, Polarsteps automatically removes the marker from the map.

Sharing Trips to Social Media

Polarsteps app specific trip summary screenAs with the other features, this one is also very intuitive. You just open your trip, click the Trip Menu link and then select the social media types from the list at the bottom of the screen. I shared my recent trip to Facebook and it took less than 30 seconds to do.

Cool Features

There are a lot of cool features with this app, the major ones of which I’ve listed below.

Step Suggestions

As mentioned previously, the Suggestion steps that are automatically inserted into the timeline make it fast and easy to add new entries and photos. If you’re having an active journey, they also serve as a useful reminder of things you’ve done or places you’ve been that might be worth writing about.

Homepage Details

Polarsteps app all trips summary screen

The homepage lists a summary of each of your past and current trips along with statistics for each one.

The following information is available at a glance:

  • How many miles/kilometers you’ve traveled
  • The number of countries and continents you have visited
  • How much of the world you’ve seen.
  • The number of travelers whose journals you are following
  • The number of travelers or would-be travelers who are following you

“Furthest place from home” Graphic

Polarsteps app furthest point from home graphic

A minor but fun and interesting feature included in the statistics is a Furthest place from home graphic that shows on a world map the place you traveled to that was furthest from your home.

Editors’ Choice List

Editors' choice screenThe Search feature at the bottom of the homepage opens a screen allowing you to view the Editors’ choice list of best Polarsteps trips. This is a great way to see how other people have used the app to document their journeys. It’s also a great way to find out about destinations worth seeing in the countries you’re headed to.

If none of the selections appeals to you, you can use the search field to locate travelers or trips related to the specific countries or regions you want to visit.

Note that Polarsteps protects your privacy even with this search engine. Trips will only appear in the search results if the trip is marked as viewable by anyone. Or if the traveler has specifically designated you as someone who should have access to it.

Cost

The app is free to download, making it a no-brainer in terms of trying it out. From a bandwidth point of view, the app uses very little memory, so the “cost” in terms of battery drainage is also minimal. I had the app running the entire month I was traveling and did not need to charge my smartphone any more often than normal.

After your trip ends, you have the option of purchasing a printed version of your journal. As of February 2019, there is a five-tiered pricing structure based on the size of the book. The smallest, at 24 pages, costs 30 euros. The largest, at 300 pages, costs 80 euros. Polarsteps offers an early adopter discount of 10 euros on your purchase if you enter the code that appears on their website.

Quick Review: My Travel Book

I ordered the travel book for my recent trip to Australia and was very pleased with the quality of the book they sent me. In terms of appearance, the book looks just as professional and sleek as any coffee table photo book you’d see in a book store.

sample travel book

travel book sample pages

If you enjoyed using Polarsteps during your trip, I’d strongly recommend paying for the print version of your journal.

Problems with the App

I encountered no signficant problems with the app during the four trips I’ve used it on. Because of that, I plan to use it again in May when I head to Ireland.

A concern I had prior to the trip was that it would drain my smartphone battery. As noted above, this turned out to be a non-issue.

Minor Gripe #1

(Added April 24, 2019) I’ve now completed my fourth trip using the app, so I’m able to note recurring issues I have with it. One thing I wish the developers would fix soon is the way the start and end dates are handled. Right now, it’s not possible to manually start or end your trip. The app uses midnight on the date you select as the starting and ending point. That means that if your trip starts at 6pm on a Sunday, the app will be tracking your movements all day before you leave. The same with your end date. If your trip ends at 10am on a Monday, the tracker will keep monitoring you until midnight. The workaround, which is clumsy, is to go to the Trip settings screen and turn off the tracker. Considering how intuitive the rest of the app is, it seems strange that this issue is handled so poorly. A relatively simple solution would be to incorporate Start Trip and Stop Trip buttons into the interface.

Minor Gripe #2

Another thing I wish the Polarsteps app did a better job of is plotting my actual movements on the map. Currently, the app draws a line directly from one point to another. In doing so, it ignores the real geography of the areas I walked. This proved to be a major limitation when I went for a walk around northern Sydney Harbour. The app plotted my starting point (Manly Wharf) and then seemed to plot my location only every 5 or 10 minutes or so. It then connected these points, ignoring the winding path through parks and along beaches that I actually took. The image shows the actual walk I did (yellow line) and the Polarsteps version of the walk (red line).

critique: tracker lines

Note that this is a modified image. In the original there is no yellow line and the red line is actually white. I changed it to red to make it stand out more in contrast to the yellow line.

Because Polarsteps draws straight lines across the maps, they tend to end up looking very messy. This is especially true if you happen to walk in the same general area numerous times. An improvement to the mapping feature within the app would be to have it plot a user’s position more frequently. Say every minute or two.

Minor Gripe #3

One gripe about the travel book: the cover features the first photo that appears in your journal. For me, this was my starting point (Nice, France) rather than the destination of my trip (Australia). So my travel journal for Australia features a picture of the Port of Nice on the cover. A better approach would be to allow users to select the cover photo manually.

(Update: February 19, 2019) It turns out you can change the default image that appears for your trip. And it’s easy and quick to do by completing the following steps:

  1. Open the trip whose cover photo you want to change.
  2. (Smartphone app only) Tap the red Trip Menu icon in the top right corner of the screen. Note: There is no Trip Menu option in the desktop version of Polarsteps, so desktop users should jump directly to Step 3.
  3. Click or tap the Trip settings option.
  4. Click or tap the Change photo button.
  5. Select the photo you want to use as the cover.
  6. (Desktop users only) Click the Select cover photo button.
    (Smartphone app only) Tap Save in the top right corner of the screen.

Overall Review

This is a very cool app that made it easy, fun, and engaging to create a journal of what I was seeing and doing every day. The photo and location prompts that appeared automatically in the timeline really encouraged me to create new steps. I used this app again on a short trip I took to Spain last May and it performed very well again.

Related Links

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Join the conversation! 13 Comments

  1. Can you use it retrospectively ie for making a digital journey using photos you have already taken?

    Reply
    • Hi Patricia. Thanks for contacting On the Go Solo. If you log in to Polarsteps, the first option you have is “Add a past, current, or future trip,” so the short answer to your question is yes, you can document a trip you’ve already taken. That said, it would be a lot of work to do all of this manually. Polarsteps normally automatically tracks where you are and when you arrive so you don’t need to worry about that. Doing this yourself would require creating a step, entering a town/city name or geographic coordinates for that step, and then trying to remember the date and time you visited the locale. Only after doing that would you be ready to write the text to accompany the step. The upside is, after you did all this hard work, you’d be able to get the journey printed in book format as a high-quality memento. The book I had printed after my Australia trip is the best souvenir I’ve ever gotten from a trip.

      Reply
    • Yes, you can!

      Reply
  2. How does it work in terms of data usage? If I’m trying to minimize data usage due to my phone plan when traveling internationally, am I limited by this? e.g. I would typically turn off my data except when I’m on free WiFi. Does that mean it wouldn’t work for me? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Hi Sheila. Thanks for contacting On the Go Solo. In answer to your question, the Polarsteps app is able to track your geolocation using your phone’s built-in GPS and/or the location of any Wifi access points you log into. As a result, it works fine even if data is turned off. When I traveled to Dubai, Australia, and Thailand last year, I kept data turned off on my phone to avoid roaming charges and it had no impact on the accuracy, speed, or functionality of the Polarsteps app. I’d say give it a try and see if you like it — it’s free and quick to install/uninstall so there’s little to no risk involved in adding it to your smartphone.

      Reply
  3. Can,anyone tell me how to make changes to steps BEFORE I start my trip?
    I completed 19 steps finishing at home where I started a;d now I can’t access any of the steps to enter changes in my plans.

    Reply
    • Hi John. Thanks for contacting us at OnTheGoSolo.com. When viewed on a tablet or mobile, every step that we click to open contains an Edit step button even if the trip has been completed. If it doesn’t appear in your version, send us a screenshot and we’ll try to help you figure out what’s going wrong. Our contact email is info@onthegosolo.com.

      Reply
  4. Hi, I have Polarsteps on two devises, previous trips are on the second devise but it’s not showing the most recent trip? Just find it easier to edit on the larger devise. Can anyone suggest a fix?

    Reply
    • Hi Helen. Thanks for contacting us at OnTheGoSolo.com. Here’s how we fixed this issue. Open the device that is not showing the new trip. Click the gear icon in the top right of the screen. On the Settings screen that appears, scroll to the very bottom and click the Log out link. Log back in and the Polarsteps server will automatically grab the latest version of your account, which will include your new trip.

      Reply
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