Open Street Map for Overlanders

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.
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My Overland Adventure

Around the World in a Land Cruiser
Staff member
May 29, 2014
On The road
Fantastic, great information!

We would be interested in contributing where we can, we are just heading south in South America and will be in Africa later this year.

It might be worth asking the guys @ ioverlander to contribute, there was talk of them uploading any data contributed to OSM, not sure if that has happened or not, but standardising the input and having extended meta data would probably help with that process.

If there was a way to easily add the POI's directly to OSM that would be great too
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Hi Martin,

Thanks for your reaction.

I was in touch with ioverlander and shared our camping data with them. As far as I have understood they maintain their own database at present.

I found the easiest way to upload POIs while travelling to use OsmAnd+. You can install a plug-in that let you select and tag a point on the map and queues it. As soon as you have internet connection it will upload the POI tot OSM. Another one that is focussed at enhancing or correcting OSM is the Android app OSMtracker. It gives you sets of buttons that you just push when you encounter something you want to send to OSM. It can be a POI, but also a speed limit, a road qualification etc.
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New Overlander
Jan 20, 2015
A lot of overlanders are using OSM. The challenge is getting them to contribute. First steps should be promoting the use of Notes (and us watching and fixing them!), and getting them to upload GPS tracks. That's why I wrote this article on setting up Osmand:
While it is not the most user friendly app, it does make contributing easy. It's already out of date: tracking is easier now, it can show asphalt/unpaved roads now, and I should add a bit about making your own POI filters.

Love to get in touch RE camping in OSM. We might include Sam from iOverlander too, his data model could be an inspiration.
For hotels with camping space, I've been mapping the whole site as a hotel polygon (tagged with the name and services like wifi). Within it a node for campers (caravan_site), the hotel building, a camping. E.g.
I think that's a good solution (for example as it makes finding the entrance easier), but it is a it demanding on the mapper. A simple data model might encourage more data contribution.

Directly importing iOverlander data is probably bot a good idea. Most places are mapped in OSM already anyway. But it would be great to have an algorithm to try and link iOverlander places to OSM places, and ask for manual data checking when something seems off (e.g. campsite in iOverlander but nothing found nearby in OSM)

Here's my OSM user page: schouppe/
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Staff member
May 26, 2013
Hi @De einder voorbij & @joost

I would be definitely be interested in helping out in any we can and promote using OSM & Osmand to update tracks and locations.

@joost how would you plan to move on from where it is now?

For those with out an Android phone, i.e windows phone or Iphone are there alternative apps to contribute data & for those with no phone etc is there an easy on line tool we can promote the use of or even integrate into our website?
Thanks Joost!

Please see below how I look at next steps.

For a proper understanding of this post a few OSM definitions should be known:
  • OSM has three basic data structures: a node (for example a mailbox), a line (open: road, closed line: roundabout, closed area: park) and a relation (area: different buildings belonging to the same hotel sharing address information)
  • Every structure has a number of tags, each with a key and a value: for example highway=tertiary (the importance of the road), junction=roundabout, surface=asphalt
  • For certain items it is possible to choose between different structures: for example a camping can be be a node or an area.
Getting tracks and POIs into OSM:
  • For people who do use OsmAnd uploading is excellent, like Joost describes very well. It might be helpful to make a simple step-by-step description of just the upload process;
  • For people who don't want to use OsmAnd, because they feel it is too complicated or because they don't use Android for navigation OSMtracker is an option. This is an Android app that automatically logs a track and more importantly has pushbuttons to create a POI or report a key (like a speed limit). The track with POIs can simply be uploaded to OSM by the app. I have been playing with the pushbutton layout and it should be easy to create a pushbutton page with pushbuttons especially for overlanders (different types of campings/ specialized car workshops/ butane suppliers etc.). Unlike OsmAnd that directly creates a valid tag in the OSM database OSMtracker requires editing by an OSM mapper, but that can be quite quick by looking for the tags created by OSMtracker with for example OverPass. I guess that one would want to do that anyhow, because creating POIs while driving doesn't give accurate results. OSMtracker does allow for text notes, audio notes, and pictures as separate POI's, but not as additional information to a predefined button;
  • For people who collected track and POI information in a different way a manual upload is needed. They should be encouraged to create a .gpx export file with their tool (Garmin, other Android apps than OsmAnd, etc.) that can be uploaded to OSM on a PC. They can do the upload themselves or look for OSM mappers who are prepared to do that for them. If they collected the information in a different format (for example an excel file) and cannot recreate the information in .gpx format a manual conversion is needed on a case-by-case basis. The uploaded data will need to be edited by an OSM mapper in a way similar to OSMtracker edits.
Creating campings for overlanders:
  • Definition in OSM:
    • The situation that Joost describes ( a hotel offering camping services without being an official camping) is very common. I believe it is good to start as Joost describes: a separate OSM structure for the camping services being offered. I have been thinking about using additional tags for the camping service under the hotel structure, but it makes things very complex (how do you show showers? How do you show hot showers for the hotel, but cold showers for the camping?) We can extend this approach to defining services offered for which structures have been defined in OSM as separate structures as well. For example OSM has a structure for toilets, including type of toilet etc. We could use that instead of extra keys for toilets under camping. It prevents double definitions: toilet tagged as facility or as a key under camping. On the map it now would show as separate symbols for hotel, camping and toilet. This falls in line with a situation one often faces when camping in a country without camping services offered by hotels like we had in Iran. In cities we looked for public parks with a public toilet; these are usually sites known and exchanged by overlanders (for example here). It then is useful to show the public toilet next to the "impromptu" (unofficial in OSM jargon) camping;
    • For the proper structure of the OSM database a relation (probably an area relation) should be created between the elements mentioned above. It shows that the different parts belong together and allows defining common information (like email address and phone number) at a higher level. It saves work and prevents database ambiguities (camping and hotel function get different phone numbers although they are the same). This is something that is done after data upload by an OSM mapper and therefore doesn't affect an overlander who is willing to upload tracks and POIs, but doesn't want to get involved in mapping;
    • We might propose different symbols for official and unofficial campsites
  • Tags associated with campings:
    • The definition as used by iOverlander is an excellent starting point. I had some email exchange with Fabian from iOverlander about the camping information we collected during our trip from Europe to South Africa. Of course there are differences in the type of data stored about campings between iOverlander and us. We agreed that both have their merits and that a combination would be useful. It might be helpful to get the input from a wider audience in order to define the optimal key set with the best balance between usability and complexity;
    • I also informed Fabian about my initial post on different forums about this topic (I didn't have contact with Sam). Fabian felt that sharing the iOverlander camping data with OSM would be a good idea. I could imagine that this will be a semi-manual process to avoid duplications (as Joost rightfully states) and because OSM isn't keen at all at big automatic imports.
In summary next steps (with which I am of course willing to help) would be:
  1. Small summary how to upload in OSMAnd
  2. Page layout targeted at overlanders for OSMtracker
  3. Definition of camping key set targeted at overlanders
  4. Selective upload of iOverlander campings to OSM
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New Overlander
Jan 20, 2015
So it seems it's been six years since I participated here :)

I'd just like to post a proof of concept app thing I've made using a platform developed by my friend pietervdvn. The idea is to make it a lot easier to contribute to and make use of OpenStreetMap data by making it easy to create a thematic map highlighting very specific types of POI. The map can than be used to add pictures, post reviews and directly edit OpenStreetMap by ways of simple questions ("Does this place charge a fee?"). The reviews are in the open reviews project Mangrove, all the geodata is edited and querried directly from OSM. So other apps can re-use as well.

In my (ugly) proof of concept, you have official camper sites and sanitary waste stations. You can play around with it here. I could really use some input on what other kind of POI you folks would need, what questions should be asked - and less ugly icons would be great too!

If you want to read more about the platform, here's a nice introduction: MapComplete