Stay on track, or rather track all forms of transport down wherever you are. You just need your phone and the right app, to see where the highfliers are, whether in the sky or on the waters

One of the truly magical powers of the hyper-connected world is that us ordinary travellers can find out where our train, boat or plane is and track it from moment to moment on our smartphones, eliminating the fear that you have missed it or it has been secretly cancelled or something.

It even works with buses. In some places, they still come along in threes, but at least you can see them lining up on your phone’s onscreen map as they approach.
And it can be huge fun if you are interested in transport. Fans of things maritime are currently avidly tracking where the superyachts so prized by Russian oligarchs are heading (Vladivostok is a popular destination, understandably, and there is a whole fleet moored off the Maldives.)

Ships can be tracked because they transmit their position using AIS (Automatic Identification System) and the signals are made public. AIS is mandatory under international maritime law, though this does not stop ships from switching it off if they want to disappear from public view for a while, and several superyachts owned by oligarchs have switched AIS off for periods as they scamper for safety from marinas in the EU and the Caribbean.

Most interest has been focused on Roman Abramovich, who apparently owns at least five of these monster vessels.

Get tracking
Several websites that give free access to AIS data also have apps that make things easier on your smartphone. Take a look at or Both show global maps with symbols attached to every vessel – click on the symbol and it shows a photo of the vessel, its technical details and its status such as speed and heading or ‘at anchor’.

Planes are even easier to track, and they cannot switch off their position information.

Travellers will usually use their airline’s own information system to get the latest arrival or departure times, but an entertaining alternative is Flight Board for iOS, which provides an extremely realistic rendering of the traditional flight board found in most airports, with flight information from 16,000 airports and 1400 airlines globally. Just as if you were standing in the terminal instead of in a tailback on the EN125.
My personal favourite is Flightradar24, which shows aerial activity over your head, wherever you are, using your GPS position to show you on a map of the area with all the planes located with little plane icons. Entertainingly, the helicopter icons have rotors that really turn.
Click on an icon and it will show the make of plane, a photo, callsign if available, and its course and speed. Commercial airliners will have the airline and flight details as well, and you can see the whole route. It is very impressive – as I write, Tap Air flight TP785 is flying over my house en route from Stockholm to Lisbon.

An amazing feature is the ability to ‘follow’ planes as if from another plane close by. The plane appears in 3D with the ground laid down beneath. However, this feature is only available to paying subscribers, for whom the ads are removed as well.
App in the Air (Android) is a flight tracker with many extra features such as airport tips and maps, and the ability to import your flight history to keep track of air miles and other loyalty programmes, all offline, and you can get gate changes and flight status updates by text message, so you don’t have to use data roaming. And there is a lot of advice from fellow-travellers.
Unless you are a complete anorak, you only need to track trains and buses when you need to catch one to get places. In the UK, most bus companies have apps that show nearby buses with an estimate of their time of arrival. The Moovit public transport app operates in a number of Portuguese cities including Portimao. It shows buses, trains, ferries and Uber taxis.

Best Transport Simulation Apps

Ship Sim
Navigate the high seas as captain of one of a wide range of ship types from cruise liners to bulk carriers and oil tankers in a variety of voyages. Find out for yourself just how hard it is to stop a supertanker! Hazards include storms, rocks and running aground so navigationals skills are paramount (but not difficult to learn.)

X-Plane 10 Flight Simulator
A flight sim with graphics that dramatically recreates the views from the pilot’s seat, including all instruments and a huge range of scenery. The game offers 24 challenges to guide and test pilots as they progress from rookie to expert.

Train Sim
Drive more than 50 historical and modern in realistic 3D landscapes with genuine train sounds. Pick up passengers, carry freight, sit in a carriage staring out of the window or watch the train from the trackside. And yes, for your inner child you can experience derailments.

Coach Bus Simulator
Run a coach or bus to earn money for upgrades such as new vehicles, fancy graphics on the sides and so on. Drive to the bus station where animated passengers get on and off. Depart through varied scenery and lots of lovely weather and realistic traffic. Manage your company, including hiring drivers, getting damaged vehicles repaired and so on. Much more interesting than just sitting on a bus staring out of the window.

Words: Chris Partridge

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