This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

This is the transcript of a recent conversation I had with a friend after posting this picture from Crete to Instagram. His name is also Brian, but he’s not The Points Guy Brian. It seems like moms didn’t make it too many pages into those baby name books in the early ’80s.

I don
I don’t know that I could ever get sick of playing in waterfalls.

Brian: Brian! I’ll be in Crete in two weeks.
Me: Hey Brian! That’s awesome.
Brian: Great picture! I want to go there. Where exactly is this?
Me: unamused.swooshed.divergence
Brian: Awesome. Thanks!

what3words

I wasn’t speaking a secret language that only Brians understand. I was referencing what3words, a geocoding tool that has mapped the entire planet into three- meter-by -three-meter squares using three-word addresses. I had recorded the location of these falls in the what3words app, and now I could share the precise location of these falls with Brian using three easy words.

You can see the location of .. lies in the middle of the pool at the base of the falls.
You can see the location of unamused.swooshed.divergence lies in the middle of the pool at the base of the falls.

How Is This Different From GPS?

In one way, it’s not. what3words is built on top of the GPS coordinates of each 3m x 3m square. My initial reaction when my friend Patrick introduced me to the app was “Why not just use GPS coordinates?” But after playing with the app, I realized the answer to my own question — “Because I haven’t already been using GPS coordinates.” GPS technology has been available to the public for two decades, but the long string of numbers or confusing coordinate system has been enough to keep me, and many others, from using coordinates to mark and share locations. Which of these descriptions of the falls’ location do you find least confusing:

  • unamused.swooshed.divergence
  • 35.185116, 25.986458
  • 35°11.1069′N, 025°59.1875′E
  • 35°11′06″N, 025°59′11″E

Dropped pins seem to accomplish the same thing as well, but those are often dependent on everyone using the same maps app. Pin locations are also not as easy to share as three-word addresses.

So, in summary, what3words works better than any other geocoding method because it is simple and universal.

How Does It Work?

The design was pretty straightforward. The planet was divided into about 57 trillion 3m x 3m squares. Making three-word combinations of 40,000 words gives us 40,000^3 combinations, or 64 trillion. Each square was then assigned a unique three word “address,” leaving about 7 trillion combinations unused.

Applications for Travel

I’ve only been using this app for a couple months, but I’m excited about its potential especially because it’s usable offline. I’ve used it to mark hidden spots, but it could also mark a favorite view point, urban oasis or tree to relax under. I think it has the best potential in hiking though and could seriously reduce the likelihood of getting lost. Imagine a hike that goes like this:

Park at reduced.foggy.clerical
Trail head at district.personifies.float
Left turn at optic.forest.parse
Right turn at helmet.righteous.sturdy

…and so on. Don’t try to follow this hike though — I just looked up my random word combos and these directions would take you to three different oceans and Nigeria.

The applications of what3words can be stretched as far as your imagination will take it. When this article posts, I will be off the grid at Burning Man. The “open playa” is spotted with amazing art that can be very tough to find in the absence of addresses, directions or reference points. It can be difficult to return to my favorite works and even tougher to share those locations with others. Maybe this is cheating, but my friends and I will be using what3words to mark and share our favorite art pieces. Burning Man is the only event I know of where you can attend the entire thing and still have crippling FOMO. what3words may reduce that just a smidge.

I never did find this theater again. what3words would have been useful this year.
I never did find this theater again. what3words would have been useful this year.

If We Had what3words Then….

I remember driving the road to Hana in Maui a few years ago and missing out on some hikes because I couldn’t find a trailhead or missed a turnoff onto a path. If I had what3words then, I would have been able to jump off even more waterfalls.

Waterfalls like this one are hidden alongside the road to Hana and what3words would make them much easier to find.

The creators of what3words actually had much greater plans than making sure I can save my favorite travel spots, as founder Chris Sheldrick describes in this TED Talk. 75% of the world lives with poor addressing, and what3words holds the potential to fix that. In developing nations, what3words is already being used for emergency services, post offices, disaster zone locationing, and even pizza delivery. And the app isn’t limited to English speakers; it’s available in 26 languages and growing.

Chris summed up the potential of what3words in his closing statement, “For billions of people, [poor addressing] is a huge business inefficiency, severely hampers their infrastructure growth, and can cost lives. We’re on a mission to change that, three words at time.” And while they’re at it, they’ll keep us from getting lost on hikes, too.

The Points & Miles Backpacker is a weekly column appearing every Monday. TPG Contributor Brian Biros, who has backpacked the globe for the past 15 years, discusses how to fund this adventurous, budgeted and increasingly popular form of travel with points and miles. He’ll also explore all things backpacking-related. Read his story here and his high-level approach here.

If you’re looking to back that pack up and get some guidance, send your questions to backpacker@thepointsguy.com !

Feature image of sunken.psyches.fatter courtesy of the author

The Business Platinum® Card from American Express

Aside from the 75,000 points welcome bonus, Amex recently made huge improvements to the Business Platinum Card, including the fact that you will now earn 50% more points on purchases of $5,000 or more, earn 5x on flights and eligible hotels at Amextravel.com and cardholders will receive a $200 airline fee credit each year.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Welcome Offer: Earn up to 75,000 Membership Rewards® points.
  • Earn 50,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $10,000 and an extra 25,000 points after you spend an additional $10,000 all on qualifying purchases within your first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • Get 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com.
  • Get 50% more Membership Rewards® points. That's 1.5 points per dollar, on each eligible purchase of $5,000 or more. You can get up to 1 million additional points per year.
  • 35% Airline Bonus: Use Membership Rewards® Pay with Points for all or part of a flight with your selected qualifying airline, and you can get 35% of the points back, up to 500,000 bonus points per calendar year.
  • Enroll to get up to $200 in statement credits annually by getting up to $100 semi-annually for U.S. purchases with Dell. Terms apply.
  • Get one year of Platinum Global Access from WeWork. With this membership, you can access 300+ premium, inspiring workspaces in 75+ cities. To get this exclusive offer, enroll between 2/15/2019 and 12/31/2019.
  • Terms Apply
  • See Rates & Fees
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
N/A
Annual Fee
$595
Balance Transfer Fee
See Terms
Recommended Credit
Excellent Credit
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.