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Google Maps helps man walk 5,000 miles

U.S. marine Winston Fiore trekked across Asia with Google Maps as his guide, hoping to raise money and awareness for charity.

Winston Fiore
Winston Fiore (left) has walked 5,000 miles for smiles. Winston Fiore

Imagine hiking 5,000 miles through Asia, with only Google Maps as your guide. Winston Fiore, a U.S. marine formerly deployed to Senegal and Afghanistan, did it in about a year, calling the journey his "Smile Trek."

The inspiration for "Smile Trek" came in 2007 when Fiore witnessed "an incredible amount of poverty" while in Senegal. He then decided to set aside a year for traveling, and found a cause to throw his weight behind: the International Children's Surgical Foundation (ICSF), a nonprofit that provides free corrective surgery for kids in developing countries with cleft lips and palates.

For the past year, he has hiked through Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, and Singapore. He completed his journey last week.

Speaking to CNET Asia in Singapore, his start and end point, Fiore says he didn't carry any physical maps and only relied on Google Maps to map his daily walking route. (Probably a good thing Fiore wasn't using an iPhone 5 -- we all know about the Apple Maps kerfuffle.)

Along with Google Maps, Fiore relied on Google Translate (to communicate with locals); Google Latitude (for keeping his family, friends, and supporters informed of his whereabouts); and MyTracks (to record his speed, distance, and places visited).

Winston and gear
Fiore carried his vest/backpack containing a tent, sleeping bag, inflatable mattress, and water container. Jacqueline Seng/CNET Asia

Fiore related an incident where he spotted a man suffering from a facial deformity commonly known as Elephant Man Syndrome in Vietnam. He reached out to the local -- using Google Translate of course -- and informed him about getting facial reconstructive surgery at ICSF's medical mission nearby. The app also helped Fiore get help when he was bitten by a stray dog in Thailand.

Other non-Google apps he used were reading apps such as Kindle and Audible, as well as Skype to keep in touch with family and friends back home.

Surprisingly, Fiore said he had a mobile Internet connection most of the time -- whether 3G or GRPS/EDGE -- even if he was "standing in the middle of a rice paddy in Vietnam." When he didn't have a connection, he'd find himself within range of a cell tower after a few hours.

He recharged the batteries for his gadgets while he rested by finding a generator, municipal power, or even a local household. He brought along a spare battery for his smartphone but on hindsight wishes he had several more.

As for the tech gadgets he brought along, there was an 11-inch MacBook Air that doubled as his last-ditch mobile charger and back brace. Fiore also started his trek off with a Samsung Infuse 4G, but found it difficult to get Asian SIM cards to work with his U.S.-only handset. He then switched along the way to a Galaxy Nexus, followed by the recently launched Galaxy Note 2, which has a longer battery life.

As of this writing, Smile Trek had raised $67,649 of its $75,000 fundraising goal.