How backpacking inspired me to create ClimateList

ClimateList was inspired by my own struggle with making travel plans optimized for the best seasons. It’s a visual alternative to my hours of Googling and reading precipitations charts.

The app is a map with a large slider for selecting the month:

Try the app at climatelist.com

The story

In 2015 I left my job at a french tech startup to travel and start working on my own projects. Over the next 1.5 years I saw Nepal, Slovenia, Austria, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Portugal, Spain and more.

Studying the climate of New Zealand in February 2016. Yep, looks like summer!

Following the best weather

Before starting, I spent a lot of time researching where to go. I enjoyed reading inspiring travel advice and stories. I quickly had an idea about where I wanted to go.

The experience of deciding when to go was more disappointing. I could not find the perfect resource for visualizing ideal travel seasons. I finally resigned to the necessity of using Google for each country, and having to get the information from many different websites.

My own climate overview

I ended up building my own summary in a Google Spreadsheet, and even shared it with friends who were planning their own round-the-world trip:

ClimateList version 0.1. Fancy, isn’t it?

Deciding to solve the problem

Months later, I had met more travelers facing the same issue, and I still felt the same disappointment.

However, I did not have a proposal for a layout that I would love to use. It remained something I considered “an interesting design problem” for quite a while. I created a few prototypes, none of them worth pushing further.

Then one day a visualization centered on a full-screen map stood out from other ideas. I got really excited about seeing what it would look like with real data. And the positive feedback pushed me forward…

The extra challenge

I’m not a professional developer. I worked with talented software engineers in the past years, but in a product manager role. So I would have to learn quite a bit to make this happen!


Mission

ClimateList is for travelers who want to visualize the location of the best weather throughout the year. It gives priority to:

1- Effortless exploration

I want to look around without a precise plan in mind and browse without using the keyboard. Clicking, dragging, zooming, but no typing. The app should react to interactions instantly, without loading a new page.

Try the app at climatelist.com

2- Mobile

I want every feature to be designed for mobile first. More than 60% of ClimateList users are browsing on a phone.

Welcome screen, climate details for Nicaragua.

3- Pre-digested information

I want the information to be reduced to the most simple 3-color indicator: Best weather, Alright weather, and Too cold/hot/rainy.

ClimateList’s definition of “Best weather”

4- Climates comparison

I want to be able to compare countries with each other.

Selecting countries to compare them.

The challenge of countries with multiple climates

Large countries with several climates need to be divided into climate zones. Metrics for each zone are averages that I calculate on many sample points.

Canada’s 7 climate zones on climatelist.com

For some countries, a simple North/South division is enough. For others, it’s more complicated.

I try to keep the number of zones as small as possible. This helps users to quickly grasp the general idea about a country’s climate. And maximizes their chances to remember it!

To draw these zones, I mainly rely on the Köppen climate classification maps, and on these temperature/precipitations maps.

I wrote dedicated blog posts on creating the zones for the countries listed above: Canada, Australia, Russia, Portugal, Mali.


Limitations

I’m focusing on the big picture. It does have its limits:

1- Simplification destroys all nuances

A delightful micro-climate caused by a coast or by hills is lost when averaged within a larger zone.

2- Using ranges can create surprises

A difference of a single degree between 2 areas can trigger a different recommendation.

3- Temperatures and precipitations are not the only factor

Some travelers pointed that my recommendations for Japan are incorrect because of the heavy humidity in July + August. They are right. The hours of daylight and the wind are also factors that I ignore today.


What do you think?

ClimateList is a new project with limited features. Many countries deserving a division into climate zones don’t have one yet, I’m working on it.

I’m making it available online way before it’s “complete” in order to collect more feedback from travelers. And build the next features based on that. So … let me know what you think!


Thanks to Romain Petit and Julien Ma for their ideas and support.
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