When you purchase your GPS unit, it’ll usually come with maps of the US, Puerto Rico and Canada. In some cases, the unit may even expand into Mexico, and premium systems will have Europe pre-loaded.
If you are heading abroad, but your GPS unit does not come with maps of your destination, all is not lost, and in some cases you’ll actually be able to load new maps.
Here are five tips on how to travel with your GPS, and how to take it abroad.
Check for international maps
Before you invest in new maps, check to see whether your unit already includes your destination country. In some cases this may be confusing if it holds a “base map” of the country. The base map will show foreign cities, but won’t actually contain anything at street level.
If you know that your unit does not contain an International map, you’ll need to check with the manufacturer to see which countries they offer as a map update. Before making this investment, check the prices of GPS units at your destination. It won’t make sense to spend $100 on a new map, when a brand new GPS unit costs the same. In some cases you may even be able to rent a navigation system from your car rental firm. With so many options, it makes sense to do your homework before leaving.
Switch the unit to the appropriate setting
Make your life easier when you are abroad – if your destination uses the Metric system, switch your GPS unit to Metric too. It’ll help make it easier to know how far you have to go, and whether you are sticking to the speed limit.
Protect your investment
If your GPS unit comes with a carrying case, use it – especially if you are forced to check the bag containing your device.
If you don’t have a carrying case, consider investing in one. They’ll cost about $15, and most of them will hold your GPS unit itself, along with the power cord and windshield mount.
The LCD touch screen on a GPS unit is pretty fragile, and if you end up packing it next to something sharp, a baggage handler may turn it into a useless gadget in a matter of minutes.
Brush up on your geography
A GPS unit is no replacement for basic geography knowledge. Before leaving for your destination, try to get a basic idea where you’ll be heading. In addition to knowing where a city is, try and learn a little about naming schemes. In German, Straße is street, which can be abbreviated to Str, most other international destinations have similar abbreviations, and you will need to know the basics in order to enter a destination into your GPS unit.
When your hotel or other destination provides its address, it may be abbreviated, the last thing you want is a GPS unit with international maps, but lack the knowledge on how to enter an address.
Your phone as a GPS device may be a really, really bad idea
Even though your (smart) phone may come with GPS, it isn’t always wise to use this when abroad. Many phone based navigation systems require a data connection, and international (3G) data costs a fortune. In fact, when you are in Europe, each megabyte of data will cost just under $20. With a normal map application pulling in about half a megabyte/minute (when driving), you’ll pay $600/hour for basic map based navigation. With prices like this, you’d be better off hiring a limo.
There are mobile phone navigation applications that install their map data locally, but even those programs may use the Internet for searches. If in doubt, find a way to disable your data access completely when you are abroad.