By now, I’m guessing every single one of you has access to a GPS unit. Some may even own two of them. In the past decade, automotive and portable GPS units have dropped from about $800, to well under $100. Some even appear for under $50 every now and then. With prices that low, you really can’t afford to not own one.
Most of you probably use the device for the occasional journey in an area you are not used to, others use it for fun, and plot their daily commute on it. In this article, I’ll describe how you can use that GPS device, and turn it into a fantastic way to discover parts of the country you’d never know about without the use of a guidebook.
Every GPS unit comes with a “points of interest database” – this database contains things like banks, gas stations and restaurants. The categories on your device are usually fairly limited, but one advantage of most modern GPS devices is the ability to add your own custom POI files.
The process of adding custom points of interest is actually quite simple, and the majority of these files can be downloaded for free.
Adding a custom “POI file” starts with finding a source of good quality files. My personal favorite is poi-factory.com.
Before you can download a file from this site, you’ll need to register for a (free) account. Once registered, simply download the file to your computer and take note of where you saved it.
The next step involves loading the POI database onto your GPS device. Users of Garmin GPS units are in luck, because Garmin developed a free Point of interest database loader called “POI Loader“.
With POI Loader, you simply connect your GPS unit to your PC or Mac, start the program and tell it where you saved the file. Ten seconds later, the new custom POI file is on your device.
If you have a TomTom unit, you’ll need to go through a couple of extra steps, but the general process is about the same. Poi-factory has a great guide on their site for TomTom GPS owners, as well as Magellan owners.
Once loaded on your device, you can browse the database, but the real fun begins when you are on the road, and want to find something of interest around you. Simply browse to the list of locations, and let your GPS unit lead you to the weirdest and wackiest tourist attractions the nation has to offer.