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Navigating the Roads

A photo of a stand alone GPS unit, mounted on a car dashboard, showing which route to drive.

A stand alone GPS or a GPS app is essential.

A GPS is essential for road trips, but which is better, stand alone GPS unit or an app for your smartphone?

I used to have a stand alone Garmin GPS unit that I left in the car. When it became obsolete after 10 amazing years of service, I bought the Garmin app for my phone. Unfortunately they stopped updating the app. So I bought a new Garmin DriveSmart 65 unit, and use it in tandem with Apple Maps, thanks to a very affordable data plan from my cellular provider.

At the time of this writing, it is illegal to attach a GPS or phone to the car windshield in some States. Since the laws change all the time, you’d be better off using a suction cup mount on the dashboard, or a heavy non slip base, so you can move the unit around more easily.

The only downside to the suction mount, is that it always seems to come loose over time. So after trying several suction mounts without much success, I switched to a holder that clips onto my car’s air vent. The vent clip worked great, except the GPS was too close to my face to see it clearly. I finally settled on a heavy non slip base and it worked out perfectly.

I always use my maps app, even in my own city. It’s always finding me new ways to get to old places. Plus, it’s gotten me out countless traffic jams.

The maps make it super easy to get driving directions to any address. I can tell it to find things like hotels, restaurants, parks and gas stations near my current location. Plus I can enter an address in another city, making it great for trip planning.

That said, never trust a map (GPS or printed) more than a year old. That’s because roads, especially highway onramps and exits, change on a continual basis. If you have an old map, you might end up taking the wrong exit, and drive half way to Albuquerque before you realize the mistake.

To keep your GPS maps up to date, you can purchase yearly updates, or purchase the lifetime maps option when you buy the GPS. If you use a maps app, the maps should update automatically.

Should you buy a stand alone GPS or use a phone app? GPS relies on satellite technology, so it works just about anywhere, except downtown in big cities, where tall buildings block GPS signals. The phone app needs a good data plan, because it uses the cellular signal to locate you, in addition to monitoring traffic conditions. The downside to phone apps is that they may not work if you have no cellular signal. So if you lose signal driving over a mountain range, through a desert, or a sparsely populated area, the phone apps stop working. That’s why I have both!

Do a few searches and read some reviews prior to your purchase. Then get the one you feel best about.

One thing’s for sure, don’t bother your partner with navigational duties. Just accept the fact that if you’re the driver, you’ll be expected to know the way too. Enter it into your maps app or GPS and drive with confidence. And heck, if you do get lost, you can always stop and ask for directions.

QR Code for Driving Road Trips
This is the QR Code for https://drivingroadtrips.com so people can easily scan and transfer a page displayed on a laptop to their phone. It makes for easy sharing too.