Navigation: Traditional Maps or Modern GPS 4 Comments

How do you get from A to B, then C?

Before we set off on our travels for the first time we wondered what options are available on the market place to aid in the task of navigation, since then other options have become available too.

Now you can spend a little or you can spend a lot depending on what you buy, some people prefer good old maps and other want the latest in GPS technology. We feel were in the middle somewhere but do use electronics more than paper.

If your planning a route covering many countries then a large folding map is a great option, however some of the electronic maps like Google make life easy too. Sometimes though it just feels better getting out a huge map on the table, plus you can write all over it too with notes etc, something not possible on most GPS devices (or slow and complicated to achieve).

Paper maps are available at varying sizes and also scales, some show more detail than others and don’t show every road and small lane which can be a very good thing. We bought maps for each country we would pass through for that first trip, France, Germany, Italy etc. If you use paper maps a lot they also end up a little worse for wear but sometimes it’s just easier with a real map.

The other choice for route planning are the electronic maps, the options and quality are vast. Some are free and others you have to pay for, some are geared towards using cars, others trucks and even campers/caravans. So where as a car version would send you under a low obstacle and over a small bridge for example a truck or camper version would typically avoid these allowing for your vehicles size and weight, the car version might have a few camping related POI (Points of Interest) but a camper specific version might have thousands of POI.

Points InterestTomTom, Copilot, Garmin, Google Maps, Apple Maps the list goes on, but we bought a TomTom that covered all Europe for that first trip, It was great at getting you from say Calais to Basel etc but less than ideal at general planning of routes, it was slow to use and the thing typically stopped working when you need it most like busy cities. A huge plus point though is you can add all sorts of GPS positions and POI so finding Aires in France for example is a doddle. It was also a car specific version so a lot of times it tried to get us under low bridges or down small lanes where we simply would’t fit. Everyones heard of a TomTom tale of getting them lost or going through stupid roads and across fields etc.

The advantage of the paper maps is that they tend to show the larger roads so you stick to them, the GPS device through tries to shave off 30 seconds of journey time and then gets you stuck in an alley in a country where everyone shouts at you for choosing such a stupid route.

Another good option though is to use a computer with Microsoft Autoroute installed, some people even mount a small laptop on the dash because of the ease of use a computer brings, sadly these types of software are no longer being made as we live in an internet connected world. Your expected to use Bing, Google or Apple maps instead, problem is though that you have to be connected to the internet for most of these services to work and using your mobile data abroad can be very expensive or at best very restricted.

To be honest things like dedicated GPS’s like TomToms and Garmin are vanishing as everyone has a smartphone or a tablet like an iPad.

We too have an iPad and have found it to be easier to use than a phone because of the larger screen and less hassle than having a computer taking up the dashboard. Two years ago we bought an App for the iPad and it does work very well and it has a camper setting too but the main point is it doesn’t need access to the internet to work, just download the region your interested in before you set off and away you go, same as a typical TomTom. It’s not perfect but has been our main navigation device on a day to day basis (Plus it crashes far less often than the TomToms we have used), I still use the computer for major planning ideas and we have a GPS on our motorbike too, The good old paper maps do come out occasionally though.

So what do we use now?

  • We have an old copy of Autoroute on the laptop.
  • TomTom GPS with all Europe installed (We bought one with free lifetime map updates)
  • A TomTom Rider for the Motorbike. (Our maps are now seriously out of date)
  • CoPilot for the iPad with all Europe installed and free Map updates.
  • Google maps occasionally because it’s street view feature if superb.
  • Michelin’s paper maps as they are clear and easy to read without too much information.
  • We even have an old compass just in case (It doesn’t work in the van as the metal bodywork throws it out)

What’s your preferred Navigation device and why, please let us know or share any handy hits on getting around.

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