How To Survive Long-Distance Road Tripping – Navigation
There are no shortages of Navigation systems out there. From physical maps, standalone Garmin GPS Systems, and apps on your phone like Google Maps, Apple Maps, Waze and HERE WeGo (Formerly hereMaps). Each has their ups and downs.
This is a complete how-to on long-distance road tripping. Check out the following topics to help better prepare yourself for the road ahead.
Here is my experienced review of different navigation systems for your road trip.
Once regarded as the King back in the day, this style of navigation is all but obsolete. Relegated to online stores and gas station kiosks, physical maps are forgotten by many.
Rand McNally is the most common and popular physical map/atlas producer in the United States, offering products by State. 2018 Rand McNally Large Scale Road Atlas is a good inexpensive purchase.
- Doesn’t require power or data to use.
- Old-Fashioned style of navigation brings a sense of unknown adventure.
- You can often write on maps if they’re not laminated, creating a keepsake of your travels.
- Often large and cumbersome.
- Usually out-of-date on new development and roads.
- Live route mapping and turn-by-turn steps obviously aren’t available.
If I were on an adventure to get lost and have a keepsake of my travels, this is definitely the way to go. That nostalgic feeling of adventure and unknown is a feeling that you cannot recreate with any other type of navigation system. Otherwise this largely obsolete way of navigation isn’t particularly helpful in finding point of interests or bringing you from A-to-Z reliably and easily.
Garmin GPS Systems
Garmin is probably one of the best-known GPS systems around North America. Recent models often come with Lifetime Map Updates and Lifetime Traffic Updates via a built-in FM receiver. This can be installed very quickly onto your dashboard or windshield of your vehicle making this an easy way to navigate about.
The Garmin Nuvi 2589LMT for North America has Lifetime Maps and Traffic built-in.
- Very easy to install and use.
- Colorful high-resolution touchscreen display.
- Often coming with “LMT” Lifetime Maps and Traffic.
- Easily customizable voice and navigation prompts.
- Real-Time navigation prompts on a loud and clear built-in speaker.
- Some models come with Bluetooth capability for vehicles with Bluetooth built-in.
- Does not require data connectivity. Maps are downloaded and built-in.
- So common means it’s sought after by thieves.
- Expensive to purchase new.
- Lifetime Maps are for the original owner only.
- Power cord plugs into power outlet in your car, meaning a thick black cable roaming and waving around your cabin.
A very good buy for one who travels a lot and wants to get to their destination reliably and easily without having to worry about data coverage, construction and detours. Be sure to keep it out of sight when your vehicle is parked, because these types of GPS systems are often stolen out of vehicles. If you can afford this option, it’s not a bad option to go.
There are quite a lot of navigation apps out there, both for Android and iOS. I will be breaking this section down into individual apps. I’ll be covering navigation apps on your phone. This means you will need to find a charging cable, USB power adapter and a phone mount in order for these to work well on your trip.
Available on a lot of Apple devices, including iPad and iPhone, Apple Maps has come a very long way from the beginning.
- Very beautiful interface with a customizable Siri with different English accents for navigation voice prompts.
- Locked Navigation mode allows you to turn off the screen of your Apple device and lock it. When a navigation prompt is needed, the screen will show the map and play a voiceover of the prompt. Then the screen will dim back out.
- Icons are all accurate including State Highway logos, Interstate and County Roads.
- 3D Mapping is now available.
- Assuming you have data, will work globally for Navigation.
- If your vehicle supports it, Apple CarPlay is a great alternative.
- Only available on Apple devices.
- Lane guidance for upcoming exits or turns are no yet available until the next latest iOS update.
- Though it will still get you to your destination, will take you haphazard aways foregoing Interstates and choosing county roads and highways instead.
- Relies on data to show the map. If you lose data or cell phone signal, the map will be blank with just a blue line indicating where you should be going. No street names, no voice prompts, nothing. Make a wrong turn and the blue line disappears, rendering Apple Maps absolutely useless.
- No Map download option.
Though very beautiful, Apple Maps falls behind other mainstream competitors due to the inability to download maps and clearing the screen if you make a wrong turn in an area with no data. Which in turn REALLY makes you lost. Unless that’s what you want, in which case, go for it!
Available on both Android and iOS, Google Maps is one of the most versatile and complete navigation systems out there allowing users a wide range of functionality. However — there are some downfalls of Google Maps.
- Widely available on both iOS and Android devices. Chances are if your phone is newer than 2012, Google Maps will work.
- Works worldwide automatically switching from miles to kilometers.
- Ability to download square sections of a map at a time for offline use.
- Very reliable data and accurate destination points.
- Google’s very large and complete database of point-of-interests, including gas prices.
- Lane assist keeps you in the correct lane for the exit or turn ahead. Making a left turn then a right turn? Google Maps will instruct you to “Take the 2nd to the left turn lane. Then turn right.”
- Though there is an ability to download sections of maps, there is no ability to download different states. You will need to download a section you’re planning on being in beforehand.
- Heavily relies on data for Google Maps to really shine in its functionality.
Google Maps is a very complete package that allows its users a whole bunch of functionality. It’s not perfect, however. The inability to download different states to use offline and the need to heavily rely on data makes it a real buzzkill for such a great app. If you are traveling where you know there will be amazing data coverage, Google Maps is for you. If you are traveling where data coverage is unknown or limited, best stick to some following options or stick to a road atlas for the sketchy bits.
Though much more popular in Europe, HERE WeGo used in the United States could be an option for you, depending on your wants and needs. As with anything else in life, there are downsides to this story.
- The ability to download whole countries and states, including streets and point-of-interests!
- Is able to run completely offline if you download the state(s) or country/countries to get turn-by-turn navigation or search for a destination.
- Switching from driving directions to public transit, walking or pedal biking is a cinch!
- Based on the road you’re driving on, it pulls the speed limits. It can also alert you visually and/or audibly if you’re going over the speed limit with the threshold you’ve set.
- Point-of-Interest locations or address inputs aren’t reliable, sometimes putting you in a completely different part of town. This may just be a United States thing.
- Navigation voice sounds very robotic and unfriendly to the ears. Even with “natural-sounding voice,” it is far from it.
- Battery hog. Even when using this app offline, it kills you battery faster than Google Maps and Apple Maps.
HERE WeGo offers some pretty damn powerful features that the others cannot match. The big one being the ability to download maps by country or state and working completely off the grid! However — I don’t know if this is a United States thing but the inability to reliably bring you to the correct location when using navigation gives me concern. Though the app has some pretty awesome functionality, I cannot recommend use of this app if you don’t want to risk not getting to the correct destination.
Ahh, Waze. The navigation app that everybody is raving about. A very popular choice for Americans as it relies on inputs from other users for events on the road. Realtime traffic is pulled from actual users speeds and updates the map accordingly. It’s a pretty slick system. Users can also post alerts themselves such as construction, objects on the road, police (visible or hidden), detours, accidents and more.
- VERY rich in usability and features.
- True realtime traffic and event updates based off of hundreds upon thousands of users in a given location.
- Ability to automatically reroute you around very dense traffic and take the scenic less-traveled road to your destination.
- Owned by Google, search feature is pretty accurate and complete.
- Speed limit alerts is a handy feature.
- You don’t have to use navigation to reap the benefits of road alerts by other users.
- Will work with the screen
- Very heavily relies on data for features and up-to-date content.
- Limited to 1,000 miles or less for navigation. This means cross-country trips are out. Shorter distances will work just fine.
- Spotty data connection? Don’t think about it. The features that require data don’t work well if at all. Information you see is outdated since you lost data connectivity. Which means if you were without Internet for 30 minutes, events on your phone is outed by 30 minutes.
A very good app for people who have unlimited data on a strong nationwide network such as Verizon or even T-Mobile. The event functionality on Waze is amazing and well-worth the data and battery power. I just wish that Waze could work for longer than 1,000 miles and the ability to download maps would be cool even without the live event/traffic functionality.