Global Positioning System (GPS) units have become a major fad for travelers thrilled with the idea of knowing where they are at all times.
Modern GPS units include sophisticated maps and even vocal capabilities, providing, upon verbal command, the user with directions on when and how to turn as they maneuver the roads. Only the most expensive and sophisticated GPS units include detailed address-level maps for the many countries, or allow the uploading via computer of more maps. Most are limited to a specific area like the Americas, Europe, and the Pacific Rim.
Look for units featuring the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS), an FAA-approved signal correction technology used world-wide. It is part of the government’s security plan to not permit pin-point accuracy via satellite data, so WAAS uses software to “correct” the signal to your location, usually within about 10 feet.
Ensure your unit is compliant with the National Marine Electronics Association (NMEA), a software standard.
Consider battery life as part of your criteria, too, as some batteries only last a few hours after a full charge. Check to see if the unit has an automatic standby/battery saving option. Most of all, make sure the unit is easy to use, visually, audibly, and verbally, accepting commands without much training.
NOTE: Some countries will not permit the import or use of GPS units for security reasons and/or without a permit. Israel is one them. Check before you take your GPS out of the country.
- DeLorme: 800-561-5105
- Garmin Ltd.: 800-800-1020
- Mapopolis.com: 216-371-3806
- Thales Navigation
- GPS World
- US Coast Guard Navigation Center
- The Global Positioning Systems (GPS) Resource Library
Which Way to Go
GPS units come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Large panel displays like the TomTom Go Plus Vehicle GPS Navigation System will easily fit in your vehicle. Smaller units are the size of walkie-talkies and can easily be carried around and put in your suitcase, though pay attention to the weight with the batteries as well as without the batteries.
Some of these larger units are also portable with built in receivers, so they could be used in rental cars as you travel, though their bulk in the suitcase for overseas or long flights might not be worth the effort.
Some come ready with all the software installed, while others install software on your computer and the GPS unit must be linked to the computer for updates and area location information. The less information stored on the unit, the smaller it can be.
Tomtom maps and GPS systems work worldwide and they have some of the largest collections of worldwide maps, so if you will be traveling outside of the United States, they are worth considering. For US domestic travel, there are a variety of programs and systems available, including Wireless Bluetoothâ„¢ GPS Receiver and SmartSTâ„¢ V1.30 3D view navigation software solution for PalmOSÂ® 5.0.