Let the Computer Navigate with GPS

July 10, 2008 by Chris Guld · 34 Comments  
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I’ve had some conversations with fellow RVers that went something like this: “What kind of GPS navigation system do you use as you travel?”, I asked. They responded with something akin to: “I don’t need no stinking GPS to do my navigating! I can read a map just fine.”

hmmm, that got me to thinking. I’ve told many people that I won’t travel without a GPS navigation system anymore, but I love maps too. I can read a map with the best of them and I’ve traveled across this country a few times before GPS was available. So, what *is* it that I like so much, that can’t be done with a paper map?

One day, when we were in Southern California and we were taking a side trip in the car, we didn’t have our laptop with us and so had to navigate the old fashioned way. I knew we needed to turn right on Sweetwater Rd. and I was looking for it. It sure seemed like we had gone too far. Had we passed it? Oh no. How many miles would we need to travel before there was some other road or landmark that would verify if we had missed our turn?

Then I realized, that’s it! With a GPS navigation system, it just takes a glance at the computer screen to know if your turn is still ahead, or if you missed it. When you’re in unfamiliar territory, you don’t know the landmarks. Without a GPS, you have to be constantly vigilant in watching for your turns. With a GPS, you can relax and enjoy the view.

In the short video above, I show you a sample of how we use GPS navigation. What about you? What do you use, if any?
Chris Guld

Let the Computer do the Navigating

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34 Responses to “Let the Computer Navigate with GPS”

  1. Barry on July 10th, 2008 12:19 pm

    I find knowing the proper lane to be in, the most valuable asset of my GPS. Todays hiways and freeways are so congested, if you happen to be in the wrong lane at a time to exit there is little chance you will be able to move over. My GPS will tell me with plenty of notice if I will need to merge or exit and which lane I will need to be in to do that safely.

  2. Steve White on July 10th, 2008 12:34 pm

    Our GPS is a rather older model Garmin Street Pilot III and it has been a real asset. I’m sure it has paid for itself many times over in saving us from wrong turns and fumbling around in unfamiliar territory. Last spring, for example, we were following telephone directions given by a vendor and suddenly about 2 miles from the address we ran into a “Road Closed For Construction” sign completely unannounced until we hit the blockage. I asked the GPS to reroute us around the “Detour” (a standard feature) and it did so. We made our appointment with just minutes to spare and never would have made it without the GPS. We use a combination of maps (my wife is the navigator) and our GPS. They work very well together.

  3. Woody on July 10th, 2008 12:56 pm

    We use TomTom and love it for all the reasons posted in previous comments. We also combine use of paper maps (well I use paper maps) and Microsoft Streets and Tips with our TomTom to plan trips, my wife does the computer thing. It sure does save a lot of stress when travelling in unknown areas and we find it really helps to know exactly how much time to the next destination, which helps with fuel stop decision or even a good stretch break.

  4. Angie on July 10th, 2008 1:17 pm

    I have two. A Magellan for travel and a Garmin for geocaching. Love them both. I can use a map, but why would I want to? I will never travel without a GPS again. The greatest thing since sliced bread. :-)

  5. Darrel on July 10th, 2008 1:34 pm

    We use a GARMIN of course. They are the leader in GPS. In our RV we use the StreetPilot 7200 most of the time because of the 7” display. We can sell Magellan, TomTom, Furuno etc. but we sell nearly 100% GARMIN because they are the best. The nuvi units are the most popular now for in vehicle navigation and they also have a battery for use on foot as well. Email me at if you have any questions about GPS. Thanks.

  6. McGreevy, Paul A. on July 10th, 2008 1:46 pm

    After 39 years of driving around this country with a big truck.
    I would say yes, I can read a map abd can pritty much find my way where I want to go.
    That said, last year I found my self with a Garmin GPS. Beleave it or not, I also found my self with a Megellin.
    Now, as dumb as it sounds, I l o v e them both, Not that I use them al the time, but I’m the kinds guy that saiz. Humm, wender whats down that road?
    Now, Mama does’nt open her mouth about. The reason? Yep, I have one of them with al the time. I Love um. And anybody that thinks they “DON’T need one.
    Well, have fun looking for the way out. Of course, maybe they don’t go anyplace?
    One never know’s……do one?

  7. Jon Vermilye on July 10th, 2008 1:47 pm

    Among other things, it is much easier to look at (or listen to) a GPS when driving at night than to try to check a map. I’ve used them for years – I favor a laptop based system (Delorme’s Street Atlas) for planning long trips, but keep a small unit (a Garmin 2720) on my dash all the time. I still use maps, but a GPS has many advantages.

  8. John M. Ciemnieski on July 10th, 2008 1:48 pm

    I purchased a Roadmate 2000 last fall after I realized that there had to be a Verizon tower in any vicinity that you neded to adjust or reprogram an address on their phone GPS system. It may be small but it sure is mighty. It has done away with asking for directions to a job and getting all sorts of home spun vocabulary. Unfortunately the video went out but the audio was still working so I had to let it run down and sent it back for replacement. I don’t mind admitting that I’m lost without it and can’t wait until my replacement arrives. When I’m on the road I don’t have enough arms to distribute amont the coffee, phone, radio or map

  9. jae on July 10th, 2008 3:00 pm

    Sorry Folks, GPS takes away one of the great pleasures of RVing. You stop and ask the locals for directions. Many times in 5 or 10 minutes you know more about the area than you might need to know. Mom and Pop restaurant just ahead. Historic place to visit. Shortcut that will save you miles and take you past such and such that you must see. ETC. ETC. I have asked people walking down the street. I have stopped people cutting their grass. Not once have I run into someone who did not take great pleasure in talking to me.

  10. Diane on July 10th, 2008 5:14 pm

    I love, love, love my GPS. I have a Magellan 4040 and so far it has gotten us to wherever weI needed to go. This last month we travelled from San Diego to Anacortes, Wa and “our little girl” got us to every spot we set out to. She even got us to Voodoo Donuts in Portland twice (even detoured us because of a closed bridge). We are so happy that we purchased one. The one feature that I like the most is that is ltes you know about upcoming exit and their points of interest. Since my hubby is a diehard Shell Oil customer, we were able to find all the close Shell stations when we needed them.

  11. Mike Ryan on July 10th, 2008 5:24 pm

    Chris – I considered purchasing a GPS device for the past few years but was hesitant because of the price for most of them.

    Then I discovered that my particular model of my Verizon cell phone was current enough that I could have my phone double as a GPS device and I pay only $10 a month for this service. We recently took our 5th wheel RV from Central Florida to Biloxi, MS and the phone GPS worked flawlessly. The speaker was automatically turned on and the display showed exactly the same thing as any GPS devices. The only other purchase was a charge cord for the phone attached to the 12 v. outlet in the dash of my truck. I don’t need AAA trip tiks any more.

  12. Chris Guld on July 10th, 2008 5:49 pm

    That sounds like a woman’s name. Am I right? :-)
    You know what they say about men and asking for directions!

    A good friend of mine gave me advice when we planned a trip to Ireland … the best way to see the country is to get lost! Yes, I love interacting with the local people. But it’s awfully uncomfortable when you’re in a motorhome and towing a car that you can’t back up.

    When we were denied access to the tunnel in Baltimore and had to exit onto the back streets of downtown, I was awfully glad we had the GPS to tell how to get to the bridge! There was no place we could have comfortably pulled over, and there were no people out mowing their lawn. It was an industrial area. I just wanted to find my way out.

  13. John Jackman on July 10th, 2008 9:11 pm

    I have a couple of GPS systems and use one in my car and one on my boat. If I do start to travel on the road with my TT , I will likely use the car one. The boat model was particularly helpful when I was away at a friend’s cottage last year fishing. We went out on his lake which was large , windy and somewhat confusing to find our way around. When it was time to go back to the cottage at dark I could use my gps plot to find my way back and I ended up being there first because my boat was a little faster and I did not have to slow down or stop to find my way back. It was fun to beat him back on his own lake….Like any other device you need to learn and practice to get better at using it… I still carry maps whenever I go anywhere regardless but as a supplement they are useful…

  14. Jim Taglianetti on July 10th, 2008 11:28 pm

    We (my wife, our daughter, and our grand-daughter) took our first RV road trip this past May. I had used a GPS device in Hertz rentals before. Navigating around LAX and the LA environs would have been a total nightmare without the GPS hooked to my laptop. We used Microsoft Streets and Trips 2008. Like you we strapped the laptop in and connected it to an inverter. I prefer the laptop screen size to the little screen you get with Garmin or Tom-Tom or any of the other all-in-one devices. Plus I always travel with a laptop anyway. Might as well put it to work. I will never travel without a GPS and my wife will still navigate with her Rand McNally.

  15. Sid Burklund on July 11th, 2008 10:35 am

    My wife and I just returned from a two week trip in our 5er down in south central Oregon. It was our first real test of our Tom Tom as our other trips this year were in areas we knew well. I loved it. It allowed me to relax and enjoy the the beauty of the high desert of Oregon.
    With regards to maps. Habits are hard to put behind you so I kept a AAA map of Oregon handy in case something should go wrong (nothing did). Having it at hand did have a benefit though, I used it to get a broader view of the area and was able to quickly see were alternate roads would have taken us.
    Sid Burklund

  16. eric on July 11th, 2008 10:47 am

    We use a Garmin (can’t recall model off hand). Both of us are excellent navigators with the map, but have really had a lot of enjoyment with our GPS. Our first GPS was the Microsoft Streets… the biggest problem with it was that no matter how loud we turned it, we couln’t get it loud enough to hear the directions… it does have some features I’d love to find on my Garmin, though!

    I wonder if Apples have something similar to Microsoft Streets… I switched to Vista at Christmas time… it has been so horrible an experience, I’m serously considering a move to Apple.

  17. billk on July 11th, 2008 1:47 pm

    I have CoPilot 11, on a 12″ touch screen notebook with a Ram adjustable mount. very easy to use from the drivers seat. I like it for the miles to go, time of arrival, finding new campgrounds, rv services, etc. It sounds like most people don’t use the gps to their true potential. I use a map a little to double check it, they all make mistakes.

    I use Travel Life trip planner CD To plan my trips. planned one from PA to AK and it is working wonderfully. for 35.00 it is a bargain. the gps works but does not have the driving features of CoPilot.

  18. Microsoft Streets and Trips on July 11th, 2008 3:05 pm

    Microsoft Streets and Trips has always been excellent trip planner, and a decent GPS navigation software program as well (after you have learned it well :) . But there are also several other GPS programs that can run on a laptop. I wouldn’t leave home without GPS – and a larger screen of a laptop is a bonus (if a laptop fits your car, truck, or RV :)

  19. TXBrad on July 11th, 2008 9:21 pm

    A GPS is the way to go & what ever system you like is the thing to use. As Barry above states, being in the correct lane to exit \ change highways \ etc. is a major need.
    Prior to our MIO unit , a sign showed RV park @ exit .2 miles ( looked like 2 miles to me) My 31 ‘ motorhome in an old town w/ narrow streets w/ cars parked on side was scary ( glade not a 40′ w/ tow! ). Couple locals where I could safely park no help. With price fuel today and getting late \ dark to park. Finally someone knew where & we were many miles off. Also, one RV’s where to turn sign was gone. Even called on cell phone & 2 call ” oh forgot sign gone” Many RV parks, etc list their co-ordinates, so can zero on in.
    Plus, most can show fuel stops, restraunts, POI, etc.
    Still use maps for gerneal planning.

  20. Gerrie on July 12th, 2008 6:58 am

    A GPS is the only way to go. We have a Garmin in the boat, a garmin that we transfer between the RV & toad, and a laptop with Microsoft streets and trips. The laptop is for the co-pilot in the RV. We can search for nearby campgrounds, fuel stations, restaurants,attractions, shopping centers,etc. Our first trip to Alaske was worth the cost of all the equipment.

  21. Dave on July 15th, 2008 7:50 pm

    We use MSFT Streets and Trips with GPS. I like being able to import reference points such as Fly J’s. Also the discoveryowners club has an open website with download information that can be carried into the program.

  22. Curt on July 16th, 2008 5:05 am

    After reading many comments on mapping, we got the S&T program, thanks for all the input. We have not been out on the road yet with it, but just play’n with it and learning the in’s and out’s has already been fun. This Friday will be the real test, hitting the road for the 1st time and am looking forward to put it to the test. I think I have all the stuff stuffed into the gray matter that will be needed to operate it but if anyone has any hints, feel free, you know best.

  23. Nancy on July 22nd, 2008 8:49 am

    We love our GPS! It has been a Godsend traveling across the country with a class A towing, helping us through cities, lane changes, exit information. However, we always have the maps to refer to as well. Sometimes you want to travel a different route than “she” tells you and the map is a good cross-reference. We also like to see a broader view of the area we’re going through.Our first experience with the unit was a disaster; she lead us on a small residential street that turned into a dirt road and eventually a deadend. After unhooking, backing up, we located a spot to turn around…. we have since found out to choose the “truck” option on the unit but still will never rely on it totally. It does help to know the unit inside and out before you take off!

  24. John Shelton on August 2nd, 2008 12:25 pm

    Oh my Goodness! I so seldom see any mention of the best and easiest to use GPS system on the market. I use DeLorme Street Atlas USA. This program is, of course, a computer application that does require the implementation of a laptop computer. Most (at least many) of us already travel with a laptop computer anyway so the $100 for the GPS application is a small fee. Having your GPS on your laptop also allows you to store and play all your favorite music through your coach sound system as well as give you quick, easy access to your email with an aircard internet connection and no setup or WiFi required.

  25. Roadrunning on August 8th, 2008 6:39 pm

    I am very versed in map reading. And sometimes have written out instructions for unfamiliar places ahead of time. However, we love our GPS. Traveled for years across country using a map and maps are generally not a problem in day light. However, as several have pointed out it is a safety factor knowing what lane to get in once one has exited. Too often one has to exit and then immediately move into the left lane before a car cuts you off. Traffic nowadays runs at around 70+ in many cities, legal or not, and there is no way that the best map reader can plan ahead for that speed unless you are absolutely familiar with the area you are in. For those occasional night forays, maps are about useless in the dark to say nothing of the fact that it is dangerous to read a map and drive at the same time. I am the primary navigator. Our Garmin Street Pilot 2720 is working really well in large cities. It is sometimes suspect in some rural areas. I love the fact that if you are detoured unexpectedly, the GPS immediately gets you out of the unfamiliar territory without a problem. The constant updating of how far the next destination, as well as the end destination, is invaluable. Likewise, the information as to motels, eating places, gas stations cannot be beat. No map provides that nice data. Maps still have their place. I still travel with a map and will peruse it before take off, but again, it is an invaluable aid asset to know what lane to enter after exiting. That is true in a car, truck and is especially nice when in a motorhome with a tow behind. Cars, as many of you know, will cut you off quickly unless you know exactly what lane to get in after exiting. One time the GPS saved us at 4 am on a city interstate. We knew our way out, but the highway dept. closed lanes leaving the city (Houston). The GPS got us rerouted as we passed our exit and we were quickly able to go around the roadblock. I will never travel outside our known areas without the GPS. We have seen the nenefits too many times to not use it out of our known territory. We have had the GPS for 3 years and I just connected it to the internet to update the data and maps. Also, the update gave us the opportunity to choose the voices (men, women, American, British, Australian, etc. and I downloaded several to compare them with each other).

  26. Roadrunning on August 8th, 2008 6:43 pm

    I should have added that the Garmin was ready out of the box. It just requires one to play with it AND READ THE INSTRUCTIONS to become versed. And I do not always read them!

  27. Roadrunning on August 8th, 2008 7:09 pm

    One additiional thing regarding asking directions from locals. In Memphis,
    TN, I was lost (pre-GPS) and the person told me to go straight west on that street and it would get me to the highway out. Yeah right! It headed me directly into the Mississippi River. So, locals do not always know or they think it is funny sending some poor fellow into the big pond.

  28. Chris the Bigfoo on August 13th, 2008 12:44 pm

    Been using Sreet Atlas since their first version bought in their factory store in Freeport, ME long ago. Got their GPS receiver when they first came out with it. Once the program is learned you will never be without it. Our 15″ laptop fits on he dash pedestal where I can glance at it. Used with it is Trailer Lifes Directory Navigator 2008 so without turning pages we can see which campground will meet our needs out of perhaps many in an area. The two together cannot be beat. Asking directions??? Try stopping a 40′ MH with a toad behind it to ask someone mowing grass how to get someplace. Sorry folks, I don’t want any surprises. You will not find my coach in some residential hood. Personally, Delorme makes maps, MS makes programs.

  29. Bob Bowers on August 17th, 2008 8:34 am

    I use a GPS also. Some times for navigating with the GPS telling me when and where to turn, other times just having it on and showing me where I am in relation to where I want to go or be.

    I did try a laptop with GPS software in our motorhome, but it was very distracting. One, the laptop is very hard to see in bright daylight. Two, the problem with most affordable laptops is they run Windows, which typically has it’s problems, including lockups that require a complete restart. This happened two or three times on a recent trip. In some cases the software would lock up and require a restart. Either way not very reliable, which is why I went with a Automotive GPS which takes up very little dash space and has a vivid screen that can be seen in bright daylight and black of night.

  30. Don M on October 6th, 2008 9:00 pm

    I have heard (and experienced) so many bad things about portable GPS systems that it is refreshing to read so many positive comments. I have two GPS systems, one built in to my SUV that never makes a mistake (except it does not always take the shortest route), and one Harman Kardon portable that almost never does anything right. The HK has led me down more dead end roads and told me to get off the freeway where there is no exit more times than I can count (not fun in an RV with a toad that can not be backed up). I have learned to always know where I am going by map, and never trust the Harman Kardon GPS system. I would be interested in knowing if others have had similar experiences and what they have done about it.

  31. Frances on October 7th, 2008 8:01 am

    Another GPS complaint. I have a Garmin Nuvi which could not find our RV park in Texas last winter. We finally stopped to ask directions. The other complaint I had was it’s insistence on taking the Freeway through a city when there is a bypass around the city. After sitting idle all summer I got it out again to see it is would be better. Now it can’t even give the right turn directions. I was in familiar territory and it requested a turn about 1 1/2 miles before I was to turn. I imagine the farmer would have been ticked off if I had turned into his field as old Garmin requested.

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    [...] an Internet connection: 1. GPS navigation and trip-planing 2. Managing your Digital Photos 3. Watching TVĀ or Movies on [...]

  33. Martha Federle on February 28th, 2009 9:14 pm

    Frances, I use my Garmin but I also look at the maps. When Ms. Garmin wanted to send me through the middle of Dallas-Ft. Worth, I just took the southern route around them. It’s fun to hear her frantic voice “Recalculating, recalculating”. Eventually she settles down and figures the correct route that you want to take. Sometimes technology will never trump common sense.


  34. William Weed on August 28th, 2011 3:53 pm

    I, like you, know the value of the gps. The job I had prior to retirement required that I locate 3 -5 locations a day that I had to travel to, many times rural locations. Prior to gps I had to map it out on paper maps and then worry, like you mentioned, whether I had gotten to a road or I had missed it. Gps takes only minutes to put in the data for traveling to several locations. With paper maps storage and organization were a problem. I had to have as many as 80 maps to work in my area of travel. The time required each day to locate by map the next day travel was very time consuming and a wearing on the brain. ILOVE MY GPS. JUST BE SURE TO UPDATE WHEN YOU PURCHSE ONE. THAT IS USUALLY FREE WITHIN SO MANY DAYS OF PURCHASE.