Is a GPS Still Worth the Cost for a Traveller?

by Jessica Sommerfield · 0 comments

The last four days, my husband and I went on vacation in Toronto. Since we both have passports, we figured we’d venture into Canada as we’d only been to the Canadian falls several years ago and hadn’t seen much more of the country. While we’ve always relied heavily on our GPS, we realized it’s about 6 years old and the maps are outdated. We’ve never had any problems around home, but were leery of the dependability of its maps of Canada. The unit we purchased, a Black-Friday special Garmin nuvi, was a basic model that hadn’t included lifetime map updates. Here are the options we had to choose from, what we decided to do, and the pros and cons of each.

Update our maps
To update our maps at this point would cost anywhere from $60-$90. While many new units include lifetime map updates, and allow you to update your maps as many as three times a year, ours did not include this plan. Sites such as Amazon for Garmin offer lifetime update packages for roughly $70. If we had a newer, albeit more basic GPS, this might have made sense. You could save money by purchasing a cheaper model of GPS and then adding a lifetime map update package.

Buy a new GPS
If we were going to spend this much on updating our old device, we concluded we might as well invest in getting a new one for not much more money than an update, possibly including a free lifetime update package and helpful new features such as traffic and construction updates. We didn’t, however, have sufficient time before our trip to shop for a GPS and hadn’t budgeted for the expense.  But there was one more option.

Use a smart phone GPS app
Our smart phones have an app for Google maps which includes a navigation mode similar to a GPS device. This navigation would be in many cases better than a dedicated GPS device because the cost is included in our phone’s data usage plan (one of the reasons GPS sales have gone down in recent years). While GPS applications on our phone would be perfectly fine for use in the U.S., we wouldn’t be able to use them out of the country without outrageous international charges.

We decided to check with our phone service provider to see what kind of package we could get for a few days of international data usage on one of our smart phones. This would include updated, dependable maps but at a cost. Our service provider added a $30 international data package to my phone for the few days we were out of the country. While we occasionally ran into problems with a poor or sluggish satellite connection while on the road, for the most part our Android Google maps navigator was highly accurate and dependable. We did notice that it sucked a lot more battery power than normal, so the phone had to be plugged into the car’s charging port almost constantly. We were using the navigation app nearly constantly for at least two of the days we were in Canada, and had no idea how far our data package would go. Thankfully, I received a text from my service provider that my package had been used up just as we were approaching the bridge back to the U.S.

In hindsight, we were able to rely on the flexibility of our phone service provider and the sheer luck of good timing to spend only $30 on our navigation for this trip. For future trips, however, we prefer to have a dedicated GPS device that won’t tie up our phones and has a more adequate battery supply for the demands of GPS navigation.

GPSs are wonderful devices to feel secure even if you have no idea where you are; a freedom that allows you to relax, explore a little, get lost a little, and always be able to get home. If you don’t have a GPS and you travel a lot, consider whether you should either purchase one or make us of smart phone technology.

Bonus Tip:

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