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Using GPS When Driving Abroad

By: Norman Thomson - Updated: 28 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
Gps Global Positioning Driving

Travelling abroad can be great fun, especially for the independent traveller. Driving through rural areas, exploring off the beaten track roads, and taking in a few local villages on the way offers great sight-seeing opportunities. However, the thought of getting lost in a foreign country can be a little daunting.

Of course, map and guidebooks can be used to help navigation. Although these are usually excellent, they can present their own problems. Road signs in some countries can be confusing and often guidebooks don’t make allowances for this. Passengers can spend entire journeys peering at maps and books, unable to appreciate the local landscape that is outside their windows.

Global Positioning Systems

A great way to overcome the likelihood of getting lost while driving abroad is to go for a Global Positioning System, or GPS. Although these portable devices use cutting-edge technology, actually, they are very simple to operate. GPS units send a signal to navigational satellites that orbit the Earth. Micro-processors inside the units receive and interpret the signals that bounce back from satellites to work out exactly where on the planet the device is located.

Generally, these devices work well in most regions and in most countries. However, they do rely on signals from the ground to satellites, so sometimes they can temporarily fail to respond. The most common reason for the units to fail is when driving through areas with dense forests. Stormy weather can also reduce the signal strength and driving in urban areas with tall buildings can also affect the unit. Of course, so too can driving through tunnels!

Purchasing a GPS

When purchasing a GPS unit, it is important to go for a well-known make. Low cost GPS units may work well enough, but they might not be supported with sufficient software for the traveller who wants to use the device abroad. When buying a unit in the UK, it will almost certainly come with software that covers the entire country, but may not necessarily cover all of Europe. The better models have software downloads from the manufacturers websites, specific to most developed countries in the world. The best models even come with additional information such as locations of nearby hotels, restaurants, bars, and even petrol stations.

A Trial Run

Before setting off abroad, it is important to become familiar with the device. After reading the instructions, why not programme a route around your own local area, and then take the unit for a drive. Turn on the GPS ‘voice’ and listen to the instructions as you drive around. You will be pleasantly surprised at the accuracy of the unit. After you have familiarised yourself with the unit and how it works, you can start to programme it for your journey abroad.

Using the Device

Some units need to be calibrated for the region that you are going to drive in. For example, when travelling to France you may have to reformat the unit. This is actually a very simple process. Follow the ‘set up’ instructions in the manual and in about 60 seconds the unit will be ready for use. Most manufacturers have websites that support the device. On these sites you will find map datum for hundreds of countries. These are used to help calibrate the device for use abroad, so again, it is worth spending a few more pounds on a device that is well supported from the manufacturer’s website.

If you want to be more advanced with your GPS unit, it is possible to connect some models to a PC. This can be used in two ways. Firstly, you can plot a route on your computer, using mapping software, and download that route into the GPS. Alternatively, you can do it the other way around. Your journey can be saved in the GPS and then uploaded to the PC. This will provide information about the route travelled, such as distance, average speed, maximum speed and even heights above sea-level.

Whether using a GPS for simply ‘helping out’ when travelling abroad, or for more serious use, a portable GPS unit not only helps to make the journey easier and safer, it can also be great fun to use. And it helps passengers to enjoy the scenery instead of constantly peering at road maps, in the hope that they navigate properly.

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